Well, just when you thought that we had explored this topic to death, once again we’re back! 🙂 In our past posts, we primarily explored the types of female costume seen in the movie and touched a little on the male ones with the aim of deconstructing some of the details. It’s all too easy just to passively watch a film but not really grasp the costumes themselves and in a way, that’s a good thing in that the costumes should no dominate the viewer’s attention. But at the same time, the costuming does help to tell the story.
Now we’re going to take a bit of a look at the “story behind the story” and the story behind Tombstone is interesting in that in may respects it was completely contrary to what is typical in a Hollywood production. The two over-arching things that affected costuming decisions were: 1) a tight budget; and 2) it was being made at the same time three other Westerns were being made. Worse, one of those other westerns was Kevin Costner’s Wyatt Earp. One major result was that most of the available rental wardrobe had already been rented out by the other productions (according to one unsubstantiated rumor, Costner deliberately rented all the Western wardrobe he could find just to deny it’s availability for Tombstone.).
The solution? According to the Costume Designer Joe Porros, they pretty much had to fabricate everything from the ground up. As Porros describes it:
That movie was done on a really tight little budget…. Preparation was nasty. I think I had four weeks at the most, and we were building costumes right through the whole thing as I recall. It was really rough. lt was long 16 hour days, six days a week. It was a nightmare. There was Geronimo, Wyatt Earp and another movie going. There were four Westerns going at the same time and I was the last costume designer hired. So it made it really, really tough…We made everything from boots to gloves to everything…the women’s costumes were made by the Tucson Opera. Company. They made all the dresses for Dana Delany.
In an effort to stay within budget, Porros utilized costume production sources outside of the normal studio system:
Since this was a non-union film and a low budget. l had most of the stuff made in downtown LA [in the garment district]. I had a Filipina shirtmaker who worked out of her house, and she made all the shirts. Everything was being manufactured at all these different places. Nothing was made in a costume house. It kept the cost down, and we couldn’t afford a costume house. We made a couple of thousand pieces of individual wardrobe…we even made several hundred cowboy boots.
Besides the all too common problems of low budgets and short preparation time that plague many movie productions, what is especially interesting is that the production went to outside entities other than the standard Hollywood costume house to get their costumes made. In the end it was a matter of cost but it’s still interesting that Porros went “outside” the standard studio system. That was some 21 years ago and was a harbinger of the increasing decentralization that the film industry has experienced in recent decades facilitated by technology, the changing marketplace, and simple economics.
When Tombstone was released, it was fully expected that it would not do well and especially since it was going up against Costner’s Wyatt Earp. However, against all expectations, Tombstone succeeded and today, some 21 years later, it is still remains a popular film and is considered by many to be the definitive telling of the gunfight at the OK Corral and its aftermath.
 Michael F. Blake, Hollywood and the OK Corral: Portrayals of the Gunfight and Wyatt Earp, P. 165.