“The Waltons” took viewers back to the time of the Great Depression. At the same time, it gave fans of the show a look at what life was like in rural Virginia. Appalachia has always had its own culture. So, seeing an Appalachian family thriving during one of the hardest times in modern American history was, at the very least, interesting for audiences. The expertly-crafted wardrobe for the show is part of what helped transport viewers back to a simpler time.
Richard Thomas portrayed John-Boy in “The Waltons.” He spoke to the Archive of American Television about how the costume designer on the show created the wardrobe that helped the family appear period-accurate.
Richard Thomas on ‘The Waltons’ Wardrobe
Clothing is one of the best markers of an era. This remains true for any time period. In twenty years, photos taken today will be dated by the clothes we wear. The wardrobe designer on “The Waltons” knew this. So, in order to give the characters on the show the proper look, she used one simple trick. When asked about the show’s wardrobe, Richard Thomas elaborated on how it was done.
“Patricia Norris was our designer,” Thomas said. “And the first thing that I noticed that she did was, she would pick fabrics then she would build the garment inside-out.” This made the clothes appear faded. For example, he said that Norris would find a beautiful, bright, flowery fabric. Then, she would turn it inside out and create a dress from it. This would make the dress appear old and worn. Hand-me-downs clothing was common at the time. In fact, the practice is still fairly common today.
Thomas said that he doubted that the trick was original to “The Waltons” wardrobe design. However, it was something that he had never seen before. So, it stands out in his memory.
Another thing that made the wardrobe for “The Waltons,” feel more authentic was a lack of variety. Thomas said that, for John-Boy, he had very few garments. He had shorts, overalls, a dress shirt, and a cap. That was pretty much the extent of his wardrobe. Much like a family in Depression-era Appalachia, the Walton family didn’t have many choices when it came to clothes. So, he said, there was never a discussion about what a character would wear in a given episode. They each had their collection of clothes and that was it.
These two simple details made an enormous impact on the look and feel of the Walton family. Much like the characters in the classic series, Patricia Norris was able to use what she had on hand to create something that was so much more than the sum of its parts.