16th-Century Costume in TV & Film: Worst & Best

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One of the most popular historical eras to set TV shows and films is the 16th century in the courts of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots. Yet the costuming can range from OMG WTFrock?!?! terrible to gorgeous reproductions of period portraits.

In this video, the Frock Flicks team runs through three of the worst and three of the best on-screen productions in terms of historically accurate costumes.

 

Referenced in this video:

 

 

Do you agree with our worst & best list? What would you add?

28 Responses

  1. Charity

    Oooh, a video! Much love, can’t wait to watch.

    On-screen you can’t really tell that Anne Boleyn’s top is sheer in that “outfit” but in the promo pics you can see everyone’s nipples. Classy, Showtime. Real classy. :P

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  2. throckmortonk

    I’m also a Wolf Hall apologist, but I think that the bodice wrinkles are a construction issue. Some people I know made a several Tudor gowns and initially bag lined the plackets on the front (basically sewing them like a pillow case), sewing them on a sewing machine, and all of them had the same wrinkles you see in Wolf Hall. The solution is to assemble them as would have been done in the period and flat line them (stacking everything like a sandwich and sewing it together with the right sides out) and pad stitching the interlining to the lining. Doing this gets you a nice smooth front, and takes approximately 4 times as long, and I can see why, given the short time frame and the truly heroic amounts of sewing that had to be done on this project, they opted to take a shortcut.

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  3. Jill Ottman

    You guys, that video was absolutely rollicking fun. Thanks for dressing up. Your gowns/undergarments were charming.

    I, too, howled out loud in the theater at the Saoirse Ronan tear-off dress scene. It was excruciatingly awful. The costumes in that entire movie were so distracting that I had to keep kicking myself at the correspondingly historically inaccurate plot lines. Horrible movie. I spent the entire drive home explaining to a friend why the film was a double-whammy costume and historical nightmare.

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  4. susan l eiffert

    Love seeing and hearing you guys interact. Unfortunately, you seem much nicer ‘in person’ than on the page!

    Reply
  5. mmcquown

    Some actors care a great deal about their costumes, and some don’t; it would be interesting to know what the actors thought in these particular instances. I’m sure Helen Mirren wouldn’t have cared if she wore anything at all. It would be nice if you ladies let us see the whole of the lovely things you were wearing. My 2nd wife and I had the pleasure of meeting Janet Arnold at the Met museum in NYC many years ago; she was as gracious as she was knowledgeable. Sad that some excellent acting talent was so badly served by the productions they were in. I suppose for most, the text was more important than what they wore.

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  6. Boxermom

    Thanks for the video, ladies (you all look fantastic)! LMAO about MQoS, couldn’t bring myself to watch it. Travesty, indeed. Just watched “Anne of the Thousand Days” the other night, and I wonder what Anne’s costumes would have looked like if they hadn’t done the whole “pretty princess” thing. P.S. What were you drinking, Sarah? It looked good. :)

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  7. Shashwat

    Elizabeth R was so great with the costumes,I wonder how long it took to dress up Glenda Jackson.And considering that many of these were not made in superior fabrics like silk(they used quite a few substitutes as there was no scope for anyone detecting the exact fabric on a pre-hd era television),we have to admire the dedication of actors while wearing these clothes made of somewhat uncomfortable,itchy curtain fabrics.Otherwise all those reports of actors overheating in Regency clothes,such glorious intellectuals exist.
    The Wolf Hall costuming team did mess up costuming the actors,not creating the costumes.Many of these dresses look perfectly smooth in one scene and rather wrinkled in another,barring the pink dress that could not be smoothened up even for public displays on mannequins.The placket for the red dress seemed to be one inch too long to properly fit between the bust line and the waist,despite the interlining and stiffening.Either they didn’t care to meticulously smooth out the placket on some days,or Claire fluctuated in size(she had a baby in March 2015,and the show was shot in 2014 so it might be possible).These dresses fit the actress portraying Anne in Lucy Worsley’s documentary so well.But I prefer the softer unboned plackets to boned placards(I HATE boned bodices,even when they are accurate.They just make everyone look…artificial?Just cover those hard edges with a partlet,or some lace and flounce for the 17th century.I can tolerate them only on Venetian attires,but they trip the line between realism and allegory.)

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  8. Kaite Fink

    I feel like the Tudors tried too hard for all the characters clothes to have a theme (like sexy vixen or sad daughter). Especially in Anna of Cleves, as if they felt the need to make her look more out of place and awkward. They didn’t go with making her ugly though, so woo?! I enjoyed some of the actors/actresses portrayals more than anything else. At least some of them tried to honor their roles, like Dormer.
    Just goes to show that having an awesome budget doesn’t mean you’ll get it right.

