27 Dresses sought ‘big, ugly and bright’ attendant frocks
Costume designer Catherine Marie Thomas has fashioned a career out of creating memorable styles for films, from fitting Uma Thurman in her yellow leather biker outfit for Kill Bill-Vol. 1 to creating shiny, lacy country get-ups for Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep in A Prairie Home Companion.
For Fox’s upcoming release 27 Dresses, Thomas had to find 27 unique bridesmaid dresses for the film’s star, Katherine Heigl, who plays Jane, a perennial bridal attendant whose own happy ending seems nowhere in sight.
Thomas and her team of designers scanned books, thrift stores, eBay and catalogs and listened to dozens of bridesmaid horror stories to draw inspiration. “I’ve been really lucky,” Thomas told The Hollywood Reporter. “I have only been a bridesmaid three times, and I don’t have any nightmare stories. But I know a lot of people who do, and I’ve talked a lot about weddings and bridesmaids with them —about the bride’s personal tastes and her implications on the bridesmaid for good or bad.”
Director Anne Fletcher worked closely with Thomas in finding the perfect dresses. Some of the dresses were scripted, from the over-the-top plantation wedding to one couple doing their nuptials underwater.
“I basically just told her I want them big, ugly and bright — every color palette, every style,” Fletcher says.
“It was a costumer’s dream. You have to get the ugliest things, and you don’t have to be fashion-forward.”
In the end, 50 dresses were candidates for the film, and Fletcher and Thomas had meetings to whittle that down to the 27. “We just sat there and laughed and tried to figure out which ones worked,” Fletcher says.
The biggest hurdle was making the dresses look somewhat unflattering on Heigl. “No matter what the dress was, she still looked beautiful,” Fletcher says. “So we’d just add more flowers, more tulle, a hat.” Or a big Elvis-styled collar in the case of the first satiny lilac bridesmaid dress audiences see Heigl wearing in the film. “When she put it on, it was scary,” Fletcher says. “It looked like something off the red carpet.”
The final 27 dresses are Heigl’s silent but visually loud co-stars. Many of the gowns took on their own lives and names, like Heigl’s favorite, a yellow silk Gone With the Wind plantation-style gown, featuring orange flowers and ribbon lacing and accessorized with a straw bonnet, a white lace parasol and bright yellow heels.
Among the cast of characters: the bright yellow “Peep’s Dress,” named after the popular marshmallow Easter candy; “The Green Goblin,” a shiny, long putrid green dress that flared out at the bottom; a pale pink “New Year’s” dress with tuxedo buttons and ruffles; and Fletcher’s fave, a hot pink, ruffled “Bahama Mama,” a real bridesmaid dress Thomas scored off the Internet.
“It’s like a six-year-old’s birthday cake,” Fletcher says.
For Thomas, she doesn’t pick favorites. The dresses are like her kids.
“For me, the big payoff is the last scene of the movie, seeing them all together and seeing them as one,” she says. “It was a pretty amazing moment — kind of a Fellini movie mixed with a romantic comedy.”