Audience members at this weekend’s reprise of The Playboy of the Western World can enjoy more than Julia Adams’ acting chops as she performs the role of Pegeen Mike. Her other significant talent — as a costume designer — also will be evident.
Her ability to work in period dress brought her to the attention of no less an organization than the United States Navy. Recently, Adams had the honor and challenge of designing the dress uniform jacket for the first female commander of the Navy’s oldest commissioned ship, the USS Constitution, harbored in Boston.
“The Navy headhunted me after a friend recommended me,” Adams said. She was originally asked to provide pants for all 140 crew members, and then, when the original jacket tailor decided to retire, he recommended that a woman design and create the new one to be worn by a woman, Commander Billie J. Farrell.
All crew and officers of “Old Ironsides” wear a period-specific uniform known as “1813s,” and they are as historically accurate as possible, from the fabric of the sailors’ pants (a hemp-based sail cloth known as Russian sheeting) to the copyrighted buttons on the commander’s jacket.
The challenges for a designer went beyond adapting a male jacket to a female body. The original jacket design, which dates from 1804, fortunately features many darts on the breastplate.
“Cmdr. John Rogers had it made specially for him when he went to fight the Battle of Tripoli (off the coast of North Africa), because he had heard about the diseases one could get from the hot, humid environment. Instead of an overlap of fabric over the chest, it is open at the front and fits smoothly and forms a zipper-like front. It has more darts at the waistline to fit over the hips,” Adams said.
In Playboy, Adams made the choice to dress her own character, who is around 24 years old, in a more youthful square-neck dress with a pleated bodice, such as the other young village maidens wear. It not only fits the more free-spirited mood she brings to her character, but also helps her trim some years off her actual age to come closer to that of Pegeen.
— Katherine Karlson