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A closer look at the costumes in 'The Help'

August 10, 2011 | 12:16 pm

The Help

Fans of 1960s fashions will have a field day at “The Help.” But dressing the white Southern belles (Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain and Bryce Dallas Howard) and their black maids (Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis) provided some challenges for costume designer Sharen Davis.

Davis spoke about the movie with fashion writer Booth Moore over on our sister blog All the Rage. Davis built 50 costumes from scratch using vintage fabrics (the rest were sourced from costume rental shops and vintage stores). The job was challenging because the film, which opened Wednesday, was shot in Greenwood, Miss., where resources were nil. “The only store is a Wal-Mart. There wasn’t even a Starbucks or a Target,” she said. “I had to fly a lot of people back to L.A. for fittings on the weekends.”

Davis used 1960s-era Sears, JC Penney and Montgomery Ward catalogs, as well as Seventeen magazine, as a guide. She made hyper-feminine dresses in Easter egg shades, with floral prints, modest necklines and full skirts nipped at the waist.

“This is probably the most color I’ve ever used in my life,” said the designer, whose credits include “Dreamgirls” and “Ray.” “And it’s the first time I have not used a color palette for a film. Each of the women had her own story, her own home and her own color palette.”

Davis spent $15,000 on period accessories, including patent leather structured handbags with matching shoes, pearl choker necklaces and cluster earrings, cat’s eye sunglasses and garden party-festive hats.

 Davis, who is African American, said creating the costumes for the black maids had special meaning because her grandmother worked as domestic help in Louisiana during the same time period as the film’s. Read the full interview here.


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-- Julie Makinen

Photo: Viola Davis, standing at left, stars in "The Help" with Bryce Dalls Howard, center, Ahna O'Reilly, left, and Emma Stone, right. Credit: Dale Robinette / DreamWorks / MCT

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