Retro Style With a Small-Town Twist

Dale Robinette/DreamWorks

How costume designer Sharen Davis brought "The Help's" 1960s Southern debutante chic to the big screen.

A sweet small-town innocence sets apart the '60s looks in DreamWorks' adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's novel The Help, set in rural Mississippi. "It was tricky because everyone thinks of Mad Men. But that's about an upper-class Manhattan lifestyle, and this focuses on young women in the South -- most of them getting married and having babies," says Oscar-nominated costume designer Sharen Davis (Dreamgirls), who mixed made-to-measure tops and daytime dresses with vintage skirts and jewels. "I looked at copies of Vogue from the 1960s for inspiration, but it was too sophisticated, so I ended up getting my ideas from Seventeen magazine. It still had that innocent girlie look and lollipop color palette." In the film, which hits theaters Aug. 10, aspiring writer Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan (Emma Stone) forms an unlikely friendship with her best friend's maid, Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis), and shakes things up in their town when she begins writing the truth about the privileged families that Aibileen and her pal Minny (Octavia Spencer) take care of. "Skeeter's look is different from the other girls because she's career-minded," says Davis. "I kept her in straight skirts and subtle prints." The designer felt a personal connection to the book because the maids (dressed in blue uniforms with white aprons) reminded her of her grandmother, who went to work in her housekeeper uniform every day. In sharp contrast are Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), an always overdone Southern belle, and Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain), a blond bombshell. "Hilly wears really bright colors and bold prints because she always has to be seen," says Davis. "Celia's clothes are more fitted and feminine. She does her best to look like Marilyn Monroe."