Thelma and Louise (1991)

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Did Thelma and Louise feature the world’s first selfie?

The photo, freeze-framed at the end of the film, was taken on a Polaroid before the two best friends from Arkansas are supposed to embark on a fun weekend escape in the mountains.

The photo shows Susan Sarandon’s Louise buttoned up in a conservative white shirt, neat headscarf and dash of red lipstick, while naïve housewife Thelma, played by Geena Davis, is girlish in white peasant dress, and pearl-embellished denim jacket.

But, as we all know, their quick stop at a honky-tonk saloon ends in disaster when Louise shoots and kills Thelma’s would-be rapist. Their weekend getaway turns into a run from the law as they travel through the South West to escape a murder charge. As they embark on their journey they toughen up, their clothes become roughed up, and they blend into the burnt landscape.

The late costume designer Elizabeth McBride, who won an Academy Award in 1989 for Driving Miss Daisy, was born in Texas and lived and died in Santa Fe, surrounded by the rich colours and scenic landscape that brings to life Thelma and Louise. She dressed the two actresses in distinctively rustic wear of denims, t-shirts, cowboy hats and neckties. By the final scenes, the red tones of their hair and their tanned limbs camouflage into the desert, as the green T-bird journeys through the South West. Their transformed costume signifies their change in direction. Louise wears cowboy boots; Thelma has a black skull and cross bone t-shirt.

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Screenwriter Callie Khouri said of the costumes evolution: “We talked about going from the very beginning were you kind of look like you are in the Sears catalogue world to by the end where it’s a cross between a Maxfield Parrish painting and a photo of realistic paintings of trucks. So we were very precise about the look of the film.”

The film is about two women freed from their past lives as a chain-smoking waitress and a bored housewife in a sexless marriage. “We all very much wanted them to be down-to-earth and natural” said the producer, Mimi Polk. While they are referred to as a couple of ‘Cupie dolls’ in the roadside bar, they soon ditch the styling for a natural look.

In one scene, Louise throws away her lipstick, Thelma forgets the blue eye-shadow, and their faces become dustier, naturally bronzed as time passes. As Ridley Scott said, they “become more and more natural, but more and more beautiful as it goes on and by the end… just these mythical looking creatures.”

“We’d get dressed in the morning and then roll around in the parking lot to get them filthy before we started,” said Geena Davis.

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While Thelma starts off in frills and pastel colours, with that blue ruffled bikini at one point, they begin to swap clothes as the film progresses and she wears Louise’s denim jacket and black braided jacket. After her first orgasm, courtesy of Brad Pitt, Thelma’s hair is knotted and tangled, and she borrows  J.D’s denim shirt which is later adapted – she wears it knotted around her waist, the sleeves are ripped off and strips dipped in water and tied around their neck.

Elizabeth McBride customised Thelma’s jeans by decorating the pockets with rhinestones, while her pearl denim jacket was from LA label Jett Paris. (“I wish I still had some of these costumes. The denim jacket with the pearls all over it, why don’t I have that?”) said Geena Davis. The Tony Lama boot company provided cowboy boots for Louise, Jimmy and JD, but according to the LA Times, Levis refused to do a product placement so the jeans were from every brand except Levis (which Brad Pitt would go on to do an advert for.)

It may be more than twenty years since they went on their feminist journey through the southern states, but it still looks fresh. If you discount those belted jeans, the clothes are still wearable and free and effortlessly cool. And as Thelma says, “I’ve had it up to my ass with sedate.”

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