Friday, September 3, 2010

Doppelganger Dresses, Part 1: The Shantytown Dress

As we promised earlier, it's time to kick off our new series, Doppelganger Dresses, highlighting real dresses from period fashion plates that closely resemble the costumes of Gone with the Wind

Our first dress is the Shantytown dress and to get things started, we've found two dresses that match up nicely with it. You can find the two fashion plates, along with several movie screenshots and the original sketch from costume designer Walter Plunkett for comparison after the jump. The first plate is dated 1866 and taken from a beautifully illustrated book of fashion history called Dame Fashion: Paris-London, 1786-1912, published in 1913 and filled with authentic fashion plates from the time span in question. The second plate is dated as 1865-1870 and comes from another lovely old book, The History of Fashion in France, published in 1882. 

While the two dresses posted here are the closest ones I have seen to the GWTW costume, the general style (light grey/blue dress with dark decorative detailing) seems to have been a tremendously popular one in the mid 1860s. I've spotted at least a half dozen dresses in period fashion plates that generally look like the Shantytown dress. So it's not surprising at all that this style became part of Scarlett's wardrobe.

Take a look and let us know what you think in the comments- do the dresses look like the Shantytown dress to you too?

Dress circa 1866. From Dame Fashion: Paris-London, 1786-1912.

Dress circa 1865-1870. From The History of Fashion in France

. Screenshots from Gone with the Wind.

Walter Plunkett's sketch for the Shantytown costume. 


  1. Very good spotting! I do think this is one of the most period-accurate dresses in the movie. I also think Plunkett was being especially precise when he designed this dress. In the movie, she wears this dress when she first sees Rhett after the jail scene. In the book, in the scene when Rhett "returns" after Ella's birth, Scarlett is wearing "a new green challis dress trimmed with yards and yards of black rickrack braid." Although I think rickrack was generally used for more geometric design schemes, it's still interesting to wonder if Plunkett was inspired by that description and used it in a similar context.

  2. Very interesting, Ladies. I look forward to the rest of this series.

    @Andrew: Thank you for pointing out MM's description of a similar dress in the book. I know now that I have to take greater care in reading MM's descriptions the next time I reread the book.

    Btw, I love how this particular dress is a kind of Confederate uniform for women; like a silent protest against the Yankee rule.

  3. @ Andrew. Oh, love the connections you're making between the movie and book! And yeah, considering Plunkett had taken notes of every dress mentioned in the book, it's very likely he tried to incorporate elements of that dress in one of his costumes. (Though this does make me wonder whether perhaps there actually is a lost costume made after that description in a sketch somewhere.)

    @ SJ. Oh, the grey as a silent protest, very interesting! Never thought of it that way. The only problem I can see is that in a certain light it looks more blue.

  4. @SJ- Oh I love the idea of a silent protest via dresses! How clever. Although I do think the dress looks a little more blue than gray. But using this general idea, maybe that's the part of the reason that the first dress MM describes Melanie as wearing is one of gray organdie? Perhaps it's another subtle tell on MM's part that Melanie is supposed to embody the world of the Old South?

  5. Great debut post for the series guys! Well done! I'm looking forward to the next editions with great interest. I'm quite certain the dress is blue, though it's a great idea - except maybe not applicable to Scarlett. She didn't give a damn about the Confederacy and I can hardly imagine she'd be happy to parade about in grey to pay tribute to something she never cared about in any way. And also we know she didn't like to wear grey - when she is at the Bazaar she thinks that even when she finally gets out of mourning she'll only be able to wear tacky old greys, lilacs and tans.
    On other women I can certainly believe it - Confederate ladies considered themselves soldiers of a sort and continued to fight the war long after it was over.
    Yes Andrew, I wondered the same thing about the two dresses in book and film. The only thing that I thought was that when Rhett came by, she was sitting in a rocker nursing the baby and wearing a lace house cap. As she had not long had the baby, I pictured her wearing an "around-the-house" dress. The dress she wears to Shantytown is quite business-like and what I think of as "street wear". What do you think?
    I also think it's interesting to compare the original sketch by Plunkett, and its execution in the film. I wonder who was responsible for lowering the neck line? Selznick, I would imagine.

  6. MM, I also noticed the different neckline between the sketch and the final costume. And if you look here, both Plunkett's initial sketch and the period fashion plate feature the demure neckline, while the final result in the movie is lowered.

    I agree that this was probably Selznick's wish. I don't think he interfered directly, but as iso mentioned in her first post about Plunkett, Selznick wanted Scarlett's costumes to be as impressive as possible for a modern audience in general, and considered Plunkett too research-based to be good for the job initially. This also might explain some of the inaccuracies Andrew mentioned in the comments for that post, and I now think that we should direct them at Selznick, not Plunkett.

    At least when it came to Scarlett, Selznick had clearly chosen impact on the viewers over strict historical accuracy, so I think that even if Plunkett wanted to respect every historical detail, he wouldn't have been allowed to do so. And reverting to the discussion about the first two dresses from the movie, the fact that they are exaggerated for the County's real state, as Andrew noticed, ties in with the way Selznick overplays Tara and to an extent even Twelve Oaks.

  7. Hey, if we go along with SJ's idea and assume that the dress has some symbolism, only that it's not grey, but blue, wouldn't that be a subtle indicator that Scarlett is the turncoat as it were? That, like MM said, she's not the one to cling to the defeated Confederacy but would rather do business with the victors?

  8. Now you're on the money Bugsie! That theory makes a lot of sense, in Scarlett's case. She was all about buttering up the yankees, and she could quite possible have done it in a blue dress.
    The novel does actually describe her general "going out on business" attire. Aunt Pitty had made Scarlett a pretty green pancake bonnet and green mantalet (which covered up her pregnancy) and she wore these items when she went on her business calls. So she may have been wearing them the day she was attacked. It was March and cold by the novel's description.
    Okay, so we have to lay off poor old Plunkett, God rest him, and direct are criticisms at Selznick? Okay, fair enough! I agree with you totally, and at the end of the day I'm glad they modernised the costumes and lowered necklines. Would we really want to watch Scarlett getting around without an inch of flesh bared? Who can honestly say that the costumes of the movie didn't have anything to do with them falling in love with GWTW?
    And also, I feel that you guys are being a bit hard on THAT barbecue dress. It is over the top and inappropriate for day wear, but Scarlett herself conceded that it would be more suitable as a dancing dress. The whole idea of the scene is that the dress was so inappropriate, just like Scarlett!!! I find it interesting that at two seperate times later in the novel, Rhett and Ashley recount in great detail what she was wearing that day (Ashley even remembered the colour of her shoelaces!)
    Hmmm, have I finished my rant?

  9. Greyishpurple blue... Sorry, I am not sure I agree on the symbolism, though it is funny to speculate. Haven't got any more conspiracies to lay on this dress though.

    I will look forward to the next bits of this series.

    BTW do we have any recordings on the size of VLs waist as Scarlett?

  10. @ MM. The "rant" was very interesting. I feel the same way about Ashley and Rhett describing her attire at the barbecue. Quite a touching detail.

    @ M. Fine, fine, don't join us in our deep and profound exploration of Scarlett's dresses :P As for Vivien's waist, I think I read somewhere it was 21 1/2 inches.

  11. Very cute page. I love this dress. It was slate blue Ottoman fabric which was more available in the 30's, similar to corduroy with the whales woven in the fabric yet ottoman is really mat in color. There are several versions of the original still around today which have faded to a light Grey in color.

  12. @Dee- Welcome! I'm glad you enjoyed the post and thank you so much for your wonderful insights into the costume fabric. Fascinating!


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