Sunday, September 19, 2010

Doppelganger Dresses, Part 3: Scarlett's Surprise Party Dress (Book Version)

"He was in her closet, going through her dresses swiftly.  He fumbled and drew out her new jade-green watered-silk dress.  It was cut low over the bosom and the skirt was draped back over an enormous bustle and on the bustle was a huge bunch of pink velvet roses."
--Gone with the Wind, Chapter LIII

Our Doppelganger Dresses selection for this week is a change of pace from what will typically be the main focus of the series: Walter Plunkett's costumes for the movie version of Gone with the Wind. But Plunkett isn't the only person in the GWTW world known for scrupulous attention to detail and historical accuracy--there's also Margaret Mitchell to contend with, of course. So this time, we have three fashion plates for you based on MM's description of the notorious dress Scarlett wore to Ashley’s birthday party. 

I admit I have always had a hard time picturing what this dress looked like in my mind ("an enormous bustle with pink velvet roses - huh?!").  So if this dress leaves you sartorially stumped like me, I hope these images help bring it into greater focus.

Check them out after the jump. Which one can you most imagine Scarlett wearing to Ashley's surprise party? 

Editor's note: the dresses below are from 1871, 1874, and 1877 respectively. While only the last two images match up color-wise with the book description, I wanted to showcase a rather similar style from early 1871 as well, so you could get a sense of what was en vogue then.

Imagine it in green: a white evening dress, March 1871. From Godey's Lady's Book.

Green evening dress, 1874. From Dame Fashion: London-Paris, 1786-1912.

Green evening dress, January 1877. From Journal des Demoiselles.


  1. This is how I always pictured the dress (minus the stripes, of course):

    And here is my own design, if anyone's interested:

  2. Andrew- thanks for the links! How cool that you made your own design for the dress. I loved your historical print too and, yes, I agree- that seems like a good candidate for the dress as well.

  3. I'm so glad you chose this dress for your post. I love the dress in the second plate - I can totally see Scarlett wearing it to the party, even if it is a couple of years out. It certainly matches the description of an enormous bustle and it is the right colour. I can envision Scarlett wearing it with the emerald earrings and pendant from the jewellery box post.
    Yes, great links Andrew. I love the fashion plate, and can also see Scarlett wearing such an elaborate gown, trimmed to within an inch of its life. I love that the model is wearing "finger puffs".
    So what do we know about evening wraps of the period? What would Scarlett have worn over her dress on an April evening? And what colour gloves?
    Another trivial point that nags at me - Scarlett sheds her burgundy velvet for a scarlet velvet wrapper, nice. The novel often mentions Scarlett's wrappers, but never the colour. The film shows a rainbow of wrappers in gold and ermine, turquoise, green and gold, scarlet, brown paisely, indigo velvet and black fur - but what did MM have in mind when she wrote of Scarlett's wrappers? And when Scarlett went to the door in the middle of the night to bring a drunken Gerald in, while she was still a mourning widow, was her wrapper black?

  4. Oh, and another thought... Did Scarlett's wardrobe develop any matronly element after her marriage to Rhett? Afterall, she would already have been dressing matronly when married to Frank, Rhett did supervise her wardrobe, initially at first, and she most certainly was a matron, married three times and on the wrong side of 25. And what colours would she have been drawn too. I feel that Scarlett equated green with positivity and happiness, so I feel that she would have avoided it often. When Rhett puts her on the train to Tara after her fall and subsequent miscarriage, I hadly imagine Scarlett had chosen a vibrant green frock, much more likely black. I think it's the same in many instances in the latter part of the novel. Scarlett wouldn't have been rushing out of mourning after Melanie's death either - she had never had so much cause to grieve in her life. I'd say black was a strong fixture in her wardrobe over the last couple of years of the novel.
    Am I rambling?

  5. @MM supposedly DOS told Mitchell they realized after filming that they didn't include enough green in Scarlett's wardrobe. The implication was that they did not interpret her state-of-mind correctly. Mitchell supposedly laughed and said that she didn't even realize she included so much green in the novel...she only did so because green was her favorite color.

