While you are here – test your knowledge on these Gone with the Wind quizzes!
Check out these Q&A’s about Gone With The Wind’s iconic approach to costume design with today’s top designers
Catherine Martin, costume designer best known for her Academy Award wins with The Great Gatsby and Moulin Rouge spills about Gone with the Wind:
You say Gone With The Wind changed your life when you saw the movie when you were 13 years old. Can you tell us how?
As a child I was always a huge fan of the Wizard of Oz, but somehow in my childish imagination, I believed the world of the film to be unquestionably true. By the time you’re thirteen, however, you’re cognizant that the world created in the cinema is totally artificial. Gone With The Wind allowed me to understand the storytelling power of design as you are completely transported to an antebellum world when watching the film, even though you are conscious that all the images have been created on a Los Angeles backlot thousands of miles away from where the story was actually set. This made me realize that spectacle, scale and sense of being somewhere else could be created just about anywhere.
It’s been 75 years since Gone With The Wind came out… does the movie still set a standard in production and costume design?
Gone With The Wind is, without a doubt, a seminal, historical film. Historical periods have been interpreted more and less accurately over the last hundred years of cinema. In this film there was a focus on historical accuracy in terms of costuming to help support the story and put the audience completely back in the world that was. One of the interesting things about Gone With The Wind’s costuming is that the costume designer, Walter Plunkett, insisted that all the women wear period-appropriate undergarments, a first (I think) in cinema design. Both the costume and production designer used the most advanced technology available in the late 1930s to push the boundaries of design and story, whether it be extending Tara using an extremely complicated glass matte painting or using Technicolor to their advantage to enhance the burning of Atlanta and Scarlett’s extraordinary red velvet dress.
How has production and costume design changed in the past 75 years? How has it stayed the same?
Ultimately, the aim of production and costume design has, to me, stayed steadfastly the same since the beginning of film-making. Production and costume design are tools that need to be used to help tell the story, to realize concretely the director’s vision and support the actor’s performances and the characters that they are creating with the director. Cutting edge production design, whether it’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Metropolis, Avatar, or The Great Gatsby, uses technological advances to describe the worlds in which the story is set more powerfully.
Which dress is your favorite from Gone With The Wind and why?
My favorite dress in Gone With The Wind is the Mother’s Portiers dress that Scarlett makes out of curtains. I always remember how cleverly the tie-back of the curtains are used as a belt and the tassels are jauntily set on the matching hat. This dress represents Scarlett’s indomitable spirit, her incredible ability to survive and her innate sense of style all at once. She has an incredible facility to adapt to any circumstance – from the backbreaking field work at Tara to using her feminine whiles to charm Rhett into handing over $300 with a disguise conjured up out of her mother’s curtains turning herself into a dashingly elegant southern lady who is only betrayed by the calluses on her hands.
Do you have a favorite scene from Gone With The Wind? Which one and why?
Although it’s an extremely sad and powerful scene (and perhaps it is strange that this is my favorite), the crane shot after the siege of Atlanta with the wounded on the ground and Scarlett going person to person searching for Ashley Wilks as she and Melanie escape Atlanta is an extraordinarily powerful storytelling scene.
How has Gone With The Wind inspired you in your period costume creation?
When working with Baz on original material that’s being adapted for either the screen or stage, his directive to me in terms of being a designer is to return to the source material, whether it be William Shakespeare’s play Romeo & Juliet or Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby. It is our job as designers to unravel the visual clues in the book and to help the director translate those visual cues through their vision into something that will help the storytelling. This something you certainly see in Gone With The Wind. Both Walter Plunkett and Production Designer William Cameron Menzies used the descriptions in the book and were extremely respectful of their source material and lovingly brought Margaret’s descriptions of the antebellum world of Gone With The Wind to life.
Ben Stein said The Great Gatsby was the best love story since Gone With The Wind. He accredited much of The Great Gatsby’s success to your “stupendous” production design and costumes. What parallels do you see between the two movies?
I think that historical dramas that have an extraordinary love story at its center are a great canvas for you to express yourself as a designer. The costume and set design is only put into relief or seen to its best advantage when put into a great movie with great actors. It’s very kind of him to say that but I don’t think it’s accurate. Costumes and sets are brought to life through the power of storytelling, great script work, great direction, and great acting.
