West High to honor woman who made majorette outfits by hand for nearly 30 years

2010-02-05T00:15:00Z West High to honor woman who made majorette outfits by hand for nearly 30 yearsDIANE COCHRAN Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
February 05, 2010 12:15 am  • 

Aside from a few lipstick marks, the uniforms Arline Jerome sewed three and four decades ago for majorettes at West High look as fresh as the day they were first worn.

Jerome, 86, made by hand dozens of wool and polyester costumes for the majorette corps beginning in the 1960s.

She will be honored tonight at halftime of a girls basketball game, and all former West High majorettes are invited to a reception following the game.

The game begins at 7:30 p.m. in the West High gym. The halftime show and reception are part of West’s ongoing 50th anniversary celebration.

The show will include a performance by this year’s majorette squad dressed in vintage uniforms.

“We’re going to wear all our costumes from the past that we found in our storage room,” said coach Tina M. Keller. “Each girl will wear a different costume. We don’t have all of them, but what we do have, they’ll wear.”

Despite their age and having been worn by generations of girls — some of them have multiple names written in their collars — the uniforms are in excellent condition.

Jerome’s careful craftsmanship can take credit for that. She was a perfectionist who tailored each outfit to its wearer’s body and did as much of the sewing by hand as with a machine.

“I was from a different era,” said Jerome, who lives at the Vintage Suites assisted-living center in Billings. “Everyone sewed. If you wanted something, you sewed it.”

She learned to sew so early in life that she does not remember it. But she does remember ordering catalogue fabrics and patterns to make clothes.

Jerome began sewing majorette uniforms at the request of Charlie Nesbit, who led the corps with his wife, Betty, for 45 years beginning in 1959.

“I don’t know what we would have done without her,” Nesbit said. “She really went out of her way to serve us.”

Jerome crafted the uniforms to Nesbit’s specifications but often made suggestions to improve his designs. She kept a detailed notebook that tracked the work she did on each item.

“You knew she put in four times as much time as she wrote down,” Nesbit said. “She was just magnificent.”

Jerome stopped sewing new uniforms in the 1990s when sequins came into fashion, but she continued to make repairs.

Her favorite costume is a smart number that dates to the 1960s or 1970s. Its sleeveless bodice is half black and half white, and the skirt is pink.

Jerome stitched a band of white stars around the black portion of the bodice and a band of black stars around the white.

“It was a fun ride, that’s for sure,” she said.

Contact Diane Cochran at dcochran@billingsgazette.com or 657-1287.

If you go

Seamstress Arline Jerome will be honored tonight during the West High girls basketball game against Great Falls.

Majorettes will perform at halftime in costumes that Jerome sewed by hand in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

The game begins at 7:30 p.m. in the West High gym.

A reception for all former West High majorettes will follow the game.

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