THE MOVIE: "Fried Green Tomatoes"
THE SETUP: Through flashbacks, nursing home resident Ninny Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy, seated at right) regales a visitor, Evelyn Couch (Kathy Bates, seated at left), with stories about her extraordinary girlhood family and friends Idgie Threadgoode (Mary Stuart Masterson, standing at right), Ruth Jamison (Mary-Louise Parker, standing at left) and Sipsey (Cicely Tyson) in Whistle Stop, Ala.
THE LOOK: The story alternates between the '30s and the '90s, demanding two vastly different types of wardrobe. Costume designer Elizabeth McBride uses joyful jolts of polyester to dress Ninny and Evelyn in the present tense. The two women are not, incidentally, full of \o7 joie de vivre. \f7 But against the dreary walls of the nursing home their clothes shine like a string of Christmas lights.
Ninny is an icon of American grandmotherhood in printed aprons that refuse to match the printed housedresses underneath, including one dress with dancing knives and forks embroidered on the bodice.
Evelyn, a rotund suburban housewife, gravitates to clothes that stretch, which means a preponderance of knit pants, leggings and oversize T-shirts, most in anything-but-subtle polka-dots and florals. Even after she lays down her candy bars and goes for tailored suits, Evelyn refuses to abandon vibrant colors. McBride describes one of the suits as "Mary Kay pink," a close cousin of Pepto-Bismol.
For flashback scenes in Depression-Era Whistle Stop, there is a shift in color. Young Idgie, the tomboy who refuses to wear a dress, attends a wedding dressed in knickers and a yellow damask Norfolk jacket. She grows up and into band-collar shirts and men's trousers secured at the waist with thick belts (one exquisitely tooled with a hummingbird motif that barely shows up on film). Sometimes she wears ill-fitting denim overalls. Idgie never does give up her pants, but they become nicely tailored and pleated a la Katharine Hepburn and undeniably signal Idgie's evolution. Ruth is a picture in pretty floral-print voile dresses, and Cicely Tyson is worth noting in her dropped-waist dresses, some with crocheted collars, and "do rags" made of old flower sacks on her head.
THE SOURCES: McBride made all of Ninny's aprons and housedresses, including the dancing-forks dress, stitching several from cotton prints purchased at Wal-Mart stores near the movie's location in Juliette, Ga. The designer purchased most of Evelyn's wardrobe at malls and department stores in nearby towns. While she designed Idgie's and Ruth's clothes, McBride rented many of the other period costumes, including denim overalls for the men and Sipsey's housedresses, from 15 rental houses across the country, including Western Costume in Los Angeles.
THE PAYOFF: McBride displays her abundant talent with clothes that define characters and eras.