Austin Scarlett, fashion designer best known for his appearances on Project Runway, the 2012 “Project Runway: All-Stars”, and On the Road with Austin and Santino tells us his thoughts:
1. Vital personality traits of characters in Gone with the Wind are revealed through their costumes, such as when Scarlett’s fearlessness and femininity are unveiled as she constructs and wears her iconic green “curtain dress.” As a designer with several collections under your own name, do you feel that your designs symbolize significant aspects of your personality? How?
Fashion, like life, I have always believed, should be a celebration.
My own personality is reflected in my collections through a balance of exuberance and refinement.
I love classical beauty, but am also very adventurous.
While design for me is an art, I try not to take myself too seriously, and think fashion should have a sense of humor and lightheartedness too.
2. Although a lot has changed in the world of producing garments in the past 75 years, when you had the pleasure of viewing the GWTW costumes in person at the Harry Ransom Center, did you notice any specific methods of design or production that are still employed today?
The costumes from the movie are constructed more like real Victorian era clothing than modern fashion. They were made to be worn over an entire ensemble of underpinnings to build the silhouette of the 1860’s, and are therefore usually unlined and without to many layers in the actual dress itself. Today in couture dressmaking, we usually build in all the structure and volume that is needed permanently into the dress. Instead of requiring a maid to help put on layer upon layer, a woman today can slip into a gown, zip up, and be off in a matter of moments.
Since the costumes were especially designed to project through the Technicolor camera, certain details are exaggerated, such as the rhinestone embellishment of Scarlett’s burgundy evening gown.
In person, the stones seem large, somewhat crude and almost gaudy, on screen however they appear absolutely rich and dazzling.
3. Are there any aspects of the American Civil War era fashion that have disappeared that you would love to see make a comeback?
There are so many aspects of fashion today that draw inspiration from the mid 1800s’. One trend for brides I think is charming and should return is the wedding trousseau. Women of that time prepared an entire new wardrobe for their new phase in life as a married lady, as well as a large collection of lingerie and household linen. In the book, Scarlett had “second day” and “third day” dresses. I think it’s nice to have a few new things that extend the experience of being a bride a little longer.
4. Walter Plunkett is said to have hand designed and crafted the costumes seen in GWTW in his workshop. As a designer who also takes pride in hand crafting even the smallest details on the garments that you create, what do you think this direct involvement in a garments production adds to the final product?
Every designer has their own way of working. As for myself, I love being involved in every step, from the dreaming up the initial concept and first rough sketch, to the draping of muslin on the mannequin to create the shape and silhouette, finalizing the fabric choices including linings and embellishments, to the actual construction and finishing hand touches.
For Mr. Plunkett, and many designers, being there on hand throughout the creation process is essential in maintaining the vision of the final design. From the overall shape and proportion of the dress to the careful selection and placement of a bow or broach, the master’s touch is evident.
In costume design this is especially important since one must work with individual actors, and adjustments are often made on the spot to suite them, yet stay true to the look needed for the story.
5. What do you credit the timeless and iconic reputation that the fashion in GWTW has acquired to? Why?
The sheer beauty of the costumes of GWTW still has an emotional impact on us today.
Scarlett’s transform her into an otherworldly, superhuman creature. She doesn’t walk, she floats on a heavenly cloud. I think people will always dream of experiencing a glamorous world where romance reigns supreme.
6. In having experience in costume and bridal gown design, have you noticed any significant similarities between the two fields?
A wedding in many ways is a theatrical performance, with the bride as the star and leading lady.
With a couture gown, the goal is always to make a woman look beautiful, to bring out her unique qualities and flatter them.
With costume, developing the character, telling a story, and creating a sense of time and place is most important. While making the stars look good is certainly important, many times a homely, humorous, hideous or otherwise unglamorous character look is required.
7. Many would suggest that GWTW is a prime example of theatrical storytelling through clothing. How important do you think proper wardrobe is in the development of a story on film?
So much about a character or story can be told through costume.
