There’s some debate over who actually sketched the uniform design, but there is little argument about its lasting effect on culture.
Earlier this month, memoirist, author and Park Cities native Sarah Hepola began her America’s Girls podcast, which tells the story of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, the iconic brigade’s place in our city’s history, its effect on American fashion, feminism and the sports entertainment industry.
Episode four, The Uniform, begins with local literary luminary Ben Fountain, author of the prize-winning Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk — a book set entirely at a Dallas Cowboys football game — calling the emblematic ensemble “artful” and analyzing its influence on the mind.
“It’s almost like if the male brain was a pinball machine, the way those uniforms were designed, it’s like, boobs, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. You know, shoulder—ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. Tummy—and then all the way down to the boots. I mean, the boots were just like, kaboom, kaboom, kaboom. It’s like you’re running up points.”
Having grown up in South Texas, Fountain observed since youth the impact of the Cowboys and their cheerleaders on culture.
“I think you can’t measure it. I mean, just where America was going, starting in the late ’60s and into the ’70s, it’s, you know, just the exaggeration of sports, commerce, sex. And I think the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders were a huge part of that.”
(Fountain, Preston Hollow resident, has an intriguing story in its own right; read more about him here.)
Episode four gets really interesting as Hepola attempts to uncover the truth about the uniform’s origin. One neighborhood native is credited with the design; another claims the initial sketch.
The most-certain thing that comes out in the interviews: Both women are brilliant and neither received the credit or reward that’s due.
Dee Brock, now in her 90s, who founded the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, is “a mother, a model, an academic, a teacher, and by the way, helped start the first community college in Dallas,” Hepola says. “And as she’s talking, it starts sinking in: she pretty much built the engine of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.”
Brock also seems to be the reason that, right from the beginning, the cheerleaders had both Black and white members on the squad. It was something she says she had to fight for. She says she drew the uniform before giving her ideas to designer Paula Van Wagoner, who made the first uniforms as part of her job at Preston Hollow’s Lester Melnick store, never receiving compensation beyond her regular salary.
Van Wagoner, a Thomas Jefferson High School alumnus says she started from scratch and drew the very first sketch.
The full conversation is available here.
And throughout the series, dive deeper into the stories through TM’s Pocket collection at getpocket.com/texas.
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