Thursday, July 12, 2012

Thursday: Guest Post by Miss Amy Dashwood - Gone With the Wind Costumes - Period Drama Fashion Week

Hello everyone!  My dear blogging friend Miss Elizabeth Bennet has kindly invited me to guest post for her during Period Drama Fashion Week, and I had great fun writing this.  Historical costumes have always fascinated me, and when I watched Gone With the Wind last month for the first time, it was the lovely, lavish costumes that garnered the majority of my attention and interest. Gone With the Wind is an epic film classic, spanning the American Civil War and the Reconstruction and following the lives of a large variety of characters.  The movie itself has become iconic, as have many of the beautiful costumes designed by Walter Plunkett. In my personal, amateur and doesn't-really-know-what-she's-talking-about opinion, you can clearly see the personalities of many GWTW characters through the outfits they wear.  Today, I'm mostly going to focus on Scarlett O'Hara and how her clothes exemplify her transformation throughout the movie.  I'd better warn you right away that my impression of Scarlett is this: she's an immature brat and the beginning of the movie and by the end she's a hardened, selfish woman who didn't appreciate what she had until it was gone.  I lose no love over Scarlett, but I realize that some of you may actually like her, so I'll do my best not to offend you.
I've always loved movie costumes, as I said before, but I didn't start really looking at them analytically until I read this post by a dear blogging friend.  In that post, Alexandra points out how Maria's character in West Side Story undergoes a dramatic change as the movie progresses, changing from a girl into a woman.  In the beginning of WSS, Maria wears a white dress with a red sash.  The white represents her youth and naivete, while the red is just a hint of the fact that she's growing up and getting ready to wear a more daring color.   And in GWTW, Scarlett wears the exact same colors in her first scene.  Ruffles, frills and more ruffles galore-- it's obvious that Scarlett is from a wealthy family, and even more obvious that she takes great care about what she wears and knows exactly how well she looks in it.  The conceited little snip.
Scarlett's barbecue dress is one of my favoritest evah, despite its being a tad too low in the neck for my taste.  She's still in frilly, pastel-ish colors, but the cut of this dress--much to Mammy's dismay--is a bit more, shall we say, adult than what she's been wearing before.  Symbolism and all that, y'alls.
The other girls at the barbecue are, in general, wearing much more modest gowns.  India Wilkes' mustard brown dress is one of my favorites--but do you notice the big lace collar on it?  India's probably in her early twenties, but the dress she's wearing has an older look to it.  Maybe I'm going too deep here, but it seems to me that India's prim-and-proper-and-the-ultimate-in-respectable dress is kind of foreshadowing her future old-maid status.  Dress codes for different stations in life were really strict back then, and if a woman had reached the age at which she was rudely termed "on the shelf", she was expected to wear drab colors and be the example of propriety for younger women who still had a chance at catching a man. Melanie's dress is also of a drab color (and is, IMHO, rather unflattering) but it exemplifies Melanie's quiet, self-effacing character.  Her dress is perfectly modest and not flashy or eye-catching--unlike Scarlett, Melanie has no interest in being the life of the party.
Then comes Scarlett's wedding to Charles Hamilton, at which she appears in another shockingly low-cut gown beside Melanie, who's in a much more modest dress.  As for Scarlett's sleeves-- well, there's enough material in them to make a waist.  They're ridiculous.  She'll have to turn sideways to go through the door.
But then Charles dies of the measles (am I the only one who couldn't resist a heartless snicker at that part?) and Scarlett is left a widow.  And now she has to wear the kind of dress that Henry Higgins so heartily disapproves--one of those with weeds here and weeds there.  (That was a joke, because she's in widow's weeds.  And Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady complains about dresses with flowers all over them but he refers to them as weeds and--never mind.  It wasn't funny.)  At any rate, Scarlett's being forced into decency by Charles' death and made to wear black from her chin to the ground.  Does this stop her from dancing in public with a blockade runner? It does not. Surprise, surprise.
Things get much worse after the Christmas bazaar, and suddenly Scarlett is catapulted into the role of nurse, helping out at the hospital and delivering Melanie's baby (because Prissy don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies).  The frills and furbelows of her early days at Tara are completely gone now-- she's even gallivanting about town without a hoopskirt.  Horrors!  The muslin paisley dress she wears during the Trouble in Atlanta scenes is actually very pretty, but by the time she's done with it, it's a complete and utter mess.  Notice the darker color, if you will--this dress is has more of a drab pattern and is much less flashy than her earlier clothes.
So they're all back at Tara and things are looking bad.  Scarlett, with Mammy's help, goes sashaying off to find Rhett and whine at him for money to pay the taxes, and since she has nothing to wear she rips down her mother's curtains and makes a drape dress.  This outfit is one of the most iconic film costumes ever, yet I'm not quite sure why it's so special.  It looks like what it is--a pair of velvet drapes, complete with fringe, pinned here and there.  Um, kudos to Scarlett for resourcefulness?  I think?
Then the war ends and along comes Frank Kennedy, and Scarlet goes all, "Ooh, now we can pay the taxes on Tara, did I ever tell you I'm hopelessly in love with you, comparatively wealthy man?" and she and Frank get hitched.  The frills of her teenage years and the ostentation (is that a word? Guess it is) of that stupid curtain dress are over and she's suddenly sitting pretty in a nice, neat dress of a suitable matronly color.  Marrying a respectable man like Frank and running a respectable business like a sawmill (even though it's not exactly a lady's job) call for appropriate clothing to go with these respectable occupations.
Now, I happen to like a bit of respectability (and it's such a nice change to see it on Scarlett... aaaaaaahem) so these dresses are some of my favorites.  Especially the shantytown one.  Now I'm not going to go all English-teacher on you and start blathering about symbolism again, but I do find it amusing that Scarlett's wearing blue, the color of loyalty, in the scene where she's completely disregarding her husband's wishes and being blatantly disloyal to him.  
When Frank dies (and it's all Scarlett's fault! And everyone seems to gloss over that fact!) she has to be in mourning again, of course, but she marries Rhett soon after and NOW it's time to show off.  Gone are the days of drudgery-clothes, gone are the days of prim, neat muslins and calicoes.  It's time to be Lady Look-at-me, and Scarlett plays up admirably with showy, flashy clothes in brilliant colors--clothes that do little more than make her look cheap and tawdry.  I do, however, like the dress she wears on her honeymoon (pictured above).  The green and gray is slightly reminiscent of the barbecue dress, and now that she's back at Tara, it probably represents something.  I don't know what, but something.  Ooh, maybe it's the fact that she's Irish.  Wearin' of the green and all that.
And here we have more green! Even Scarlett's dressing gowns are flamboyant, for crying out loud.  Now that she finally has all the money that her mercenary little heart desired, she's ready to let the world know that she has big bucks to spend.  Even if "the world" she's showing off to only consists of her husband and her nursemaid.  Because, you know, nobody else actually sees the dressing gown unless she decides to wear it in public, which I don't think even Scarlett would do.
Hmmm.  Blue again.  Blue for the scene where Scarlett is again disloyal to her husband (although it's a different husband this time).  It's a pretty outfit, but again it's rather flashy and ostentatious.  (I need some synonyms.  I'm using those words too frequently.)  Maybe there really is something in all this blue stuff.  Blue and white, in fact--and white is the color of purity.  Yeah, I'm probably reading too much into all this.
Scarlett's scarlet dress is my least favorite of all her gowns in the whole movie (with the exception of the one that looks like it came from Bed, Bath and Beyond).   She looks like she belongs in a game of Clue, not in my poor darling Melanie's nice parlor.  This dress--and I'm trying to be delicate here--is pretty much showing off to the entire town that Scarlett is basically shameless.  Nice ladies didn't wear clothes like that, even to evening parties.  It looks more like something Belle Watling would wear, and we don't need to go there.
After Bonnie dies, Scarlett goes back into mourning yet again-- and in the last scene, her severe black dress represents more mourning than just Bonnie's death.   Scarlett's lost an awful lot by the end of the movie--her daughter, her only real friend and now her husband.  Black, according to Enjolras in Les Miserables, is the color of despair, and Scarlett's definitely in the depths of despair. And yet she says that tomorrow is another day, and after bawling her eyes out on the famous staircase, she packs up and goes home to Tara.  The last scene shows her looking over the fields toward the old plantation house, in silhouette against the sky.  We can't see what she's wearing very well, nor do we know what's going to happen to her after the credits roll. Personally, I think that's pretty fitting.

