Dancing on the Edge: 1930s Costume PORN, Baby

8

Okay, and the plot is really fascinating and the acting is great and the men are hot and the music is really well done. But really, it’s all about the clothes, which are ON POINT.

I had seen glimpses of Dancing on the Edge (2013), a 1930s-set BBC miniseries, particularly when I was looking up images for my Man Candy post on Matthew Goode (fans self). And I thought, “Looks good, I should watch that sometime.” (Apparently it aired on Starz in 2013, but I totally missed that). Luckily there was a heat wave this past weekend and I wasn’t going to move a muscle, and I saw that it had been added to Netflix, and there went my entire Sunday. I watched five of six episodes all in a row, because it was That Good. Let me break it down:

Dancing on the Edge‘s Plot

Without trying to give away too many spoilers, Dancing on the Edge is set in early 1930s London. Stanley Mitchell (Matthew Goode) is a music journalist who “discovers” an excellent jazz band made up of black performers who are playing at a hole-in-the-wall club. The group is the Louis Lester Band, led by Louis (Chiwetel Ejiofor, who you probably recognized from 12 Years a Slave).

Matthew Goode (left) as Stanley, and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Louis.

Matthew Goode (left) as Stanley, and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Louis. Hot hot hot.

Stanley champions the band and gets them an ongoing gig at the (fictional) Imperial Hotel, which is old-world and stuffy and only partially filled with aging dowagers. Needless to say, the Louis Lester Band livens things up, and when they attract the attention of the Prince of Wales and his younger brother, the Duke of Kent, they become all the rage … and then tragedy strikes, and things get Really Complicated.

That’s the basic setup. The story is much more about Stanley and Louis’s friendship, and the relationships formed amongst a group of friends and admirers: the band’s lead singer Jessie; society girl Pamela (Joanna Vanderham of The Paradise) and her brother Julian, who works for mysterious and powerful American businessman Mr. Masterson (John Goodman); photographer Sarah (Janet Montgomery of Salem); Arthur Donaldson, an older, wealthy man who cultivates young talent (Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer!); and Lady Lavinia Cremone (Jaqueline Bisset, who won a Golden Globe for her performance), a reclusive aristocrat who nonetheless has a lot of influence in the music world.

dancing-on-the-edge-05_v_21jan13_b

Photographer Sarah, bandleader Louis, mentor Mr. Donaldson, journalist Stanley, society girl Pamela, and aspiring he’s-not-sure-what Julian.

acqueline Bisset as ÔLady CremoneÕ. In Stephen Poliakoff's DANCING ON THE EDGE.

Jacqueline Bisset as Lady Cremone

The story is also about the experience of being black in inter-war Britain, although most of the band members remain in the background — only Louis, singer Jessie, and (somewhat) manager Wesley are developed. The focus is on their experiences navigating the elite white world in which they’ve found themselves. When troubles come, undercurrents come to the forefront and true colors are shown.

There’s also a central mystery that develops, which kept me on the edge of my seat. I don’t want to say anything more, but I was so interested that I was tempted to jump ahead a few episodes just to find out “who did it” (but restrained myself).

But let’s get to brass tacks, shall we, and look at what suddenly has me dying over 1930s evening gowns:

 

Costumes in Dancing on the Edge

The costumes were designed by Lindsay Pugh, who hasn’t really done a lot in terms of historical costume movie design (she’s been designing since the late 1990s; check out her filmography at IMDB). She did work in the costume/wardrobe departments of some recognizable period films, like Cold Mountain.

Nonetheless, someone give this woman some more historical films, because this series is just filled with STUNNER after STUNNER. Most of the characters are from the aristocratic elite, so each episode is just filled with total eye candy … but there are also some more down-to-earth characters, so you get a good range as well.

