Good Times was a popular American sitcom that aired on CBS from 1974 to 1979. The show centered around the Evans family, an African American family living in a Chicago housing project. One of the most iconic characters on the show was Florida Evans, the family matriarch, played by esteemed actress Esther Rolle.
Florida Evans was known for her no-nonsense attitude, sharp wit, and fierce devotion to her family. She was also instantly recognizable by her signature orange ensembles, which she wore in nearly every episode of Good Times. But why orange? What was behind Rolle’s bold costume choice for Florida Evans?
Why Did Rolle Choose Orange?
The color orange looked beautiful against Rolle’s dark complexion. But there were also symbolic reasons behind the vibrant hue.
Orange as a Symbol of Strength
Orange is often associated with strength, boldness, and vibrancy. For Florida Evans, a pillar of strength for her family, orange was the perfect color. Through ups and downs, Florida was a source of resilience, perseverance, and courage. Orange visually reinforced those inner qualities in Florida’s character.
Orange as Hopeful and Uplifting
In the midst of poverty and adversity, Florida Evans represented hope. She encouraged her family to keep striving for a better life. Orange is a bright, upbeat color, evoking optimism and positivity. Rolle seemed to recognize how well it aligned with Florida’s motivational spirit.
Orange as Distinctive and Memorable
In a sea of colorful 1970s fashions, Rolle knew Florida Evans needed her own vivid style. The unique, consistent orange ensembles helped distinguish Florida as the anchor at the heart of the show. Once audiences saw that telltale orange dress, they immediately recognized the strong, loving matriarch of the Evans family.
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How Fans and Critics Reacted to the Orange Outfits
Audiences connected Florida’s orange dresses to her strength, hope, and loving nature. Her clothes became as synonymous with the character as catchphrases or famous props associated with other TV characters. Fans came to eagerly anticipate the orange ensembles each episode.
Many critics also took note of Rolle’s clever use of orange. Reviews highlighted the bold color as a striking visual metaphor for Florida’s personality. Along with Rolle’s superb acting, the orange outfits came to represent the true heart of Good Times.
Rolle’s Costume Design Process
Though a simple color scheme, Rolle put great thought into selecting Florida’s orange dresses each season. She collaborated closely with the show’s costume designer, Lucinda Ballard.
Selecting the Right Shade
The two chose vibrant shades that complemented Rolle’s complexion. They veered away from pale creamsicle tones, instead favoring deeper oranges and tangerines. These colors popped on camera and conveyed Florida’s vitality.
Finding Flattering Silhouettes
Florida’s orange dresses had to comfortably accommodate Rolle’s motions during long taping days. The dresses typically had looser flowing skirts, sometimes with gathered detailing at the waist. This gave an elegant, flattering shape.
Mixing Up Necklines and Sleeves
While keeping the main color consistent, Rolle and Ballard added variety through details like collars, sleeves, and trims. Florida’s dresses had scoop necks, boatnecks, V-necks, and beyond. Sleeves ranged from sleeveless to cap to elbow-length.
Florida’s accessories complemented the orange dresses without competing. She often wore neutral-toned necklaces, earrings, and headscarves. Her shoes and purses popped in colors like yellow, green, or brown.
The Significance of Rolle’s Costume Choices
The simple decision to put Esther Rolle in orange each week carried deeper meaning. Her bold costume choices made a subtle but strong social impact.
Orange as a Political Statement
In the 1970s, wearing orange held significance in the prison reform and women’s rights movements. Florida Evans wearing defiant, vibrant orange aligned with those political undertones.
Celebrating Darker Skin Tones
Seeing a dark-skinned actress glow beautifully in orange combated colorism. Rolle chose a bold color specifically to flatter and accentuate her gorgeous dark complexion.
Depicting the Beauty of Black Culture
Through her jewelry, headwraps, and other African-inspired accessories, Rolle brought authentic black style to mainstream television.
The Later Seasons – Florida’s Style Evolution
In the show’s early seasons, Florida exclusively wore orange dresses. But in later years, Rolle and Ballard began branching out Florida’s wardrobe.
Mixing in New Colors and Patterns
They incorporated more varied colors like red, blue, and chartreuse. Florida also began wearing two-toned dresses and printed blouses. However, orange remained her staple.
Trying New Silhouettes and Details
Florida’s hemlines rose slightly, following late-70s fashions. Her dresses began featuring flared sleeves, ruffles, and lace accents. While her style evolved, the looks remained classy and professional.
Reflecting Florida’s Changing Storylines
As Florida grew beyond her initial domestic role, becoming an office worker and activist, her wardrobe grew beyond house dresses. Her evolving clothes paralleled her character’s changing life.
However, most fans still remember Florida Evans as the loving mother figure in her bright orange outfits. That iconic orange dress defined Esther Rolle’s character for generations of Good Times viewers.
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Why Rolle Left Good Times
Though Florida Evans and her orange dresses charmed audiences, Rolle was unhappy with her character’s development. She disagreed with creative choices made in later seasons.
J.J.’s Emerging Role
Rolle felt the show shifted too much focus onto J.J Evans, Florida’s son played by Jimmie Walker. His buffoonish antics and catchphrase “Dy-no-mite!” made J.J. a breakout character. But Rolle felt a family sitcom should revolve around the family matriarch, not a comic relief character.
Lack of Serious Storylines
Rolle wanted to portray the serious realities facing Black families in the 1970s. While she appreciated lighthearted moments, she thought the show relied too heavily on broad comedy rather than substantive plots.
Departure After Season 4
Due to creative differences with showrunners, Rolle left Good Times after season 4. However, she later returned for the final season in a reduced role.
Esther Rolle’s bold costume choice made Florida Evans an iconic TV mother. Her orange outfits symbolized Florida’s inner strength, hope, and vibrant personality. Rolle used color purposefully to create an indelible character who defined Good Times. The orange dresses became a visual emblem of Rolle’s nuanced, powerful performance.