Costume movies tend to screw up certain things on repeat. For the 18th century, it used to be that shiny, white wigs were the most egregious, followed by bust darts and/or princess seams. Luckily, most costume designers have moved on from these incorrect tropes, but they have been replaced with new trends of wrongness that make for very bad 18th century movie costumes. So now, we count down the top 8 Things Costume Movies Screw Up, 18th-Century Edition:
8. Back-Laced Dresses
This one is pretty well on the wane. You see it a lot in pre-1990s costume movies, but it still shows up on extras or in super cheap productions, and it bugs me, so I’m including it.
Pretty much all women’s clothing in the 18th century closed in front, with the exception of French-style court gowns and little girl’s dresses. Otherwise, front closure. If it’s a stomacher look, then it would close at the side fronts. If there’s no stomacher, it would close center front.
And, I get it! My first attempt at an 18th-century dress, made back in college, had a back-lacing closure. Because we’re so used to clothes closing in back. But you know, that’s really a 19th century and onwards thing! Before that, you frequently see front closures. And in the 18th century, almost ALWAYS front closures (only exceptions, again — court gowns and little girls’ dresses).
7. Modern Makeup on Women
Offensive in any era, but, look: the 18th-century makeup aesthetic was: pale face, darkened eyebrows, rouged cheeks, rouged lips. THERE WAS NO EYE MAKEUP.
They’re offensive in any pre-1870s set movie, but they DEFINITELY offend me and make for bad 18th century movie costumes.
5. Wide Straw Hats Tied Down With Ribbons
Okay, I’m not saying it was NEVER done, but hardly ever do you see a wide straw hat pressed down on the sides with ribbons. Yes, hats were sometimes tied on with ribbons, but they generally came from underneath. Also, this curved down on the sides hat shape IS correct… it’s just not done with ribbons.
4. Face-Eating Wigs
It’s an easy, theatrical way to avoid “obvious wigline” around the face — put some small tendril curls that fall forward onto the face and hide the hairline. The problem is, THEY DIDN’T DO IT IN THE 18TH CENTURY.
Men would have rocked the obvious wigline or worked their own hair into the front of their wig. Women would have added hairpieces to their own hair or worked their own hair into the front of their wig. And almost every women’s hairstyle was pulled back from the face, except in the 1790s when things got messy.
Not only is it the wrong look for the era, it means that suddenly the actress’s face gets eaten by all that hair!
3. Women’s Hair Worn Down
Again, offensive in any era, unless it’s worn by a 12 year old, but, come ON. If an 18th-century woman was going to roll out of bed, she would at the least put her hair up in a bun.
2. Red Hair
Okay, kids. I’m a redhead. I love red hair. I think it’s beautiful, and I think it’s my best look. And, when I do 18th-century costume, I frequently leave my hair red. But I’m not going to tell you that it’s period, because, IT’S NOT.
Here are some real historical redheads. What one thing do you see that connects them all?
THEY’RE ALL WEARING POWDER TO COVER THEIR HAIR COLOR.
Now, let us compare that with some on-screen redheads:
1. Men’s Layered Haircuts
Yes, men’s hairstyles frequently featured a shorter section in front. Initially, this shorter section went from the hairline back to the ears. Later, it extended to the crown of the head. However, there was ALWAYS long hair in back, from at least the crown of the head. 18th-century men’s hairstyles were NOT a modern, short, layered cut with a long pigtail randomly hanging. Nor was it a mullet.
Which of these bad 18th century movie costumes showing trends of wrongness irritate you the most? Did we miss any that make you want to stick a fork in your eye? Let us know in the comments!