With their towering headdresses and skimpy jewel-encrusted outfits they were once as much a fixture of Las Vegas as slot machines and roulette wheels.
But the days of the traditional Vegas showgirl are doomed – thanks to Covid-related staff shortages and new ‘woke’ values.
While the gaudy city strip was once packed with elaborate revue shows with names such as Jubilee!, Folies Bergere and Lido De Paris, they have been replaced with big-name acts like Celine Dion, Elton John and acrobatic theatre from the Cirque du Soleil.
Last night, one source – who has been trying in vain to bring a new showgirl revue to the city – said: ‘Times have changed. In the old days, being a Vegas showgirl was prestigious. They had to be trained dancers, there were very strict restrictions on their height and weight, they were the “face” of Las Vegas.
‘But with the rise of woke, girls don’t want to be seen that way any more. They would rather earn the big bucks hostessing in nightclubs.
‘If they are going to show off their bodies then they’d prefer to put on a bikini and work the pool parties every hotel has. That’s where the big tippers are. Traditional Vegas showgirls are a dying breed.’
With their towering headdresses and skimpy jewel-encrusted outfits they were once as much a fixture of Las Vegas as slot machines and roulette wheels
When the team organising Adele’s postponed run of concerts at Caesars Palace needed showgirls to staff the gift shop to sell merchandise they were forced to hire drag queens instead, the source said, adding that part of the problem is that so many people left the gambling hub during the pandemic, or got new jobs working from home.
‘Now the only girls you see are pale imitations,’ they said. ‘They pose for pictures with tourists for $20 a time out on the Strip alongside Elmo and Spiderman.’
At the height of their fame, in the 1950s and 1960s, showgirls became synonymous with the glamour and glitz of Vegas, popularised by Rat Pack entertainers such as Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.
Each girl had to be between 5ft 8in and 6ft and weigh no more than 8st 8lbs. Most were classically trained dancers.
They would wear five sets of false eyelashes – three on top, two on the bottom – and their breasts had to be ‘small and natural’.
Their elaborate headdresses could weigh up to 25 lb and cost up to £8,000 each. Swarovski-encrusted bikinis and exotic plumes meant costumes could easily cost £12,000.
But the days of the traditional Vegas showgirl are doomed – thanks to Covid-related staff shortages and new ‘woke’ values
One former showgirl, Lisa Medford, said: ‘We had real chinchilla, real sable. I wore a cape that took two women to hook on, weighed 58 lb, velvet with satin lining. I had a 25 lb headpiece on top of that.’
Grant Philipo, a ‘showgirl evangelist’ who has collected more than 40,000 pieces of showgirl memorabilia, says: ‘They were classy shows, not girls grinding in your lap.
‘The showgirl is an endangered species and soon she will be extinct. And that’s a real shame for Vegas.’
The source added: ‘The original showgirls were classy and put on performances to get gamblers to stay inside the casinos and spend more. These days you can see more with a few clicks of a mouse than you ever saw with a showgirl.’
At the height of their fame, in the 1950s and 1960s, showgirls became synonymous with the glamour and glitz of Vegas
A handful do remain. At Bally’s casino a new show called Extravaganza opens this weekend with a mix of acts including motorcycle stunt riders, acrobats and comedians.
Bally’s said: ‘We have brought the classic showgirl back to Vegas, putting their rhinestone-studded tushies back under the glittering lights where they belong.’
But several of the performances have already been cancelled, according to the casino’s website.
Simon Painter, the creative director behind Simon Cowell’s America’s Got Talent Live show on the Strip and producer of Cirque du Soleil’s new hit Mad Apple, said: ‘Entertainment has moved on. Showgirls are not new or novel any more.’