Iconic Frock Flicks of the 1990s, Part 1

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This is an occasional series highlighting historical movie and TV costumes that best represent the decade they were produced in. They may or may not be the most historically accurate, but we think these costumes stand out as icons of when they were made. Comment with your faves, and watch the blog for the next decade we review!

One of the things I’ve discovered in the process of doing this post is that there were A LOT of historical films and TV shows produced in the 1990s. The list kept growing and growing, until I was forced to split them up into not one, not two, not three… But FOUR posts. And this is cutting out almost all foreign films, Westerns (meh), and the occasional 1940-1960 reproduction that I usually find incredibly dull when it comes to clothing. Of course, I kept films that were major blockbusters, because if I didn’t, I’d never hear the end of it from you all (“I can’t believe you forgot Evita! HOW COULD YOU???”), but the anglosphere was putting out such a huge volume of content during the ’90s, I had to draw the line somewhere.

That said, I’m interested to see how the subsequent two decades fare in comparison with the sheer volume of historical costume flicks. Guess we’ll find out in a month or two when I’m finished with this decade and ready to move on to the 2000s and 2010s!

 

Back to the Future III (1990)

Well, it was definitely historically accurate … for the 1950s.

Mary Steenburgen mostly irritated me as Clara Clayton, Doc’s love interest, but that mauve bustle gown was fabulous.

Clara got the best costumes in the film.

 

Dances with Wolves (1990)

In retrospect, there’s a lot of problems with the wildly successful Dances with Wolves, but generally, the film tried in earnest to represent historical accuracy in the Sioux clothing and culture. Most sources from the era are in agreement that while there were issues, overall the attention paid to making sure the costumes and sets looked right is commendable.

Sioux historian Cathy Smith is generally credited with maintaining a high level of historical accuracy in the costumes, even making a number of them herself using techniques employed by 19th-century Plains Indians.

Dances With Wolves (1990)

And then there’s this guy, with his historical mullet

 

House of Eliott (1991-1994)

You want amazing 1920s costumes? Look no further than the BBC’s House of Eliott.

The House of Eliott (1991–1994)

 

Zeffirelli’s Hamlet (1990)

I’m ashamed to admit that I had no idea that Zeffirelli directed this film until I rewatched it for the blog a few years back. Mel Gibson was just such a mega star at the time that I always assumed it was he was the driving force behind the film, not the legendary Italian director. The costumes were designed by Maurizio Millenotti, who was the creative force behind many other amazing costume flicks during this era.

 

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1991)

Confession: I can quote this entire movie frontwards and backwards (hi, child of the period checking in). And even though it’s supremely silly and over the top in its portrayal of figures of historical significance, it delivers the cinematic equivalent of Cliff’s Notes for any high school world history course.

Joan of Arc (Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure)

Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Go’s played Joan of Arc.

Terry Camilleri in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)

I still can’t see anyone but Terry Camilleri as Napoleon

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure

The original “Mediaeval Baebes.”

 

Dead Again (1991)

One of my favorite films, it’s gorgeous and moody and sinister, and stars Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson who are just SO gorgeous and sexy in this film.
Kenneth Branagh in "Dead Again" (1991)

 

Hook (1991)

I’ll admit, I debated a bit on whether to include this as a “historical” film, since it is patently fantasy. That said, I also have to concede that Dustin Hoffman’s Captain Hook is fabulous beyond measure. The film seems to place him and the rest of the pirates and wenches in the late 17th century.

 

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

I really wish the entire film could have been about Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham. It would have saved a lot of time spent butchering English accents…

Alan Rickman historical costume movies

Somebody fetch me a spoon … So I can eat this delicious man up.

 

1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992)

I have to cop to the fact that I have never actually seen this movie. However, Kendra has and covered it for a blog post a while back. I will say, the costumes generally look pretty good. Weird 15th-century Spanish clothing, notwithstanding.

