Costume Party is a monthly column exploring fashion, personal style, and historical aesthetics in film.
This month’s Costume Party, coming at you with a slight delay due to, well, the world, is a tribute to one of our many recent fallen stars, the inimitable Mary Tyler Moore. Trailblazing comedienne, pert avatar of 60s womanhood, revolutionary wearer of pants and maker of adorable faces, Moore has long been a beloved figure and fashion icon, with many words written on those Dick Van Dyke Show pants (and their controversial so-called “undercupping” of her behind) and later her fabulous Mary Tyler Moore Show 70s working-woman wardrobe. While not primarily a film actress, between the end of her run as Laura Petrie and the beginning of Mary Richards, she acted in four films: Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), Don’t Just Stand There (1968), What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? (also 1968), and Change of Habit (1969). None of those films are as beloved as her TV roles, but this month’s column has decided to explore a more obscure (and we mean really obscure, this film was never released on home video!) role, that of Liz in What’s So Bad About Feeling Good?
The film is one of those madcap 60s comedies that feature a couple of gratuitous scenes at a club with psychedelic lighting. While it’s certainly a minor work, this tale of New Yorkers afflicted with viral giddiness by a wayward toucan who sometimes expresses thoughts in cartoon word bubbles (the 60s, man!) offers some Pop Art charm, and features Moore as a beatnik, in costumes by Hollywood staple Edith Head. We first see Liz in dark, baggy clothes, pouting and playing guitar while hanging around her bohemian apartment with boyfriend Pete (George Peppard).
She hides her saucer eyes behind oversized round glasses, and slouches around the house in a drab tunic.
But, this being a wacky comedy, the beatnik outfits don’t last long. As Pete and all of Liz’s friends catch the happiness virus, and Liz picks it up psychosomatically, her outfits become noticeably brighter and more typically elegant. One might expect the “feeling good” the film promises to have a colorful, hippie-ish aesthetic, but Liz and her friends start dressing in a more tailored and typically “establishment” fashion. Feeling good here is equated with prim outfits that immediately telegraph good taste. Her powder blue suit recalls some of Head’s famed designs from Hitchcock films as well as Jacqueline Kennedy, and her matching hat and gloves impart a winsome appearance. At one point, she even wears a veiled hat, a piece of frippery she would’ve scoffed at in her beatnik stage.
In one of the film’s most memorable sequences, Liz and a friend perform at a nightclub in an attempt to spread their viral cheer. The two of them prance about in spangled bustiers and feathered headpieces and their sparkling attire wouldn’t be out of place in a Jacques Demy film.
What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? is a frothy example of Moore’s stylish peppiness. In between the urbane Dick Van Dyke Show and the colorful women’s lib of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the film acts as a long-forgotten portrait of the endearingly dated transition between bohemian rags and elegantly tailored suits, made all the more memorable by the singular, highly expressive woman who wore them.
So rest in peace, Mary Tyler Moore. The world is far less charming and more poorly dressed without you.