Just How Fashionable Are Poldark’s Ladies? Part 3: The Middling Sorts

15

It’s time for our last installment of our detailed analysis of Poldark 2015’s costumes! Previously we discussed the upper-class ladies, then the older generation. Today, we’re going to focus on the middling sorts — Demelza, Keren, and Margaret. What are they wearing? Does it work cinematically? How historically accurate are they?

Now, before you go getting stressed out, YES I know that Demelza ends up light years above Keren and Margaret in terms of class. She’s just barely downhill from Elizabeth, in fact. However, I wanted to leave her til last so as to avoid any spoilers in terms of her story, and given that she’s not quite as upper-class as Elizabeth, it made sense to include her here. Also, as you’ll see below, she tends to straddle the line, costume-wise, between the gentry and the working-class women.

If you’re interested in hairstyles, don’t forget to check out the two posts I’ve done on those!

All three of today’s ladies start off somewhere on the lower end of the class spectrum, and two out of three climb up nearly as high as the upper-class ladies. We looked in-depth at upper-class fashion previously, but let’s now add to that with some analysis of the middle classes. Below is a compilation of images showing lower-middle to middle-class ladies. It’s not comprehensive, but it at least gives us a reference point for what a real woman would have worn in the 1780s.

middle class

Poldark‘s Everyday Dress

Demelza starts off as a ragamuffin, then becomes Ross’s servant, and then Ross’s wife. It takes her some time to be comfortable with just being clean, and even after she’s lady of Nampara, she still prefers to keep it simple in plain dresses and jackets in earth tones.

Keren, on the other hand, starts off as an actress, then marries a copper miner. She’s very much on the low end of respectable.

However, note how alike the two women dress — both in simple jackets much of the time. In fact, Keren is the fancier of the two, with her cotton-print skirt! Indian prints like these were very fashionable, and such a fabric could have been imported from India or made in Europe.

I particularly like Demelza’s green jacket, as it seems to presage the styles coming in the 1790s — although I’ve never seen anything like that across-the-back lacing.

jackets

Demelza also has a range of what appear to be round gowns (the simpler of the dress options in the 1780s). She has at least two each in mustard and dark mauve. I could only find a back shot of one of these, and it shows the center-back-without-waist-seam style, a slightly more traditional/less cutting-edge style. She almost always is wearing long-sleeved shifts (aka chemises), which extend past her dress sleeves, and her shift neckline pulled up past her dress neckline. Both make her look very practical.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 10/03/2015 - Programme Name: Poldark - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 3) - Picture Shows:  Ross Poldark (AIDEN TURNER), Demelza ((ELEANOR TOMLINSON) - (C) Mammoth Screen - Photographer: Robert ViglaskyWARNING: Embargoed for publication until 10/03/2015 - Programme Name: Poldark - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 3) - Picture Shows:  Ross Poldark (AIDEN TURNER), Demelza ((ELEANOR TOMLINSON) - (C) Mammoth Screen - Photographer: Robert Viglasky

On the tarty side of things, here’s what Keren looks like when we first meet her. I would say that this is a theater costume, except it’s not what she’s wearing when she’s actually on stage. I like that you can tell that it’s an OLD dress, and the silk is starting to split and tear.

pol105_0255

Getting even tartier, here’s Margaret in the first few episodes. Dark, wine red seems to be her color. She’s got a very faded cotton-print dress with a bit of dark red trim along the center front and neckline (and matching petticoat), with a teeny frill at the elbow. Then later, she’s shown in an untrimmed, dark red, silk taffeta gown.

gowns front

It’s interesting that, minus Demelza’s green, all three ladies seem to be in coordinating colors — mustard yellow and various shades of dark red.

Poldark‘s Elegant Dresses for the Middling Class

Thankfully for the snooze-factor, both Demelza and Margaret climb UP UP UP the social ladder. That being said…

Demelza literally starts off so raggy that we think she’s a boy. As her station improves she’s dressed serviceably in the plain gowns and jackets seen above. Then, finally, it’s Christmas, and she’s off to visit the fancy branch of the Poldark family. She’s nervous. There’s build up. Then the big reveal…

… and she’s wearing a slightly nicer dress that’s perhaps better fitted and from a slightly nicer, embroidered fabric. Woot?

