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.”