Nancy Austin - From Funny Girl to Fashion Icon

NancyAustin2By day, she was an unassuming 3rd grade teacher, but by night she was doubling as a stand-up comic in Washington nightclubs. In the early 1960s, Nancy Austin took a chance and decided to move to Las Vegas to pursue comedy full time. Almost immediately, she caught the attention of the beloved Las Vegas daytime review Bottom’s Up, and they hired her to become one of their original cast members.

Over the next several decades, she starred in many shows along the Las Vegas Strip including her debut role in Bottom’s Up at Caesars Palace, and Bedtime Riot at the Desert Inn and Thunderbird. She also starred in a radio show with husband, David London, called, “Coffee with the Londons.”

Though she made a name for herself with her witty humor and impeccable comedic timing on the live stage, she also decided to try her hand at television and movies. She landed her big debut in The Jimmie Rodgers Show in 1959. She went on to appear in the documentary Young Americans, The Hollywood Palace, Vega$, Cannonball Run, and the TV Series Matt Houston. Her final gig landed her back on the Las Vegas Strip when she starred in Life Over 40 at the Plaza Hotel.

She not only made a splash in Las Vegas with her glittering personality and skits, but it was also her frilly socks and whimsical wardrobe that helped her stand out. After dazzling audiences both on and off stage, her next career goal was to create trendy clothes for full-figured women that would ultimately emulate her own iconic style. She successfully opened the first ever women’s full-figure dress shop in Las Vegas and even designed and made many of the clothes herself. In true Nancy Austin fashion, she named the clothing line Pudgy Playmates, which included bell bottoms, ruffled sleeves, loud patterns and everything in between. Her stores, Nancy Austin Fashions, grew to three locations in Las Vegas, which she operated successfully for the next 15 years.

Austin would lovingly call her customers “queen-size ladies” and she even came up with a thoughtful way of naming the different sizes her store offered. She is quoted as saying, "most stores call you small, medium, large or extra-large. But in our shop, you're Petite (size 16 to 20), Coquette (size 22 to 26) or Mademoiselle (26 to 32)." Austin was able to successfully create a line in which women of all sizes felt included, comfortable, and beautiful. The inclusivity that her store offered turned a fun idea into massive profit and eventually secured her win for Nevada’s Small Businessman of the Year. Or better yet, businesswoman.

Photos courtesy of UNLV Special Collections, Classic Las Vegas and Dennis McBride 


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