On March 13, 1939, David O. Selznick wrote a memo to Production Manager Raymond A. Klune concerning the dramatic use of color in Gone With the Wind‘s costumes. The producer impressed upon Klune that the costumes should symbolize “the changing fortunes” of the characters wearing them.
In the first part of the film, especially the Twelve Oaks sequences, Selznick wanted to see “beautiful reds and blues and yellows and greens in costumes so designed that the audience would have gasped at their beauty.”
Scarlett’s gowns in the film’s first part certainly caused me to gasp when I saw the:
- White organdy gown with red velvet belt that she wears during the Porch Scene and during the Evening Prayers sequence
- Green sprig silk muslin gown that she wears to the barbecue at Twelve Oaks
- White satin shirred blouse and maroon taffeta skirt that she wears for Ashley’s farewell when she presents him with the yellow sash.
In the second part of the film, Selznick wanted the audience to feel “a really tragic loss when it saw the same people in the made-over and tacky clothes of the war period.”
Scarlett wears an orchid percale calico dress in various stages of disintegration longer than any other costume in the film. The calico first appears in the Shadow sequence in the Atlanta Hospital and is seen for the last time when Scarlett tears down her mother’s portieres to make the green velvet drapery dress. The calico was accessorized with bonnets, shawls and aprons in various scenes.
In the third part of the film, Selznick wanted to “by its colors alone, dramatize the difference between Scarlett and the rest of the people — Scarlett extravagantly and colorfully costumed against the drabness of the other principals and of the extras.”
This was achieved through Scarlett’s various costume changes, including the:
- Dark crimson gown she wears as the newly married Mrs. Kennedy when she convinces Ashley to come to Atlanta to help her start a lumber business
- Tan bengaline and plaid taffeta dress she wears during the lumber office scene when she hires workers and a foreman for her lumber mill.
- Blue dress with black trim she wears during her ride through Shantytown
- White bengaline dress with black trim she wears during the mules-in-horse-harness conversation with Rhett while on the New Orleans honeymoon
- Cream and green-striped dress she wears while visiting Tara with Rhett
- Burgundy velvet gown with bead and ostrich trim she wears to Ashley’s birthday party — perhaps my favorite of all of Scarlett’s gorgeous Walter Plunkett creations.
I’m curious. Which of Scarlett’s costumes are your favorites? Why? Please post in the Comments section.
Sources: Memo from David O. Selznick, selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer, 1972
The Complete GWTW Trivia Book, second edition, 2014
2023 Twin Year: The 2023 calendar matches the days of the 1939, making 2023 a twin year to 1939. That’s the premise of Pauline’s new book Gone With the Wind: 1939 Day by Day. In that book, she chronicles the production, premieres and reception of GWTW from January 1, 1939 to December 31, 1939. Fans will love following the drama and intrigue of GWTW’s production on each event’s exact day and date.
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My favorites dress is one we never saw Scarlett wear in the film. This is the blue velvet dress in the painting that Rhett throws the glass of whiskey at. Blue is my favorite color and this dress looks so beautiful and elegant.
That’s another gorgeous gown, Cindy. I love the white lace scarf that enhances the royal blue velvet gown. That oil-on-canvas portrait was painted by Helen Carlton, who was known for painting portraits used in films. In 1989 for the film’s 50th anniversary, the Atlanta Historical Society commissioned a print of Scarlett’s portrait. I purchased a print, had it mounted and framed and display it in my office’s conference room. Love that gown.
I have always thought the barbecue dress one of the prettiest in ANY film, not just GWTW. My next favorite is the blue and white dress she wears in the mill before Ashley’s birthday party.
But in reality it’s hard to find fault with any of the costumes. Plunkett did a masterful job with his creations.
I agree, David: Plunkett did a masterful job. The barbecue dress is simply gorgeous; I love the green-sprig print. The blue and white ensemble she wears in the mill is breathtaking. That blue color is superb, and Leigh looks magnificent in the gown. The hat that accompanies that gown is perfect. Like you, I cannot find a fault with any of Scarlett’s costumes.
I LOVE them all and I hope he was truly rewarded for his gorgeous creations. If I had to pick one of my favorites it was the ruby ostrich feathered one or the red velvet robe when Rhett sweeps her off her feet!! Gorgeous designs and color all round!!
I love them all too, Karen, making the choice of just one favorite difficult. Unfortunately, Walter Plunkett’s matchless GWTW designs were not recognized with an Academy Award because the category of Best Costume Design didn’t exist at the time. However, in 1951, he and two other designers shares the Oscar for their work on An American in Paris. Plunkett also earned Oscar nominations for nine other films, including Raintree County. In 2000 he was inducted posthumously into the Costume Designers Guild Hall of Fame.
That ruby ostrich feather one was absolutely stunning! It’s probably my favorite, though it’s hard to pick just one. And of course the green drapery dress is so iconic.
I agree with Teresa Horstman; I also very much feel had there been an Oscar for Best Clothes Designer, Walter Plunkett would have won that one HANDS DOWN !!! GWTW is my favorite movie and book of all times having developed/formed that opinion when I was 16 years old as a 10th grade English student. That opinion has never altered in any shape,, fashion or form.
Reba, I was introduced to the film at the age of 16 and have loved it ever since. Let’s pretend that there was an Academy Award category for Best Costume Design for films during 1939. Let’s consider the list of nominations for Best Picture, as those were the stand-out films, according to the Academy. Does Gone With the Wind still stand “hands down” for that Oscar for Plunkett?
Gone With the Wind
Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Of Mice and Men
The Wizard of Oz
What do you think?
I’m sure those other films mentioned were wonderful and great films in their own rights, but as I have never seen all of them and/or the ones I have seen, I still feel Walter Plunkett would have won “HANDS DOWN”. This comment could also be easily seen as my great love and interest in GWTW, not only the movie and book collectively considered, but also of the # 1 Cast involved and their excellent abilities to immortalize their characters as well. It’s difficult for me to imagine anyone else but Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia deHavilland, Hattie McDaniel, Butterfly McQueen, etc, playing those parts as they played.
Reba, as I thought about the other Best-Picture nominees — all of which I have seen — I must agree with you that Plunkett would have won “hands down.” His work was beyond exceptional. I also agree with you about the cast. As I move through 1939’s twin year — 2023 — in my book, and I think about the other actors and actresses considered for the principal roles, I cannot imagine any of them stepping into the shoes of Gable, Leigh, Howard, de Havilland, McDaniel, McQueen, etc. Absolutely perfect casting! Thanks for the discussion.