Film Costume Spotlight: 3 Women (1977)

Film Costume Spotlight: 3 Women (1977)

A moment to ogle the costuming of the eerily stylish 1977 psychological drama by Robert Altman starring Sissy Spacek, Shelley Duvall and Janice Rule. 

*Some spoilers below. 

Each of the 3 women in question represent an archetype and have a signature colour. Millie’s is yellow, Pinky’s is of course pink and Willie’s is muted earth tones. 

Millie is always adjusting her clothing, hair and makeup, wanting to look just so. She is playing a fictionalized version of the ideal womanhood she strives to represent. She wears an assortment of feminine prairie dresses, frilly tops and floral housecoats. She tries to stay on top of every trend and becomes a shell of a person in the process, ironically referred to by her co-workers as “thoroughly modern Millie”, a reference to the 1967 musical starring Julie Andrews as a naïve young woman in the 1920s.

During the shooting of one scene, Duvall's skirt got caught in a car door. Assistant director Tommy Thompson called for a cut. However, Altman stated he loved the accident, and had Duvall intentionally catch her dress and skirt in the door in several scenes.

Millie is wearing Willie’s clothing at the end of the movie, signifying her development from stylish, carefree young woman to mother figure. 

Innocent Pinky looks up to Millie and wanting to emulate her, she starts wearing Millie’s clothing. When she wakes up from her coma, she has lost her childlike countenance and has adopted Millie’s confidence and sexual liberation. She bares her midriff in a crop top to match her new sassy attitude.

Pregnant Willie isn’t seen or heard from much. Silent and stealthy, wearing a light brown hat and a billowy dress, she paints murals of mutant figures that feature male and female genitalia on reptilian bodies (done in real life by artist Bodhi Wind). These murals and their weirdness create the backdrop of the entire film. 

The costume designer was Jules Melillo who was also responsible for Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974) and Nashville (1975). 

Colour palette via @colourpalette.cinema

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