Fashion designer Bob Mackie made over 16,000 outfits for The Carol Burnett Show

Bob Mackie designed around 65 to 70 costumes per week, and that was just for The Carol Burnett Show.

Image credit: Photo by Adam Scull/PHOTOlink/Courtesy Everett Collection

Bob Mackie was at the forefront of The Carol Burnett Show's success for 12 years. Don't remember seeing his face? That's because he could only be seen through the thousands of costumes he designed for the series during its 11 seasons on-air.

According to Carol Burnett: 90 Years of Laughter + Love, which aired this past April on NBC, Mackie not only designed what Burnett was going to wear, but he also created the costumes for the show's dancers, guest stars, and the entire cast of performers.

He created around 65 to 70 costumes per week for The Carol Burnett Show, and then an additional 10 to 20 pieces for other hotshot Hollywood clients. 

By the time The Carol Burnett Show ended, Mackie's resume was filled with pages of colorful designs and costumes. According to Burnett, Mackie created around 17,000 costumes for the series.

The mind of Mackie provided us with some of the funniest, and most interesting characters to date. Mackie designed new costumes, when needed, for each sketch. 

Some of these iconic costumes included: the famous "curtain dress" from Went with the Wind and Mama's old lady look from The Family.

"I think his genius lies not just in doing the pretty things, but in doing the funny things too," Burnett said in a 1975 interview with The Daily Times.

Besides Burnett, Mackie also worked for many other huge Hollywood clients such as: Cher, Diana Ross, Lucille Ball, Jane Fonda, Mitzi Gaynor, Carol Channing and more. 

According to the interview, Mackie and his partner Ray Aghayan created around $600,000 worth of costumes during their time in TV, film and theater; And that number was all before 1975.

"I can't even count the contributions he's made," Burnett said. "There have been many times when he's saved me in a sketch. I'd be having trouble with a character all week and then he comes up with some outfit that makes it fall into place."

In the interview with The Daily Times, Mackie said The Carol Burnett Show was his first big shot at TV. He and Burnett developed a close bond, which could be seen years later in Burnett's 90th birthday special. 

According to a 1978 interview with The Tampa Times, what amazed people the most was not just the quality of Mackie's work, but the sheer volume of it as well. He had two assistants on each series and about 25 to 30 fulltime sewers, but the designs were his alone. 

Mackie said one of the joys of being a fashion designer was working on something new each week. A variety show like Burnett's must have been a fashion designer's dream, or a nightmare, depending on the person.

When it came to the construction of the costumes, he said he must think of the function first. What the women would be doing in the clothes would make a huge difference as to how Mackie designed it. Garments for the stage had to more durable than for TV.


"They're different ladies, different in looks and personalities," Mackie said in The Tampa Times. "I try to capture that. I analyze the body and spirit of a person. Each lady inspires me. She gets excited. I get excited. Knowing her identity helps a lot."

Most of Mackie's clients had very specific instructions for him as he was creating their wardrobes. According to the article, many of his clients preferred certain colors and styles; or would refuse to wear some styles all together.

At the end of the day, Mackie asked one thing of his clients: trust him.

"Carol Burnett won't wear purple unless it's in a comedy skit," Mackie said. "Diana Ross wants to put something on and feel terrific, feel the applause."

Mackie would start reading and digesting scripts for The Carol Burnett Show on Friday, Saturday he would pick up needed fabric and materials, on Sunday he would make the sketches and on Monday the production crew would get to work. 

By the end of the week, Mackie would have all of his visions on the small screen and in people's living rooms all over the country.

"I was a very good artist," Mackie said. "But I thought I couldn't make a living doing it. At one point I wanted to be a performer. That still surprises me."

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13 Comments

HopeDuchaine 10 months ago
The wardrobe for Carol Burnett is the most beautiful. I wish that I was taller to wear them.
tootsieg 10 months ago
Great shows, great costumes. Loved watching all the variety shows with Mackie as the designer.
Drujon 11 months ago
I wonder what happened to all those dresses and costumes?
QazWiz Drujon 9 months ago
i believe the curtain rod dress was donated to a museum (the Smithsonian? if not then some "History of Television" kind of museum ) there's places that warehouse stuff for productions. I recently found a youtube channel that's sifting a warehouse dump of just printed props... think "Marley Cigarettes" the color and design is very close to Marlboro cigs but it's illegal to advertise Cigarettes on movies & Television now... see anything on tv/movies, it has to be licensed ... that warehouse virtually has every cleared design in history
Runeshaper 11 months ago
Bob Mackie sounds like a very talented individual. Very impressive resume here.
Sway 11 months ago
Fashion and costume genius. Coming up with all the ideas and making them real. Love the costumes on TCBS. The gowns she wore in the opening of the show we’re always interesting.
Andybandit 11 months ago
I love the costumes that Bob Mackey made for Carol Burnett, her co-stars, and guest to wear. I like whatever he did for Mama's family.
MrsPhilHarris 11 months ago
I loved the costumes on TCBS such as the Went With The Wind dress, the Norma Desmond dress, etc.
harlow1313 11 months ago
I am a bit torn. What am I to think of grotesquely priced "high" fashion: Is it painfully embarrassing or just a bit of good fun?

Sigh, I have settled on painfully embarrassing.
KJExpress harlow1313 11 months ago
Well, when I see that Bob Mackie had 25 to 30 full time sewers, all I can think about is Ed Norton. 🙃
LoveMETV22 KJExpress 11 months ago
When I saw harlow's quandary, all I could think of was the folktale
"The Emperor's New Clothes" by Hans Christian Andersen.
KJExpress LoveMETV22 11 months ago
"The king is in the altogether...." I can see that. 😄
madvincent harlow1313 11 months ago
well she did get worst dressed 3x's by Blackwell #2 in '68...#6 in '69 and #6 in '71.........
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