Past Perfect – Desert Magazine (May 2012)

Beauty, fashion and health are long-established desert concerns, intimately entwined with the many reasons to visit or live here. Not surprisingly, the desert has set styles and established beauty-enhancing and health-giving practices from its earliest days, all contributing to its reputation as “America’s foremost desert resort.”

One local trend that swept the nation was the invention of culottes, or shorts, for women. Wanting to show off the exceptionally beautiful young starlets lounging poolside at the El Mirador Hotel, it is said that Tony Burke, the property’s publicity man, shopped Lykken’s Department Store in Palm Springs for men’s cotton underwear, as there were no “shorts” to be had at any of the proper clothiers. He then posed the young, fabulous and scantily clad Hollywood set in that same underwear for newsreels, turning the girls slightly askew from the camera to hide the functional buttons at the front. Soon everybody was wearing the comfortable and cool fashion.

By day, with the delightful climate and poolside lifestyle, the desert could rival the shore as a relaxing place to show off one’s tan and figure. Beauty pageants were a natural and soon became as ubiquitous as the fashionable swimwear worn by contestants and sun seekers alike.

But for those occasions held after the sun set behind the San Jacinto Mountains, high fashion stores that offered traditional and formal wear were in abundance in the 1930s and ’40s. All the fine hotels sold ladies fashions, not just the western wear so typical of the cowboy set of the time.
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