I recently had an interaction via Facebook with a designer who was clearly a little bit miffed that I was pointing out something that was historically inaccurate (when I’d even said that it was pretty! Just not accurate!), and it got me thinking…
Yes, we know that designers are frequently constrained by directors, producers, budgets, actors, and much much more. And we know that historical accuracy isn’t always the filmmakers’ goal.
But our self-designated job here at Frock Flicks is primarily to discuss historical accuracy in costume (although we’re interested in other aspects as well). Our audience is comprised of people who love historical costume movies, and a large subset of those are people who know about costume history. And the Frock Flicks team is made up of writers who have an appreciation for all kinds of costume, but who are particularly versed in costume history.
So, when we point out inaccuracies, we’re just discussing the facts. I’m sorry if it hurts feelings, but it’s not a judgement call. There are probably 5 million people who love that design element, and we’re the 0.0001% who aren’t necessarily saying we don’t like it, we’re just saying that it’s not accurate to the period. That’s all. It’s a fact that gold lamé wasn’t invented in Cleopatra’s time. I’m not saying that to be mean or to be a spoilsport. I’m not going to lie and claim that Mary Queen of Scots totally dug the Coachella boho look, just because that’s how she’s been dressed in Reign.
Of course, there’s always lots of room for interpretation when it comes to history, and there’s lots that’s still unknown, and lots where we have to guess. But when it comes to what we know, if a movie or TV show chooses to go with something that’s inaccurate? That’s on you (the collective “you”). I didn’t dress Queen Elizabeth in neoprene. I’m just sitting here noting that scuba-diving material hadn’t yet been invented. It’s a statement of fact, ma’am.
Also, historically accurate isn’t necessarily ugly, or un-interesting, or not-serving-the-character-and-plot! There are many goals in costume design for media, and we do talk about and appreciate those. So, saying that something is “inaccurate” doesn’t mean we’re saying we don’t like it. Liking is an emotional response. Whether something is accurate is (within a range of interpretation) a fact.
Also — yes, we approach costume in movies/TV from a historical perspective, not a design perspective. None of us are professional costume designers in any way, shape, or form. We do make costumes, but for ourselves or other individuals who are wearing them for historical reenactment or fun. So we fully admit that there is a wide range of considerations and needs in terms of costuming a large cast, working with tight budgets, and dealing with producers/directors/actors/etc. who all have their own vision, all of which we are less familiar with. We hope to soon have a few interviews with some working costume designers who will help educate us and our audience more about this, and who we can ask our questions about history and accuracy and all that, and hopefully that will broaden the conversation.
But there’s nothing wrong, or mean, about evaluating something that purports to be historical on its historical basis. There are whole books written by historians about history in the media. Historical societies publish (serious research and also fun, lightweight) articles about history in the media. We’re not here to be big meanies out raining on anyone’s parade — we’re writing for an audience of people who love history, and clothes are one aspect of that.
So, I come back around to facts. There is a lot we don’t know about clothing in history, but for what we do know, we’re going to keep on talking about what’s
right accurate (“right” really implies value). We’re not doing it to be mean. We’re doing it because we’re interested.