Scarlett's lips--unnaturally dark, as she's been biting them for hours--twist into an obdurate moue. As though she'd allow some old darky to tell her what she is and isn't to wear, even if it is Mammy! She's not going to be dissuaded from the green sprigged muslin now, at the most important moment of her life. Today, this barbecue, is her last chance to catch Ashley Wilkes; she's just got to succeed. And, in some ill-defined corner of her soul, Scarlett feels that the green dress is a part of her, makes her more Scarlett than ever before.
Mammy's position is usurped, much to her dismay, and it is Ellen who laces Scarlett into her bridal gown, the one that was Ellen's own so many years ago. As her fingers smooth satin and knot ribbons and arrange folds of veil, Ellen does not think of her daughter. She remembers another heartbroken girl who married a man she neither respected nor loved, as her selfish escape from memories of the beloved who could never be her husband.
Ellen will never realize that she sees her daughter more clearly in that moment than at any other time in her life.
Scarlett despises every single inch of that black crepe. Sometimes she dreams that the gown itself is eating her alive, and wakes up sweating and screaming. As her belly waxes and wanes again she does not grow better used to mourning dress, only learns to hate it all the more. By the day of the charity bazaar, she is ready to burn the thing with herself still in it.
And then, suddenly, Rhett Butler is looking at her like she's a woman again, and it occurs to Scarlett that black makes her skin very pale, and her eyes very green.
Rhett does bring silk, yards and yards of the most exquisite green silk Scarlett has ever seen, a perfect match for the bonnet that has grown no less lovely in the intervening months. There is one last cry of conscience--in a voice that sounds much like Ellen's--at the thought of abandoning mourning, but then Scarlett says, "It would be so nice to be pretty for Christmas..."
Rhett is on his way home before he remembers that Ashley Wilkes will be in Atlanta for Christmas, and nearly turns the carriage back to snatch the silk out of Scarlett's hands.
She wears the same calico, day after day. Scarlett cannot watch it fading, but she feels it; it's happening not just to her clothes, but inside her skin. The sameness of her life is in the sameness of that cloth. She truly believes that, when it finally grows too threadbare and falls from her back, she'll drop dead too.
One day in the cottonfields, Scarlett feels a sudden, almost irresistible urge to tear that cursed calico from her body. But she looks around at the worn faces around her, and down at the earth of Tara, and goes on planting.
It's a green velvet gown, yes, but Scarlett doesn't feel like she used to. Initially she thinks it's the ignominy of the gown's origin, but she knows she looks fashionable; every man in Atlanta turns his head to watch her walk by. But Scarlett herself has changed. For the first time in her life, she doesn't want to please any man, the thing she was raised to do. That is, she does want to please Rhett...but only because of what he can do for her. It's a change for the harder. Scarlett ought to be ashamed.
The luxury of shopping for fabric, of choosing patterns, of trimmings and frippery and having something new is almost unimaginable after all these months. Frank isn't a rich man--not the way Rhett is, Scarlet thinks bitterly--but he can afford a wedding dress for his bride, and the taxes on Tara. The gown is constructed with unimaginable haste, Mammy and Scarlett and half the women in Atlanta sewing until their fingers ache to finish it in the three days between proposal and wedding.
That haste is a blessing. With no time to breathe, Scarlett cannot remember who she's marrying.
Scarlett hardly notices her second transition into black. The specter of Satan looms too large in her imagination for clothes to matter. Real guilt is overwhelming in its unfamiliarity, dragging Scarlett under in a way she's never felt before; regret isn't in her nature, and she does regret how she treated Frank. All she wants is some distraction, anyone or anything...
Rhett's voice is drifting up to her from the parlor. Rhett, her Rhett, who, scoundrel and varmint that he is, always makes things better somehow.
Scarlett attends to her breath, buttons her basque, smooths her skirts, and walks downstairs.
Rhett brings her wedding gown from England. Scarlett knows from the smoothness and weight of the satin that it must have been costly, but the design is so simple--only one ring of lace at the hem, one line of ruffles around the bodice--that she can hardly credit it. "That's what you'll be wearing, my dear, not spoiling yourself with frills on every inch," Rhett insists. Scarlett's most charming pout avails nothing.
Her gown is not the envy of all Atlanta. But it's worth it for the way Rhett's eyes glow as she walks down the aisle...and Ashley's.
Rhett is the one whose heart is set on the portrait, but the choice of gown is Scarlett's. Scarlett loves every inch of that blue velvet. Rhett's opinion is expressed only too clearly in the way his hands linger that night as they slowly strip the gown away.
Nine months later, Scarlett finds herself sweating, screaming, and cursing Rhett and that blue gown. And five years after that, another blue velvet dress becomes the harbinger not of new life, but of something quite opposite.
The night after Bonnie's death Rhett sets fire to the portrait, and solemnly watches it burn.
The fact that she looks well in green, has always looked well in green, only makes it worse. Rhett is too, too hateful, Scarlett thinks spitefully, forcing her to wear such...such...such a conspicuous gown to Ashley's party, when all she wants to do is sink into the earth. It isn't fair! If she and Ashley had been doing anything really wrong, then perhaps she would feel differently. But that scene at the mill had been so innocent...
It is that thought that gives Scarlett strength. What does she care about the clucking of a brood of society hens?
For the first time in her life, Scarlett is glad of the custom of mourning dress. So many things are breaking, the world tumbling around her ears. Bonnie is dead, Melly dead, Mammy dying, and she's lost Ashley's love and Rhett's love, too. But it's safe here, inside her black; here, she has the space to be alone, which she has never wished to be before. Here, she can grow stronger. Here, she can learn patience. And when she emerges from this shell of bombazine, she'll be another Scarlett, a better Scarlett, who knows how to make things right again.