Many Shades of Being Darcelle:  52 Years of Fashion, 1967 – 2019

This dress was made for the iconic Gracie Hansen shortly after she arrived in Portland in 1965. When Gracie died in 1985, Walter purchased all of Gracie’s dresses that were available and altered them slightly for himself.

August 30 – November 3, 2019

  • Family-friendly
  • Free for Members
  • Researchers
  • Teachers
  • Handicap Accessible Friendly

Location:
Oregon Historical Society
1200 SW Park Ave
Portland, Oregon 97205
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Portland’s own Darcelle XV (the stage name of Walter Cole) has been headlining the Darcelle XV Showplace cabaret club since 1973. In a career spanning over 50 years, Darcelle has worn a vast array of extravagant costumes, often designed and constructed by Walter himself. Walter, performing as Darcelle, now holds the Guinness World Record for oldest performing drag queen.

This first-ever exhibit of Darcelle’s iconic costumes, The Many Shades of Darcelle: 52 Years of Fashion, 1967–2019, features several of Darcelle’s more than 1,500 stage costumes. Spanning from the 1960s to the present, these costumes allow the public to view drag culture up close and to experience a piece of Portland’s glamorous history. The exhibit is part of the Darcelle Project, which includes Triangle Production’s fall production of the musical That’s No Lady.

This dress was made for the iconic Gracie Hansen shortly after she arrived in Portland in 1965. The photo at left shows Gracie wearing the dress on stage. The photo on the right is Walter, dressed as Darcelle, outside Darcelle XV Showplace, around 1990.

This dress was made for the iconic Gracie Hansen shortly after she arrived in Portland in 1965. Harvey Dick, owner of the Hoyt Hotel, spent one million dollars to transform a 5,000 square foot one-story parking garage into Gracie Hansen’s Roaring 20s Room. The photo at left shows Gracie wearing the dress on stage, along with one of her favorite accessories, a crown. When Gracie died in 1985, Walter purchased all of Gracie’s dresses that were available and altered them slightly for himself. Instead of using gloves and ostrich plumes on the wrists, he used gauntlets and bracelets. The hat was part of the original dress. The photo on the right is Walter, dressed as Darcelle, outside his club, Darcelle XV Showplace, around 1990. Because of the age of the dress, some of the plumes were replaced and feathers added. It should be noted that both performers wore this dress despite their size difference, Gracie being approximately 5’ 2” and Walter standing at 6’.

“I made this costume for the Imperial Sovereign Court of Portland Coronation held at the Paramount Theatre in October 1972. I was crowned Rose Empress XV that night, wearing this costume. That’s how I became Darcelle XV. – Walter Cole aka Darcelle XV

“I made this costume for the Imperial Sovereign Court of Portland Coronation held at the Paramount Theatre, now the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, in October 1972. This is the first dress I ever made from a pattern. If you notice, there is also a cape that goes along with the dress. When it was finished, I thought it was so damned ugly, I decided to wear it backwards! Frontwards or backwards, I was crowned Rose Empress XV that night, wearing this costume. That’s how I became Darcelle XV. It has been one hell of an amazing ride ever since.” – Walter Cole aka Darcelle XV

Walter purchased this hand-beaded red dress in the 1980s.

Walter purchased this hand-beaded red dress in the 1980s. The weight of the dress alone is approximately twelve pounds and the accompanying jacket (not pictured) is approximately twenty-three pounds. Often, Walter would wear this dress without the jacket, preferring gauntlets as pictured here.

Walter made this dress from scratch in the 1990s, adding real Christmas lights that lit up with the use of an extension cord.

Walter made this dress from scratch in the 1990s, adding real Christmas lights that lit up with the use of an extension cord. The 25-foot extension cord trailed him wherever he went on stage. Over the years, he has worn the Christmas dress to various events, including Storm Large’s annual holiday show and Lakewood Theatre’s Christmas tree auction.

Walter created this black dress, designing the teardrop rhinestone motif and sewing and beading the gown by hand. The dress took approximately three months to complete and weighs between 15 and 25 lbs.

Walter created this black dress, designing the teardrop rhinestone motif and sewing and beading the gown by hand. The dress took approximately three months to complete and weighs between 15 and 25 lbs.

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