We called these the “Queen Mother” gowns because we wore them for the Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium in 1968. Diane [Diana Ross], Cindy [Birdsong] and I performed there alongside Petula Clark, Engelbert Humperdinck and Diahann Carroll, and each of these gowns weighed about 35lb, although they didn’t feel that heavy when we had them on. They were made of pink silk crepe, and the designer was Michael Travis. There was a diamond pattern, outlined in pearls, and the centre of each diamond contained a large crystal rose montee. It was really something. A lot of our gowns were covered with sequins, but sequins are not as heavy as pearls and diamonds. The neckline on these dresses was similar to some of the rounded, necklace-like African designs – the same on the sleeves, around the wrists. It was exquisite. Nowadays, beadwork is often done by machinery, but our gowns were all beaded by hand. It would take weeks to make them.
The gowns belonged to the Supremes. We didn’t intend for members to leave, but when they did the gowns had to stay with the group. I was a founding member and I stayed put, so I ended up with all the gowns. I still have all three of the Queen Mother gowns, but unfortunately, when Motown closed its doors and moved to Los Angeles [in 1972], a lot of things went missing, and many of our clothes had been stored in Detroit. I have found some of our gowns online and had to buy them back, but there are still many out there. Some show up at museums and I have no idea how they got them.
As young girls, we grew up looking at people like Lena Horne and Josephine Baker – they were so beautiful and glamorous, and so we just loved to dress up. In the beginning, we all had identical gowns. Sometimes, they would have Diane in a different colour, and sometimes the gowns would have different patterns, but be all in the same colour, but, later on, we had more individual looks. We were always very aware of our image in terms of what we wanted to wear. We had people at Motown who helped us, but when the designers brought us their work it was the three of us who decided which ones we liked.
The Supremes had 12 No 1 records, and that’s what we were best known for, but we also became known for our fashion. I think we’ll go down in history as being one of the most fabulously dressed girl groups of all time.
Supreme Glamour by Mary Wilson, with Mark Bego, is published on 15 August (Thames & Hudson, £29.95). To order a copy for £26.36, go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846.