    If you look at the timeline of the story, Scarlett spent a great deal of her young life wearing black. First she was a young widow, then there was Ellens death, then Gerald's death, then Frank's death, then Bonnie's death.
    However, Rhett does make the comment the night of Ashley's party that she can't wear any "matronly" colors that night, so the implication is that she wore clothes and colors befitting her situation.

    I have always found Rhett's supervision of her wardrobe and the comment about her taste a puzzling thing...Scarlett was always described as fashionably dressed. She went to great pains to dress attractively for Rhett when she visited him in jail and he appreciated and admired her attire. He also admired her attire on the day he visited her when she was sitting on the porch rocking Ella. Long before that he fell in love with her at the Wilkes' in part because she was wearing her charming little bar-b-que frock.

    Scarlett lived in Pitty's house when she moved to Atlanta and there was never any description of the house as being tasteless. Likewise, Tara was built in a haphazard manner, but Ellen brought an elegance and refinement to the plantation. So, there is nothing tangible to suggest that Scarlett had poor taste, was exposed to poor taste, or was anything less than respectable in her attire. How could she have been a "belle of five counties" if she had poor taste? Did no other man ever see this in her - including Ashley?

    Yes, she changed dramatically after the war and hard times at Tara, but this "taste" issue only comes up after the Rhett/Scarlett marriage. He buys her the big rock b/c she loves gaudy jewelry. He supervises her clothes b/c she has bad taste. He builds her a big, elaborate house b/c that's what she wants. I think all of these things have much more to say about Rhett's character than they do about Scarlett's.

  6. Yes, good point actually. Throughout the novel Scarlett is portrayed as being generally quite fashionable and nicely dressed, until her marriage to Rhett when it is revealed she has “execrable” taste. So do you take his words literally, or more likely, do you allow for the sarcasm he regularly exhibits? I think it might be the case that Scarlett didn’t have bad taste, but was naturally inclined to garish and excessive designs and could easily have become a fashion victim now with her unlimited budget. Scarlett, freed from mourning and counting pennies through her marriage to Rhett, would quite naturally have planned a spree and would of course desire gowns of the very latest fashions.
    Rhett, one gets the idea, had a more classic sense of fashion, and did not want to see or be seen with a wife in vulgar fashions. Although it’s a different case with the ring – Scarlett guessed he had it made as vulgar as possible as a joke on her, and I think she was pretty much correct in that assumption.
    As we have found out, banged fringes were all the rage at the time, so in preventing Scarlett from cutting herself a fringe he stopped her from making a regrettable mistake. Has anyone here ever looked at a photo of themselves from a few years back and regretted their choice of hairstyle that was ultra vogue at the time? I think that’s fairly universal.
    Then there’s the matter of the house. To all of our modern eyes its description points to a monstrosity; however in the late 1860s it would have been extremely modern and fashionable. Scarlett ordered all those steel engravings from New York, and was assured that the trendy new gazebo was of pure “gothic” design. I think Scarlett considered herself a very modern woman and had her eyes set forward, not back, and despised all old-fashioned things. She was very adamant the house would be ultra modern, no columns or anything tacky and old fashioned like that.
    What a nice story about DOS and MM. He was good at realising things, after they had already been done.
    I don't think the O'Hara girls wore mourning for their mother, unless they already had black, because they had no money for clothes. I don't know if I totally agree with the film that Scarlett wore the same ragged dress for over a year. The novel mentions a number of times buying dress lengths and clothes so they wouldn't freeze through winter, but I'm assuming these purchases were pretty basic. And mourning fabric would've been considered a luxury. I read somewhere that a lot of women had to stop mourning during the Civil War, simply because the blockade was too tight, and they couldn't get their hands on black cloth. I wonder if Scarlett might have used this excuse when she first abandoned her widow's weeds?
    When Gerald died, Scarlett had to borrow Mrs Meade's black dress because she didn't have one. So would Scarlett have bought some black dresses when she got back to Atlanta? We know that she was wearing green 6 months later on the porch nursing Ella. But I believe the mourning period for a parent is shorter than for a spouse.
    I'm assuming that Scarlett wore mourning up until her marriage to Rhett.
    Any thoughts on the matter?

