Barbara Billingsley's costuming choices as June Cleaver were much more strategic than we realized

June Cleaver's high heels and pearls actually served a much bigger purpose than you might think.

How many times have you worked from home in your pajamas because you just couldn’t justify putting on real clothes? Of all the seemingly unrealistic parts of Leave It To Beaver that we might look back and chuckle at, one of the more frequent laughs is seeing Barbara Billingsley as June Cleaver wearing a full outfit complete with high heels and a string of pearls just to stay home and clean the house in.

However, these costuming decisions weren’t simply for appearances only. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Barbara Billingsley recalled that the decision to wear pearls wasn’t aesthetic; rather, it was to cover up a hollow she had in her neck that would become more pronounced if they showed it on television. In the interview, she explained, “I have a hollow... cameras and film were not the same as they are today... It showed this big and so this put a big shadow right across.”

Billingsley also explained that pearls were not worn constantly immediately in the series, but that she evolved into them. She also put the laughter to rest and said, “That is the gospel truth. Not because I was cleaning the house and vacuuming in pearls.” Billingsley also recalled an interview with Oprah Winfrey during which she was pressed about the character of June Cleaver wearing high heels in the house.

Exasperated, Cleaver explained the sensible reason: She needed to remain taller than her on-screen sons, Tony Dow, and Jerry Mathers. She said, “High heels were because the boys grew. I had to be taller. I wore flats in the beginning, but pretty soon you got high heels.” She also joked, “I was lucky they didn’t put me on an apple box.”

Billingsley also shared that she had a hand in the costuming decisions surrounding June Cleaver, including one important detail: the length of her skirts. Billingsley expressed that she made sure that June Cleaver’s skirts weren’t overly short, but also not overly long as well. Interestingly, the length of the skirts actually benefitted the show. Billingsley said, “It’s surprising. It was a good idea because it’s not dated.”

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LalaLucy 8 months ago
There are still many out there that fuss about the realism and chalk it up to the times but I had read about this before and the reasoning always made sense to me. I personally always thought she was very elegant and ladylike.
frenchman71 9 months ago
I read once where June wore pearls because she had a small neck. No biggie. She's still TV's best mom.
Antenna2 frenchman71 9 months ago
In the above article she explains why....
Andybandit 9 months ago
BB dressed very nice while on LITB.
LoveMETV22 9 months ago
I understand the concept of Billingsley wearing pearls if it made for a better camera shot. However was the height difference as Dow, Mathers, grew older in relation to Billingsley really that noticeable or important to the series?
teire LoveMETV22 9 months ago
And yet I’ve read that before. I think it started when the boys were still relatively young in the scheme of the show.
LoveMETV22 teire 9 months ago
I'm guessing from:
“I was lucky they didn’t put me on an apple box.”
That it was the producers/studio that wished for her to look taller on camera.
Antenna2 LoveMETV22 9 months ago
It must have been to the producers and directors - and height also meant authority.
Pacificsun LoveMETV22 8 months ago
Partly optical illusion and Studios were incredibly image conscious. You would think a model's measurements would be enough. But the taller the appearance, the slimmer, given that cameras in those days added 5 lbs. IMO the boys never appeared that tall. But BB's sense of detail, must've strengthened her self-confidence. She always appeared ageless 😊
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