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FASHION : The Look of the Old West--Kind Of

The Movie: “Wyatt Earp.”

The Setup: Saga of legendary Western lawman Wyatt Earp (Kevin Costner).

The Costume Designer: Colleen Atwood, whose credits include “Edward Scissorhands,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Lorenzo’s Oil,” “Philadelphia” and the forthcoming “Ed Wood.”

The Look: If you’ve had it with dusty black coats, dusty black hats and dusty black boots, give this Western a chance. All of the above appear, but there are also moments of fringed and fur-trimmed Victorian splendor, thanks to the women in Earp’s life--his wives, his mother and his brother’s wives--who wear antique dresses as well as new ones made with old fringes, buttons and ribbons.

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Although he hardly qualified as a peacock, the real Earp and his peacekeeper brothers did seriously consider their appearance, Atwood says. To distinguish themselves from the unruly cowboys they encountered, the Earps always dressed in black, with the occasional white shirt and a string bow tie.

You Shouldn’t Miss: Even under a layer of dust, gambler Doc Holliday (Dennis Quaid) and his lady friend, Hungarian prostitute Big Nose Kate (Isabella Rossellini), make a garish and gaudy fun couple. She cavorts in an array of ornate silk dresses, one of them beaded with jet, and a not-your-ordinary-prairie-girl mink cape.

Doc’s clothes are full of baroque energy--cobalt-blue eyeglasses, wide-brimmed Spanish hat, velvet jackets and a fur-collared coat. Never mind that the real Doc was a rather ordinary dresser, Atwood admits. The fancy clothes are meant to convey “that he had a nickel in the bank once and the soul of a gambler.”

Trivia: The black onyx crucifix Doc wears is an affectation borrowed from another Western hero, Wild Bill Hickok, who always wore a necklace with a cross.

Quoted: “This was a huge, but great challenge,” Atwood says. “After a year when ‘The Piano’ comes out, which is so strict (in keeping with the period), you have to make a choice. Do you do costumes with a basis in history and try to stick to it, or do you bend it? We had a strong historical basis, but we bent it sometimes.”

Inspiration: The research libraries at Western Costume in Los Angeles, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and Angels and Bermans costume house in London; books on the history of the West.

Sources: Most of the principals’ costumes were custom-made in various workrooms. The antique pieces were rented or purchased from Cosprop, Angels and Bermans in London and about 60 other sources.


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