Let-down-gif

But luckily, there’s a BALL to dress up for, right? True to form, Demelza sticks with the mustard yellow (a color she looks great in, by the way), classing it up in silk satin. Silk satin is a very tricky fabric to fit well, and unfortunately the fit on the bodice isn’t quite up to snuff. On the other hand, it’s a pretty dress, and it’s probably Demelza’s nicest fabric! Let us note, however, that she’s in a very historically-inaccurate back-lacing dress.

party-gown1 bored039

I did like her necklace!

I feel a little bit bad, because apparently the costume maker for these dresses sweated over the small stuff, like hand-bound eyelets:

The designer was very adamant that all the finishings and edging, eyelets for things that were laced up and piped bits around the necklines, anything you might see on close-ups, was done by hand. That meant an awful lot of hand-stitching, which was very time consuming, but the attention to detail and authenticity was quite paramount. I made beautiful Poldark dresses in my Wirral spare room

THANKFULLY, we’ve got Margaret sweet-talking and shagging her way up the social spectrum. I’m telling you, EIGHT episodes (hey, I just realized that the US version only has 7! Clearly there has been editing going on, and the Americans are getting ripped off!). Anyway, EIGHT SEVEN episodes and there wasn’t ONE outfit that got me excited until the Festivus Miracle that was Margaret’s silver outfit in episode 8 7.

PEOPLE, I ACTUALLY HIT PAUSE AND REWIND AND THEN SLO-MO’ED IT SO I COULD SEE THIS. IT’S SHINY. IT’S STRIPEY. IT’S GOT MULTIPLE COLLARS. THE POWDERED HAIR. THAT HAT.

(Oh, and earlier Margaret wore another dark red dress, this one with lots of trim, showing her ascent up the corporate class ladder. Whatever. LOOK AT THE SILVER OUTFIT).

margaret fancy 375

Okay, focus, Kendra. Sorry. That red dress is notable for all of its trim on the stomacher, PLUS the ruffled organza around the neckline PLUS elbow ruffles. The collars on that silver dress make it a redingote, which doesn’t just have to be the practical versions we’ve seen on Elizabeth — they may have started as a menswear-inspired style, but they definitely got shiny and impractical really quickly.

Poldark‘s Underwear

There’s only one time in this entire series when we see any woman in her stays (aka corset) — that’s Demelza, when she’s dressing for Christmas. She seems to be wearing the classic cone-shape stays appropriate to the 18th century, although it seems kind of cheesy that they went for the stereotypical “Scarlett O’Hara having her corset over-tightened while hanging on to the bed post” thing. For one, 18th-century stays were much more about giving you the right shape, not about trying to suck you in 10″. For another, Demelza really doesn’t have much padding — you’re not going to be ABLE to make her much smaller.

stays

Poldark‘s Middling-Class Outerwear

One of Demelza’s first big purchases (well, Ross buys it for her), and first garment to really make her even slightly respectable, is her cloak. Ross trots her off to town and buys her this printed cotton cloak with a hood and wide ruched trim:

cloak

What’s great is that this cloak is a dead ringer for surviving 18th-century cloaks worn in Provence:

lacma cloak

France, Provence Woman’s Hooded Cape, 1785-1820. LACMA.

The problem? IT’S MADE OF COTTON. Yeah. Ever been to Provence? It doesn’t get that cold there. Cornwall is known for being a warmer area of England, but it’s not the south of France. What would have been a better choice? Oh I don’t know, maybe something in WOOL?

SC36718

Woman’s hooded cloak, last quarter of the 18th century, Boston MFA.

As the story progresses, Demelza upgrades to some slightly more practical outerwear-type jackets. At first, I thought these were the same garment, as they’re all in the same boring neutral color. But then I realized one had a hood, and the other looks like it’s from a quilted fabric. Both call to mind the polonaise/Brunswick jacket that Verity wears.

jackets2

Poldark‘s Headwear for the Middling Class

Demelza REALLY doesn’t get much in the way of headwear, being the lead and all. There’s only ONE time she wears a hat, while at the traveling theater performance. It’s a flat, bergere (shepherdess) style that was popular in the middle of the century. She plops it right on top of her head, in a very country-bumpkin way.

