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The '50s, Only More So, in 'Pleasantville'

October 29, 1998|BETTY GOODWIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Movie: "Pleasantville."

The Setup: Siblings David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) accidentally step into a 1950s black-and-white television sitcom world, and their presence has a deep impact on the populace.

The Costume Designer: Judianna Makovsky, whose credits include "Big," "Great Expectations," "A Little Princess," "Six Degrees of Separation," "Lolita" and the current release "Practical Magic."

The Look: In order to create a squeaky-clean 1950s, Makovsky made it cleaner than it really was, even on the TV of the time. Familiar period silhouettes were slightly tweaked to look pointier, puffier and more perfect than they were. Enormous, conical-shaped breasts erupt beneath Jennifer's storybook-sweet sweaters.

You can literally hear the rustle of silk in TV mom Mrs. Parker's (Joan Allen) housedresses, worn for chores like cooking dinner. The circumference of everyone's circle skirts looks like something out of "Gone With the Wind," having been enlarged with double or triple petticoats. And anything that could possibly be construed as rebellious chic has been banished, including T-shirts, khakis, leather motorcycle jackets and, almost, blue jeans, which appear in only one scene.

Quoted: "I watched 'Father Knows Best,' 'Leave It to Beaver,' 'The Eve Arden Show,' 'I Married Joan,' 'The Donna Reed Show,' 'Ozzie & Harriet' and 'I Love Lucy,' " says Makovsky. "Harriet wore great clothes. Donna Reed was a little more glamorous than the rest. I loved 'The Loretta Young Show' because it was about fashion. Each week she came out in an evening gown or cocktail dress, and she had great taste."

Cardigan Connection: Cute rather than sophisticated (most have little collars or felt cutouts), Jennifer's sweaters are all vintage 1950s, as are every other character's. (Only one pullover cheerleader sweater was new.)

You Should Know: Makovsky paid from $20 to $400 a cardigan, the upper end being primarily cashmere with embroidery or appliques. She bought them from clothing dealers around the country, and frequented rental houses and dug through local vintage stores, some of her favorites being Repeat Performance and Golyester in Los Angeles and Meow in Long Beach.

She also sleuthed every flea market across the county, from the Rose Bowl to Long Beach, which, she insists, are still a fertile field for cardigans from the golden age of sweater girls. In fact, local flea markets are even better than flea markets in Manhattan, a fact she attributes to the needs of the movie business. However, flea markets have generally been stripped bare of clothes in good condition from the 1920s, '30s and '40s.

Trivia: Every actress on screen wears a vintage bra (stuffed to the points with cotton if the actress couldn't fill it herself), girdle and stockings to re-create a true retro silhouette. Because Allen's figure is so straight and slim, a padded corset was built to give her curves beneath all her dresses. As for Witherspoon, Makovsky attests that she already had a 1950s body. Even so, "her comment was, 'Do I have to wear all that underwear?' I said, 'Yes!' "

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