How We Are Different From Other Movie/TV Reviews

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Apparently, it’s not obvious what we do here at Frock Flicks. Because invariably, people stumble across one of our articles and are outraged that we dare critique historical costumes in movies and TV. The offended can be viewers and fans who enjoy a particular piece of media — it’s just entertainment!, they cry (to which we’ve responded, we are aware). Or they can be movie/TV professionals, including costume designers and makers of all sorts, who tell us of all the constraints their under (to which we’ve responded, we understand). Yes, we’ve been warned, we’ve been given explanations, and yet, we persist!

Want to know why? Because of reviews like this one in Variety from May 4, 2017: ‘The White Princess’ Costumes, Production Design Capture Look of Historical Courts.  With gems like this:

“Costume designer Phoebe De Gaye echoes the need to depict the transitional period between medieval and Tudor England, adding, ‘The goal was to make it feel like it’s an authentic and coherent world.'”

The White Princess 2017

‘Authentic and coherent,’ sure!

And also:

“De Gaye studied paintings of the period, noting that portraits were hyperrealistic, giving her insight into the richness of fabrics and textures. ‘You really need a lot of texture with HD images; if you don’t have that, it all fades away on-screen,’ she says.”

The White Princess (2017)

Oh right, the textures!

And still:

“The court of Burgundy in France, which plays a big part in the politics of Henry’s England, has a very different look from Henry’s court. ‘Burgundy was a place of courtly love, a sensuous place,’ says De Gaye. So the men and women there wear brighter colors. Outdoor shots feature sunny gardens.'”

The White Princess (2017)

Of course, the gardens, that’s totally it.

This was a generic interview with the costume designer and the production designer of the TV series, and the reporter makes a lot of assumptions that ranged from simplistic to patently wrong. Could she have cracked open a Wikipedia page and skimmed a few historical portraits? Maybe. I’m guessing she just relied on Starz’ press kit because she was on a deadline. Hey, I’ve been there (especially when working on technical topics, I’m not too proud to admit it). So I’m not snarking the reporter specifically. Or even just The White Princess, because it’s happened with other shows, on this blog and on social media.

What I am saying is that there is a legitimate place in journalism for accuracy in reporting, and that includes reporters with some depth in the subject matter on which they are writing. I’ve worked in newsrooms throughout the course of my career, and typically reporters have beats — someone specializes in politics, someone else specializes in entertainment, another person specializes in sports. Obviously, historical costume is pretty fucking specialized, so I don’t expect many publications to have a writer who knows anything about it. But WE do.

Each of us has spent years studying and making historical costumes, including professional and academic work. We’re also trained researchers, in a mix of academic and journalistic disciplines. While we don’t know everything (who does?), we do know a hell of a lot more than the average random reporter when we compare what’s in a movie/TV show to the current research on what was worn in a certain period. Frock Flicks fills a big fat journalistic void, thankyouverymuch. And, as we’ve said before, sometimes we critique film costumes with a heaping helping of snark, because Bitchy Is Our Brand™.

So when fans of a movie or people who work on a TV show get huffy that we’re critiquing the costumes, please remember that this is our beat. We’re making up for all the weaksauce media reporting on historical costume out there. When the latest historical costume movie comes out and Generic Movie Critic is easily impressed by the “lush costumes,” sorry, they don’t know jack. They can’t tell a farthingale from a française, and they think all corsets look the same.

Really, if a sports reporter can geek out on shit like how one guy pitches within 2 minutes of every baseball game, then we can obsess about why women should be pinning their hair up in historical movies and TV shows. #SorryNotSorry

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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. When she’s not dressing up in costumes, she can be found traveling the world with her sweetie and, occasionally, Kendra and Sarah. Her costuming and travel adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also maintains a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

66 Responses

  1. Misty Smith

    its amazing that this post needs to be written, mainly because I read this websites for two reasons:
    1: to giggle at your sense of humour & marvel at your snark
    &
    2: to be educated on something that I think is so important, accurate costuming. Before this site, I watched an historical drama and went ‘nice’ at the costumes. Now I look at the costume and after the ‘nice’, go, ‘be nicer if it had x’ or ‘you can tell y is modern’.
    I never gave a thought to hair until this site!
    So, thank you for educating me on the bad, and the good of costumes x

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      Dude, it happens every time one of our posts goes viral. Some clueless person wanders in from some post linked in a friend’s FB, takes one look at what’s being said, and has an EPIC MELTDOWN because WE DON’T UNDERSTAND THAT THIS IS JUST ENTERTAINMENT.

      Whatever. We love getting a chance to link to our FAQ.

      Reply
      • janette

        A few years ago there was an excellent column in the Guardian reviewing films from a historical perspective.There was always at least one post complaining “but it’s just entertainment”. head, desk, bang. Some people really don’t want to be informed.

        Reply
    • MoHub

      I read and love you because you do what you do, and you do it well. Please don’t even consider changing anything!

      Reply
    • Melinda

      Agree with Misty Smith, and here I would add a 3. reason: To know more historical movies and series, than represented on TV and cinemas! Most of us would never hear about, for example A woman rebels, etc. But due to you, we do and we can watch these, too :) Thank you for being here, doing all the research and marking the accurate and inaccurate things! Keep on going!

