The Gettysburg Dress

I must dress in costly materials.  The people scrutinize every article that I wear with critical curiosity.  The very fact of having grown up in the West, subjects me to more searching observation.  To keep up appearances, I must have money – more than Mr. Lincoln can spare for me.  He is too honest to make a penny outside of his salary; consequently I had, and still have, no alternative but to run in debt.” – Mary Todd Lincoln.  It seems the creators of her husband’s 2012 biopic also didn’t want to overlook any details either, when recreating the tale of our national hero.  The film’s outstanding wardrobe was put together by costume designer Joanna Johnston, who also outfitted some of our all-time favorite films, including Munich, Saving Private Ryan, The Sixth Sense, and Love Actually.  She did an incredible job recreating the gowns First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln wore while living in the White House, as well as her legendary husband, President Abraham Lincoln.  Johnston enlisted the help of dressmaker Erica Ciaglia and tailor Michael Sloan to bring the Lincolns back to life.  Sally Field purposely put on extra weight, so that she would obtain Mary Todd’s actual waist size.  Talk about dedication to a role!  Johnston discusses Field’s weight gain, and what else she did to accomplish her fascinating costume design to Entertainment Weekly’s PopStyle.  She explains, “They’re polar opposites, Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln… She’s spending a lot of money, and he can’t be bothered by that.”  Johnston referred to biographers, museums, the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian to complete her research of properly outfitting the First Family of the 1860s.  Our personal favorite looks in Lincoln were Mary’s cream and black striped ballgown with little purple flowers (pictured, bottom), and the stunning electric blue number with black lace trim (pictured, top).  Both had full ballgowns and boat necklines that made the petite Mary Todd look even shorter, but her fiery personality was not comparable to her small stature.  Her girly accessories, including delicate lace hand gloves, pretty shawls, and pearl jewelry (by Tiffany & Co.!) also probably surprised the lucky few that ever ended up on her bad side; Mrs. Lincoln may have been feminine, but she never backed down from a fight.  During this era, men’s formal coats were slmost always black, but the color is not easy to film onscreen, so Johnston broke the male costumes into shades of off-black and browns.  Any American can tell you Abraham Lincoln’s most famous accessory was his stovepipe hat.  According to Vanity Fair, Johnston sent the president’s actual head measurements to an Italian milliner to get the topper just right.  It even included the Moroccan red leather lining, where the president stored his notes and speeches!  Johnston’s attention to detail, including studying the Lincolns’ undergarments to get the all facts right, is flat-out astounding. Joanna deserves this nomination – we’re rooting for you!

One thought on “The Gettysburg Dress

  1. When we watch a movie such as Lincoln, I think everyone gets wrapped up in the actors’ performances and we tend to take the clothing for granted. Looking back at these beautiful costumes, I can really appreciate the work and effort that went into creating what is Mary Todd Lincoln. Joanna Johnston is amazing in her role as costume designer, just as Sally Field was incredible in her performance. Kudos to both of these wonderful ladies.

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