Such fashion statements weren't just Baltimore-centric. This was true across the country, Ryack says. Even in her hometown of Boston, white kids shopped in such places as Filene's, while many blacks shopped at smaller, community-based stores.

"It was very clearly demarcated," she says.

Baltimore style
Here in Baltimore, residents remember people having their own sense of style, different even from other urban centers.

"In Baltimore, sometimes we don't have the same fashion cachet as Philly or New York," says Helen Blumberg, 55, of Lutherville, who has seen the first Hairspray movie, released in 1988. "But, as in everything, Baltimore had its own scrappy identity. It was like, 'Hey! This is who we are, hon! And if you don't like it, you can go live somewhere else.'"

Blumberg, who grew up in Mount Washington, is proud, for example, of the "amazing" big hair many Baltimore women perfected.

"I remember, in Highlandtown and Hampden, you could have the women standing in a hurricane, and buildings would probably be blown away and their hair wouldn't move," says Blumberg, who manages the fiction and young adult department at the Enoch Pratt Free Library. "It was almost like a status thing, how high and how big you got your hair."

Young women in Baltimore wanted their hair stiffer, their skirts slimmer and their sweaters ever tighter - a sore spot for many of their parents.

Growing up, Catherine Burch Jenkins, 57, of Sparks was forbidden by her parents to watch The Buddy Deane Show. But that didn't stop her and her siblings from stealing peeks at it - much the way Hairspray's Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) and Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes) do.

"It was too outrageous and wild for us to see," says Jenkins, who is retired from heading up the art department at Notre Dame Preparatory School. "The outfits, the dancing, the diversity. Little did they know that we sneaked in viewings when we could without getting caught, to watch those sensationally dressed ... dancing teens we loved."

Jenkins is a huge fan of the earlier Hairspray film and is hesitant to see the latest one for fear it won't compare.

One way that director Adam Shankman's new Hairspray looks a little different from previous incarnations: John Travolta's Edna Turnblad.

"She's different from the other Ednas that we've seen," Ryack says. "That was generated by John, who really did not want to do the role as a drag queen at all. He wanted the audience to forget that he was a man playing a woman's role."

As a result, mother Turnblad is dressed throughout the movie in simple clothes - solid colors, no patterns, no feathers or floral, Ryack says.

Except, of course, during moments when Edna is feeling more confident, say in a pink sequined cocktail dress or a Tina Turner-inspired red-and-gold shimmy-shimmy dress at the film's end.

"That's when he just breaks out," Ryack says. "Or, she, I should say."

Ryack didn't have anything to do with transforming Travolta into a plus-sized woman; that was the job of a team of special effects artists, and hair and makeup specialists.

But she did have certain challenges when making clothes for Travolta, whose portrayal of Edna is more curvaceous than it is chunky.

"Believe me, he was full-figured," says Ryack. "The measurements were crazy big. He was wearing a waist-cincher, actually, and a real bra and everything."

Personality counts
Fashionable plus-sized women abound in Hairspray. Tracy doesn't shy away from plaids and pleated skirts, which were all the rage in the 1960s. And Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah) revels in her glamorous get-ups.

But sometimes actors had to be dressed appropriately for the time - and their characters' personalities - as well.

Tracy often wears a white blouse, just as all the Tracys before her.

"The white blouse is really iconic," Ryack says. "It's pretty subtle, but as she gets a little more famous her blouses get a little rufflier."

Tracy's father, Wilbur Turnblad (Christopher Walken), is quite the jokester in the film.

"He works in the joke shop, so we wanted him to look funny," Ryack says. "But he's such a good-looking guy, it's not easy to dress him down. We had to put him in funny shirts and high-waisted pants."

And Michelle Pfeiffer's character, Velma von Tussle, was one of Ryack's favorites to dress.

"Michelle's character, she represents the old guard; she's the evil queen in her cocktail dresses at all times of the day," Ryack says. "How much fun was she to dress in those ridiculous cocktail dresses and jewelry no matter what!"

tanika.white@baltsun.com