      Reply
  2. SaucyMarla

    Standing Ovation!!!! Love you guys – will you be at the Pirate Festival next month?

    Reply
      • Michael Larsen

        Look forward to seeing you all. Here’s hoping we get to be neighbors again :). BTW, my daughters adore you all, and don’t be surprised if they both come by looking to pepper you with questions.

        Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      At Frock Flicks “dude”, “man”, and “guys” are all perfectly acceptable. Also, “bitch”. As in “Hey, bitches, WRITE SOME GODDAMN ARTICLES.” — Trystan L. Bass every day on Facebook.

      Reply
          • SaucyMarla

            OH my goddess! I’m CRYING right now with the effort to not literally LOL, because I’d probably SNORT. Which is a bit awkward, since my desk is right in front of HR! Now – back to it, bitches!!

            Reply
      • susan l eiffert

        Such a wonderful site, but can the bitchy grammarian in me also note it should be ‘they’re’, and not ‘their’ for consistent accuracy here?!

        XXXOOO

        Reply
  3. Charity

    I appreciate what you do. Not only do you vent similar frustrations to mine, I have learned a lot from your posts. I don’t mind when people see a ‘bad historical costume’ and find it PRETTY. SOME OF THEM ARE. (I’m looking at Anne Boleyn in Season 2 of The Tudors. I would kill for that short-sleeved crimson dress.) But please, people, do not call it accurate.

    You point out the inaccuracies. You are goddesses of historical fashion. The peons thank you/

    Reply
        • picasso Manu

          You are the three graces of Historical fashion! Daughters of… Hmm, lemme think…
          I think Clio, of course, the Muse of History… And probably Hades! Very Goth, and let’s be honest, is the Disney anime, he had the best lines!
          Snark to the death, baby!

          PS: I live near Dijon, were the Duke of Burgundy had his main palace. Garden does NOT look like that (since there isn’t one), and never looked like that (when there was one)
          They even got the plants wrong! LOL!

          Reply
  4. Ellie

    All I can say is thank you for doing this, and thank you for putting the complainers straight! I’ve learnt SO much from what you do here, and I’ve laughed SO hard. You’re incredible. <3

    Reply
  5. Broughps

    I’ll add another standing ovation. Like Misty I’ve learned a lot from you guys on what is good, bad and indifferent costuming.

    I also like it when industry people come on as explain why they made the choices they did and then actually listen to you guys when you point on simple things that they can change to be more accurate.

    Would love it if you guys did a post showing off some of the clothing/costumes you’ve made.

    Reply
      • SaucyMarla

        Me too! When I put it in my comment, I had to look at it twice, to make sure I wasn’t spelling it “ovulation”. LOLOL

        Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      And we do have articles where we specifically say “we know that the film/TV industry has constraints” — we get that. But we can still critique costume on the basis of accuracy. Bec. we’re not being unrealistic & saying use super-expensive fabrics & hand-sew everything & make it precisely like it would have been done in 1642 or whenever. Just don’t make it look so much like 2017, fer chrissakes :)

      Reply
      • Broughps

        I keep thinking of the back and forth between you guys and Terry Dresbach from Outlander. It was some really good dialogue about what is expected of costume designers and their desire to be as accurate as possible.

        Reply
  6. Mariana Rodrigues

    I came for the fashion history and but the snark got my heart!

    I understand that, I can find a historical costume beautiful and fun, even if wrong, but I prefer to know what it SHOULD be if done the right way. I’m constantly thinking about the rants you girls would make watching the historical soap operas here in Brazil.

    I learn sooo much with you girls, and always check the fashion history books and what you’re saying, for how right/wrong the movies are.

    Thanks for you service and don’t let the bitchness die!!

    Reply
  7. Brandy Loutherback

    Replace the Cigarette on Joan with a cocktail and you’d have it about right ladies! I enjoyed taking the piss out of Braveheart! I kind of hate watched it!

    Reply
  8. ladyaquanine73551

    I’d trust your knowledge of historical costume way more than those idiots in that interview. I’ve read many of your articles, and you three really know your stuff. Obviously, that reporter had never watched the show, nor, like you said, taken a look at 15th century English medieval clothing.

    That’s what bothers me the most about these crappy costume dramas, like “White Princess,” “Reign,” and “The Tudors.” Not everyone studies history, or fashion history, and the dumbest viewers (or just people who are ignorant of history) will look at that and say “Wow, they really dressed that way back then? Cool!” and have no idea they’re being visually hoodwinked by cheap-ass costumers that have severe Rectal Cranial Inversions going on.

    And you wonder why the mainstream media has lost their credibility in the past decade? They’ve got idiots on the payroll.

    Reply
  9. Kairi

    If costume designers own it and said ” I wanted to add a modern frivolity to the look” or ” it’s what the director wanted (shrug)” and just came clean about it, it would be fine, their design choices, just DON’T say it’s well researched, because panne velvet just isn’t historical for anything but the 1970’s or 90’s. 😒

    Reply
  10. woostersauce2014

    I stumbled upon this blog via “An Historian Goes to the Movies” and I’ve enjoyed reading your blog because while I’m an amateur historian, I don’t have any specialised knowledge when it comes to historical fashion and I find that I’m learning a lot from your blog.

