Before “The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour” debuted on CBS television in 1972, Cher said,
Sonny and I wore clothes, but they were so kind of unisex, you know? Some people don’t even know I was a girl!”
Here is a glance back at the American singing duo, Sonny & Cher, in their unisex phase of the 1960s, before they launched their glitzier TV career:
Salvatore Phillip “Sonny” Bono (1935-1998) and Cherilyn Sarkisian (b. 1946) AKA known as the American singing duo, Sonny & Cher, are shown here in their trend-setting unisex fashion. They were married from 1964-1975. They had one child: Chastity “Chaz” Bono. Photo 1965.
Cher and Sonny wear matching striped bell-bottoms. 1965
Cher’s father was of Armenian heritage and her mother had some Cherokee blood. She played up her Native American heritage by wearing traditional costumes with beadwork and fringe and singing songs such as “Half-Breed” and “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves.” Note the unisex theme in their outfits. ca. 1965.
In 1965, the Sonny (r.) & Cher song, “I’ve Got You, Babe,” knocked the Beatles off the top of the British music charts. English teenagers copied the singing duo’s iconic fashion style. Their shows “attracted girls who were ironing their hair straight and dyeing it black, to go with their vests and bell-bottoms” (“Cher,’ wikipedia). Cher was fond of fringe; Sonny, of fur. 1965
Cher hoped that her new variety show would revive her flagging career. Sonny & Cher had been a big hit in the early to mid-sixties but, in the last several years, their popularity had taken a nosedive. By 1971, when CBS offered them a TV variety show contract, their folk rock style of music had given way to heavier sounds by groups like “Cream” and “Iron Butterfly.” In spite of their revolutionary, hip clothing style that set fashion trends in the sixties, Sonny & Cher were quite conservative when it came to sex and drugs, and, in their wholesomeness, had lost their fan base. They needed a new look to make their show a success.
And Cher knew just who could give it to them. She had met him four years earlier, on the set of “The Carol Burnett Show.” He was Bob Mackie; he worked in the wardrobe department. Mackie recalled:
It was 1967 and I was working on a loose thread on a beaded gown and Cher came over and said, ‘Oh, someday, I’m going to have one of those. And we became friends after that.”
Fashion designer, Bob Mackie, AKA “The Rajah of Rhinestones” or “The Sultan of Sequins” with TV comedienne, Carol Burnett, with whom he worked from 1967-1978. Photo 1967. Courtesy Bob Mackie.
Now that Cher had a production budget, she hired Mackie to design splashy costumes for the “Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour” (1972-1975) as well as for many later productions. A collaboration that lasted forty-two years was born. From then on, Mackie designed clothes for Cher that left viewers with no doubt that Cher was all girl. With Bob Mackie in charge of Cher’s wardrobe, it was, all of a sudden,
Goodbye, baggy blouses and bell-bottom britches!
Hello, belly-buttons, bottoms, and bosoms!
Mackie outfitted Cher as a Native American princess. Photo ca. 1973.
Cher’s song, “Half-Breed,” topped the Billboard charts for the week ending October 6,1973. Here she is shown debuting the song on “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.” She wears a Bob Mackie original costume: a headdress decked out in feathers, a sequined halter top, and a loin cloth that reached down to her platform shoes. Photo ca. 1963
Mackie transformed Cher from a shapeless hippie into a shameless sexpot. He created outlandish-for-the-day, navel-baring outfits bedecked with beads, sequins, and feathers topped off by enormous headdresses. Her skimpy outfits made the network censors question whether or not they were appropriate for prime time television. Cher’s bronzed and taut midriff was enviable.
Mackie had the time of his life designing for Cher:
‘She was like a big Barbie doll,’ he said. (1)
Cher channels the Egyptian goddess Isis in this Bob Mackie costume designed for a 1975 TV special.
Cher’s TV shows were popular, as she was a talented singer, comedienne, and actress, but part of the reason she became such a towering success was because people tuned into her programs each week to see what she would OR WOULDN”T be wearing. And Cher never disappointed – thanks to Bob Mackie.
Cher began to make fashion statements on the red carpet, appearing at celebrity functions in “barely there” outfits by Mackie.
Cher and her designer Bob Mackie arrive at a Met gala, 1974. She is wearing a Mackie bodysuit embroidered with feathers and crystals. Mackie said of his muse, “She had such an unbelievable body. She could wear anything.” This outfit would be featured on the cover of “Time” magazine the following spring. (1)
Cher arrives at the 1974 Academy Awards wearing a Bob Mackie design.
Cher was miffed that she wasn’t nominated for her 1985 starring role in the film, “Mask,” prompting her to appear in her role as an award presenter in this a provocative Mackie design that challenged the Academy’s dress code. 1986
(1) Barnard, Christopher. “Cher’s One-of-a-Kind Fashion Legacy,” November 10, 2010. Vanity Fair. Web Exclusive.
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