Saturday, February 24, 2018

title pic Jean Peter’s 1940s Film Costumes

Posted by Edelweiss Patterns on April 21, 2012

Jean Peter’s Film Costumes from the 1955 Movie “A Man Called Peter”

If you saw the vintage Easter dress I recently sewed, you probably remember my promising to post pictures of all Jean Peter’s gorgeous dresses!  Well, there were simply too many outfits to study every single one in detail, but today I’m sharing what I think are the most memorable costumes from this classic film.


In case you’re not familiar with the movie, it tells the enchanting true story of Scottish immigrant Peter Marshall and his incredible journey to Chaplain of the United States Senate.  Along the way, he meets and marries the gorgeous Catherine Wood who does her best to be the perfect 1940s wife and mother. 

After Peter’s untimely death in the early 1950s, the real life Catherine Marshall wrote the story of his life which was shortly thereafter turned into one of the greatest films of all times.  You can find out more about the movie here


The New York premiere in 1955 was a wildly successful phenomena.


But as much as I love the story, I loved the costumes even more!   I am listing Catherine Marshall’s dresses (as worn by actress Jean Peters) in order of appearance in the film.

I am more or less skipping over the first dress (worn for a few college, church, and engagement scenes), since it was covered in great detail last week after I had recreated this outfit at the last minute. 

Catherine Marshall’s Cream Pleated Dress


This first dress she wears for the film has lovely wide pleats.


 Catherine Marshall’s Pink 1930s Dress


This is really the classic vintage dress - a fitted bodice, gathered skirt, and vinyl belt.


If I didn’t know what decade the story begins in, I would surely have thought that this was a 1950s dress.  And why should one think otherwise?  It has that definite 50s feel with the full gathered skirt and wide vinyl belt that you could almost envision at a sock hop.  So did the costume designer just choose an outfit that was popular at the time of the film’s release?

Probably not!  In Kristina Harris’s fantastic book, “Vintage Fashions For Women: 1920s – 1940s“, she describes how just before WWII what we know of as Dior’s New Look had actually come into fashion already!  During the last couple years of the 1930s, American women returned to wearing corset-like structures and full petticoats under wider skirts, while adopting the waist-cincher belts that would be in constant use a couple decades later.  In fact, this image is so far from our idea of the slim, bias cut 1930s dress that it isn’t even funny!

But with the outbreak of WWII and the subsequent fabric rationing, tailored bodices and short, narrow skirts became the fashion by tragic necessity.  Once our boys had come home though, spirits soared and the newly regained supply of clothing material was celebrated.  The late 1930s styles which women had regretfully given up soon became the rage as women pouffed their six-yard skirts out fuller and fuller with crinoline petticoats.

All that to say that no, this costume was not inaccurate for 1936.  But it is interesting how the beginning of the movie (mid-1930s) and the end of the movie (early 1950s) show almost the exact same style of costume!

 The Blue 1930s Godet Dress


I love how they put Richard Todd in a tie the exact shade of Jean Peter's outfit!


Just as I mentioned in above about the pink dress, this drapier blue dress could have appeared during the I Love Lucy years!  Jean Peters looked stunning in this color, and in a few shots you can see a contrasting black vinyl belt.  The skirt was smooth at the waist and greatly flared by gores and godets at the hem. 

This was the first “big” scene after Peter and Catherine’s marriage, as well as the first scene where you really see her in the role of pastor’s wife.  Poor Catherine didn’t get to start out at any smaller congregations, but instead found herself married to the minister of Washington DC’s most historic church!  Judging from the book and Jean Peter’s portrayal of the character though, the former Catherine Wood was delighted to be the supportive role behind her new husband’s career.

 Catherine Marshall’s Blue Grey Vintage Church Suit



This blue suit, circa 1936, has beautiful velvet trim at the collar and lots of buttons down the front.


The first of Catherine Marshall’s suits we see her in, this bluish grey wool design is very charming on her.   It is notably more “grown up” and almost businesslike than her pre-married days church outfits, just as Maria von Trapp’s golden suit was much more reserved than her pre-marriage dresses. 

