©ourtesy of Meriah Doty
“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” spans eight decades and depicts a spectrum of characters that could make any costume designer’s head spin: from a rural African-American field worker (portrayed by Mariah Carey) to a boozy-yet-stylish ’50s lady (Oprah Winfrey — whose character traverses all of the film’s decades as the wife of longtime White House butler Cecil Gaines) to iconic first ladies including Nancy Reagan (Jane Fonda) and Jacqueline Kennedy (Minka Kelly).
From Fonda to Reagan
In the film, 75-year-old Fonda is in close replicas to the real clothing of ’80s-era Nancy Reagan. “She loved red,” Ruth Carter, costume designer for “The Butler,” told Yahoo! Movies of Reagan. “A very vibrant tomato red — coined as ‘Reagan Red,’” said Carter, who mimicked the designs of Reagan’s favorite designers, including Bill Blass. Carter even replicated a gown Reagan wore to a state dinner.
It’s not only the clothes, but Fonda’s hair — which was coincidentally already in the right cut to play Reagan — and her makeup transformed the Oscar winner into a convincing facsimile of the former first lady.
But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any drama in assuming the role. Fonda managed to avoid a wardrobe catastrophe, Carter recalled, on her first day of filming: one of Fonda’s costumes went missing — and she was only scheduled to shoot for a few short days. “I was walking on pins and needles.” But Fonda made it work, swapping a costume intended for another scene while she waited for the missing outfit to arrive (and it did, as a frantic Carter actually flew it in). Close call.
[Related: Oprah and Cast Serve Up ‘Butler’ Scoop]
Minka Kelly brings a Jackie Kennedy outfit to life in ‘The Butler’ (The Weinstein Company)
For Minka Kelly to pull it off as the stylish Mrs. Kennedy, Carter knew she had to pay attention to detail. “My main focus was to make sure the pink Chanel suit she wears when the [JFK] assassination happens is perfect,” said the costume designer. “Of course we want Jackie Kennedy’s look to be as iconic as it was in real life.” — >
- Oprah Winfrey, Traditional ’60s Housewife? Only One Woman Could Make It Happen (stylenews.peoplestylewatch.com)
- ‘Butler’ costumer describes first ladies ‘homage’ (politico.com)