Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Style Inspiration: Thelma Lou

This will hopefully be another series, and this one will be focusing on some past and present style influences for myself. I hope you enjoy them and will leave inspired a little, maybe in a new direction even.
This dress Thelma Lou wears is a very cute wiggle style, but I couldn't find a better shot of it.

It's no secret to anyone who knows me very well that I am a huge fan of The Andy Griffith Show. My brothers and I can quote from almost every episode and we will even have conversations discussing little nuances of the show and look for the actors other works. I realize it may be because I live in a small, rural, town in the southern United States, so perhaps the show resonates with me more, but I still think it's the best t.v. show ever made. I've even visited Mount Airy, North Carolina, the place where Andy Griffith is from and the town the show is based on.

So, today I will be combining a love for The Andy Griffith Show with my love for vintage clothing.
Helen Crump and Thelma Lou on the right.

I've always admired the clothing of the ladies on the show, but I have a few favorite characters, as far as wardrobe goes. The first is Barney's girl, Thelma Lou (played by Betty Lynn).

Classic shirtwaist
She has two basic styles: 1.) The shirtwaist/full skirt look and 2.)the fitted dress look. I love them both and the little boleros and sweaters she wore with them. I think what I like most is that they are an easy to recreate style.
Same dress as above, different episode, and paired with sweet cardigan.
The character of Thelma Lou was supposed to be a traditional mid-century woman. She had a job, but we never see her working or hear what she does. She's feminine and girly to the extreme. The character is a little one-dimensional, but she's there to play it straight next to Barney Fife (played by Don Knotts), and she does that very well.

Thelma Lou on the left in another shirtwaist.
If you've ever watched the show very closely, you'll also notice that all the characters wear the same clothes over and over. To me this lends to the show's sense of reality, but I think it also reflects how everyday women wore their clothing. Having a few really nice pieces of clothing and some everyday outfits are really all anyone needs. So, how come my closet is so full? 
In what I think was her cutest shirtwaist, because of the ruffle detail down the front,  as seen, though blurry, in the following picture.
One of the reasons I really like Thelma Lou's style as an inspiration for my own clothing choices, is because she was supposed to be an average woman. I assume she dressed like most women in the United States did in the early sixties. The show was never about fashion, and her character in particular would not have been into trying new "exotic" fashions. Conservative and practical, yet pretty, I think describes her style best. I enjoy seeing what normal people were wearing and trying to recreate that. I also find these styles to be more practical for my life and everyday wear.
It's hard to see, but there are ruffles on either side of the button placket.
The time period of the early to mid sixties saw a lot of changes in society and that was reflected in the fashion changes. Thelma Lou's character always dresses like she's stuck in the old, in the traditional ideals of the fifties, and yet the femininity and classic details that are lost in the coming years of mod fashion makes me sad. I think it's silly to assume that feminine clothes equates weakness, but that was the push that was to come in the mid to late sixties, and I don't think we've ever recovered fully from it.

Here she is in a full skirt and what appears to be separates.
I find it interesting that her character is an independent, working girl. A character that a few decades earlier would've been considered radical. Yet, by the early sixties it's meant to be seen as traditional for a young, single, woman. Most would say this is a direct result of women working during WWII, which did make work more normalized for the average woman, but I think you can trace it more directly to the feminist/suffrage movements going back to the latter half of the nineteenth century and the turn of the century. This was then pushed even more by the movie industry. Have you ever noticed how many movies from the 20s and 30s include working girls, living on their own in the city? Even though the premise is often a way for those same girls to get married and/or get wealthy through men, that's still a relatively new thing to the culture. These movies had prepared the women of the generation of WWII to  step into working as a more acceptable way to further the war effort. There weren't as many women working during WWI, because society was ready to accept that yet. But by the early sixties, it's supposed to be acceptable for the average woman. How fast culture changes and how fast our own culture is changing, is best seen in hindsight.
One of her prettier fitted dresses.
Barney Fife (Don Knotts) leaves the show after the fifth season (Don Knotts thought there would only be five seasons, and left to pursue movies), so the character of Thelma Lou leaves, too. However Barney does make occasional return visits as the series continues, and they even bring Thelma Lou back in what has to be one of the saddest and most disliked parts of the series. 

Previously, she had been in love with Barney, and was waiting for him to ask her to marry him. When Barney leaves the show, we never hear any more about them, until an episode with a reunion. The whole episode Barney is beyond anxious and excited at the prospect of seeing her again, and hopes to marry her, only for her to show up with her new husband. You can't help but feel the pain in both characters as they meet.
This is the last time Thelma Lou appears on the show, and the only time we see her in color. I wish I could've found a better picture of what she was wearing. 
They did make a T.V. movie in the 80s called "Return To Mayberry" where they tried to resolve the discontent of fans over the way Barney and Thelma Lou were written apart. Thelma Lou returns as a widow and she and Barney finally marry at the end of the movie with both characters being in their sixties or seventies. It's better than nothing, but still seems horribly unlike the idealistic and seemingly perfect world that was Mayberry. 

Hope you leave wanting to watch some Andy Griffith today, and know that you will get to see a whole lot more pretty clothes in the show, as I had a hard time finding many still shots of Thelma Lou. 

What are some of your favorite T.V. fashions? 

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