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TRUE GRIT

Costumes
The 1870s time period of True Grit also challenged and exhilarated costume designer Mary Zophres in her 10th collaboration with the Coen Brothers. Zophres' intensive research and deep consideration of character was greatly appreciated by the cast.

"I worked with Mary on The Big Lebowski and I sure admired the expertise she brought to this,” says Jeff Bridges. "She gave me wonderful books to look at with all the styles a guy like Rooster might have worn. Then, together, we picked just the right hat, just the right eye patch, just the right boots – the boots are very important – and the it really brings you back into those times.” "Just putting on the clothes made a real difference that affected the performances,” adds Hailee Steinfeld.

Barry Pepper was awed by the big, white, wooly chaps Zophres custom-created for him. "I was worried about wearing these monstrous chaps but she explained to me that they would get all dressed down and washed out very much in the Coen Brothers way of making things as realistic as possible,” he recalls. "Then we started picking out hats, belt buckles and spurs, all of which make a statement about the character.”

Although Zophres summarizes that there are two keys to a Western – "hats and aging,” she offers – she started the process of True Grit by jumping into the most meticulously detailed research she's yet done for a film.

"The book was awesome – we'd read it in my book club,” Zophres explains. "After a brief conversation with the brothers, I started to do massive amounts of research. I went to the Western Research Library every afternoon, and the great librarian there also got in touch with the Ft. Smith Historical Society. I looked at every piece of material from the period that I could get my hands on.”

Photographs from the period were helpful, but Zophres notes that she had to keep in mind the artifice of 19th century photos.

"There were very few candid shots in those days, almost everything was posed portraits,” she says. "I found a lot of pictures of bad guys and criminals, but again, they had to be taken with a grain of salt. So, in addition to looking at photographs, I did a lot of written research, reading diaries and historic accounts. I also used The Calico Chronicle, which is a great reference for women's Western fashion in the late 19th Century. I really took the time to do a lot of reading, then I made boards for each character and bounced around ideas with Joel and Ethan.”

True Grit takes place in an era when clothing was largely utilitarian in nature, designed for maximum warmth and durability, certainly not comfort or cultural statements. And yet, in Zophres' work, the resonant personalities of the story's characters are writ into their outfits. "I had in mind a very specific silhouette for each person,” she comments. "I can give you a reason and a history for every single scrap of clothing in the film.”

For Mattie, Zophres expected that she would be traveling to Fort Smith in a dress her mother made for her. "Her dress is plaid wool and typical of what children would wear,” she says. "We also made silk stockings for Hailee, which are beautiful but my poor costumers were constantly darning them. When Mattie heads out on the trail, she wears her dad's pants and coat and that big Stetson. I loved her hat, because no matter how far away she is, you can always tell it's Mattie.”

Zophres notes: "Mattie wears what was known as Stetson's Boss of the Plains hat, which was a wider brimmed hat popular in Texas. Really, there were no true ‘cowboy hats' in that period. They were all city hats that looked different because they got completely messed up in the elements.”

Rooster Cogburn is the very antithesis of a man of appearances, but he also cuts his own distinctive figure. "Rooster is slovenly and drunk, doesn't care what he looks like and doesn't have a lot of clothes,” Zophres explains. "He has one outfit he wears when he has to go to court and he keeps it on a hook and pulls it out whenever he has to testify. When he hits the trail, he wears a basic pullover that they made 11 million of and were common military issue, and then he wears what was called an Ulster Coat or a Great Coat, which was split up the back for riding horseback, and a hat that looks like it's been soaked too many times by the rain. His boots are Civil War cavalry boots, but the pulls are too long. There's nothing about him that's refined. He's a mess and Jeff really owned that.”

One of his most distinguishing features is his eye patch, for which Zophres presented Bridges with several choices based on her research. "Jeff instantly gravitated towards the most raw one – it looked like a piece of leather he had tanned himself and stuck on his head,” she laughs. "Joel and Ethan then let him decide which eye Rooster had lost.”

Zophres adds: "Jeff is someone who like to get into costume very early on and really work with it. The way that Jeff paid attention to the clothing really meant a lot to me.”

Matt Damon's LaBoeuf is the stylistic opposite of Rooster Cogburn in every way. "He's the film's only dandy, the one guy who cares about what he looks like,” Zophres observes. "That's why we used the fringed buckskin for Matt. There was no uniform for Texas Rangers then, that came later, so they could wear whatever they wanted. With LaBoeuf, we made a real concerted effort to make sure no one else in the picture looks remotely like him. Even his hat has a real swagger to it.”

For the coward Tom Chaney, on the other hand, Zophres imagined that he would "wear a jacket he stole off someone.” She goes on: "That jacket is so ill-fitting, it actually changes his posture. It wasn't comfortable, but Josh Brolin was really into it.” One of the biggest challenges came in dressing the enigmatic stranger known as Bear Grit, who first appears to Mattie and Rooster as the implausible, spitting image of a bear on a horse.

"He's described in Charles Portis' book, and Joel and Ethan had this idea that they wanted him to look like a 19th Century homeless person, like a real vagabond. Ed Corbin, who plays him, is a very tall man, so we had to use about 4 bearskins to cover him – which resulted in an emergency trip to a taxidermist in Albuquerque! In many ways it was the hardest costume in the movie because it had to be carved just the right way. We even hired a special craftsman to weave claws and teeth into his moccasins, and these are the kinds of craftsmen who you can't rush or ask for Fed Ex. You have to do things on a different time scale.”

"But,” she adds, "the impact of the costume is one that is jarring and funny. I think it's everything Joel and Ethan wanted.”

Authentic details are also imbued into the clothing of secondary characters. "Every single person who appears in the film wears something that tells a bit of their story,” says Zophres. "Even the ferry man who tries to stop Mattie has a very specific outfit – a rubber coat that Goodyear started making in the 19th Century and that seaman's hat that was immortalized on the Morton Salt label.”

The realistic details went right down to the guns. Propmaster Keith Walters, a veteran of many Westerns and a historical firearms expert, hunted down reproductions of the Colts, Winchesters and Sharps that the men carry. Cogburn, as an ex-confederate guerilla, carries on his saddle two hefty, four-pound pistols that are remnants of the Civil War -- Dagoon models from 1847. He also carries a .45-caliber revolver, the famous Colt Single Action Army, known as the Peace Maker, which was adopted as the standard military revolver in

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