Thread By Thread: Costumes on Screen

The Best Part of Waking Up

Taylor looks so good in the simple white slip that you almost get angry at her on screen husband played by Paul Newman could resist her. The fact that his character is gay, as most Williams’ protagonists are, is glossed over in the film.

With the recent passing of screen legend Elizabeth Taylor, i find myself reminiscing about her film work. Many may argue that her lavish costume dramas such as Cleopatra and Raintree County are her best look and work.  However, I prefer Elizabeth when her elegance shines through her usually tormented character.  She positively radiates as Maggie the Cat in the film adaptation of the famous Tennessee Williams play, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. Taylor looked so appealing in her simple white slip that she alone appears in it on most of the films posters.

Considering Taylor’s beauty in the simplicity of something most women wore to bed, it is worthwhile then to note that many films use night wear as another chance to display elaborate costumes. Rest assured there are plenty of examples of ‘normal’ night wear from wrinkled shirts to pj’s (and  yet somehow the women always wake up with a fresh face of makeup on, they’re so pretty makeup molecules simply attach to their face during rest!)  The number of lovely lavish robes women don in films is numerous, so let’s get started in reviewing some my favorites.

Scarlett’s Dressing Gowns from Gone with the Wind 

Scarlett gives a whole new meaning to the phrase Green With Envy, she drive her romance with Rhett straight into the ground by making him jealous over her jealousy of Melanie being with Ashley.

If the color scheme seems a bit familiar it’s because it is a nod to The Fighting Irish and Scarlett’s own Irish heritage.

Plunkett’s sketch of the robe

Gone with the Wind is the ultimate costume movie and Walter Plunkett’s designs are so beautiful that it was a difficulty to narrow the field down to two favorites within the category of just dressing gowns (She dons a total of five in the film.)  Even if you hate long movies, southern accents, and the thought of rooting for the Confederacy, you should watch the film for its groundbreaking spectacular cinematography, detailed sets (Producer David O’Selznick had literal tons of red Georgia  dirt shipped across the country to put on the ground while filming), and lavish costumes of course.

In the book Scarlett’s eyes are famously green, and became greener when confronted. Vivien Leigh’s eyes were a combination of blue and green in the end if you dressed her in green her eyes matched and the same went for blue.  Costume Designer Walter Plunkett dressed Scarlett in an emerald green velvet robe for the scene where so informs Rhett that they are no longer to share a bed.  The robe is beautiful embroidered with gold thread and features goldenrod silk lining visible in the trailing sleeves.   And to think this is only what she wears before she dresses in the morning.

Costumers had to be careful when dying the velvet for the robe to assure that the red would not match or blend into the red carpet that lined the sweeping staircase.

Plunkett’s sketch for the robe, now for sale at Christie’s for a cool $9,000.

Arguably one of the most iconic costumes from the film is the red velvet robe Scarlett wears for a nightcap that ends in a brutal confrontation with her scorned husband Rhett.  The famous poster featuring Clark Gable carrying Vivien Leigh in a red dress falling off of hershoulders is the red velvet robe above. The color red was chosen for a variety of reasons. It represents Scarlett’s own stubbornness, and her refusal to give up on Ashley Wilkes and admit the she does love Rhett. It also represents Rhett’s own anger at being scorned by a wife whom he has spoiled and loved, and his violent/passionate reaction. (For a great analysis on the whole rape dichotomy presented by the film and book I highly recommend Frankly My Dear : Gone with the Wind Revisited by Molly Haskell.)

Delysia’s Champagne Pink Dressing Gown from Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day

The luxurious robe also serves as a large contrast between the homeless and realistic Miss Pettigrew and the wealthy carefree Delysia.

 Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day makes it on my favorites list once more with a beautiful pink champagne silk robe worn by Delysia LaFosse. In the case of the film, clothes really do affect first impressions; Delysia welcomes Miss Pettigrew into her world in this robe. The robe reflects Delysia’s luxurious carefree lifestyle. It is made of silk, a material which will soon, if not already, be rationed to make Parachutes for WWII. The soft pink color of the robe reflects Delysia’s wealth too; it matches the color of champagne, of which several empty bottles are strewn about the room.  The soft fluffy feathers which ring the  sleeves are a nod to Delysia’s desire for stardom, as the feathers swathed many starlets of the era, such as Ginger Rodgers’ beautiful flowing white silk and ostrich feather ballgown from Top Hat. The robe compliments Amy Adam’s peachy skin and gives Delysia the right amount of playfulness and beauty.

Padme’s Dressing Gowns from Star Wars  

The beautiful blue velvet took over a month to hand-smock before it could even be made into the robe we see on screen.

