No River Bunny Outfits for Her

The Movie: "The River Wild."

The Setup: Gail (Meryl Streep, pictured) must navigate treacherous river rapids to save her son, Roarke (Joseph Mazzello), when they encounter two twisted strangers.

The Costume Designer: Marlene Stewart, whose credits include the movies "True Lies," "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," "Falling Down," "The Doors" and "JFK," as well as 11 Madonna videos, including "Vogue," "Express Yourself" and "Like a Prayer."

The Look: How to dress a middle-aged action heroine? Neither all glammed up nor exposed. Hardly a cover girl for Sports Illustrated or, for that matter, Field & Stream, Streep's Gail is pleasantly out of tune with the latest, briefest or brightest-colored water sports gear (unless you consider a zip-front kayaking jacket and life vest avant-garde). Yes, she brought her swimsuit along, but she wears it beneath modest shorts. In her baggy thermal undershirts, unabsorbent nylon shorts (with stretchy waists) and unsexy though practical sport sandals, Gail is more earth woman than river bunny. Indeed, observe her "Save the Earth" T-shirt and plain Hopi silver neck charm.

Hit: What could be considered Gail's fashion high point coincides with her most, er, macho moment on the river, when she finds herself in a white-water mess wearing black biker shorts and skinny zip-front black top, both made of neoprene. If the ensemble looks chicer than the usual wet suit, be assured that it was custom-made for the actress. "Otherwise one could look like a lump of rubber," Stewart points out.

Quoted: "I continually have this argument with many directors about what is sexy," she says. "My personal opinion is, if you show everything it's too heavy-handed. In 'Terminator 2,' people said Linda Hamilton looked fabulous and sexy. Basically, you saw her arms. Some people have a beautiful back of the neck or shoulders or hands--Meryl has really great arms and good legs. You don't necessarily need to show breasts," says Stewart, explaining why Streep's Gail is covered except for her arms and lower legs.

You Should Know: With alternately hot and very cold shooting weather in Oregon and Montana, and glacier-fed river water, actors Kevin Bacon (playing Wade) and David Strathairn (Gail's husband, Tom) sneaked neoprene wet-suit bottoms under their jeans, and Bacon tossed foot warmers inside his cowboy boots.

Trend Watch: Gail's rubber-soled, Velcro-strapped Teva Sport Sandals, standard '90s river attire, are bound to see their stock rise on city streets.

Sources: Gail's neoprene shorts and shirt were custom-made by L.A.'s Body Glove, as was Roarke's wet suit. Her swimsuit is by Calvin Klein.

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