Academy Award®-winning costume designer Deborah L. Scott researched the fashions of the 18th century—turning to painters like John Singleton Copley and Gainsborough for inspiration in the absence of photographs— and discovered that the Colonies were very European in nature at that point. All of their trade was with Europe, so they had access to a surprising array of fabrics. "In those years, cotton was actually a rarity, and silk was the material of choice because there was a ban on cotton in England," says Scott.
Scott coordinated with Emmerich and Petruccelli to determine the level at which the characters lived and the kind of clothes they would wear. Both, along with their respective teams, liaisoned with the Smithsonian Institution to ensure that everything on screen was as historically
accurate as possible, within the parameters of a movie. Scott appreciated having access to their input and vast collections.
"We worked with the Smithsonian Institution, and it was really important to see some actual garments from the period," says Scott, who reckons she supplied roughly 1,500 uniforms for the film. "It was incredibly helpful to see real shirts, real uniforms, to see the way things were stitched, and made, and cut, because it was very, very different from the clothes we wear today."
Like Petruccelli, Scott employed a color progression in the costumes to help define the characters.
"Different characters go through different changes, depending on where they are in the movie," explains Scott. "Basically, each character is a color palette unto themselves. For instance, Benjamin Martin has seven children, and with that many, it's hard to keep them all separated in your mind. Visually, their personal colors provide a subtle little clue. One wears more green, another more gray, another more beige, another more golden. Gabriel starts off the movie as a strapping young man who is still a child, and his style changes dramatically from that point to when he puts on his uniform two years later and decides to join the war.
Scott adds that as Gabriel becomes a man and endures hardship and war, his garb also incrementally begins to reflect his father's.
"Mel's character is the centerpiece of the movie. It was important to portray him very heroically, very strong and very focused. This is represented strongly in his clothes. He wears a lot of black, which connotes maturity and strength, as well as his position as a father and the head of his family," says Scott.
"Next to him, Gabriel's colors are more muted and pale, the tones less saturated. By the end of the movie, as they become closer, as the Benjamin Martin character softens and Gabriel becomes more adult and confident, their wardrobe is more closely related," she says.
The women's costumes also reflect their characters. Scott assigned blues and greens to the feisty Anne Howard— nothing pink and frilly for her. Even her wedding dress is a sea-green silk. The gentle Charlotte, however, wears more classically feminine hues, including rosy tones and cream colors.
"The women in the film are the best place to show instantly where you are in the scope of time, because women's fashions change so quickly. Charlotte, Joely Richardson's character, is the most wealthy, city-oriented person in the film, and she goes through a tremendous change. She starts off in a very soft kind of color palette, fancily dressed, with a very exaggerated
silhouette, and then slowly she changes. She goes to her house in the country, and she becomes a little less structured— her dress becomes a little richer in hue. When the family must escape to the freed slave territory, she becomes much freer as a person. She's not so covered up. It's an interesting palette, an intriguing journey of a person. It's really important to me as a costume de
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