Monday, July 26, 2010

The Jockey Hat and Feather

From the very first time I watched Gone with the Wind, I've been fascinated by the dramatic, daring hat Scarlett wears in the jail scene. And I've never seen anything like it, what with its rich plumes of green feathers and cascading gold fringe. But it pays to never say never, I suppose. Because when I was exploring the ever-handy Historic Dress in America: 1800-1870, I stumbled across a 1860s hat that, if not an exact replica (what really could be?) still seems to recall the style of Scarlett's very own "get-the-tax-money" headgear. 

So without further ado, I'm pleased to present to you the jockey hat, which came into prominence in 1865, one year before Scarlett's desperate foray to the jail to visit Rhett.

Image scanned from Historic Dress in America: 1800-1870

Of course, the jockey hat lacks a flowing trail of velvet and fringe, but its mass of feathers and general shape bear resemblance to our very own Scarlett's hat. 

Although it wasn't just the hat's design that made me think of it in relation to GWTW.  For you see, in its day the jockey hat was popular enough to be immortalized in a song, The Jockey Hat and Feather. The song's lyrics, presented below, reminded me of Scarlett setting out, as Margaret Mitchell says, "to conquer the world in her mother's velvet curtains and the tail feathers of a rooster."  They made me smile and I hope they do the same for you:   
The Jockey Hat and Feather

"As I was walking out, one day,
Thinking of the weather,
I saw a pair of roguish eyes
'Neath a hat and feather ;
She looked at me, I looked at her,
It made my heart pit-pat,
Then, turning round, she said to me,
How do you like my hat ?

"CHORUS—Oh! I said ; it's gay and pretty too;
They look well together,
Those glossy curls and Jockey hat,
With a rooster feather.

"She wore a handsome broadcloth basque,
Cut in the latest fashion,
And flounces all around her dress
Made her look quite dashing;
Her high-heeled boots, as she walk'd on,
The pavement went pit-pat,
I will ne'er forget the smile I saw,
Beneath the Jockey hat. 
"CHORUS—Oh! I said ; it's gay and pretty too;
They look well together,
Those glossy curls and Jockey hat,
With a rooster feather." 

8 comments:

  1. Rita from St. LouJuly 27, 2010 at 3:52 PM

    Now we know where the idea for the rooster feather came from. My god, how much research did MM do? No wonder it took her ten years to write the novel and no wonder she did't want to write another one!

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  2. @ Emily. Welcome! I'll agree with you and iso that this is a very inspired costume. It amuses me that the curtain elements are so obviously still there. I can see Rhett going "damn, how didn't I see it before?" when he finds out how she got her dress.

    @ Rita from St. Lou. I think the credit for this goes first to Walter Plunkett, since MM's description was vague enough to permit more than one take on this costume. When I see things like this, even I (i.e. more a fan of the book than the movie) am impressed with the level of attention to detail these ppl had.

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  3. @Emily. Yes, welcome! And you're right, of course- what's not to love about a hat like that? :)

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  4. Walter Plunkett did a fabulous job on this costume - no denying it, but I don't think it's quite what MM would've had in mind. Scarlett, painfully conscious of her poverty, I'm sure, would've been desperate to have anything that says "curtains" absent from her dress, including fringe, silken chords and tassels. She had an awful lot riding on this dress, afterall. I believe MM would've envisioned something more simple, without hints to the true origin of the garment. Suellen did donate her lace collar to the outfit "worn, but pretty", so who knows if Scarlett actually wore it to the jail.

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  5. @ MM. I agree with you re: the dress (though I think the hat is perfect), but I don't think Scarlett would have gone for a simple dress, if she could help it. Taking into account her own personal taste and the fashion of the time, a simple dress was much more likely to set off alarms bells for Rhett.

    I don't think this dress is what MM would have chosen, yes, but I like Plunkett's take, b/c it has a hint of playfulness and also "desperate gamble" written all over it. It's like his costumes are not intended for the characters in the story, but for the viewers, really. He's establishing a dialogue of his own with the audience, and this dress is perfect for sending the message of what's happening in that scene.

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  6. What an interesting point you make! I hadn’t really thought of it like that before. Walter Plunkett was quite clearly a genius. It’s such a shame that they hadn’t introduced the Best Costume Design award at the Oscars in 1940, I’m sure he would’ve had it in the bag. As a loyalist to the novel, (and someone who is obsessed with vintage fashion) I always find myself wondering what Margaret Mitchell had in her mind upon composition. I remember reading somewhere that Walter Plunkett went to Atlanta and met with her and also did extensive research in the South. I’d love to know MM’s thoughts on the costumes from the film. I know she was very unimpressed by the fact Scarlett wore a hat and veil to the Bazaar.
    I feel Scarlett would’ve been strongly influenced by the outfit “that dirty tow-headed slut” Emmie was wearing, as it had been at least 18 months since she had seen anyone in a new and fashionable dress, let alone read a fashion magazine. She seemed to be quite impressed by the “pancake” bonnet and how short jackets were. I feel Plunkett’s bonnet could be categorised as a pancake bonnet, though it tied under the chin, instead of at the back like Emmie’s.
    There is something I have wondered about Margaret Mitchell, and I wonder if anyone else has – what was her colour? Scarlett’s colour was green, and it seemed to have a fairly strong role in her life. Did MM have a colour of her own? And what colour were her eyes?

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  7. @MM- Yes, Walter Plunkett truly a genius (more on that coming soon). But funny you should ask about MM's favorite color. There's a reason green was Scarlett's color- it was MM's favorite color. I'm not sure what exact color her eyes were, but I believe they were lighter. Check out the link below for a good photo close-up of MM.

    http://www.margaretmitchellhouse.com/ImagesLive/Users/2/TeachersGuide-MMH-2009_1.pdf

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