Melvin P. Thorpe and His Flamboyant Suits


Melvin P. Thorpe, the big-city television reporter in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, is flamboyant, outspoken, narcissistic, and self-righteous. In short, he is a dream character to design costumes for.

Melvin’s character is the prime antagonist in the show. It is because of Melvin’s meddling that the Chicken Ranch - the little bitty pissant brothel in the small town of Gilbert, Texas - is forced to shut down. Melvin is ‘The Watchdog’, a larger-than-life television personality who sets his sights on shutting down Miss Mona’s house of ill repute. He is a showman masquerading as a newsman. An opportunist always playing to the camera.

My approach to Melvin was to match his persona with an over-the-top look. I turned to television personalities of the era, focusing on those celebrities that created a distinct, unforgettable look, and combined that with a Texan silhouette. Taking inspiration from Nudie for his themed Western embroidered suits, along with Liberace for his rhinestone-bedazzled performance costumes, I came up with the look for our Melvin P. Thorpe.

The director, Peggy Taphorn, loved the idea of having Melvin stealing the stage visually whenever he was in a scene. Best Little Whorehouse is a musical comedy, after all, and Melvin happens to be one of the biggest comic relief characters in the script. The first time the audience is introduced to Melvin is during the filming of his highly popular television series, Watchdog. The musical number in that scene, “Texas Has a Whorehouse in it,” is full of hilarity - especially when his background singers and dancers, the Dogettes, match Melvin in eye-achingly bright yellow with silver and gold sequins trimmed costumes. Everywhere Melvin shows up during the course of the show he is ‘on camera’ and constantly performing for the public. With the added concept of having each of his costumes reflect a Texas theme, we had the foundation our Melvin P. Thorpe.

We didn’t have the budget to build his over-the-top suits from scratch. Instead, I sourced suits for each of his appearances over the course of the show. The suits would then be bedazzled with Swarovski crystals, sequin appliques, beading, and layers of glitz. However, the suits, as the ‘blank canvas,’ needed a shine and texture of their own.

Three flamboyant suits completed Melvin’s wardrobe: each one distinct, and each one incorporating a Texas theme. The first - a yellow sharkskin suit appliqued with music-note theme and stars. The second - a flame-red number, was decorated with a white sequin Texas state applique featured at the center back and bedazzled with fifty white and blue sequins stars. The third - a blue sequin blazer was adorned with a yellow rose of Texas theme. Twenty yellow sequins roses were appliqued upon it.

Even Melvin’s shoes were rhinestoned.

At every performance, Melvin got the biggest laughs. Not just for his first Watchdog scene, but for every appearance he made over the course of the show. I’m proud of how much the costumes contributed to the visual comedy of the show.

Melvin_Yellow suit_process.jpg
Melvin_blue suit_process.jpg
Melvin_Red suit rendering_process.jpg
Melvin_Red suit_process.jpg