Pulling Down the Curtain: Walter Plunkett’s Hollywood Legacy

Jan 17, 2016

Walter-Plunkett-sketchesWalter Plunkett, a man responsible for hundreds of celebrated designs in more than 260 films over a forty-year period, is not a household name. Plunkett’s career as a self-taught costume designer included one of the most iconic film costumes of all time: Scarlett O’Hara’s Curtain Dress.

Plunkett (1902-1982) also designed costumes for Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, King Kong, Of Human Bondage, Flying Down to Rio, The Gay Divorcee, Stagecoach, Adam’s Rib, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and Little Women.

In 1951, Plunkett received the Academy Award, along with Orry-Kelly and Irene Sharaff for An American in Paris. Yet, the question remains why Walter Plunkett has not achieved the same prominence as his peers.


Walter Plunkett's sketch of the famous "Curtain Dress"

Walter Plunkett’s sketch of the famous “Curtain Dress”: sourced from


Walter Plunkett receiving the Oscar in the name of

Walter Plunkett receiving the Oscar in the name of Orry-Kelly and Irene Sharaff for An American in Paris; watch film footage (with presenter Zsa Zsa Gabor and host Danny Kaye at


Join us at Pasadena Museum of History as Joanna Abijaoude, Museum Associate at the FIDM Museum, brings Walter Plunkett’s legacy out from behind the shadows and illustrates why his work made a lasting and relevant impact in the world of costume design.


The Curtain Dress by Walter Plunkett; photo found at

The Curtain Dress by Walter Plunkett, for Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind; photo found at




Walter Plunkett designed the costumes for Raintree County (1957) starring Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift.


Elizabeth Taylor as Susanna Drake Shawnessy in Raintree County with costumes by Walter Plunkett; photo source,

Elizabeth Taylor as Susanna Drake Shawnessy in Raintree County with costumes by Walter Plunkett; photo source,


Plunkett sketch of a gown for Taylor's character

Plunkett sketch of a gown for Taylor’s character


PMH’s Textile Arts Council is proud to partner with the curatorial staff of the FIDM Museum at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, Los Angeles to present a three-part lecture series featuring fashions throughout the decades. The other lectures in this series are Dressed in Diamonds: American Princesses & Gilded Age Fashion (sold out) and Gatsby’s Women: Fashionable Ideals of the 1920s on January 26 (tickets still available).


"Gatsby's Women" lecture, January 26

“Gatsby’s Women” lecture, January 26


Interested in textile arts? Consider joining our Textile Arts Council.

Tickets include entrance to the Exhibition Galleries starting at 6 p.m. and a wine and cheese reception.Currently on exhibit is “Fabulous Fashion, Decades of Change: 1890s, 1920s & 1950s.”



Walter Plunkett


Pulling Down the Curtain: Walter Plunkett’s Hollywood Legacy
Tuesday, Feb. 2nd, 6:30-8 p.m.
Pasadena Museum of History
470 W. Walnut St., Pasadena 91103 
Cost: Textile Arts Council Members, $10; Museum members, $15; general, $20
Advance reservations required
Purchase tickets here at Brown Paper Tickets
For complete details, visit
Or call 1.626.577.1660


The Curtain Dress from Gone with the Wind:







You’re going to make me a new dress.

Not outta Miss Ellen’s po’teers! Not while Ah got bref in mah body!

(still staring at the portieres) Great balls of fire! They’re my portieres now!

(she jerks down the portieres, pole and all; drapes the material over her shoulder; turns back to Mammy)

I’m going to Atlanta for that three hundred dollars, and I’ve got to go looking like a queen.




Images of the curtain dress found at University of Texas at Austin,


The brilliant and talented Walter Plunkett was born June 5, 1902, to James and Frances Plunkett of Oakland, California. He studied law at the University of California, but was hardly as interested in becoming an attorney as he was in his involvement with the campus’ theatrical group. Making the quick change in careers, Walter moved to New York in 1923, where he began work as an actor, as well as a costume and set designer, on the stage. He drifted through the gay circles of Greenwich Village and was referred to Hollywood.

In 1927, Walter’s first (credited) work as a costume designer first appeared on screen for Hard-Boiled Haggerty (1927). During the late twenties and early thirties, while working at RKO, Plunkett managed to fashion the enormous costume and wardrobe department into a department that was both efficient and creative. With so much free reign, Walter set about creating outstanding costumes that rivaled the work of his contemporaries, such as Travis Banton and Adrian.

His two best-known films were Gone with the Wind (1939) (including that dress made from green velvet drapes, probably the most famous movie costume of all time), and Singin’ in the Rain (1952), in which he lampooned the very style his work had begun in (the roaring 20s).

Walter was well-liked by most people for his generous and easy-going nature, as well as his inventiveness and ingenuity. Walter retired from films and spent the last years of his life with his partner Lee. He died in 1982, leaving Lee his estate.


Walter Plunkett sketch for Singin' in the Rain

Walter Plunkett sketch for Singin’ in the Rain






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