Friday, August 13, 2010

Dressing History for the Movies: Scarlett's Curtain Dress

Friday, August 13, 2010
Susan reporting:

Historic clothing is fragile. Never intended to last forever, examples of clothing from the past can perish from poor storage, well-intended but disastrous wear for fancy dress, or a long-ago owner's perspiration. Even the garment's own dye or ornament over time can cause the fabric to disintegrate. Here's an excellent blog on the perils that face historic clothing, including several heart-breaking examples, from the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles.

Sadly the appeals to contribute to save this or that famous garment are never-ending. Restoration and climate-controlled storage are expensive, and the non-profit collections for historic dress are always in need of funding. But when this particular appeal appeared in my email this morning, I definitely took notice. Sometimes the most iconic historical garments don't even date from the period they represent, and such is the case of the famous green "Curtain Dress", left, worn by Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara in the 1939 movie Gone with the Wind.

As anyone who has seen the movie knows, the curtain dress is much more than an attractive costume. Sewn from her mother's velvet curtains and worn to seek money from Rhett Butler, the dress represents Scarlett's resourcefulness and determination as well as her sense of style, and is probably the single costume most remembered from the film. Great care was taken with its creation, and like all of Scarlett's costumes, it was closely based on historical examples from the 1860s (such as this fashion print, right.) It's even a accurate color of toxic green that was popular in interior decor as well as fashion. Here's the link to the costume's complete story, plus information about other GWTW costumes.

Unlike most movie costumes, however, the curtain dress and others from GWTW had a life of their own after the movie's release. Over the years, they were often sent out on tour to museums and special showings of the movie, to the point that the originals were finally recreated, and the replicas sent out on the road in their stead. Now the originals are kept at the University of Texas, who has sent out the appeal for their preservation. If you're interested, here's the link.

Many thanks to Michael Robinson for suggesting this blog.


LaDonna said...

"Gone with the Wind" is my absolute fav old movie. I watch it every time it's on. The costumes are amazing. Great to hear that they're being saved, because by now they really are a part of American history.

Rowenna said...

Love this dress! Am glad it lived on after the movie. Always makes me think of the Carol Burnett skit, though :)

Marilyn said...

This dress and the one at the very beginning when She is running through the fields are my favorites! I would like to see these preserved. By Movie Producer and Directors GWTW was voted one of the 100 best Movies ever made and it was in the top three! I would also like to see more films preserved. So many have been lost!

Finegan Antiques said...

My dear Scarlett, nothing was made to last forever.


Deb said...

The curtain-dress (although beautiful on-screen) was one element of the novel that I could never quite figure out: The Yankees had taken or ruined everything at Tara, but somehow the green velvet curtains remained conveniently unscathed, hanging in the parlor windows until Scarlett needed a dress?

Scarlett's various dresses are pivotal elements of the book and the movie: The green floral dress that she wears at the beginning of the book; the curtain dress she wears to try to wheedle money from Rhett; the dress Rhett makes her wear to Ashley's birthday party (red in the movie, but jade green in the book). All of them reflect an turning point in Scarlett's life, so I'm glad an effort is being made to preserve some of the dresses worn in the movie.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

The costumes were so important to GWTW, and it's fascinating to me how we all remember certain dresses from certain scenes. There aren't many other movie-wardrobes that remain so vivid in viewers' memories.

Deb, there are many little plot things about that scene that don't make sense. As you say, why had the Yankees left those expensive velvet curtains? And if they'd left them, wouldn't they have destroyed them in some fashion? Even if you accept the dress as being made from the curtain's fabric, there was still many other things needed to create a dress like this, including lining fabric, thread, buttons or hooks. Ladies as affluent as the O'Hara women had been would have had all their dresses made by professional dressmakers; this stuff wouldn't be "up in the attic." Nor would any of the former slaves have likely been skilled enough to whip up a dress like this on short notice, and as for Scarlett making it herself -- well, no.

But why let facts get in the way of a great story? *g*

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