The Telegraph reports,

Although Dancing on the Edge looks ravishing, it wasn’t achieved by throwing lots of money at it. The costume designer Lindsay Pugh admits the clothes worn by the vast majority of the cast were “found or sourced, fitted and made to work” rather than designed. “We found some lovely 1930s pieces in little shops in strange places,” she says. Poliakoff’s Dancing on the Edge: Behind the Scenes

Obviously, this is something that can be done for a 20th-century-set film and can’t work for 19th century and earlier. But I’ll say that I assumed tons of money was spent here, so massive congratulations to Pugh and her team for making it WORK.

Firstly, I’ll just say that there isn’t much that’s better than a hot guy in a well-fitted tux. White tie, ladies and gents. White tie. (Okay, so most of the examples below are black tie. Go with me).

387820.1

Stanley. I mean … just … I am speechless. THIS IS THE PRETTIEST THING I HAVE SEEN ALL YEAR.

Louis. YES. YES.

Louis. YES. YES.

Stanley and  Louis on a more casual occasion. (Photographer: Cathal Macilwaine)

Stanley and Louis on a more casual occasion. (Photographer: Cathal Macilwaine)

WELL HELLO THERE SIR.

920x920

A whole lot of sharp-dressed musicians.

I don’t even want him to take anything else off! He looks too good!

The older guys looked great too — in particular, John Goodman as millionaire Mr. Masterson. An article in the Telegraph quoted costume designer Pugh:

[John Goodman’s] character, Masterson, needed to look utterly elegant. “John first flew in from America on a Friday evening, we did a costume fitting, and he did his first scene at 8am Sunday morning,” Pugh reports. “That was stressful – as much for the tailor as for me.” Poliakoff’s Dancing on the Edge: Behind the Scenes

Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 10_21_01

John Goodman and Anthony Head

 

Now, let’s talk the ladies. Women’s Wear Daily did a Q&A with the costume designer, who said,

The women’s silhouette of the early thirties was slim and languorous, long and tall with sensuous curves. The corseted and structured shape of the Victorian and Edwardian era had all but disappeared during the Great War, apart from on some more elderly ladies who hung on to their corsets for life. The fabrics used for women’s clothing was soft with a good drape — often at least for those that could afford it — made out of silk, and many dresses were cut on the bias to make them hug the body, showing the woman’s shape. Eveningwear for women was always exquisitely cut, mostly from silks and satins and often decorated with beautiful beading. Q&A: Costume Designer Lindsay Pugh

And hoo boy, did she get it RIGHT. My jaw just kept dropping as I saw dress after dress that I didn’t just want, I NEEDED.

Society girl Pamela was always dressed like Jean Harlow or some other movie star — beautiful bias-cut satin gowns, beading, etc.

2a8bcdaa3adc20a0735c5c6d18311f66

You can’t go wrong with gold.

Programme Name: Dancing On The Edge - TX: n/a - Episode: Dancing On The Edge (No. n/a) - Embargoed for publication until: n/a - Picture Shows:  Pamela (JOANNE VANDERHAM) - (C) Ruby Film & TV - Photographer: Cathal Macilwaine

Velvet and fur. Mmmmm. (Photographer: Cathal Macilwaine)

tumblr_mv6hrvHlJO1qg8r34o1_500

LOVE this color.

Meanwhile, her best friend Sarah was a little down the social scale and a little more practical. She tended to wear slightly more down-to-earth clothes for daywear, but was also clearly avant garde — for example, she wore trousers! When it came to evening wear, though, she pulled out the stops as well.

0fabb0dd4eb3c372ad84afe1b011cb46

Trousers — how very Katharine Hepburn!

3c9b387384a8200fe93579b0d102d5dc

I LOVED this dress. It was a dark burgundy, with that amazing melon color peeking out.

article-0-119B34EC000005DC-11_306x706

Gorgeous, and very period-appropriate, color combination.

MV5BMTM5MjQxMDE3Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTg2MzU0MDE@._V1_SX640_SY720_

Dressed up for a formal party. THAT HAT.

tumblr_mwiygkkGLq1rwahceo1_500

Lovely drapey jacket.

