The year was 1939. This film was Gone With the Wind. Margaret Mitchell’s epic Civil War saga finally made its way the to silver screen, and in a big way. (Fun fact: GWTW remains the highest grossing film of all time — adjusted for inflation, of course). In no small undertaking, the cinematic masterpiece brought the novel’s infamous heroine, Scarlett O’Hara, to life in actress Vivien Leigh. And while the virtues of Mitchell's written work are innumerable, the virtues (and vices) of Scarlett, herself, are perhaps even more noteworthy. Over the past 75 years, Leigh's Scarlett has aged with unexpected grace and continues to be a shining representation of strong, confident women — at least to me, that is.
My first taste of Scarlett came sometime in the third grade when I caught the film playing on the Turner Classic Movie channel. I don’t quite remember what caught my attention while flipping through stations — maybe those antebellum hoops skirts or Rhett Butler's mischievous grin — but from that moment on I was positively hooked. To preface, while most kids grew up on Disney and Nickelodeon, I've always been a lover of the classics — thanks in large part to the influence of my aunt, Thelma. And, in addition to my aunt, I named Shirley Temple, Vivien Leigh, and Ingrid Bergman among my first female role models. Not a bad list, eh?
Perhaps stemming from a place of familiarity, my affinity for Scarlett can be correlated to the women I know and surround myself with — like Thelma, she's far from perfect, but we love her for it all the more. She spoke her mind and would be subordinate to no one, Yankee or otherwise. And while I mean no disrespect to Dorothy or the Hitchcock blondes — I love them, too — Scarlett O'Hara remains in a league beyond that of her Old Hollywood contemporaries. She's confident and sexy and selfish and immature. Which, aren’t we all? Despite a silver-spoon upbringing, Scarlett was no proper lady — which Rhett Butler so
Behind those raven locks and piercing blue eyes, the film's producer, David O. Selznick brought us a stunning book-to-film adaptation by casting a then unknown, up-and-coming English actress named Vivien Leigh. While the casting search famously drew the biggest names in the history of cinema, Leigh personified the novel's heroine, in heart, soul, and visage. A living, breathing iteration of Mitchell’s written vision — Leigh gave audiences the perfectly flawed Southern belle they'd been longing for. With enough sass, wit, and charm to give Jennifer Lawrence a run for her money!
Scarlett embodied the hyperbolic traits of womanhood not readily portrayed for audiences of the pre-WWII generations. For all of Melanie Wilkes' purity, frailty, and kindness, in contrast Scarlett was childish, head-strong, and irrational about love and relationships — and quite frankly, not always likable. Poor Rhett, can't you kids kiss and make up? But through her inherent flaws and unfaltering determination, Scarlett taught me more about love and life than I ever realized as a kid. That both can take many paths, not all of which lead to fairy-tale endings.
By the time I was old enough to take on Mitchell's massive page-turner, Scarlett's coming-of-age story really began to resonate with me. She was just a girl, transitioning from adolescence into adulthood, making plenty of mistakes along the way. Sound familiar? From her unrequited lust for Ashley Wilkes to her missed soul mate in Rhett — these are lessons in love that women everywhere, and of all ages can relate to, in some form. And throughout her triumphs and her trials, she remained true to herself, to Tara. Never letting us forget that, "after all, tomorrow is another day."
On one last note, I cannot properly conclude an ode to such a vibrant character without paying homage to her seriously amazing wardrobe — hello, attitude! As a fashion-crazed kid that collaged her favorite dresses in Microsoft Paint (yep, guilty), I found in GWTW a love for clothes that I would later make my career. From the infamous curtain dress to every frilly ball gown and bonnet, I thank you, Scarlett. Thank you for your astounding focus to always wear the most dramatic, attention-grabbing outfit in the room — even after your first husband died. And your second. In the middle of the Civil War.
And without further ado, the costume that inspired this piece...