Well, after all these years I finally found out what happened to “the dress” Scarlet O’Hara wore in Gone With the Wind. No, I don’t mean that pitiful rag she wore clawing through the dirt for radishes; raising her fists to heaven and shouting in her excessive Southern accent that; “As God is my witness I will nevah go hungry again!” No I mean the other one, the one she wore when she sashayed into that Atlanta jail bursting with plans for Rhett.
Truth is the O’Hara’s were indeed poor as job’s turkey. The War Between the States had ruined them, and they were desperate to pay the taxes on Tara. Scarlett knew that Rhett was no fool (except with women), and he didn’t mind playing both sides of the fence, (or a chancy poker bet), and he had salted away plenty of money before those money-less days of Reconstruction. So when she floated into that Atlanta jail, she knew she must impress the rascal: Anything to save Tara.
Scarlett’s stunning dress had been quickly stitched and pinned together from no less than her mother’s green velvet curtains. The dress was designed to make Rhett’s eyes pop and his wallet open. And so it went.
The dress that actress Vivian Leigh wore for that scene in Gone With the Wind is properly displayed at the Atlantic Historical Society’s exhibition, of “Atlanta Women: From Myth to Modern times.” I have a friend who worked there and assured me all is well.” The display describes lifestyles of Atlanta women since the city’s frontier days in the mid-19th century.
“We’ve tried to present a realistic view of the life of Atlanta women,” said my friend Jean. “Of course, Scarlett is a myth, (oh no), but she is still so much a part of Atlanta that the dress draws more visitors than all the canons and buggies put together! Scarlett with her devious plans and 21 ½ inch waistline has proven to be more popular than dear, sweet, sister “Melanie.”
The dress that Scarlett flaunted was found after months of searching, in a California museum. Costume designers for the movie researched 1860’s
Styles, and even faded the material by laying it out in the sun, just as the sun would have faded Mrs. O’Hara’s curtains.
However, says my friend, the style of that famous dress is as much a myth as Scarlett herself. Also, she informed me, no Atlanta woman of that time would dare appear in public with a plunging neckline. But then not every woman owned a “Tara.” Nor was the dress made of silk velvet as 1860 curtains were; No, Scarlett’s dress was made of cotton velvet. Scarlett got all of the silk velvet she wanted later.
And then there was my Aunt Annie, who never left home, (or Uncle James) who nevertheless jumped deliberately on a train with her sisters and headed passionately for Atlanta, determined to see Gone With the Wind fable or not! Knowing that “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” and other spicy stuff would never make it to Kinston.
And she was right, (well it took a while).