  7. @ MM's first couple of comments. All your questions are great. Since the space in the comments section is somewhat limited (and I suppose not everyone reads the comments anyway), iso and I have decided to reply to your fashion questions in blog posts. So she will do a post on wrappers and I will do a post on gloves (not sure how much info is available on wraps, but we can try to discuss those as well at some point).

  8. On Scarlett's Sense of Style

    Ladies, you both bring good points and details from the book, but I'll have to disagree on sth. There is no clear mention of Scarlett's taste or lack thereof before her marriage with Rhett, but all the signs point towards her not having a great taste.

    Scarlett's world before the war is governed by Ellen, so the dresses she owns would not say much in that aspect, b/c 1) she wouldn't be allowed to wear scandalous dresses and 2) the fashion at the time was demure. But don't forget that Scarlett brings her own contribution despite this: the dress Rhett first sees her in is a dress for the afternoon. It was risque and in poor taste to show one's bosom in the morning, MM makes it clear, and that's exactly what Scarlett does.

    So we already have a hint here. The second hint is I think Tara itself. Tara was a result of Gerald's confused sense of style, and only tempered and made elegant by Ellen. At no point are we told Scarlett inherited Ellen in this aspect, on the contrary it is amply suggested that she inherited her father in just about anything.

    How could she still be a belle and why don't men (and Ashley :) notice? I don't think the regular men would have cared; she was attractive and, like I said, she didn't go completely overboard. The girls would have noticed and condemned, like they did at the barbecue. As for Ashley, he also notices a much serious sin: her ignorance, which doesn't stop him from coveting her. He seems to be both attracted and repulsed by these low notes in her.

    Perhaps this was an inclination that wouldn't have developed into poor taste if not for the trauma of the war. After the war, she starts to crave the new and expensive as a sign of wealth and security. We know she envies Emmie Slattery's clothes, though she recognizes their tastelessness. She thinks moreover that Rhett would be convinced by those clothes, b/c they are in fashion. (The curtain dress was slightly outdated if the pattern was one the O'Hara girls had in their attic.)

    Rita, you are being unfair to Rhett in your last paragraph. Scarlett asks for a big rock (which is doubly in poor taste considering the circumstances), Rhett just takes her literally. A slightly smaller ring would have still been vulgar, but he chooses to expose & mock her. Scarlett asks for the house, he just agrees, after trying to convince her. I agree with MM that she probably went wild shopping in New Orleans and Rhett allowed it. I will give you that he was never very coherent in this aspect: he introduces Scarlett to the trashy ppl and then condemns her etc.

    I think Scarlett's tastelessness is an important detail in context, b/c it allows MM to identify Scarlett with the era she lives in, and contrast both with the gentile world of before the war. Here's Reconstruction: "With the Republicans in the political saddle the town entered into an era of waste and ostentation, with the trappings of refinement thinly veneering the vice and vulgarity beneath." Scarlett is a symbol of it: "It was an era that suited her, crude, garish, showy, full of over-dressed women, over-furnished houses, too many jewels, too many horses, too much food, too much whisky."

    As MM pointed out, this WAS the fashion of the time in the whole world, but Mitchell seems to condemn it on both an aesthetic and moral note, by associating it with the Republicans. The Old South has taste, this new world doesn't, and Scarlett is part of the new world. Rhett has taste, b/c deep down he still belongs to the Old South. His own ambivalent stance is reflected in how he treats his wife re: style, trashy friends.

    You will notice how the words "old fashioned" and "tacky," used by Scarlett to dismiss the things she doesn't want in her new wardrobe and new house are also used to dismiss Melanie, the embodiment of the Old South.

  9. About Mourning

    MM, no research on my part here, but just from GWTW. We know that some women dyed their clothes black when the occasion for mourning appeared. It's what the Meades do when Darcy Meade died.

