Best Bustles in The Age of Innocence

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Easily one of the top 10 — top 5? — ever historical costume movies for the bustle era, The Age of Innocence (1993) was directed by Martin Scorsese and won the Best Costume Design Oscar that year, thanks to the work of Gabriella Pescucci. The performances by Daniel Day-Lewis as Newland Archer, Winona Ryder as May Welland, and Michelle Pfeiffer as Ellen Olenska are sublime, but the exquisite costumes are truly breathtaking. Let’s indulge in the eye candy and review, chronologically, all the fabulous bustle gowns worn by the leading ladies, shall we?

 

May’s White Archery Dress

Sporty yet perfectly ladylike and well-matched with Newland’s white linen.

The Age of Innocence (1993) The Age of Innocence (1993)
The Age of Innocence (1993) , on display at Tirelli Costumes

On display at Tirelli Costumes.

May’s Pale Print Day Dress

She is still the picture of purity and innocence, per the title. Unknowing, clueless in fact.

The Age of Innocence (1993) The Age of Innocence (1993)

 

May’s Engagement Party Ensembles

May and her girlfriends wear white satin and are swathed in tulle for the big party. There’s so much detail in all these gowns — they’re like reproductions of period originals by Charles Frederick Worth!

The Age of Innocence (1993)
The Age of Innocence (1993)

May’s gown, front. On display at Tirelli Costumes.

The Age of Innocence (1993)

May’s gown, back. On display at Tirelli Costumes.

The Age of Innocence (1993)
The Age of Innocence (1993)

On display at Tirelli Costumes.

The Age of Innocence (1993)

Friend’s gown, front. On display at Tirelli Costumes.

The Age of Innocence (1993)

Friend’s gown, back. On display at Tirelli Costumes.

The Age of Innocence (1993)

Friend’s gown, front. On display at Tirelli Costumes.

The Age of Innocence (1993)

Friend’s gown, side. On display at Tirelli Costumes.

 

May’s Wedding Gown

After those dresses, her actual wedding gown isn’t quite as spectacular, but I’m including it for good measure.

The Age of Innocence (1993)

 

May’s Blue and Gold Stripe Day Dress

She does get some other clothes than pastels. In fact, May wears several very snappy tailored blue gowns.

The Age of Innocence (1993) The Age of Innocence (1993)

 

May’s Navy Plaid Day Dress

And this crisp dark gown.

The Age of Innocence (1993)

 

May’s Purple Evening Gown

But my favorite dress Winona Ryder wears has got to be this purple number.

The Age of Innocence (1993) The Age of Innocence (1993)
The Age of Innocence (1993)

On display at Tirelli Costumes.

The Age of Innocence (1993)

On display at Tirelli Costumes.

 

 

Ellen’s Blue Opera Gown

Most of what Michelle Pfeiffer’s character wears is dark jewel tones, like this blue gown.

The Age of Innocence (1993)
The Age of Innocence (1993)

On display at Tirelli Costumes.

 

Ellen’s Red Evening Gown

Then there’s this, the red dress, easily the best gown in the entire film. If you don’t love this one, I don’t know why you read Frock Flicks!

The Age of Innocence (1993) The Age of Innocence (1993) The Age of Innocence (1993)
The Age of Innocence (1993)

On display at Tirelli Costumes.

 

Ellen’s Pale Blue-Green Tea Gown

An icy pale gown for the most heartbreaking scene in the movie. It looks so unlike what Ellen has worn previously, as she gives up a chance at happiness.

The Age of Innocence (1993) The Age of Innocence (1993) The Age of Innocence (1993)
The Age of Innocence (1993)

On display at Tirelli Costumes.

The Age of Innocence (1993)

On display at Tirelli Costumes.

 

Ellen’s White Day Dress

A rare view of Ellen in all white.

The Age of Innocence (1993)

 

Ellen’s Green Velvet Coat

And, while not exactly a bustle, we finish off with an elegant coat for that most restrained of kisses.

 

The Age of Innocence (1993)

 

 

What’s your favorite bustle outfit from The Age of Innocence?