    Having written a lot about “Downton Abbey”, what I’ve noticed is that the more they hype up the costumes, the quality of the narrative suffered and unsurprisingly they don’t get it right either 100%.

    Reply
  11. Susan Pola

    I agree wholeheartedly with all of the posts. I follow FrockFlicks bc
    1) I do know about about historical dress – obs not as much as you ladies do and it is painful to watch historical films/TV series with awful, hideous and inaccurate clothes. (White Queen, Braveheart and etc. I mean some of the Anne Boleyn clothes in the Tudors were gorgy, but accurate – nope. I gave them a B- (I’m a huge Natalie Dormer fan). Reign is fun…
    2) I love the SNARK.
    3) always willing to learn more about period Dress.
    4) And I’m really bothered about incorrect corsets, no Bobby Pins/Kirby Clips, and why isn’t her hair covered?

    Keep up the great fantastic job.

    Reply
  12. Alys Mackyntoich

    I love the snark and I’ve learned tons since I started reading the site. I have even repented of the sin of metal grommets thanks to you ladies! (except in the clothing made for me as gifts, in which case I smile, say thank you, and sew over the grommets later).

    Reply
  13. Peacoclaur

    Speaking of accuracy and coherence – in that picture of “Margaret of York” I get the feeling that palms were not known in 15th century Burgundy.

    Reply
  14. Jay

    LOVE the snark! Keep it coming! Really, I love you guys. My significant other has run out of eye rolls watching me try to guess by the hair and make-up when historically set movies were actually made. Like the beehives in Dr. Zhivago or the 80s poodle perms on all the ladies regardless of the actual era in which the movie is set. I love that you guys get it, and I’ve been learning so much!!

    Reply
  15. Kate

    Women can also geek out over the two minutes in a baseball game – while enjoying your snark and deep knowledge of historical style and costuming.

    (I’m a sportswriter who also has a deep and abiding passion for textile, so that caught my eye.)

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      It wasn’t intended as a gendered point — just that sports reporting (& other topics) can be super specific & arcane, & nobody has a problem with that. But when reporting on fashion history gets super specific & arcane, ppl say “whoa, there, it’s just entertainment, don’t take it so seriously!”

      Oh wait, maybe there is a gendered element … fashion, textiles, & costume are seen as a female domain, at least today. So paying attention to it is trivial & unimportant bec. whatever women talk about is obviously not serious. If it were sports, then maybe it’d be taken seriously. UGH.

      Reply
      • Daniel Milford-Cottam

        And always have been. I mean, when you look at the history of fashion history, it took James Laver, art historian and all-round sweetheart by all reports, to make “The Study of Costume Respectable,” and he was never a fashion curator, he was focused on paintings, drawings and prints and how to date them accurately by reference to clothing.

        I mean, isn’t it nice that a nice man came along and said “hey, maybe we should, you know, actually LOOK at the frocks, otherwise we won’t be able to date our paintings,”

        One of my favourite people (she’d have been 101 this year, may she rest in peace) was a redoubtable curator of costume for the National Trust during the 1970s-1990s and apparently the male powers that be referred to her as “X and her old clothes.”

        So yes. Still a long way to go before the study of fashion and dress can be genuinely considered to be as valid as other fields of art and design.

        Reply
  16. Liesl

    I adore this site because you go the extra step beyond “Why did you make her wear that, you evil fashion Nazi?” (Come back, Television Without Pity!) to “How This Could Have Been Okay with a Match and Some Actual Silk.” Fruitful snark is so much more satisfying. Please keep doing more responsible reporting than the “Velvet and Fur? Seems Legit.” crowd.

    Reply
  17. bethwade1

    There’s always gonna be haters. But personally, this website is more educational for me than 99% of the rest of what I read online. As a fan of history and costuming, I’d rather have some entertaining snark (and good screencaps). I wholeheartedly enjoy and support what you gals do!

    Reply
  18. Saraquill

    This posts reminds me of an exchange I had years ago about a historical movie.

    Me: X movie sucked. There’s a laundry list of inaccuracies.

    Jerk: Who cares?

    Me: ATOMIC F BOMB.

    Reply
  19. Sarah F

    I can already tell that the comparison to the specialized knowledge of sportsball (and the intense investment of its fans) is going to come in VERY handy the next time someone asks me “Why do you even care?”

    Reply
  20. Kathleen Norvell

    I have always said that if it just as easy to do it right as to do it wrong. Probably cheaper too. Thank you for this service.

    Reply
  21. lenabbooks

    I love it! This is a perfect way of putting it. When you said, ““ When the latest historical costume movie comes out and Generic Movie Critic is easily impressed by the  ‘lush costumes,’ sorry, they don’t know jack. They can’t tell a farthingale from a française, and they think all corsets look the same.” I started laughing out loud! That quote is amazing!

    Reply

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