To Kill a Mockingbird…and Southern Style

Plenty of films memorialize big moments in Southern style—from improvisational eveningwear (Gone With the Wind) to Aquanet (Steel Magnolias). But one of my all-time favorites returns to theaters tomorrow, Thursday, November 15, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of its premiere: the 1962 classic To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s showing across the country for one day only, giving us all a good excuse to time-travel back to the Depression-era South.

The movie, like the Pulitzer Prize–winning book, paints a small Alabama town with all its charms and all its foibles. It captures the Finches’ neighborhood in lovely detail: their neighbor Miss Maudie’s garden, the rows of evenly spaced clapboard bungalows, broad front porches outfitted with swings, and the kind of Mayberry-esque sidewalks my mother has always dreamed of. Watching Scout and Jem Finch and their next-door neighbor Dill playing in their backyards, I wonder how much fictional Maycomb actually resembles Harper Lee’s real hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, where she grew up with Truman Capote.

The highlight in the costume department—for me, at least—is unquestionably the chicken-wire-and-papier-maché ham costume begrudgingly donned by Scout (Mary Badham):

But subtler cues work just as hard to bring Lee’s timeless characters to life. From Scout’s pumpkin-head haircut and the overalls she and her brother Jem wear every day to the three-piece suits, woolen cardigans, and tortoiseshell glasses so evocative of their father, Atticus (Gregory Peck), the film’s wardrobe references a particular moment in prewar Southern life that carries weight today.

Sartorially speaking, echoes of Atticus Finch’s natty staples appear in collections by designers such as Billy Reid.

As a love letter to small-town life, the movie makes my heart ache for sidewalks and porch swings, summers spent running wild in my grandparents’ backyard.

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