Friday, November 12, 2010

Doppelganger Dresses, Part 11: Scarlett's Green Velvet Curtain Dress

It's a dress known by many names: the jail dress, the green velvet dress, the curtain dress, the drapery dress. But whatever name you fancy, there's one description we can all agree on: iconic. 

After all, what other way is there to really describe the extraordinary costume Walter Plunkett created for Scarlett O'Hara's infamous visit to the jail in Gone with the Wind?

And while there's no doubt that Plunkett's dress is a one-of-a kind creation, even this legendary costume has its roots in period fashion from the 1860s. Now naturally there is no such thing as an exact lookalike dress for such a dramatic costume, but we've managed to find a period style that rather nicely resembles Scarlett's green velvet finery.    

One note of interest: our period style is actually a morning robe (or wrapper) versus a proper dress. But we think it checks a lot of "curtain dress" boxes in terms of style, as you'll soon see. Put it together with the jockey hat we mentioned previously, and we believe you've got a good approximation of the costume we all know and love from GWTW.   
So check it out after the jump! Does it look like Scarlett's dress to you?

Morning robe. Godey's Lady's Book, March 1865.

Close up of the morning robe.

Description from Godey's Lady's Book: Morning-robe of light cuir-colored poplin, turned back with green silk, and trimmed all round the skirt and on the corsage with a plait formed of chenille cord. Fine muslin skirt, trimmed with a worked ruffle and rows of inserting. Chemisette of Valenciennes inserting and puffs of muslin. Fancy muslin cap, trimmed with scarlet flowers and loops of green ribbon.

 Screenshots of Scarlett's green velvet dress in Gone with the Wind.

Two renditions of the curtain dress as sketched by Walter Plunkett. 


  1. I think this dress is great. It’s easy to see the similarities between it and Scarlett’s dress. I always thought that the silk chord and tassel details might have been too much of a giveaway as to the origins of the dress, but from this morning robe it appears that that type of trim was quite fashionable. I think that it would be just like Scarlett to go out in something more like a dressing gown than an actual day dress – always pushing the fashion boundaries! I notice that all the bonnets still tie under the chin, unlike Emmie’s revolutionary red pancake hat. It would be interesting to see fashion plates that recorded its introduction. Emmie was wearing her hat the following January, so I guess it was a fairly up-to-date style. I like the lace cap with red roses on the morning robe model. Maybe Scarlett’s lace house cap when she talks to Rhett on the porch after Ella is born was similar to this.
    The grey dress with buckled belt is pretty too.

  2. Hey there, MM, so glad you like the dress! In answer to your question, from what I can tell the other MM is a little off on her time frame regarding hats like Emmie's--but only just a very little bit off. Smaller hats, with ribbons tying in the back, started to appear in fashion plates in spring 1866. Perhaps in winter 1866 it was just a touch too cold to embrace a new style and better to have a bonnet firmly fastened in the front to keep you warm? :)

  3. A good example is the plate you ladies used for your Shantytown dress post. In the plate the model in grey dress with black trim is about to open the door of a store – her brown hat with wide ribbons tying under her hair, I feel, match the pancake hat description really well. What month was that plate from? It looks quite autumnal. A couple of weeks after Scarlett marries Frank and Rhett catches her at the store, after the conversation wraps Scarlett has Rhett drive her out to buy the mills on the spot. Scarlett puts on her bonnet and ties the strings under her chin. So she wasn’t wearing the new style then, but later when she is conducting business, Aunt Pitty makes her a green pancake bonnet, which would match a spring release of the style.
    It makes me wonder what Scarlett did in relation to her wardrobe after she married Frank. Used to counting pennies, I doubt she’d have rushed out for fashionable new dresses, probably having Frank buy her, or have her made, a couple of simple and functional dresses.
    Do you think Scarlett wore the green velvet dress again after her marriage? I can imagine the lengths she went to during the two week courtship so Frank wouldn’t realise it was her only dress and her desperation. I’d say Scarlett borrowed Aunt Pitty’s bonnets, shawls, collars, and whatever she could to change the appearance of the dress. Frank doesn’t strike me as the type to notice finer details of feminine attire...

  4. Hey MM, nice to have you back! On the topic of how often Scarlett wore her green velvet dress after her marriage with Frank, I don't think we can give a definite answer, but my guess is that it was not that often. I don't think she was really under much pressure during the two-week courtship, because Frank, unlike Rhett, knew that she was poor and didn't mind it. It wouldn't have struck him that she was only trying to ensnare him for his money. And after the marriage, I think it would have been odd for Scarlett to wear her green velvet dress, since we know that everyone in Atlanta was basically in rags. Scarlett's dress was probably the best in Atlanta (think of the wedding at the Elsings and the remark that Scarlett's dress was on par with the bride's own).

    I think you're spot on about Scarlett's wardrobe being more functional than fancy during her marriage with Frank.

  5. Thanks for the welcome back! It seems to have been quiet around here, what a shame that real life hasn’t been so quiet!
    What a funny idea. I hadn’t really thought of Scarlett’s dress as being the best dress in Atlanta (save for Belle’s frocks and those of her girls) but it’s quite valid. She went into business virtually as soon as the marriage began, and velvet wasn’t practical to be worn doing rounds of business. In fact it wasn’t really practical to be worn out of the house, what with the red dirt streets. The novel does say that the number of invitations to parties was dropping off, the more Scarlett fell out of favour with the town, but this indicates they went to at least a few parties during the early marriage. She could likely have worn her green dress to these parties.
    When Scarlett offers her earrings as collateral for the sawmill, Rhett refuses them. However later Frank is lamenting that she sold her earrings to that awful Butler man. What did Scarlett really do with them? Hide them? Another piece of jewellery mentioned and never mentioned again is the diamond solitaire also found on the Yankee. When the Yankees come to Tara the second time, Scarlett shoves it into the wallet as well as the earrings and down Beau’s diaper. The ring isn’t mentioned again. By the time Scarlett went to Atlanta she had no wedding ring, the Yankees had stolen her sapphire engagement ring, so perhaps she wore it to proclaim her status as a matron. I don’t know, but would have been considered a faux pas for a married woman to appear without a ring on her hand?

  6. Well, when it comes to the earrings, I think that Scarlett sold them to someone else and told Frank she gave them to Rhett. She had to have an excuse for why Rhett was giving her money in the first place, so it have made sense to tell Frank that (just like she told Aunt Pitty during the war that she paid Rhett for the bonnet and fabric). And since Rhett didn't want the earrings, I can easily imagine Scarlett selling them to make more money (no idea to whom and I think it would have had to be from outside her circle of acquaintances, as not to arise suspicions and b/c her friends were too poor to buy jewelry anyway).


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