Vinyl, wool and NFL wives: The first Hall of Fame fashion show

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Vinyl, wool and NFL wives: The first Hall of Fame fashion show

Shane Hoover

The Repository, Canton, Ohio

CANTON -- The model posed for the camera, hand on her hip, left leg forward, a double strand of pearls draped around her neck.

"Evening elegance. The long evening gown is returning to popularity, but with many variations on the theme," the photo caption reads. "This gray wool sheath piped in white satin worn by Mrs. Frank Ryan drops in straight lines from the jewel neckline to the hem."

It was the 1963 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival. The game's bullet-like shrine had just opened, and Joan Ryan was making her runway debut.

Her husband, Frank, was quarterback of the Browns, who were playing the Steelers in that week's exhibition game. Lou "The Toe" Groza's wife, Jackie, had convinced the wives of players from both teams to model for the festival's first fashion show.

Joan Ryan went to high school in Texas, "where everyone is a minor-league beauty queen or cheerleader," but she wasn't a professional model, nor were most of the other wives.

But there they were, in front of 300 spectators, walking a runway at the Onesto Hotel in the latest fashions from Polsky's, Stern & Mann and other downtown Canton stores.

A ruby vinyl jacket with brass buttons. A sapphire gown. A green Picasso print sweater. Stretch slacks and turtlenecks layered for fall. And plenty of furs.

"It has its own matching stole lined in white satin and trimmed in opossum -- a perfect outfit for a victory celebration when Joan's quarterback husband and his teammate on the Browns bring home victories."

In someone's mind, Joan Ryan's gown was emblematic of the typical day in the life of a wife of a pro football player.

Fifty-three years on, she doesn't remember the ensemble in the photograph.

"I must not have been very impressed with that," she said recently from her home in Grafton, Vt. "I do remember the purple one, though."

It was the ugliest dress, a woman at the show remarked, that she had ever seen.

Different times

Just as fashion has changed since 1963, so has the size and scope of the annual Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival Fashion Show Luncheon, which will be held Aug. 5 at Memorial Civic Center and Cultural Center.

"We're expecting right around 3,000 guests, as normal," event manager Melissa Dale said.

This year's show has six scenes, among them fitness, bridal and evening segments.

There will be 200 fashions -- men's, women's and children's -- from local boutiques and national and regional retailers, 28 stores in all.

Wheel gymnasts from CirquesExperience will perform, as will two dance groups -- the American Commodore and Constellations Performing Arts -- and there will be a tribute to the late musician Prince.

Page 2 of 2 -- "I think it's important that we have an event focused solely for women," Dale said. "A lot of the events at the festival are obviously football-themed, and it's not solely for men, but it is football-themed. This fashion show, it's nice that it is something separate for women."

These days the show uses models with prior runway experience, but players' wives are still part of the event. A large number of the wives of returning Hall of Famers attend each year, as do the enshrinees' wives.

"A lot of them like to walk the runway beforehand," Dale said. "We introduce them, and they go up there and they twirl and work it, and the crowd really, really enjoys that."

Spectacle to come

The first Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival fashion show was a one-off for Ryan, who became a sportswriter and columnist for The Washington Post.

In fact, many details reported in The Canton Repository about the show escape her memory. Like how the Steelers' players escorted their wives at the show, while the wives of the Browns carried giant-sized portraits of their husbands, who couldn't attend because they were still practicing in Cleveland.

"I'm sorry that it seems so hazy to me," Ryan said, "but I think that the Hall of Fame was not uppermost in people's minds then because it was so brand new and they were trying to present publicity to get people to go there and support it."

Football, too, was a simpler, smaller game. Professional players still worked summer jobs. Practice facilities were spartan.

Still, the Ryans got a small taste of the spectacle to come. The Browns lost to the Steelers in the Hall of Fame Game, but they had a good team and were NFL champs in 1964.

People recognized Frank that championship season when he and Joan went Christmas shopping in downtown Cleveland.

"That had never happened before," Joan Ryan said. "We were both sort of blown away by that. Now, they make football heroes out of high school boys."

Reach Shane at 330-580-8338 or

On Twitter: @shooverREP


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