Though you may be most familiar with the 1991 film adaptation, the Addams family has been bewitching those with Halloween proclivities and gothic sensibilities since the middle of the 20th century. First conjured by cartoonist Charles Addams for his New Yorker series in the ’40s and ’50s, the family starred in a live-action black-and-white television show for ABC from 1964 to ‘66, an animated sitcom in 1973, and a made-for-television film in 1977. When they finally hit the silver screen, they brought us the iconic Morticia and Wednesday looks we fawn over to this day.
The Addams Family allowed the creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky characters—Morticia (Anjelica Huston), Gomez (Raul Julia), Wednesday (Christina Ricci), Pugsley (Jimmy Workman), Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd), Grandmama (Judith Malina), and Lurch (Carel Struycken)—to materialize in color. One woman was in charge of dressing the actors who reanimated the iconic characters: costume designer Ruth Myers, who would go on to receive an Oscar nomination for her work on the film. From Morticia’s skin-tight trumpet dress covered in jet trimmings to Wednesday’s patterned shift complete with Barrymore collar, Myers fully awakened the Addams women, crafting pop culture icons who’ve inspired almost three decades of Halloween costumes. As you’d expect, it was no easy feat.
To learn more about what went into dressing the altogether ooky Morticia and Wednesday, ELLE.com called Myers to chat about her sartorial creations for The Addams Family. These are the surprising details we learned along the way.
Myers never saw The Addams Family TV shows, so she based her sketches off Charles Addams’s cartoons.
“The thing is, I’m English,” she says. “I’d been in L.A. for a long time, but I’d never seen the cartoon [show]. I’d never seen the series. When I went to talk to [producer] Scott Rudin and [director] Barry Sonnenfeld about it, I said, ‘I’ve never seen it.’ And they said, ‘Don’t. Just look at the illustrations.’” Myers’s own sketches were all inspired by Addams’s original work.
Morticia’s 20+ dresses were inspired by the idea that the Addams were their own kind of aristocracy.
You read that correctly—Myers designed over 20 dresses for Anjelica Huston’s Morticia. That’s because she viewed the family as high class.
“My late husband Richard Macdonald was a production designer, and we always work very closely together. We talked to the director about this idea that [the Addams] were, in their own way, aristocracy,” Myers reveals. “I always had this fantasy that Morticia…would have a day dress, [a] dress for the afternoon, and a dress for dinner. It was always the same silhouette, but there were slightly more subdued ones for the morning. By the afternoon, she was getting more exotic and by the evening, she was a peacock encrusted in jet and beautiful lace.”
According to the FIDM museum, “jet” refers to a semi-precious black stone made of coal. It was often used as a replacement for diamonds and colored stones during periods of mourning in the Victorian era.
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Wednesday also had multiple looks featuring the same silhouette—plus, her own Morticia dress.
“She had a school dress, a sort of day dress, and a later edition of that,” explains Myers. “She had a mini Morticia dress for the ball sequence.”
Most of the fabrics used were vintage.
“I used a lot of vintage brocade. I used a lot of vintage satin. I used some velvet. We did a lot of Fortuny pleating on very fine chiffon for these sort of insertions,” says Myers. “I used a lot of vintage trimmings. Things were multi-layered.” The spider lace used on Morticia and Wednesday’s dresses was also a rare vintage find.
As for the fabric used to craft Wednesday’s iconic dress, which features a chaotic scribble pattern, it was also vintage. “That black and white was sort of Edwardian,” says Myers, adding that she didn’t use many modern fabrics because she didn’t want the family to be seen as contemporary.
Huston had to wear a corset from hell.
“To get the silhouette that was so necessary, she could not walk,” Myers says. “She was completely in a constructed body—the hips were padded, the waist was cinched in, the bust was pulled up. It was brutal, but what came out of it was iconic. And she never complained once.”
In terms of movement, Myers wanted Morticia to look as though she swept forward, like an otherworldly being. This wasn’t too hard to achieve—Huston was so stiff in the corset that gliding was all she could do. On the last day of shooting, Huston ceremonially burned her wig and corset, Myers remembers.
Morticia’s gothic jewelry was custom-made.
In the film, Morticia wears three rings—a simple silver wedding band, a gothic cross, and a green stone—along with drop earrings featuring a metal hand at the bottom. “We made all those too,” Myers says. “They were made by a lovely woman who used to work in cooperation with Western Costume. They were all made to my design.”
In terms of the jewelry inspiration, Myers says she simply thought of what Morticia would love. “They were slightly brutal,” she says, “and I think it was actually before all that sort of brutal goth jewelry took off…in those goth shops in the East Village and places like that.”
Wednesday’s earrings were in the shape of skulls.
Though it’s hard to make out the shape of Wednesday’s silver stud earrings, Myers recalls that they were skulls. Just like with Morticia’s jewelry, she says, they felt ahead of their time.
Morticia’s hooded cloak was modeled after royalty.
“Every time you saw her, your breath had to be taken away—not only by how beautiful she was, but by how regal she was,” says Myers. “So [the cloak] was based on a royal cape you’d see during coronations with Edwardian princesses in Russia—it had that whole feel about it.”
Though you can’t see Morticia’s shoes, they are incredibly detailed.
All of the shoes were handmade for the film. For the ones Morticia wears under her floor-length dresses, Myers reveals, “She had wonderful boots with a little Cuban heel. And she had a lot of satin shoes that were encrusted with beautiful jet. In those days, there was a very good shop on La Brea called Repeat Performance and it had a stash of the most wonderful jet trimmings from the 1890s to the 1920s. I nearly bought out the shop.”
Myers chose a pattern for Wednesday’s dress so she’d have her own identity.
“There was so much black and you needed that relief,” says Myers. “Pugsley obviously had the stripes. I wanted her to have her own identity so she wasn’t quite Morticia.”
On September 20th, 2018, both Wednesday and Pugsley’s costumes from the film sold at auction for £3,750 (about $4,784).
A majority of the film’s pieces were handmade, reflecting a different time for craftsmanship in Hollywood.
“There were a lot of handmade goodies in this,” says Myers, crediting Mary Ellen Fields, who ran the Bill Hargate costume shop, as a huge help. “It was a reasonable budget, which was very helpful. There was [also] enough time to do all that…It was the last bit of time in Hollywood when you got all these wonderful craftspeople…wonderful shoemakers, people who knew how to make proper corsets. It was really the end of that era of old Hollywood people who produced all these beautiful things.”
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