Awards: Academy Award Nominations, Costume Design, Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Godfather, Part II (1974) and Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)
When we look back at the reemergence of certain trends in women's fashions during the twentieth century, it becomes clear that the Depression era look of the 1930s had a tremendous influence on the styles of the 1960s and 1970s. American filmmakers played a major role in fostering this trend, bringing the 1930s to the moviegoing masses in such films as They Shoot Horses Don't They? (1969), The Damned (1969), and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969). Probably the biggest impact on the fashions of the
1960s and 1970s came from the mind of one daring costume creator, Thea-dora Van Runkle, who dressed actress Faye Dunaway in what ultimately became known as "the poor look." Her costumes shocked and delighted young shoppers who wanted to look like the Hollywood version of outlaw Bonnie Parker, as she was portrayed in the groundbreaking movie Bonnie and Clyde.
Van Runkle, said to have rejected kindly the suggestion of Edith Head, who told her to dress Dunaway in chiffon, is generally credited with tapping into the collective pulse of 1967, dressing the Bonnie Parker character in soft sweaters, long cardigans, and midi-skirts, which skimmed the calf, when the popularity of miniskirts was at its peak. When Dunaway's Bonnie donned a beret, posing in one scene with a cigar in her mouth, beret sales doubled. And, the character's braless chest, evident in her silky blouses and fitted tops, mainstreamed a look that lasted over a decade. Van Runkle is said by many to have changed the course of 1970s fashions with her resurrection of the 1930s, making make-do clothing attractive and desirable. Her costumes sent young women into attics and thrift stores, looking for items that would help them achieve the look of Depression chic, and designers promptly brought skirt lengths down.
Also a talented painter and artist, Van Runkle is able to create costumes which not only embody the characters' personalities but also enhance the actors' portrayals of their characters. Her costumes are not simply representations of a certain time period, but character studies as well. She is known for the extensive research she conducts prior to every film.
She came into the industry at a time when studios were cutting budgets left and right, but the impact of films was stronger than ever. Clearly she was able to meet the challenge by creating outstanding costumes while keeping costs down. Van Runkle is also known for her distinguished work on the original version of The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Bullitt (1968), Gore Vidal's Myra Breckinridge (1970), Mame (1974), and many others.
Kirgo, Julie. "AMC Looks at the Academy Awards." Exclusive Interviews: Thea-dora Van Runkle. Available from http://www.amctv.com/oscars/Zexclusive interview.html. Accessed October 10, 2000. Maider, Edward. Hollywood and History. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1987.
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