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Costume designer Catherine Marie Thomas has fashioned a career out of creating memorable styles for films, from fitting Uma Thurman in her yellow leather biker outfit for “Kill Bill-Vol. 1” to creating shiny, lacy country get-ups for Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep in “A Prairie Home Companion.”
For Fox 2000’s “27 Dresses,” Thomas had to tackle the job of finding 27 unique bridesmaid dresses for the film’s star, Katherine Heigl, who plays Jane, a perennial bridal attendant whose own happy ending seems nowhere in sight.
Thomas and her team of designers scanned books, thrift stores, eBay and catalogs and listened to dozens of bridesmaid horror stories to draw inspiration.
“I’ve been really lucky,” Thomas says. “I have only been a bridesmaid three times, and I don’t have any nightmare stories. But I know a lot of people who do, and I’ve talked a lot about weddings and bridesmaids with them — about the bride’s personal tastes and her implications on the bridesmaid for good or bad.”
Director Anne Fletcher worked closely with Thomas in finding the perfect dresses. Some of the dresses were scripted, from the over-the-top plantation wedding to one couple doing their nuptials underwater.
“I basically just told her I want them big, ugly and bright — every color palette, every style,” Fletcher says. “It was a costumer’s dream. You have to get the ugliest things, and you don’t have to be fashion-forward.”
In the end, 50 dresses were candidates for the film, and Fletcher and Thomas had meetings to whittle that down to the 27.
“We just sat there and laughed and tried to figure out which ones worked,” Fletcher says.
The biggest hurdle was making the dresses look somewhat unflattering on Heigl.
“No matter what the dress was, she still looked beautiful,” Fletcher says. “So we’d just add more flowers, more tulle, a hat.”
Or, a big Elvis-styled collar in the case of the first satiny lilac bridesmaid dress audiences see Heigl wearing in the film.
The final 27 dresses are the silent but visually loud co-stars to Heigl’s Jane. Many of the gowns took on their own lives and names, like Heigl’s favorite, a yellow silk “Gone With the Wind” plantation-style number featuring orange flowers and ribbon lacing and accessorized with a straw bonnet, a white lace parasol and bright yellow heels.
“I think that was a combination of both someone from the South and a huge ‘Gone With the Wind’ fan … who had this fantasy since she was a little girl to be married in that scenario,” Thomas says.
“When I was designing the dresses, I tried to shelve my personal tastes and put myself in the position of the (bride) character,” she adds. “We really wanted to have a spectrum of color and shape.”
Among the cast of characters: the bright yellow “Peep’s Dress,” named after the marshmallow candy; “The Green Goblin,” a shiny, long, putrid green dress that flared out at the bottom; a pale pink “New Year’s” dress with tuxedo buttons and ruffles; and Fletcher’s fave, a hot pink, ruffled “Bahama Mama,” a real bridesmaid dress Thomas scored off the Internet.
“It’s like a 6-year-old’s birthday cake,” Fletcher says.
For Thomas, she doesn’t pick favorites. The dresses are like her kids.
“For me, the big payoff is the last scene of the movie, seeing them all together and seeing them as one,” she says. “It was a pretty amazing moment — kind of a Fellini movie mixed with a romantic comedy.”
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