1492: CONQUEST OF PARADISE (1992) 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992) 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992)

 

A League of Their Own (1992)

The smash-hit about an all-women’s baseball team during World War Two, this film stars basically everybody who was anybody in the ’90s. Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Rosie O’Donnell, Tom Hanks, freaking Madonna … It also gave us the gem of a quote, “There’s no crying in baseball!”

 

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Pop Quiz!

Who is hotter than Gary Oldman as a thousand-year-old vampire?

Mina Harker in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) Winona Ryder, Bram Stoker's Dracula Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

 

Howards End (1992)

This film pretty much encapsulates everything I think of when I think “historical flick from the 1990s.” Emma Thompson? Check. Anthony Hopkins? Check. Helena Bonham Carter? Check. Tortured love story? Check. Based on an E.M. Forster novel? Check. Fabulous costumes? Check.

Yep. Pretty much.Howards End (1992)

howards end 1992 movie Howards End (1992)

 

Last of the Mohicans (1992)

A film largely known for Daniel Day-Lewis looking like he stepped off the cover of a supermarket paperback romance novel, turns out there actually is some costume content.

The Last of the Mohicans (1992) The Last of the Mohicans (1992) The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

 

The Piano (1992)

Holly Hunter as a mute woman is basically shipped halfway around the world, along with her daughter and her beloved piano, to marry a complete stranger in BFE New Zealand. The film was a huge critical success, earning three Oscars for Hunter, Anna Paquin (who played Ada’s daughter), and Best Original Screenplay. It was beat out by Age of Innocence for Best Costume, which, honestly, I’m not all that sad about. The Piano (1993)

Costumer Designers Who Haven't Won an Oscar

 

Orlando (1992)

No other film packs quite as many eras into one movie, let alone pull them off. I did a very thorough overview of the costumes in this film, so if you want to read more, see Part 1: 1600-1650, Part 2: 1650-1700, Part 3: 18th-century, and Part 4: Victorian for all the nitty gritty.

 

What’s your favorite iconic historical movie costume of the 1990s? What do you expect to see in parts two, three, and four of this series?

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Website

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.

13 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    Gotta go with my favourites from the period in no particular order: Orlando, Howard’s End & Age of Innocence.
    My favourite movie rock group is Wild Stallion. Like, Duh.

    Reply
  2. Dawn

    Loved Dead Again!

    Funny note–when A League of Their Own came out, a small store near me put out a sign: “Madonna shopped here; you should too.” (Well, words to that effect; it’s been a long time) Apparently her costumers went to Horsefeathers in Waukegan, IL, and found some good stuff. I’ve bought stuff there, although not clothing–they went through a lot of changes in the years I lived in Waukegan, from vintage clothes to New Age to…well, I lost track. But they’re apparently still there.

    Reply
    • SarahV

      What really sticks with me about that movie was the wonderful score! It is by turns haunting and lush, evocative of love and passion, and thrilling and exciting. The chase up the mountain after Cora and Alice and their captors is one of the finest bits of musical composition I can think of.

      Plus, peak DDL Hotness.

      Reply
  3. Lee Jones

    Who is hotter than Gary Oldman as a thousand-year-old vampire?

    Hmmmm . . . James Marsters as a 120 year-old vampire?

    A film largely known for Daniel Day-Lewis looking like he stepped off the cover of a supermarket paperback romance novel

    I believe “The Last of the Mohicans” is also known for more than that.

    Reply
    • Jenny

      Who is hotter than Gary Oldman as a thousand-year-old vampire?

      My answer would be: any other human who has played a thousand-year-old vampire.

      Reply
  4. SarahV

    The House of Elliot!!!!! I forgot all about that! What a wonderful show that was. Louise Lombard was luminous and beautiful I’m surprised she didn’t break out as a bigger star.

    Reply
  5. Jacqui Gauld

    Forget DDL in Last of the Mohicans – in my eyes, Eric Schweig who played Uncas was far hotter.

    Reply

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