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Two Dresses From ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ Are Coming to the Smithsonian

Though plans aren’t finalized, the costumes might feature in the National Museum of American History’s upcoming “Entertaining America” exhibition

Mrs. Maisel's pink wool house coat and peignoir nightgown, worn in the pilot episode, and black dress, worn in the season one finale (National Museum of American History)
smithsonianmag.com

In season three of Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” the show’s beloved titular character heads to Las Vegas. But while our heroine was packing her suitcases for Sin City, some of her most iconic outfits were Washington, D.C.-bound.

Per a press release, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (NMAH) has acquired two costumes from the program’s Emmy Award-winning first season. Though display plans have yet to be finalized, the dresses—which feature prominently in the season’s premiere and finale—may be included in the museum’s upcoming 2021 exhibition, “Entertaining America,” according to NMAH curator Ryan Lintelman.

For Lintelman, the costumes checked the whole suite of boxes for acquisition. The show, which touches on marriage, sexuality, religion, the role of women in the workplace and other topical issues, “is about what it means to be a woman in America … during the ‘50s and ‘60s,” he says. “These are all issues we’re still grappling with today.”

Starring Rachel Brosnahan as Mrs. Miriam “Midge” Maisel, a Jewish housewife navigating an unexpected breakout comedy career in 1950s America, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” stole the hearts of critics and fans alike when it premiered in March 2017 on Prime Video, Amazon’s on-demand streaming service. Created by Amy Sherman-Palladino (perhaps best known for “Gilmore Girls”), the series epitomizes its maker’s signature smorgasbord of pop culture references and snappy dialogue. “Maisel” also boasts a dynamic, endearingly flawed female lead—who, by no mistake, happens to boldly dress the part.

After receiving a generous offer from Amazon executives, Lintelman selected two outfits, both designed by Donna Zakowska, he felt were most emblematic of the show’s pizzazz. The first, a blue peignoir nightgown and pink housecoat, accompanied Maisel on her first stage appearance. Drunk and reeling from the recent revelation of her husband’s infidelity, Maisel gives a spontaneous performance at a local nightclub, capping her routine by flashing her breasts—an act that lands her in a police car.

Intimate yet unapologetic, the nightgown signifies “this moment in the show where [Maisel] is really feeling the weight of her marriage issues, and who she wants to be,” says Lintelman. “She comes into her own.”

The second outfit, then, is perhaps the nightgown’s elegant foil: a sleek, form-fitting black cocktail dress, capped with dainty bows on the straps, that closed the show’s season one finale. Unlike her first performance, everything Maisel does in her stunning outfit is full of poise and confidence—but no less raucous and entertaining than before.

“I’m Mrs. Maisel,” she declares triumphantly as the episode ends amidst her audience’s applause. “Thank you and goodnight!”

As Lintelman explains, “This is the dress that launched her career.”

The curator compares Maisel to Phyllis Diller, who gained fame as a (real-life) comedian in the male-dominated field during the 1950s and ‘60s. Diller erred on the zany side with her closet, frequently donning unkempt wigs and lurid, baggy floral dresses—costumes that fueled her harried, scatterbrained housewife persona on stage. (Some have speculated that Diller actually inspired another member of the “Maisel” ensemble, comedian Sophie Lennon, played by Jane Lynch.) Maisel’s black number, according to Lintelman, “presents her as a different type of female comedian.”

Another key difference? Maisel, to the chagrin of many, is fictional. But that doesn’t lessen her cultural impact.

“The things we do for fun, … what we watch, listen to, it’s not just passive,” says Lintelman. “It helps us to understand the world around us.”

If all goes as planned, the two costumes will eventually make their way into an NMAH display. Whenever that happens, the curator adds, the event will offer another “great opportunity to talk to people about the place entertainment has in our nation’s history.”

About Katherine J. Wu
Katherine J. Wu

Katherine J. Wu is a Boston-based science journalist and Story Collider senior producer. She holds a Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunobiology from Harvard University. Previously, she served as a Digital Editor at NOVA Next and was Smithsonian magazine's 2018 AAAS Mass Media Fellow.

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