Bold colors, big hair and paisley patterns – when actress Stori Ayers makes her entrance in Detroit ’67, there’s no mistaking she’s stepping out in the ’60s.
“Bunny is very fashion-forward,” Ayers, a guest actor with Chautauqua Theater Company, said of her character. “And very into what’s in, and looking good, and looking cute.”
CTC’s Detroit ’67 opened Friday and continues at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Bratton Theater. Helping Ayers and the rest of the cast look good and cute is Richard St. Clair, the production’s costume designer and head of costume design at Penn State University’s School of Theatre.
“The play feels more like a documentary than a play,” said St. Clair, who knew director and fellow Penn State faculty member Steve H. Broadnax III. “And so to kind of achieve the look we were going for in the show, I got a lot of real clothes from the period.”
In preparation for the period show, set against the backdrop of Detroit’s tumultuous summer of 1967, St. Clair combed vintage shops in Philadelphia and the nearby area, as well as across the Atlantic while on a trip to London with graduate students. The resulting look for the five-person drama, which includes multiple costumes changes for each character, blends vintage pieces with clothes built especially for the show. A few modern items, like a man’s polo shirt, seamlessly blend in.
St. Clair, who was a young boy in the ’60s and said he remembers the decade well, began preparing for Detroit ’67 in April. Clothing catalogues from 1967 for Sears and the old department store Montgomery Ward became the production’s fashion bibles. St. Clair also watched a lot of the third season of American fantasy sitcom “Bewitched,” which ran from 1966 to 1967, to get an idea for a color palette rich in greens, maroons and oranges.
The play takes place in one setting: the furnished bar in the basement of a family home. While the character Bunny is a bit of a fashionista, the rest of the cast is generally wearing everyday clothes fit for a hot summer in Detroit.
“This is really about clothing, not costumes,” St. Clair said, explaining much of his job is figuring out what a character would grab from their closet each morning.
One character, St. Clair said, is very practical and a little uptight. Her resulting costumes have pockets and high necklines. Another character, he added, is mysterious and more sexual. St. Clair said he wanted her outfits to have an edge to them, so he clothed her in a contemporary mini skirt from Goodwill that buttoned up the front and a vintage, slightly see-through top.
St. Clair arrived at Chautauqua on July 14, and left after the show opened this past weekend. Before he arrived, he was sending boxes of vintage duds and fabric from New York merchants to the CTC costume shop. Some of the clothes St. Clair found will go back to him after Detroit ’67 closes on July 30, but may be seen in a production of Sweet Charity he is working on this fall back at Penn State.
Among some of St. Clair’s other vintage finds was a men’s shirt with a tag from the “Disneyland Hotel Shop for Men.” He said both the color and material — dacron polyester — made the shirt something that couldn’t be found in a shop today.
One challenge was finding the right shoes, since it was difficult to find vintage shoes in the correct sizes. CTC costume shop manager Janet O’Neil painted several pairs of shoes with acrylic leather paint bought on Amazon.
At first, CTC guest actor Andy Lucien, who portrays Sly, didn’t think there would be too much of a difference in his clothing. But putting on those high-waisted pants and donning his pork pie hat certainly helps him get into character.
“You just stand in your body differently,” Lucien said.
The two male characters also got haircuts for the show, with Lucien getting inspiration from football player and actor Jim Brown.
Almost all of Ayers’ costumes were custom-made. She is also the only character with a wig on in the show. That wig replaces her more modern hairstyle with a bouffant look inspired by singer Florence LaRue, who was part of the popular group The 5th Dimension in the ’60s and ’70s.
Ayers’ favorite outfit is what she and the production staff have started calling her “Twiggy dress” because it recalls the mod A-line dresses of the ’60s made popular by English model Twiggy.
The two-toned sleeveless mini dress is made from quilted burgundy and gray fabric found at the Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts in Erie, Pennsylvania. It is one of Ayers’ final costumes in the show, but she’d like to keep wearing it long after the final curtain.
“I’m taking that with me,” Ayers said. “It’s so cute.”