Martinis, skinny ties and black suits. The postwar era that spans from Eisenhower ’50s to Kennedy’s Camelot has been captured in two acclaimed films this year: “Capote” and “Good Night, and Good Luck.” Although one was color and the other B&W, the uniformity of the 1950s cigarette-and-cocktail culture remains, and parallel tasks plays a key role in costuming both films.
For one, both movies feature men more prominently than women, and that meant lots of suits. During the 1950s, a tailored, more conservative look was fashionable, as was the use of darker blacks, browns and navies. For Costume Designers Guild nominees Louise Frogley (“Good Night”) and Kasia Walicka-Maimone (“Capote”), since both films are based on actual events, a large amount of time was spent in research.
“There was a lot of information,” Frogley explains of “Good Night,” “so we were able to look very carefully at how they actually were and follow it as much as we could.”
For “Capote,” Walicka-Maimone got a huge break when she gained access to a scrapbook that Marie Dewey (played by Amy Ryan in the movie), wife of Holcomb, Kan., detective Alvin Dewey, had assembled during the famous trial.
“There were pictures of the killers, and crowd scenes and funeral scenes, but mostly it was just a very well-photographed part of that life,” she says
Walicka-Maimone hit yet another goldmine for “Capote” when she came upon the basement of the N.Y.-based costume shop Starstuck, which offered pristine clothing from the ’50s and ’60s. “It was extremely helpful,” she says.
For “Good Night,” Frogley chose vintage costumes a size too big and tailored them to fit the actors.
And yet for all their similarities, films had two very different real-life main characters.
“Edward R. Murrow got all his suits made in England,” Frogley says. “He was there during the war, and he fell in love with Savile Row and all the tailoring so he tended to get everything made. Even though it was the ’50s, he was still wearing a sort of ’40s look.”
Capturing Truman Capote’s style meant re-creating glamorous late-1950s New York. “Truman moved between so many worlds,” Walicka-Maimone says. The writer mixed well-tailored suits and extravagant ties and then took it to a completely different level with full-length coats and extravagant scarves, putting his own twist on everything.