    I don't think that Scarlett wore black for Ellen. However, when she's at the Elsings' party the day of the jail scene and Tommy asks her whether she wants to dance with one of the boys, she answers that she's still mourning Ellen. If the period of restrictions extended till then, perhaps wearing black would have as well, in times of peace? Anyone who's knowledgeable, help us out :)

    Frank's death was a different issue, since being a widow's mourning was certainly much stricter, and in this case Scarlett was already not regarded well in Atlanta. So I think that she wore black up until her marriage with Rhett, which could also further explain why she would be so excited to buy new clothes during the honeymoon.

  10. I can't quite remember how long it was between Ellen's death and the Elsing wedding, was it a year? If so, then Scarlett definitely would still have been wearing mourning for Ellen if she had had the money to buy new clothes.

    1st year - Complete, somber black
    2nd year - Black with white or other fashionable trims
    3rd year - Grey
    4th year - Lilac/Mauve/Lavender
    5th year - Regular Clothing

    White was also a color associated with mourning, as I recall.

  11. Can I just say, please, that I am not a lady? Not in the manners sense (or lack thereof), like Scarlett, but in the gender sense.
    I will be looking forward to the posts on wraps and gloves. I might sound like I'm being sarcastic, or incredibly boring, but I'd be quite interested to hear about gloves. Notice in the film, the evening gloves worn at the bazaar are basically short and fingerless,black or white, a style I'm not fond of, but towards the end of the film Scarlett wears longer gloves in different colours (mustard at the New Orleans restaurant and blush coloured at Melanie's party)
    I believe that Ellen died on September 1, 1864, the day Beau was born, and Scarlett went to Atlanta in December 65/January 66. So it was well over a year. The true reason Scarlett didn't dance at the wedding was not that she was still mourning Ellen, but she was embarrassed that her skirt had mud stains and people would notice. Remember, she did some angling to get Frank sitting on the bench in the alcove, simply because her muddy dress would be less conspicuous.
    Yes, I think the "can't get black cloth through the blockade" was a bit of a cop out. I'd say Scarlett wasn't the only woman dying to get out of mourning and coming up with excuses.
    I often wonder about the period when Scarlett first came out of mourning for Charles. It had been about two years since Charles had died when Rhett gave Scarlett the Paris bonnet. MM is rather vague about Scarlett's transition, in fact doesn't mention it. We know Scarlett intended to wear the bonnet that afternoon to visit the soldiers at the hospital - whether she did or not we don't know. But if she did, she would have been wearing it with a black mourning dress, or as Andrew states above, would Scarlett already be on year 2 level of mourning? Wearing white and trimmings on her dresses? Also, when she shed the weeds, did she go back to how she dressed when unmarried? Or did she try and follow the conventions and ease herself into greys and purples? She did have a lavender calico dress in 1864, but other than the green silk flounced dress she wore with her new bonnett and her linen petticoat, no other garment is described from this time. Actually, there is the yellow shawl she unpicks the embroidery from to give Ashley.
    Yes, you're right about Scarlett inheriting her father's traits. Mammy does think that it's amazing how the older Scarlett got, the less like Ellen, and the more like Gerald she was. Yes, Bugsie, I thought as I was writing the above post how often Scarlett described Melanie and her clothes/home as tacky. Should we assume that Melanie was actually nicely and classically dressed?

  12. LOL, sorry. You're not a lady, I am not too bright--we're all edified now :)

    About the gloves, there might actually be an explanation. I started reading a little on that topic and it seems that the long gloves became more popular closer to 1870, and especially after the divine Sarah Bernhardt toured America (which is closer to 1880, but whatever). They were clearly not in fashion at the beginning of the century, but the public gradually warmed up to them, and they were the hit in late Victorian.

    You're right about Scarlett's reason not to dance, but I sort of assumed her lie had a factual basis if mourning could still be offered as an excuse. As for her shedding mourning during the war, I think she skipped the intermediary stages. Rhett brings her fabric and bonnets in colors that are not in any way subdued or tame, so I think she went back to dressing like she did when she was a belle, which made it all the more scandalous.

    I was actually wondering about sth myself, re: mourning. Mitchell seems to have a much bleaker view on mourning. She seems to suggest that black had to be worn for a long time, if just the veil's length is adjusted in the first years: "And the black crepe veil on her bonnet had to reach to her knees, and only after three years of widowhood could it be shortened to shoulder length." Is it an exaggeration?

