What It Was Like To Design Costumes For Trump’s Casinos

Photo: Courtesy of Creative Costume Company.
One of the costumes Susan Handler and Linda Carcaci said they designed for Trump's Atlantic City casinos in the 1980s.
How Donald Trump views and interacts with women has become a major issue in the final days of the 2016 presidential election. A 2005 tape of Trump bragging to Access Hollywood's Billy Bush about groping women set off a media firestorm earlier this month. And at least a dozen women have come forward and accused Trump of sexual assault or sexual misconduct. Throughout his career, Trump has made plenty of comments about women's appearances and his view of the ideal woman. And 30 years ago, Susan Handler and Linda Carcaci, the owners of Creative Costume Company, said they were hired to make part of that vision a reality. Handler and Carcaci worked making costumes for cocktail waitresses at the lavish Trump Castle and Trump Taj Mahal casinos in Atlantic City. They said they executed the sexualized look Trump’s first wife, Ivana, wanted for the female employees. Ahead, Handler and Carcaci share what it was like to make the uniforms, work for Trump, and whether they’re planning to vote for him come November 8.

It was the castle of Trump and Ivana was its queen. She designed it and she made the rules.

Susan Handler, Creative Costume Company
How did you get started working for Trump’s casinos in the 1980s?
Susan Handler: “At that time, we owned a corporation called Creative Uniforms, Ltd. We were involved in Atlantic City and knew about the thriving scene there. We reworked the Playboy Club, and then later in the ’80s, we designed for the Wildcat Club, which was based on the Crazy Horse saloon in Paris, a cabaret show. We also worked with Franne Lee, the production and set designer for Saturday Night Live. Those [SNL] costumes were topless, and practically bottomless. We approached Trump Castle and they told us the look they wanted.”

What was it like working for them?
SH: “We had fun because Atlantic City was exciting in the '80s. That time was the beginning of a glamorous casino scene. We mostly met with Mrs. Trump in her New York office. She had a beautiful office. It had big windows and it was sparse. She didn’t leave junk around.”
Photo: Courtesy of Creative Costume Company.
A red sequined costume the pair designed for Trump's casinos.
What was Ivana like?
SH: “She was very detail-oriented, professional, and clear about what she wanted. We got all dressed up to go meet her. We wore business attire — not jeans and T-shirts. We sat on the sofa and had a short meeting, right to the point."

Linda Carcaci:
“She put out a nice little spread of bottled water and vegetables on a tray for us. She wanted a couture look, which at the time we weren’t used to doing. As a businesswoman, she was right on.”

What was Trump Castle like back then?
SH: “When Trump Castle opened in the mid-’80s, it was very extravagant. It had a red and gold interior with ornate mirrors and gigantic chandeliers. Ivana was the general manager of the hotel. It was her baby. It was the castle of Trump and Ivana was its queen. She designed it and she made the rules. It was her job to create the image: ‘The Castle of the Gambling World in Atlantic City.’”

We made them to fit each individual girl, and if the women gained weight and couldn’t zip it up, they couldn’t work.

You made the cocktail waitress costumes. What did they look like?
SH: “The costumes for Trump Castle were built like a corset and made out of non-stretch fabric. They didn’t give an ounce. The red costumes had red sequins on the bust cups and the headpiece, which had a feather sticking out of the top so the girls could be easily seen on the casino floor. The black costumes were made of black velvet and had silver sequins. We made them to fit each individual girl, and if the women gained weight and couldn’t zip it up, they couldn’t work. Everybody had to be at least a C cup and we would put pads in the bust if they weren’t that size.” LC: “Everything was to be very sexy. Sex sells. Ivana loved the costumes. She was thrilled. It was long-wearing, utilitarian, and it was the look she was going for.”
Photo: Courtesy of Creative Costume Company.
Handler (left) and Carcaci have been designing costumes together for more than 30 years.
Did it surprise you to learn about the sexual assault allegations against Trump?
SH: “In the ’80s, it was a different time. What came out now about Trump didn’t make us say, ‘Oh yeah, we remember when…' They were looking for the girls to be sexy. I presume that was Trump’s philosophy on how things should look. That notion was the whole feeling of Atlantic City in the mid-’80s: There’s nothing sexier than a Playboy bunny. You didn’t think back then, ‘Oh my god. This is awful. How could they do that?’”

What did the cocktail waitresses think of the costumes?
LC: “They liked them. The women knew what they were getting into. These were not a pair of slacks and a top. They were constructed costumes. The women would wear them for two hours, take a break, and then go out on the floor again. They made sure their hair was in place. They had to wear high heels, and if they needed to remove their shoes, they did that.”

Everything was to be very sexy. Sex sells. Ivana loved the costumes. She was thrilled. It was long-wearing, utilitarian, and it was the look she was going for.

Linda Carcaci, Creative Costume Company
Did you think women were being objectified?
LC: “It took a lot of effort to make people go to the casinos. Each one tried to outdo the other. The customers that came in expected to see the cocktail waitresses. It was a reflection of the times.”

“The women, who were glamorous and young, were a draw and focal point on the casino floor. This was Trump Castle and it had to have a certain appeal. They really tried to keep it in the line of Vegas, the showgirl-type scene. Today, the same girls work there — but they’re 40 years older now, so it’s not the same.”

Would you make those costumes today?
SH: “Those were different days. I wouldn’t want to do that anymore. It’s too sexist. Now it’s not okay to dress in a way to say, 'Look how sexy I am.' If you’re asking me as a woman-owned business if I would make these costumes today, it might be something I’d have to think twice about.”

Are you going to vote for Trump?
LC: “Yes, I am going to vote for him. If you go to a surgeon who is the top surgeon and he does not have a very good bedside manner, but if he is a top surgeon, I will go to him. He’s less involved with the politics — which I truly hate in Washington. I do feel that if it’s a matter of being sweet-talked or bashed, I’d rather have that than lies.” SH: “I am an extremely liberal, freethinking, creative woman. I go by my own heart and not outside factors when it comes to our business. Well, no, I’m not going to vote for him because I think he’s a stifling bigot, so that does not go with creative, free thinking.”

Did working with the Trumps influence your voting decision?
LC: “Not at all. It was many, many years ago. What happened then has nothing to do with what’s happening today; all I can say is we were paid, and Ivana was easy to work with, and we gave her what she was looking for.”

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

More from Politics

R29 Original Series