TBT: Hello Dolly (1969)


It’s the last of the classic Hollywood historical musicals, and some think it set 20th Century Fox back for years. But Hello Dolly! (1969) has all the singing and dancing and big, bold costumes I need on a slow Sunday. Yeah, Barbara Streisand always looks like her ’60s self, but Irene Sharaff’s Oscar-nominated 1890s costume designs are totally fun, and the music — especially the title song with Louis Armstrong — gets stuck in my head. Or, as the New York Times summed up in it’s review circa 1969:

Matthau gives a good imitation of W. C. Fields to Miss Streisand’s Mae West, but the picture is not his, nor is it the youngsters’ — Michael Crawford, Marianne McAndrew and E. J. Peaker. It belongs to Miss Streisand, who visits it looking great (and something like an eccentric kewpie doll) in Irene Scharaff costumes, and to the production designer, John DeCuir.

Yep, this film all about Babs’ singing and the fabulous look of the flick. It’s not a deep, moving story, and the leads — Streisand and Walter Matthau — actively hated each other on set, so there’s zero chemistry. For that matter, the choreographer, Michael Kidd, conflicted so much with designer Sharaff and director Gene Kelly that they weren’t on speaking terms. Considering all the big, complicated dance numbers in this movie, it’s a wonder that filming was completed in 90 working days.

Hello Dolly (1969) Hello Dolly (1969) Hello Dolly (1969)
Hello Dolly (1969)

Oh, how they hated each other.

Perhaps the most stunning costume in the film is the glittering gold gown Streisand wears for the title song-and-dance number. It reportedly cost over $10,000 to construct because it contains almost a whole pound of 14K gold in the thread and jewel surrounds. Scharaff said:

“The thread used in the Hello, Dolly! dress is made of pure gold. It comes in very fine tubes, is pliable and can be threaded like beads. Because of some technical lighting problems, the pure-gold material was the only way I could achieve the quality that both the director and I wanted.”

Hello Dolly (1969)

Photo from the Debbie Reynolds auction catalog, where the dress sold for $123,000.

Hello Dolly (1969)

Close-up of the beading.

Is it a precisely accurate 1890s evening gown? Not really. But it’s gorgeous, and it works for the film. If the classic age of Hollywood musicals had to end, at least they went out with Hello Dolly! as a big bang.

Hello Dolly (1969)

Giant ’60s bouffant and doe-eyed makeup? Yep. Weird fabric choices? Crazy claw nails? Yep.

Hello Dolly (1969)

And yet these pastel suits look passably good for the period. Really, the silhouettes are alright throughout the film, it’s the materials and little details the make it look 1960s.

Hello Dolly (1969)

Then there’s the technicolor palette that was obligatory for all musicals.

Hello Dolly (1969)

Irene rocks the Gay Nineties flamenco sleeves, while Minnie tries to look 20 years younger with a childish hairstyle.

Hello Dolly (1969)

I’m sure that’s a zipper up the back of her dress, but who cares?


Do you think Dolly is still lookin’ swell?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

23 Responses

  1. illustration122

    I LOOOOOOVE this movie for all the 70’s Gibson girl, art nouveau “interpreted” nonsense! Not the claws. But oh the fantasy! Utter rubbish but gave rise to Laura Ashley!

  2. Melinda

    Saw it some months ago, and I was shocked how well the gowns work for the turn of the century fashions, only a few were questonable and some hairdos, but it was still an eye-catching-candy-fun-fair :)

  3. Cheryl from Maryland

    Love this film. Mainly for Tommy Tune (a 6’6″ song and dance man!) and Michael Crawford. But especially for recording the late, great Louis Armstrong, who in the film actually says his name, so we know he pronounced it British style (Lewis) rather than French (Louie). Such details are important to nerds.

  4. Barbara Shaurette

    The title number is a real barnstormer, that’s for sure, but “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” is my favorite number. It always picks me up when I’m feeling ‘down and out’. Fun fact: there’s an instrumental version of “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” in the music loop that plays on Main Street U.S.A. Whenever I’m there and I hear it come on, it takes all my willpower not to break into song on the spot.

    • Broughps

      I think life should be a musical. You should be able to break out into a song and dance at any time. ; )

  5. Elyse

    Hello Dolly is one of my favorite musical films. I wanted to get married in that gold dress since my teenage years. I think my MIL would have fainted.

  6. thedementedfairy

    I does love me some musicals! Personally, this film has never made my top ten, mainly because, being of an age that laughed every week at ‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em’ I could never take Michael Crawford even slightly seriously, and his awful yank accent in this irks me. I don’t like his singing voice either. Barbra holds the screen though!
    My top ten DOES include My Fair Lady, 7 Brides, Calamity Jane, Kiss me Kate and Kismet though.

  7. Susan Pola Staples

    Hello Dolly is memorable for two or three thing: Barbra Streisand, the gold gown & Louis Armstrong.
    But I do like it. Streisand’s voice is so rich and beautiful. I’d watch it for that alone.

  8. mkaufmann2009

    I just watched this recently. After seeing it on stage four times in three days being performed by my granddaughter’s kidstage group. I found I appreciated it much more than the first time I saw it.

  9. Sass

    Could the costuming choices be considered a forerunner to Steampunk? I see a lot of similarities in the approach taken with materials and exxageration of details.

  10. Janet Nickerson

    Other leads suggested were Betty Grable and Dan Dailey, but the studio was hoping to get the ‘youth market’. My mother took me to see Betty Grable in a touring show of ‘Hello Dolly’ in the late 1960s.

  11. Broughps

    One of my favorites. Also liked the non-musical version, The Matchmaker with Shirley Booth, Paul Ford, Shirley MacLaine and Anthony Perkins.

    • MoHub

      The Matchmaker is one of my favorite films and is far better than the film version of Dolly, although I have no issues with the stage version. It also introduced a young Robert Morse as Barnaby.

  12. Jamie Jo

    I kinda prefer the Matchmaker with Shirley Booth. sure the musical is great but Walter Matthau is very badly miscast and Michael Crawford is to…goofy. I DO love the costumes it has though.

    • MoHub

      The Matchmaker also stays true to the fact that Dolly is Irish, with the maiden name Gallagher. The Levi is from her Viennese Catholic husband.

      The film of the musical conveniently dropped the “Gallagher” from Dolly’s name so Streisand could play her as New York Jewish.

  13. Lynelle

    I have a special place in my heart for Hello Dolly because my mom got to be in it! Her high school drill team marched as the YWCA group in the parade (my mom carried the banner). According to her, the YWCA uniforms and the marching band uniforms were wool, it was beastly hot, Gene Kelly called the drill team droopy drawers and they had to do multiple parade takes because Streisand wanted to make sure they got her good side.

  14. melponeme_k

    I always enjoyed watching this as a kid.

    The costumes are in the right ballpark but yeah they referenced the 60’s style more than the 00’s.

    Truthfully, I think this early era suited Streisand’s features. She was never more beautiful than she was in this film or Funny Girl.

  15. SarahV

    I love this movie, and I especially love that gold dress, but now I am all intrigued by this legendary animosity between Barbra and Mathau. Anyone have a good source to read up on it?

  16. Dana Dobos

    One of the best films ever made. Pure delight from start to finish.