    I am not sure that Melanie's clothes were necessarily nice. They probably were very simple, modest, plain even. Scarlett seems to use the word "tacky" differently from the sense I use it (which is cheap in a gaudy way). Everything that we'd qualify as classical or at worst plain, from colors to houses, to her falls under "tacky".

    But I think the term had a larger usage, since Melanie herself also uses it to refer to her potential house. So I suspected it had a regional connotation, googled for it and this is what I got from

    "The earliest citation for this sense in the Oxford English Dictionary comes from way back in 1862, or a mere 120 years before its discovery by Time Magazine. As of 1860, a 'tackie' was a broken-down, worthless horse, a sense easily extended to what the folks at Oxford delicately term a 'poor white of the Southern States.' Since socialites of any era would rather be compared to Martians than to sharecroppers, 'tacky' became a popular insult among the well-to-do, and has been ever since a synonym for 'shabby,' 'cheap' or 'tawdry.'"

  13. I think you're right Bugsie, MM's description of mourning customs is a bit exaggerated. She wasn't a fashion expert, and put most of her research efforts into verifying facts about the Civil War, not pretty dresses! I was surprised when I first researched mourning customs myself and realised that you began easing out of it after a year, as Andrew said above.
    If anyone is interested, you should check out mourning jewellery made from hair. You can find a wealth of pics on the internet and there are some amazing pieces. Creepy, but beautiful.
    After Scarlett stopped wearing mourning, I wonder if she continued to wear black whenever she visited Tara to keep her mother in the dark. I would assume so, and I can also imagine that she snuck a few of her favourite pre-war frocks into her trunk when she went back to Atlanta, so she could rennovate them to add to her new wardrobe, comprised of Rhett's gifts. How on earth did Scarlett explain all of these wildly inappropriate gifts to Pittypat and Melanie?
    I also agree on the use of the word tacky. I love the word, but use it differently, like yourself. If I think of tacky, um, Paris Hilton comes straight to my mind. We could hardly categorise Melanie and Paris in the same boat could we?

  14. My recollection of Victorian mourning customs come from the English customs, which I assume were stricter than those of rural North Georgia. So, in short, yes, I think she was exaggerating. And honestly, how many books were there in 1936 that gave descriptions of Victorian mourning dress, that were easily accessible in Atlanta?

    Going along with that definition, I think Scarlett used tacky to describe Melanie because, for her, to see Melanie, who had once been as fashionable as she (though presumably more demure) reduced to simple, out-of-date dresses, was a sign that Melanie's economic position had fallen, that she wasn't as "classy" as she had once been. And what's next to classlessness? Tackiness.

    Not quite a fair judgement to make, but then Scarlett was never one for fairness!

  15. I know I'm going back in time, but I have now started researching fashion plates too, and I found this one from March 1871. It is the perfect timing for the party, and as above, imagine it in green.

  16. "I have now started researching fashion plates too"

    HAHAHA, MM, no one ever escapes the deadly charm of fashion plates. I like the plate you found. It seems Mitchell chose a very popular style.

    And since you went back in time for this post, I have to say I found two interesting paragraphs regarding mourning customs as well.

    The first is from Godey's 1871 and suggests that perhaps the Americans were more conservative in the mourning issue than English people (which makes sense considering they were and are more conservative in religious matters, for example):

    "To return to black gloves for a moment, I must here remark that abroad, where rules respecting mourning are much more strict than in England, black kid gloves are not allowed during the first stage of mourning."

    The second one is from The Ladies' Book of Etiquette, Fashion and Manual of Politeness by Florence Hartley which first appeared in 1860 and was revised and republished throughout the period of GWTW and beyond. It suggests matters were less clear and well defined for the Victorians than we thought:

    "MOURNING There is such a variety of opinion upon the subject of mourning, that it is extremely difficult to lay down any general rules upon the subject. Some wear very close black for a long period, for a distant relative; whilst others will wear dressy mourning for a short time in a case of death in the immediate family. There is no rule either for the depth of mourning, or the time when it may be laid aside, and I must confine my remarks to the different degrees of mourning."


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