 Much like Gone With The Wind, it is very hard for me to look at the Star Wars films and pick a favorite. The clothing costume designer Trisha Biggar made for the prequels are so beautiful and intricate that even with years of watching the films and admiring her work I still find new things to like about them.  The films’ big budget made the sky(s) the limit for Biggar and it is apparent in Padme Amidala’s wardrobe throughout the films.  Formality aside, Biggar managed to create the look of other worlds and their cultures, societies and rules for dress through clothing. Consistently through the films though we see reflections of what we already are familiar with. Biggar states that “George [Lucas] has long asserted that the movies are not futuristic- that they are period pictures, drawn from the past. ‘a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” This concept is apparent throughout the films, especially in Padme’s clothing, particularly her night wear.

The royal blue smocked velvet dressing gown Padme dons over an off-white nightgown embroidered with multi-color flowers for her Naboo retreat with Anakin in Attack of The Clones is a great example.  Its outline harks back to Edwardian era, in addition to the fact that she even wears a dressing gown.  The robe stands out among the surrounding greenery and water (the scene was one of a few filmed with no green screen in Lake Como, Italy). It is the most casual we have seen Padme in the series and shows just how comfortable she is with her Jedi protector.  The robe itself was made from hand-smocked velvet and is detailed with an embroidered gold braid on the sleeves and a beautiful beaded tassel in the back.  The gown manages to be both relatable and regal, much like its wearer on screen. It’s easy to see how Anakin could be in love with such a combination.

If the gown seems a little too pretty for sleeping, it’s because Lucas wanted it that way, Anakin has a pivotal vision of Padme’s death which eventually leads to his own downfall to the Dark Side, and wanted her to look ideal.

Much like in fairytales or retelling of stories, the beauty and clothing of any character is exaggerated, especially when the story is riding on a person’s desire to do anything to keep them protected.

Biggar’s concept for the nightgown

Perhaps to prove that pregnancy does not prevent one from looking good for bedtime, Padme wears a beautiful steel blue nightgown in the next Star Wars installment, Revenge of The Sith.  The gown made of a steel blue silk that changes hues depending on the lighting was made represent the ideal beauty that Padme is to Anakin.  The gown is actually made in panels and features a delicate blue braiding at the seams.  The back features a beautiful draped cape that is held together by small dangle pearl beading.  Pearls were also used as accent side sleeves that elegantly drape across her arm. While the gown may not actually be comfortable to sleep in, it certainly strikes a pretty picture of the one thing Anakin treasures.

Rose’s Black and Gold Dressing Gown from Titanic 


The gown actually gives the appearance of a monarch butterfly upon first glance, and allusion to Rose metamorphosis into womanhood.

Costume Designer Deborah Lynn Scott’s sketch of the kimono dressing gown.

It is easy to forget this gown considering that she takes it off for one of the most iconic scene in cinema approximately two minutes after wearing it.  The dressing gown clearly stuck out in viewer’s minds though because replicas and similar styles of soared after the film opened.  The dressing gown itself is styled after a kimono but has some Edwardian tweaks. The gown features pools at the floor and features a small train, common of many dresses of the time.  The gown also features tassel ties in the front unlike a kimono which wraps to cover up the seams.  The gown itself is made from a sheer black fabric, likely a silk organza and features floor length sleeves. The sleeves feature a paisley design which was made from a gold patterned silk appliquéd to the sleeves with fine gold beading.  The beautiful dressing gown is so pretty it’s almost a shame she takes it off, but I suppose it’s not much to sketch in comparison.

Sylvia’s White & Red Dressing Gown from Finding Neverland 

The red trimming on Sylvia’s dressing gown matches the ties her boys wear, representing how she will always be in their hearts.

The beautiful train and detailing of the gown is only visible when Sylvia makes her way through the garden to Neverland in the film’s final moments.

The dressing gown Sylvia Llewelyn Davies dons for her literal 11th hour in Finding Neverland is a stunner. Seemingly plain at first the gown is classically Edwardian in cut with and has an elaborate train that appears to increase in length as she walks into Neverland.  The dressing gown features a nod to exoticism common of the era (The Edwardian era was a sunset of the era of the British Empire, upon which the sun literally never set,) as evident in the shapes the red velvet is cut into.  Elaborate beaded embroidery is seen on the large flower on the train and on the trailing sleeves and yoke.   The gown was made white to represent Sylvia’s own pure and good soul, but also to connect her to J.M. Barrie’s classic story The Little White Bird, which first featured Peter Pan and an archetype for the character of Wendy (who famously is called the white Wendy Bird by the Lost Boys in the story.)  The gown and its wearer make the perfect exit for the second star to the right and straight on til morning.

This entry was published on April 4, 2011 at 11:11 am. It’s filed under April 2011, Entertainment and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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