Scarlett evolves from young belle, to widow, war nurse, impoverished field worker, self-made fashion plate, business woman and on…. Her costumes not only tell the changing aspects of Scarlett’s character, they dramatize the social changes of the civil war south. Each costume she wearers, from her diaphanous barbeque frock, to her worn out calico work dress, to her lavish wardrobe after her marriage to Rhett, and of course her iconic green velvet curtain dress, reveal a different facet of Scarlett’s evolving character, and help tell her story in a way dialogue cannot.
8. How has GWTW fashion and costume design inspired the work that you create today? In designing your recent collections, have you noticed any recurring motifs that are GWTW inspired?
Romance, elegance, elements of history and of fantasy have always been trademarks of my designs. When I saw GWTW for the first time, I was completely awestruck and forever inspired. Grand, sculptural silhouettes, layers of floating materials and dramatic, lavish, but feminine details are featured throughout my collections. They are designed for a woman, who, like Scarlett, enjoys feeling feminine, and being the center of attention, the belle of the ball.
9. Being someone who is dedicated to maintaining classic glamour in your designs, how do you think our perception of “glamorous” has changed in regards to fashion in the past 75 years?
Glamour is something truly intangible and unidentifiable, something veiled in mystery….
The word itself comes from the old English for “fairy magic”.
Glamour is really more of a mood, an attitude that of any specific style.
It can be found, or not found, in every era.
For me, glamour is when dress, coiffure, personal confidence, carriage and grace, all come together in an effect that is literally enchanting.
Glamour casts a hypnotizing trance over all it touches.
10. How would you describe the impact that GWTW costume design has had on modern day fashion?
I believe the unique glamour of Scarlett O’Hara is timeless. Countless of designers have been influenced by the film and will continue to for years to come. From the collections of Christian Dior to Alexander McQueen, Scarlett’s spirit has been reborn again and again.
In my book about the fashions of the film, I dedicate an entire section to the films fashion influence through the years, the examples are innumerous and I could go on and on…. One only has to look at today’s red carpet coverage to see that ballgowns, sweeping trains, and grand dressing are still very much a part of our current concept of fashion, glamour and beauty.
Bob Mackie, fashion designer best known for costuming entertainment icons such as Carol Burnett, Cher, and many others gives us these answers:
You designed the famous curtain dress for Carol Burnett Show for the infamous parody segment back in 1976. This year, Gone With The Wind celebrates its 75th year. How did the parody come to be? Where did your inspiration come from?
On the Carol Burnett Show we often did parodies of classic old movies. It was inevitable that we would eventually take on Gone with the Wind, probably the most iconic and most seen film of the time. Everyone in the TV audience knew the moment “Starlett” (Carol) took the drapes down from the window and dragged them up the stairs that she would soon reappear wearing a dress made from the drapes. For me, in the real film when Scarlett appeared in her curtain dress, it was already hilarious. So for several days I agonized over what to do with the drapes. When an audience expects one thing and you surprise them with something else, usually you get a reaction. Well, when Carol proudly came down the stairs wearing the drapes – with the curtain rod included – the audience went ballistic. They say it was the loudest and longest laugh ever recorded on television. As a costume designer I was relieved; I got my laugh.
What elements of the famous dress worn by Scarlett O’Hara did you incorporate into the parody dress worn by Carol Burnett?
In the film, Scarlett was often quite ridiculous (thank God for Vivien Leigh). For Carol to parody her was not a real stretch, and what juicy material to satirize.
What do you most love about Gone With The Wind?
Gone with the Wind is one of those films I can never turn off. If I come upon it while channel surfing, I will stay up all night ’til it finishes.
How did the movie inspire you as a Fashion Designer? Does it continue to resonate with you today?
The film’s costume designer Walter Plunkett called me after seeing our show and asked me if he could have my sketch of the television version of the curtain dress. I was honored and thrilled! Mr. Plunkett was one of the most esteemed period costume designers of the Golden Age of film. He also designed my favorite musical film Singing in the Rain.
What fashion secrets can real women borrow from Scarlett O’Hara and Gone With The Wind? Should women give a damn about what others think?
The film Scarlett was ruthless in her fashion choices. She knew what she wanted and was never afraid to push the boundaries of what the proper lady of the 1860s would or should not wear. She certainly didn’t care what other people thought. Today fashion is a little too free, easy and sloppy. Oh, well. Time marches on.