The Valerie Harper Blog-A-Thon: How Rhoda Got the Rhoda Look

The Valerie Harper Blog-A-Thon that Amanda at MadeForTVMayhem organized still marches on, and it's been wonderful seeing all of the love this week for one of our favorite TV ladies. I've had so much fun reading the other posts that I realized one of my own wasn't enough for me. So today I want to talk a bit about Rhoda Morgenstern's signature bohemian look and how Valerie Harper herself was inspired to create her character's fashion sense. Disclaimer: I'm pulling much of the details from a story The Hollywood Reporter posted a couple of weeks ago. 

I'm sure that when many of us think of Rhoda, we immediately think of headscarves. "That's so Rhoda" I think to myself when I see someone wearing a scarf this way--even if it's in a fashion photo taken years before television audiences were introduced to Rhoda. Headscarves were to this iconic TV character what a leather jacket was to Fonzie, and what shoes would become years later to Carrie Bradshaw. On The Mary Tyler Moore Show and later for a bit on her spin-off sitcom, Rhoda, Mary's best friend was rarely seen without a colorful scarf tied around her head. 

There actually seem to be two stories about how scarves found their way into Rhoda's closet. The first is that Valerie Harper's secretary used to wear scarves and inspired the look. 

But according to The Hollywood Reporter, it was another woman who was responsible for being Rhoda's fashion muse. A forthcoming book by author Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, MaryandLouandRhodaandTed: And All the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show A Classic, explains that Rhoda originally was portrayed as a somewhat dowdy character, with baggy clothes that would keep her blended with the background. But Valerie Harper lost 30 pounds on Weight Watchers, and she was inspired to kick her character's wardrobe up a notch when she saw Mary's stand-in, Mimi Kirk, hanging out on the set one day. 

Kirk, a self-proclaimed "late hippie" and free spirit of her own, was wearing a scarf around her head and colorful clothing. Harper was inspired and asked the show's co-creator Allen Burns how he would feel if Rhoda dumped the "schlumpy" stuff. Rhoda, after all, was a creative individual; she worked as a window dresser for a department store. Why shouldn't her clothing reflect that artistic quirkiness?

Burns was all for it and as Kirk told The Hollywood Reporter, she actually made a lot of Rhoda's scarves herself, as not every store scarf was the right size and shape to tie them just so around a head. A lot of Rhoda's headwear was crafted from fabrics including bed sheets and table clothes that Kirk would cut and sew. She also made a lot of Rhoda's jewelry and went to Harper's house for a little closet cleaning, getting rid of anything that Rhoda wouldn't wear. 

I love this clip that I found the other day, which explains how to get the Rhoda look:

It's interesting to note that by season three of the spin-off series Rhoda, the character was becoming a savvy businesswoman and underwent a wardrobe makeover, ditching the scarves and bohemian clothing for more workplace-oriented attire. Someone--perhaps the writers, perhaps Harper herself--felt that Rhoda needed to be less artsy and more sophisticated (not that scarves can't be sophisticated.) No matter. Rhoda was beautiful either way--and her trademark accessory lives on in television history. 


  1. Really nice, Pam! I enjoyed this so much I saved the link to this post to my favorites folder :)

    I've never exactly been about the fashion but I confess I've wondered where Rhoda's head scarves came from--I just preordered the MTM book too, thanks again :)

  2. Thanks, Doug! This sure was a fun topic to cover--and I want to read that book, too!

  3. This was great. I'd heard the secretary version of the headscarf "mythology" but not the other, far more fabulous story!

    And thanks for two posts for the blogathon. They are wonderful!

  4. Thanks, Amanda! I'm not sure if I answered your comment on the other post, but thanks again for a great blog-a-thon idea and getting everyone on board. I still have to check out the new posts that went up today.

  5. How can I get a "Rhoda" Scarf from Valerie Harper?


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