I love the velvet trim at the collar, but my favorite part of this outfit is the hat!  What an adorable style, especially with the French veiling over her forehead.

Catherine Marshall’s Hospital Gown


Don't you think she looks a little too refreshed to have just had a baby?

Just a few short scenes later we suddenly see Catherine in the maternity ward having given birth to a baby boy.  I know this is not at all a dress, but I wanted to point out what a pretty nightgown/hosptial gown this is.  Isn’t it infinitely preferable to those pitiful polka dotted things new mothers have to wear nowadays?  With the lace, bows, and pretty print, it’s something that a new mother should rightfully wear.  Perhaps our modern day hospitals could take a hint from the olden days!

Catherine Marshall’s Light Grey 1940s Dress


With this pleated-skirt dress, Jean Peters wore an adorable cloche hat in dark blue.



I love the bow at the collar!

When Catherine Marshall finds out she has tuberculosis, she comes home from the doctor in a charming light grey dress.  Its design is quite similar to previous ones, except that it has wide box pleats at the back of the skirt and a very cute ribbon bow at the neckline. 


 Catherine Marshall’s Brown Church Suit

The next suit we see Catherine wearing is her tailored brown number which has some wonderful details in the bodice.  Firstly, the button down front closure has highly unusual triangular points, and the buttons are double spaced diagonally as well.


In this publicity photo for the movie, the dark brown suit looks almost reddish brown next to the brick church.



I'm not sure if I prefer the pink felt hat or larger red picture hat she wore...

And finally, here’s

 The Fabulous Orange 1950s Dress!


This is my favorite of all Jean Peter's dresses! I love the color, fit, and styling.



This fabulous orange-red 1950s dress has a beautifully fitted bodice with a "dicky" style blouse and turn-back cuffs. The bow is really the best part, though!


This very dress worn by Jean Peters lived for years in Debbie Reynold’s world-renowned costume collection.  When the time came in 2011 for the collection to be dismantled, the auction listing for this item read:

“Tangerine wool day dress with matching belt, worn by Peters as Catherine Wood Marshall in the 1955 drama A Man Called Peter. In fine condition, with a studio costume tag on the inside reading “A-736-17 Jean Peters”. This costume is from the prestigious collection of Debbie Reynolds and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by Debbie Reynolds and Darren Julien of Julien Entertainment. Proceeds from this sale go to benefit The Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Motion Picture Museum.
About The Film: In 1955, “A Man Called Peter” was presented by Twentieth Century Fox. This biopic was about the life of Peter Marshall, a Scottish clergyman, who became chaplain to the US Senate. Jean Peters and Richard Todd were cast in the lead roles of this movie. Harold Lipstein was nominated for an Academy Award.”



I was elated when I found what the dress looks like now.


And here’s a photo of how the dress looked in 2011!  If you compare the before and after pictures at all, you will certainly notice that Jean Peters wore the dress with a wide vinyl belt which must have been a good three inches wide.  When the dress was sold, however, the original belt did not accompany it and was replaced by a much narrower self-fabric belt.  So the question remains, “Is the narrow belt from the Reynold’s collection a later replacement, or was this original to the movie costume but not used for the location shooting?”  We may never know the answer, but I’m sure that at some point I will be recreating this dress! 

This red 1950s dress is my personal favorite of all the Catherine Marshall dresses, but I’d love to hear what everyone’s favorites are!  Does anyone prefer the straight, tailored suits, or do the full-skirted dresses win?  If I were to recreate one dress from the movie, which one do you think it should be?

Okay, now here’s a quiz to see how well you were paying attention:

Excepting the church suits and the nightgown, what three fashion details do all Jean Peter’s dresses have in common?  (The ones I’m thinking of do not include buttons or darts, nor skirt length.)

I’m tempted to type what my observations of the obvious fashion similarities, but I’m sure a lot of you will notice it as well. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Happy sewing,


P.S.   All movie stills from A Man Called Peter are copyright Twentieth Century Fox.  Edelweiss Patterns does not claim ownership of any of the images and makes no profit from their use on this blog.