Dress to Impress

         Costumes make the movie. They define who the person is or who he has become. Without selecting the perfect costume for a character, it could through the entire movie off, because that one character could be portrayed incorrectly. The Heiress, a 1949 film directed by William Wyler, is an excellent example of excellent costume design. Based on Henry James’s Washington Square and Ruth and Augustus Goetz’s 1948 play, The Heiress follows Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland) as she falls madly in love with Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), but still tries to please her father, Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson) as well. After having her heart broken by Morris and the death of her father, Catherine begins to change, and in the end, gives Morris what he deserves–nothing.

         As the film progresses, one can watch Catherine’s demeanor begin to change. At the very beginning, she is a shy girl, who dresses very blandly and plainly. Even when she tries to dress nicely in the red dress, her father does not think she measures up to his late wife and her mother. He compares Catherine to her mother constantly. After Dr. Sloper and his daughter have returned from Europe, Catherine’s attire has changed slightly, being more fashionable. The most dramatic change seen is years later, after her father has passed away and Morris had never returned for her. One can see that over these years, Catherine’s taste has grown tremendously because her dresses have become more extravagant and eloquent. Although the movie is in black and white, the beauty of the dresses can still be seen regardless.

         Other costumes were also good, such as those of Aunt Lavinia (Miriam Hopkins). Aunt Lavinia’s outfits may have been black, for she was in mourning, but each one still had very much detail to it. Of course, the men in the movie were dressed to set the time period, which was set in the late 1800s. But, as we know, most men do not have to put as much thought and effort into their attire as ladies do; therefore, there was no real change seen over time in the way the men were dressed.

         The Heiress won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design, Black and White, in 1949. This goes to show that this film had impeccable taste in choosing the costumes for the actors to wear. Without the costumes, there is no movie!

Meagan Brown

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