In the new HBO film Grey Gardens (premiering Saturday, April 18), Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange star as the eccentric mother-daughter duo-and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis relatives-“Little" Edie and “Big" Edie Beale. The story (based on the ‘70s documentary) spans their lives from Little Edie's debutante days in the '30s through the end of the century. To capture the fashion of these eras, "we compiled a lot of research from photos that were out there from Little Edie's modeling days," said the film's costume designer, Catherine Thomas. Little Edie's hooded gown (left) was based on an actual photo of her from the '30s (inset), says Thomas. "The hood and zipper on the dress would've been so progressive then. She had an eye for fashion early on in her life."
"We wanted Big Edie to have a light, breezy feel to her look, so we chose flowy, bohemian pieces with movement," says Thomas. "Little Edie loved hats, which was appropriate for the time period. She had a unique sense for mixing prints or adding brooches, so we tried to fashion that into her early sensibilities as well as later in life with her headpieces."
Both stars immersed themselves in their roles: "I became obsessed with wanting to look like Big Edie," says Lange. Thomas says that Barrymore was eager for the costume designers' guidance. "She's a lover of fashion and has her own unique sense of style. She wanted us to help her find the vehicle to be Little Edie." And help they did! Barrymore adores the results: "The costumes looked like the way they really dressed-garish and theatrical. They honored the fashion and captured it perfectly. It was very real."
As the two characters age, the makeup department added layers of flesh and the wardrobe department added fat suits and prosthetics. The majority of costumes were created by Thomas and her team, but many pieces, especially accessories, were purchased from vintage stores across the country. Several vintage swimsuits came from online auction giant eBay.