January 2013

Did you know that Mary Todd Lincoln was one of America’s most fashionable First Ladies ? She was known for her love of fashion, had a fondness for extravagant fabrics, bright colors and elaborate designs. She was also a notorious over-spender !

In the Oscar-nominated film, Lincoln, British costume designer Joanna Johnston went to painstaking detail to re-create Mrs. Lincoln's wardrobe, researching scores of historical photos and 19th century garments and jewelry at the Library of Congress and the Chicago History Museum.

Actress Sally Field put on weight to play the role of Mary Todd Lincoln; she actually had the same waist size as Mrs Lincoln for the film which Joanna Johnston said was a huge benefit for her when designing the dresses, otherwise she would have had to add layers of padding to every garment.

The dress pictured above, which Mrs. Lincoln wore to the theater, is a re-creation of a French silk dress with 4 layers. Underneath the opulent hand-painted print is a crinoline frame, covered by a flounced petticoat, covered by another smooth petticoat, which gives the dress the full shape that was in style in the 19th century. It features delicate lace on the sleeves and neckline in keeping with Mary Lincoln's love of fussy embellishment.

Mrs. Lincoln also had a taste for lavish jewelry, so Ms. Johnston decided to concentrate her efforts on remaking one unique set for the film. The original set, from Tiffany, was given to Mary by President Lincoln for his inauguration in 1861.

It's a seed pearl necklace, with matching cuffs, a brooch and earrings. Martin Adams, a jewelry designer in England, did a masterful job of re-creating the original set, which is housed in the Library of Congress. It's featured in several scenes in the movie.