What the Frock Wednesday – Harlots Edition


I’ve already written about how much I like the costumes in Harlots (2017)but there’s this one costume that sticks out and has me scratching my head.

From the back, it’s actually a pretty cute frock. I really like the use of the frayed shot silk and the scalloped pinked edges on what looks like a caraco jacket. But look at the front:

It’s got a fan-pleated front which, aside from not being an 18th-century thing, doesn’t work with a straight-front pair of 18th-century stays. This was a style that was first seen in the mid-19th-century, as a way of shaping the bodice over an hour-glass silhouette so the fullness at the top would contour with the curve of the bust, and the fullness at the waist is controlled by smocking or pleating. It’s a nice work-around for darts or seams, but it simply was not designed for the conical shape popular in the 18th-century.

Here’s a few extant examples, all dating from 1840-1850:

Leaf printed cotton dress, 1845-1850. Via Augusta Auctions.

Afternoon Dress, 1849. Via The Museum at FIT.

Silk day dress, 1845. Via Augusta Auctions.

You can even see what I mean about how it’s meant to fit over a curvy silhouette in the photo, where there’s this weird poochiness right where Jessica Brown Findlay’s breasts would naturally sit. However, in the flat-fronted pair of stays she’s wearing, her breasts are flattened and pushed up, making this design completely inappropriate.

I’ve searched around on Recycled Movie Costumes and haven’t turned up another film that this outfit was worn in, nor can I confirm that this wasn’t a remake of an existing 1840s gown, even though it looks like it could possibly be remade from this dress (the photos aren’t high enough quality to say for sure, but it looks like the bodice buttons up the center front and the color is pretty similar). And if it was remade from a 19th-century costume… why?

It’s a pretty dress, but the whole pleated front thing just has me baffled. Why do it? Beyond the fact that it looks weird and fits weird, it was a style that was 80-90 years in the future. It would be like if Mary, Queen of Scots was depicted wearing modern coutu– er, never mind. Y’all get what I’m saying, so I’ll just leave it at that.


Does this dress make you go “What the Frock?” too? Are there others in Harlots you wonder about?

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine


Sarah discovered her dual passion for history and costume right around the age of twelve. Dragged kicking and screaming to her first Renaissance Faire at Black Point, she was convinced she was going to hate it, but to her surprise, she fell head over heels in love with the world of reenactment and dress up immediately. Her undergraduate degree is in Clothing & Textile Design, and she has a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture. When she’s not hauling crap to SCA events and ren faires, Sarah enjoys reading true crime books, writing fiction, and sewing historical clothing from the Middle Ages through the 20th-century. One of these days, she might even start updating her old costuming blog again.

11 Responses

    • Sarah Lorraine

      I actually think the fit is really good everywhere BUT the weird-ass pleated front. That’s what threw me so hard — everything looks great about the dress, but that fan-pleated bodice is wrong for the period AND makes the dress fit weird in the front.

  1. Susan Pola

    Besides being seventy some odd years in the future, the dress is pretty – for a Victorian. I like the iridescent (shot) silk and back view with the ribbon looking like it was pinked and then scalloped.
    What I wonder is when will Harlots and The Collection make it to DVD? Or PBS so I can watch both.

  2. picasso Manu

    This looks very weird.
    A pity, since the back is very pretty, as you said.
    And is it me or that corset is below breasts, the boobs smooched in by unyielding taffetas? I can’t seems to make sense of what’s going on here.

  3. ladyaquanine73551

    I personally hate peach or skin-colored fabric paired with bright colors like aqua green, red, or coral. It looks horrible, like someone forgot to color in that part of the picture and sort of left the wearer semi-naked. The buttons in front look ugly too, and just enhance the terrible choice of pleating the front of the bodice. It’s like she let out her seams when pregnant and then did a hasty job of putting the waistline back in after the baby was born and she got her slender stomach back. And you’re right, it’s really NOT 18th century style at all. Whoever designed this dress should be hung with it.

  4. MoHub

    Did anyone else look at the front of this dress and think crumbcatcher neckline set a little too low? Maybe I’ve been watching too much Say Yes to the Dress.

  5. Black Tulip

    Yay! I saw the first image, and immediately thought, “What is a Victorian bodice doing in an 18th century drama?” Then I read the text. Clearly all of those hours spent reading Flock Flicks posts have had an effect – it’s a valuable educational service you’re providing!


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