This dress was amazing — all black, except for the striped sleeves which came down along the sides.

The fold-over neckline!

b31cede07398020c4f72cb8bfb6aa2a5

I NEED THIS. NOW.

Then you’ve got lead singer Jessie and shy backup singer Carla. Both go from humble beginnings to G.L.A.M. … and I was particularly impressed at how well they dressed the gorgeous Wunmi Mosaku, who played Carla. I have never really thought 1930s worked on a curvy figure like my own, but now, HOT DAMN. I want EVERY one of her dresses!

Jessie (left) and Carla, starting off simple.

Jessie (left) and Carla, starting off simple.

At one of their early performances. That blue is so great, and I love Jessie's asymmetrical neckline.

At one of their early performances. That blue is so great, and I love Jessie’s asymmetrical neckline.

angel-coulby-dancing-on-the-edge-promo-pics-arthur-and-gwen-865705524

When things take off for the band, Jessie starts going full Jean Harlow herself.

1019EDGE-master675

Glamming it up on stage.

Angel-Coulby-Dancing-on-The-Edge

Both of these dresses are amazing.

But I NEED Carla's green/gold dress like I need oxygen.

But I NEED Carla’s green/gold dress like I need oxygen.

MV5BMTg5NTEzMDAzMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjM1NDM2MDE@._V1_SX640_SY720_

Carla’s dark pink velvet dress was so great on her.

Down the social spectrum, Jenna Coleman (of Doctor Who) played Stanley’s coworker at his music magazine. She was in practical but pretty office wear:

tumblr_mtm6kuDy221s8ajnco1_500

Magazine writer Rosie, at work.

tumblr_mttpc59bWj1qzzh7so1_500

Another everyday look for Rosie.

Then even further down the scale, there was Deirdre, who runs the hole-in-the-wall club that the band first plays at. I was super impressed to see an apple-figured woman looking DAMN GOOD in 1930s wear — again, massive congratulations to the designer and her team. This is not an easy feat.

Dierdre (Caroline Quention) rocking the 1930s.

Dierdre (Caroline Quention) rocking the 1930s.

All I can say is, if you haven’t seen Dancing on the Edge, go. Watch it. It’s on Netflix, it’s probably elsewhere, and you WON’T regret it. I’m going back to stalking 1930s patterns on eBay, kthanxbi.

Have you seen Dancing on the Edge? If not, go watch it and then report back!

Tags

About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

8 Responses

  1. Michael L. McQuown

    Definitely on my list. Wasn’t is Garbo who pioneered pants for women? For patterns, check out Folkwear Patterns and Past Patterns. Love the music from the 20’s to the 40’s; not so much after that.

    Reply
  2. Al

    Having just come off of the most stressful three months of my theatrical career that quote about John Goodman’s costumes make me want to go lay down with a blanket over my head.
    Now, excuse me while I go drape myself something with that AWESOME fold-over neckline…

    Reply
  3. ladylavinia1932

    I wasn’t that impressed by this production. It looked great, but the plot seemed to be all over the place. And I found it pretentious.

    Reply
  4. Fran in NYC

    It is now in the middle of a showing on PBS, at least in NY. They are showing it just before Masterpiece, on Sundays.

    Reply
  5. The Author

    You missed my favorite–Pamela’s black blouse (?-may have been part of a dress, it rarely got shown full-length) with the ladder cutouts. I will fight someone for that, and I fight dirty so I will win.

    Reply
  6. Kathleen Norvell

    I have to agree that there’s nothing sexier than a hot guy in evening clothes.

    None of the clothes in this production set off my “squirrel alerts” — they all looked right and appropriate for the occasion. One of the best costume dramas in terms of actual costumes that I’ve seen in a while.

    Oh, and the music wasn’t bad, either.

    Reply

Feel the love