9 Little-Known Facts About Scarlett O'Hara's Curtain Dress

Posted by Madame Alexander on Sep 26, 2014

To mark the 75th anniversary of Gone With The Wind, the University of Texas has mounted an exhibition as epic as the film itself.

The Making of Gone With The Wind is open through January 4, 2015 at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas. With more than 300 items, many never before seen, it's the largest, most important collection of GWTW artifacts ever assembled.
But one of those 300 items is so iconic it stands above the rest: the legendary green velvet "Curtain Dress", recently restored for public viewing.

As a symbol of Scarlett's determination to survive, it's as powerful as ever. As a spectacular creation by legendary Hollywood costumer Walter Plunkett, it's as striking as ever. As shown by the following little-known facts about the Curtain Dress, it's as interesting as ever.

Here's a look behind the curtain dress – 9 Little-Known Facts About Scarlett O'Hara's Most Famous Outfit:


1. Margaret Mitchell was inspired by her great-grandmother's curtains.

Eleanor Fitzgerald, her great-grandmother, had elaborate velvet curtains hanging in her home. Indeed, the Fitzgerald plantation was the primary inspiration for Tara.

After the fields and farmlands were destroyed in the war, according to the family story heard often by young Margaret, Eleanor's heavy velvet drapes still hung, a remnant of the genteel dignity of the house through the darkest times.


2. Dress designer Walter Plunkett got help from the Daughters of the Confederacy.

To learn the inventive methods Southern women employed to make the most of their difficult circumstances, the Gone With The Wind costume designer turned to the Daughters of the Confederacy chapters in Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC. Members showed Walter Plunkett how post-war women made pins from thorns and buttons from walnuts.

“We have just spent the morning in the Daughters of the Confederacy hall,” Plunkett wrote in a letter from Charleston in 1936. “The lady in charge let me have samples of all the fabrics of the old costumes, and I have accomplished even more than I hoped.”


3. The dress was designed to look faded, but it didn't show in Technicolor.

Plunkett knew that real curtains would be irregularly bleached from constant exposure to the sun, and tried to recreate that look. But the heavy color saturation of Technicolor film meant that effect didn't come across in the movie.


4. Scarlett wears so much green to make Vivien Leigh's blue eyes look greener.

The Curtain Dress isn't the only green outfit we see Scarlett wearing. That was no accident. In the novel, Scarlett's green eyes are one of her most striking features. But Vivien Leigh's eyes were blue.

Since colored contacts hadn't come along yet, the producers used a combination of green clothes and camera filters to make her eyes appear greener in close-ups.


5. The total cost of the outfit was $485.

According to the book The Art of Gone With The Wind by Judy Cameron, that price tag includes $400 for the dress and $85 for the two cock-feather hats that were necessary for the production. That would be roughly $8,300 in 2014 dollars.

If Scarlett had had that kind of money lying around, she could have paid off that tax bill without asking for Rhett's help.


6. The film production spent $10,000 on laundry alone.

Maybe that's not too bad, considering there were over 2,500 costumes just for the female performers and extras. In total, wardrobe costs added up to $153,818, says the book Gone With The Wind on Film: A Complete Reference by Cynthia Marylee Molt.

The entire budget for Gone With The Wind in 1939 was just $4 million – the costumes alone would come to more than $2.6 million today.


7. Walter Plunkett did not win the Academy Award for Costume Design.

It wasn't really a snub, though. There was no Oscar for Costume Design until 1948. And Plunkett did finally win the long-overdue honor for An American in Paris in 1951.


8. The original dress was so damaged, restorers weren't sure they would ever be able to exhibit it again.

“There are extensive alterations and it's not clear when or why they were done,” said conservator Cara Varnell in 2010, adding that to restore the faded green color would only damage the dress further.

It was only after the University of Texas raised $30,000 to restore it and other GWTW dresses that the Curtain Dress was finally deemed sturdy enough to display.


9. Carol Burnett's Curtain Dress is a museum piece now, too.

The dress Carol Burnett wore in her “Went With The Wind” parody in 1976 is so culturally significant; it now stands in the Smithsonian – curtain rod and all.

Ever wanted a Curtain Dress of your own? The Scarlett O'Hara Portiere Dress Doll from Madame Alexander is an 8-inch doll draped in defiant elegance, new for September 2014!


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Topics: Gone With The Wind

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