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Widow Dressing

The Movie: “Widow’s Peak.”

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The Setup: Glamour girl Edwina Broome (Natasha Richardson, pictured above right) moves into a small Irish town called Widow’s Peak, in reference to its population skew, and sets tongues a-wagging. Among the townsfolk in this ‘20s comedic whodunit are grande dame-ish Mrs. Doyle-Counihan (Joan Plowright, above left) and Miss O’Hare (Mia Farrow, below), a poor spinster.

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The Costume Designer: Dublin-based Consolata Boyle, who works regularly in the Irish theater and whose movie credits include “The Playboys,” “The Snapper” and “Into the West.”

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The Look: Whose clothes will elicit more oohs and aahs? It’s a tossup. Edwina wears streamlined shifts (predecessors of today’s raging hot slip dresses), some tasseled, some heavily beaded and some unadorned. Miss O’Hare dresses in more humble Irish linen and crocheted ensembles, topped with floppy hats and cloches. As head widow, so to speak, Doyle-Counihan dresses all in black but without relinquishing her own glamour. She sports almost-mad-looking black hats overladen with decoration.

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Trivia: Edwina is a seductress, but Boyle doesn’t exploit the obvious. She does make her coatless, so as not to conceal her shape and “to give the feeling that she’s not affected by the elements, that she’s not quite grounded, that she’s lighter than air,” Boyle explains. And she does give her dresses that are always slipping off her shoulders, plus the appearance that she isn’t wearing any underwear. (She’s actually wearing a slip.) “Just by Natasha’s sheer physical presence in a (conservative) town, you almost have to do nothing. That’s what designing is ,” Boyle says.

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Good Hair Day / Bad Hair Day: Richardson is naturally endowed with gorgeous hair, and Edwina’s feminine dos take full advantage. Her hair is either coiled, twisted or pinned in place with combs of bone, ivory or Bakelite. Farrow, not so fortunately blessed, gets stuck for the whole movie with a sort of frizzed-out Manhattan bob.

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Inspiration: “I do a vast amount of research,” Boyle says, including consulting private photo albums, period Irish pictorial magazines and other visuals found in Dublin at the National Library, Trinity College Library and the department of folklore at University College. Also, in London, the British Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum and Hulton Picture Library.

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Sources: All of Edwina’s dresses were made from period fabrics, then sewn together in London and Dublin, along with the other principal costumes. Crocheted pieces and jewelry are all period, including Bakelite bangles, pearls and garnet, jet and glass beads.


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