 

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

19 Responses

  1. Andrea Somerville

    Ellen’s red dinner party dress, hands down! Followed by her pale blue printed satin number…that scene, where Newland slowly moves his hands down over her gotten to her satin shoes done in the same print as the dress is so 1870s HOT!!

    Not to mention, reveals all the amazing details of her dress up close. So few period costume dramas show off the details like The Age of Innocence did. I love it not just for the story, but because it’s similar to Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette in that it invests a lot of camera time on the details.

    Reply
  2. Susan Pola

    This is one of my all-time favourite FrockFlicks. I simply adore, Gentle Reader, all the costumes of the film. But entre nous, if I had to pick a favourite, May’s Purple dinner dress would tie with Ellen’s Red one. Both dresses convey their wearers’ characters. May, no longer clueless but a woman in control of her life (she uses her ‘innocence’, Society’s mores to achieve her goals). It conveys power, elegance and subtly sex. Ellen’s character is more complicated, the red dress is sexy (worldly), unconventional and hiding something (her European past & unhappiness).

    Reply
  3. Celine

    Any of Ellen’s gowns, but particularly the blue -if only I had her figure . . . And yay Tristan! You multitalented Renaissance woman.

    Reply
  4. Andrea Somerville

    May’s archery dress was really great too. It felt & looked so light & summery with everything in bloom around her.

    Was anyone else amazed with how teeny tiny her waist is in that dress?! Makes me curious as to what Ryder’s corseted waist measurements were? Lol, looks pretty close to Scarlet O’Hara’s coveted 18 1/2″

    Reply
  5. ladylavinia1932

    Ellen’s red evening gown, of course. However, I feel that May’s engagement gown is a close second for me.

    My God, the costumes in this movie were gorgeous!

    Reply
  6. mmcquown

    My ex and I were dress extras in the opera scene. She made her own top — which wardrobe tried to get from her after shooting because they thought it was one of theirs. She has fair skin and dark hair, so they made her brown it out for the shoot. It took two days to shoot what amounted to less than five minutes onscreen. The poor kids who were singing had to sing the same few phrases over and over for something like 100 takes. To pass the down time, someone organised a talent show in the holding area. Was quite impressive. A lot of the extras were retired businessmen who fumed at the huge consumption of time and money for so little result. The promised box suppers for the second day came so late they were take-homes for most of us. Ah, the glamour of it all! Ryder looked extremely unwell through most of it.

    Reply
      • mmcquown

        Yeah, we figured out that if they’d been paid for it, the talent show would have cost about $600,000. As for story, it’s basically about two people who didn’t do anything to, for, or with, each other.

        Reply
    • Andrea Somerville

      Haha, that’s funny you mention a lot of the retired business men were aghast at the “huge consumption” & waste of time/money in shooting what amounts to a 5 minute scene…just like the Gilded Age! It was all about huge consumer consumption amongst the uber upper classes.

      Reply
      • mmcquown

        But this was the other end of the pipeline. The nobs would be quite happy with the money spent on the end product, but not on the money spent making it.

        Reply
  7. Charity

    I’ve always been a bit “meh” about the plot of this film, but the costumes are to die for. That pale tea gown was the first time I ever had serious envy watching a movie. Something about the way it moved, sounded, looked on screen… I fell in love.

    I also love the purple / pink dress. So pretty.

    SUCH TINY WAISTS. GAH.

    Reply
    • Andrea Somerville

      I second Melinda’s recommendation!! Please do a recap of the best bustles in the ’97 Karenina :)

      Reply
  8. Linda Lupos

    Sorry, I have to ask: when you say “On exhibition at Tirelli costumes”, do you mean that is a place I can actually visit? Because I’m going to Rome this fall and I would DIE to see those costumes in person.
    (Well. Give a limb. Either way.)

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      I specifically meant on display on their website, but if you poke around there enough, you’ll see that Tirelli has held various displays of their costumers’ works thru the years. I don’t know if that’s *at* their own facility or elsewhere. Only some of their website is in English!

      PS: If you find out & visit, report on what you see to Frock Flicks :)

      Reply

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