Miss Elizabeth Bennet: Thank you, Miss Amy, for guest posting during Period Drama Fashion Week! Be sure to check out Amy's blog, Yet Another Period Drama Blog!

Yet Another Period Drama Blog


  1. Your posts are always awesomeness, schweetums. This was no exception. I'm itching to see GWTW now...if only to be able to make fun of her too. :-P

  2. I agree with you on many of your points. I also disagree with you on many of your points. As someone who has watched GWTW many, many times, and as a person who is a costume designer, with an un-nerving eye for historical accuracy, all of Scarlett's gowns are spot on, period correct, down to the fabrics and all the trimmings. This is something Walter Plunkett, the film's Costume Designer, is known for. The span of some 20+ years is a daunting task, and Mr. Plunkett faces the challenge head on. You are correct on your points as to the choice of colors and silhouettes used to portray the character and evolution of Scarlett. Every single gown worn by Scarlett is famous. The Green Velvet she wears is just that, showing her resourcefulness at not wanting to appear poor and destitute. That dress even spawned one of the most famous parodies of all time on THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW. The famous Red Velvet dress at Ashley's Birthday party couldn't be more perfect to reflect Scarlett's brazen attitude. Of course, Rhett chose the dress for her to wear, and it does show her tendency to thumb her nose at proper Southern morality, something she does throughout the film. Even when she is at her most prim and proper and trying to be the epitome of a true Southern Belle, there is something slightly different about her clothes to show that she is, at heart, a spoiled, brattish peacock of the South.
    Watch the film again and again, and you will catch even more subtleties :)

  3. It's difficult for me, as a southern woman, to realize that there are people who don't "get" GWTW.


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