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  9. Saraquill

    What helped you through the unfortunate outfits? Were the good movies enough or did you supplement with Pink Drinks?

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  10. Misty

    It’s lovely to see your faces, hear your voices & watch you destroy/praise the costumes. Thank you x

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  11. Luanna

    I love that Elizabeth I (2005) got picked as one of your favorites! I really loved those costumes too, and from what I’ve seen of Mike O’Neil work (North & South, Daniel Deronda), he’s consistently great.

    Reply
  12. ConsiderTheBees (@Wildfyrewarning)

    Is there a semi-reasonable explanation for Saoirse Ronan’s hair in the picture at the top? Because every time I see it I just think of the Skrreeans from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I can’t think of anything remotely period that it might be referencing, but I might be missing something.

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  13. Bess Chilver

    Love the videos. Can we see more of those? And its so lovely to see you three again. Its been far too long since either you all were here in Old Blighty or me there.
    A Tudor series that I love in every way: Story (though it is a fictional one but feels “real-ish”); Costumes: Elite of the Elite; Gentle (apart from 1 coif); Middling Class AND working class; Sets: Tudor Palaces; Gentle Manors and Working class areas as well as the feel is the 1995 BBC Prince & the Pauper. Philip Sarson plays the dual role of Prince and Pauper. Keith Michel reprises his role as King Henry VIII from the 1970s “Six Wives of Henry VIII” and is of course amazing.
    The costumier was Maggie Chapelhow and somewhere I have a 4 or 5 page spread from a magazine where she discusses the costumes and how she made them. One part which jumped out at me was where she discusses an Yeoman’s Wife character in a lovely blue gown that is clearly textured on screen. She used a raw silk noil which reads like wool and had a lovely hand to it.
    The elite costumes on Mary Tudor; Elizabeth and Jane Grey (who is somewhat older than she was in real life. She was also played by Sophia Myles) have fabulous outfits. Silks and damasks are being used. One damask I recognised as its the same as the one I used for 1540s Court gown for my wedding (mumble20yearsagomumble). Mine was in ivory and Gold silk. I have the same fabric in red and gold for a 1520s gown Ninya Mikhaila made me back in 1999. The dress in the series was worn by Sophia Myles as Jane and had it as blue and gold with a yellow damask overgown.
    I have stills of this series which I carefully screenshotted from the DVD on my Flickr site. https://www.flickr.com/photos/myladyswardrobe/collections/72157633415943858/
    For me these costumes are equal to Elizabeth R (and indeed Six Wives of H VIII film and series). All had that care put in to accurately reflect the costuming of the period for the characters….and to set the scene.

    Reply
  14. M.E. Lawrence

    Gosh, that was a splendid idea–and I won’t usually watch a video that’s longer than 15 or 20 minutes. Something that has intrigued me about E. Tudor is her skill in choosing public gowns that could seen at a distance. Can one assume this was a common practice among royals? (And is this why Betty Windsor sometimes looks like an ice cream cone?) Now on to the “unfortunate biggins,” truly an enticing bit of click-bait. Thank you very much, K, S and T.

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    • Heather Ripley

      I agree M.E. Lawrence – – not enough “unfortunate biggins”.

      But seriously ladies, that was a very well done video and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Informative and charming with a tiny bit of snark. Thank you. Please do more!

      I also appreciate your guidance on what films to watch and what to avoid so my head does not explode. I loved Wolf Hall by the way, excellent performance for sure. I had never heard of the movie Elizabeth I with Helen Mirren but I plan on watching it soon. Lovely gowns and a great actress; what could be better?

      Reply
  15. Liz

    Ah I love this! I have been reading your blog for years never listened to the podcast because I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it without a visual aid. But getting to watch you and see you dressed up as well is such a treat! It’s so nice to see contemporary women in historically accurate but interesting styles. Please keep making these. All three of you look SO good- are any of you wearing wigs or is that your natural hair? I like how one of you chose to do a typical upper class day look, one chose a allegorical painting look, and one chose her underwear! Kendra looks beautiful and I definitely feel her need to wear her hair down. I have bangs and I don’t really like how I look without them so if it were an option I would wear them I suppose I’m doomed to be a 19th century poppet.
    I would love also to see a ‘get dressed with me’ video featuring all three of you. 18th century next!

    Reply

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