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Historical Essay

Shotz Brewery Costume

Wisconsin Historical Museum Object – Feature Story

Shotz Brewery Costume | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeShotz Brewery Costume

Shotz Brewery costume, 1976-1980

Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum object #2006.38.1

EnlargeTV Guide

Debut of Laverne and Shirley, 1976

Cover of TV Guide from May 1976, featuring Cindy Williams (aka ”Shirley”, left) and Penny Marshall (aka “Laverne”) a few months after the debut of Laverne and Shirley on ABC. Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum accession file 2006.38

EnlargeWomen workers in the Schlitz Beer factory

Women workers in the Schlitz Beer factory, 1947

Women workers on the bottling line of the actual Schlitz Beer factory in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1947. View the original source document: WHI 01954

Shotz Brewery smock used in Laverne and Shirley television series, 1976-1980.
(Museum object #2006.38.1)

Introduced in the show's opening credits along side an undeniably catchy theme song, the lavender Shotz Brewery smock — like Laverne's famous "L"-embroidered sweaters — is a classic icon from the popular 1976-1983 ABC sitcom Laverne and Shirley. An original wardrobe item from the series, this smock is one of the uniforms worn by employees at the fictional Shotz Brewery, set during the 1950s in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As a progressive TV show that focused on two independent women working in the factory to make it on their own, the Shotz brewery often played an integral part in Laverne and Shirley's plotline.

With the title characters spun-off of the popular Happy Days, a show also set in Milwaukee — the January 1976 introduction of Laverne and Shirley into ABC's Tuesday night line-up lent further fame to the city. Likewise set in the 1950s, Laverne and Shirley centered on the lives of two twenty-something roommates who worked on the bottling line at the Shotz Brewery, a fictional factory born of Milwaukee's beer-centric reputation with a name not too far away from the city's own Schlitz, the "beer that made Milwaukee famous." Conceived of during a time when the nation was inundated by advertising from Milwaukee breweries like Schlitz, Pabst, Blatz and Miller, Laverne and Shirley derived this major plot point from a stereotype that had existed since Milwaukee's breweries first rose to prominence in the late nineteenth century.

With limited education and income, the portrayal of Laverne and Shirley as two working-class women employed by the brewing industry furthered stereotypes of Milwaukee as a blue-collar industrial town. While the image of Rosie the Riveter during World War II glorified factory work for women for a brief period of time, it was considered more respectable in the 1950s for women to pursue jobs in areas such as clerical work. The freedoms of the lead characters seem to reflect 1970s ideals more so than those of the 1950s, emphasized in the show's theme song, which included lyrics like "Give us any chance we'll take it/Read us any rule we'll break it/We're going to make our dreams come true/Doing it our way."

The spunky female leads -- Penny Marshall as Laverne and Cindy Williams as Shirley -- along with additional comic relief provided by their neighbors Lenny and Squiggy, the crazy antics portrayed on the show endeared audiences and quickly propelled the show into the number one ratings slot by the show's second season.

Laverne De Fazio and Shirley Feeney called Milwaukee home until 1980 when the show's producers decided to change the plot and move the duo to California, but the departure from the original premise led to the decline of the series. Cindy Williams left the show in 1982 and Penny Marshall took the show one more season as a solo Laverne before the show ended for good May of 1983. Laverne and Shirley lasted eight seasons, producing 112 episodes.

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Posted on August 17, 2006