Thankfully, we can look again at Margaret’s one and only hat, which she wears with the silver redingote discussed above. It’s GORGEOUS. It’s clearly made of sheer fabric on a wire frame, which was very popular in the 1780s.

accessories2

Margaret’s hat reminds me a lot of this portrait from 1785:

The Vicomtesse de Vaudreuil; Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, French, 1755 - 1842; 1785; Oil on panel; Unframed: 83.2 x 64.8 cm (32 3/4 x 25 1/2 in.), Framed: 108.3 x 89.9 x 7.6 cm (42 5/8 x 35 3/8 x 3 in.); 85.PB.443

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, The Vicomtesse de Vaudreuil, 1785. The Getty Museum.

Let’s enjoy it one last time, shall we? Apparently there’s an heiress coming in season 2, and I just pray that she gets a wardrobe along these lines. Because otherwise I’m going to be watching with half-open eyes.

powder

What did you think of Demelza, Keren, and Margaret’s costumes? What are you hoping for in season 2 of Poldark?

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.

15 Responses

  1. Fanny/iz4blue

    Thanks love your analysis and careful screen capping dress & hair! You probably have figured out by now that PBS aired ep 7 & 8 back to back (like they often do) of which 8 was the only left untrimmed to fit the timeslot. iTunes and DVD has the complete original UK broadcast.

    Reply
  2. Christine Redding

    I would love to have your reactions to the costuming of the original POLDARK with Robin Ellis, Angharad Rees, et all. I don’t know the period or the local styles portrayed, but I suspect they are… suspect.

    The 1975 version with its two seasons had some masterful casting that makes me forgive Demelza’s odd garments: Paul Curran as Jud is one of my favorite characters of POLDARK, book and first production. Much as I have liked Phil Davis in some other things (BLEAK HOUSE comes to mind) he is not owning Jud the way Curran did.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      I’m the only one of the Frock Flicks team who (is old enough to have) watched the original Poldark. Much like this reboot, there are some very historically accurate costumes & wigs, & some very, um, romanticized ones! Yes, it would be great if we could get around to do more comparison.

      Reply
      • Christine Redding

        I have been re-watching it, courtesy of Amazon which offers it an episode or season at a time. I have to recommend reading the books, too: I didn’t get into the show way back when until I began reading the books. Winston Graham writes with such a dry wit, he reminds me of Jane Austen.

        Reply
        • Bonny

          The books are wonderful! I had never heard of the books (but have noticed Poldark in catalogs) so was surprised at how good they are! Love at first read!

          Reply
  3. India

    I really hated the way Demelza’s gold ball dress looked because they didn’t give her proper underpinnings. Where was her corset? Why was the bodice WRINKLED? I decided everyone was staring at her wondering why she was in such a badly-fitted dress. Arrrrggh! Especially arrrrggh because that was a bombshell of a color on a redhead. Gorgeous, except for the totally appalling fit.

    Reply
    • Kendra

      I also was thinking maybe they over-tightened her corset at the waist? B/c that’s where the fitting issue is.

      Reply
  4. Becca

    Seeing Demelza’s stays reminded me that I have a question for you, Frock Flicks team, related to the Poldark books. This quote from “Ross Poldark” regarding underthings gave me pause: “[Demelza] had heard it whispered that many good-class town women wore white stockings and no drawers. What with hooped skirts it was disgusting and they deserved to catch their death.” As far as I understand, when drawers were gradually introduced to women’s fashion, it would have been upperclass women who adopted them first, not working-class women like Demelza. Also as far as “hooped skirts”, panniers were largely out by the 1780s, right? Is Winston Graham confused here or I am I?

    Reply
    • Kendra

      You’re very right, Becca! There’s a lot of debate as to when exactly drawers came in to general use — for certain, by about the 1830s/40s, but how much earlier is questionable. I can’t say for certain which class would be likely to adopt them first, but I can imagine that they might have seemed superfluous to lower class ladies until they were really ubiquitous. In terms of hoops, they’d still be worn sometimes for more formal events, but they were definitely on their way out. So yeah, I think Graham is confused. :)

      Reply
  5. Sara G.

    Demelza also wears a hat when she goes to visit Captain Blamey to discover if he’s still in love with Verity.

    Reply
  6. Marianne C

    The fit of the ballgown bodice may be deliberate. In the book as well as the TV drama, the gown is a surprise, and was made from measurements, but Demelza never had a fitting. When the dress was delivered, Ross was still in no mood to attend the ball, so she never had TIME for a fitting.

    Reply
  7. V

    Just hoping someone as old as me noted that the original Margaret (1970s) was played by Trudie Styler (Mrs. Sting)

    Reply

Feel the love

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.