When Driving Miss Daisy was released on this day in 1989, it was a hit amongst critics and audiences alike, and became a classic. The film was applauded for its incredible performances by both principal actors, and there’s no doubt that the costumes helped their characters come alive. The costuming for Driving Miss Daisy was one of the earliest successes of costume designer Elizabeth McBride.
Elizabeth McBride was the costume designer for many of the most successful films of the late twentieth century: The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Fried Green Tomatoes (1991), Thelma and Louise (1991), and of course Driving Miss Daisy (1989). Most of these films take place in the American South; the style of this region was Elizabeth’s specialty.
Driving Miss Daisy is about a wealthy widow who forms a close friendship with her driver, Hock, over a few decades. It has to be said that, though the film’s subject matter and portrayal of a Black man can be quite offensive by today’s standards, the film was rather progressive at the time.
In the film, Morgan Freeman, who plays Hock, dons a simple button-down, tie, and suit jacket, in contrast to Miss Daisy, who wears intricate outfits with floral patterns, furs, and elaborate hats. The costumes here highlight their differences in social status, making their tenderness for one another all the more striking.
Not only was Elizabeth’s design able to emphasize the differences between the two characters, it also effectively marked the passage of time as the pair grew more and more close. FF2 Contributor Roza Melkumyan says: “McBride was nominated for an Academy Award for her work on the costume design of Driving Miss Daisy, and it isn’t hard to see why. Her challenge was two-fold in that she not only updated her characters’ clothing with each decade, but she also ensured that that clothing also reflected their own aging processes.” As Roza mentions, Elizabeth was nominated for an Oscar for this film, and deservedly so.
Elizabeth’s next film, a definite audience and critic favorite, is Thelma and Louise (1991). This film, about two female friends who embark on a road trip that takes a dark turn when they defend themselves from a sexual predator, has become a kind of touchstone for feminist films.
Throughout the road trip, Thelma and Louise begin to free themselves from the limitations of the patriarchy, and Elizabeth’s costuming perfectly represents this transformation. As Roza Melkumyan puts it, “The more feminine Thelma trades in her frilly white blouse for a black graphic tee and throws out her wedding ring. The normally put-together Louise lets her coiffed hair loose, trades in her cat eye sunglasses for aviators, and ditches the headscarf. Both abandon makeup entirely while embracing denim.” Not only do Thelma and Louise find empowerment in part through their clothing, but they look fantastic doing it.
From an aging widow to a young woman seeking revenge, Elizabeth knows how to make a character come alive. She has been a key figure in many of the iconic films of the late eighties and the nineties, using her impeccable sense of style to tell the story.
© Julia Lasker (1/26/2023) FF2 Media
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Read Roza Melkumyan’s tribute to Elizabeth McBride here.
Read Jan Lisa Huttner’s review of Thelma and Louise here
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured photo: Credit to Turner Classic Movies
Bottom photo: Credit to Roland Neveu