SNARK WEEK: 9 Things Movies Get Wrong in 16th-Century Costume

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If you’re a historical costume purist and you attend a renaissance faire or Society for Creative Anachronism event and wonder WTFrock are some of these people wearing, well, you might as well blame Hollywood. Because a lot of people get their idea of 16th-century costume straight from the screen — and movies and TV sure as hell know how to get the Elizabethan era wrongity-wrong. Here are our top nine elements that make for bad 16th-century movie costumes.

 

1. French Hoods and Loose Hair

The biggest offender of them all is The Other Boleyn Girl, but this is a phenomenon that predates the 2008 movie by several decades.

There’s Anne of the Thousand Days (1969):

Anne of the Thousand Days, French Hood

To be fair, Genevieve Bujold has hair to die for in this film.

 

Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970):

Dorothy Tutin as Anne Boleyn. Look, it's called a "French Hood" for a reason. Where's the hood??

Dorothy Tutin as Anne Boleyn. Y’know, it’s called a “French Hood” for a reason. Where’s the hood??

 

The Other Boleyn Girl (2008):

Extra points for wearing the French Hood as a headband!

Extra points for wearing the French Hood as a headband!

 

2. Codpiece Optional

Look, we all acknowledge that the codpiece is goofy as hell, but 16th-century menswear looks weirder without it.

There’s The Tudors, which seems to leave codpieces off of every costume worn by the actor portraying a man who arguably made the codpiece famous:

The wide stance is supposed to distract you from his lack of codpiece.

All I can think of here is “Wide Stance.”

 

Shakespeare in Love (1999) omits codpieces for every man except to make a weird visual statement by including one on Colin Firth’s character, Lord Wessex. All the other men don’t appear to have them:

Shakespeare in Love (1999)

Nothing to see here…

 

3. Floating Ruff

Hey, people who design costumes for movies, a ruff is not a necklace. I repeat, a ruff is not a necklace. Just fucking leave it off if you’re not going to attach it to anything! I’m looking at you The Tudors:

The Tudors

Is it a necklace of Kleenex?

Pretty sure I have seen this on Etsy...

Pretty sure I have seen this vintage collar on Etsy…

 

And in the first half of Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot (2004), we are treated to not only a floating ruff, but one that is pretty clearly made from the sort of lace you’d get on sale at Jo-Ann’s:

Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot (2004)

Nothing says “period drama” like the hint of some girl-on-girl action.

 

It pains me to point out that Elizabeth I (2005), starring my forever #1 actress crush of all time, Helen Mirren, even features a floating ruff:

Proof that no film is immune from the floating ruff...

Proof that no film is immune to the floating ruff…

 

4. Renaissance Haute Couture

It seems like every 16th-century movie that’s been made in the last 15 years has had a director go on the record decreeing their intention to shake history up a bit by combining modern “sexy” aesthetics into the costuming. It’s gotten to the point that we’ve pointed this out in our podcast at least three different times. Let’s just be honest… It’s no longer “shocking” or “edgy” when everyone is doing it.

Reign is the newest offender in this category, since the entire show is predicated on the idea that 16th-century clothing is lame and in order to be relevant to the hearts and minds of young women today, the actresses in the show have to wear some kind of weird combination of haute couture and quinceañera dresses. In fact, there’s an entire section of the popular website Shop Your TV dedicated to sourcing the clothing from Reign (be prepared to have serious sticker shock). On the one hand, it’s fun to imagine how historical figures would have dressed if they lived in this day and age and had access to Alexander McQueen and Balenciaga. On the other hand… At some point you have to ask why the hell this was even put forward as a “historical” show, since the vast majority of the script bears no real resemblance to history and everyone is wearing modern clothing. Oh, and MARY WAS A RED HEAD.

On a side note, I was chatting with a young lady at a B&B in Napa a few months ago. I told her I’m an historical costumer and that lead to a discussion about how much she loves Reign but was actually curious about how to find out more about Mary, Queen of Scots (I suggested she start with this book). I began summarizing Mary’s early life in France and got carried away, mentioning Francis dies and leaves her a young widow, and the girl clapped her hands over her ears and shouted “NO SPOILERS!”

*sigh* Sorry, sweetie. History doesn’t come with spoiler warnings.

Anyway.

Allegedly this show takes place in the sixteenth century. Allegedly.

This show takes place in the 16th century. I shit you not.

I would be remiss without mentioning Genevieve Valentine’s great take-down of Reign. Well worth the read. And now back to the costumes…

 

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007) is another one of those films that falls into this category. Some of the costumes were a marked improvement on its predecessor, Elizabeth, but some are just WTF.

I have pretty much given up on trying to figure out with the costume designer was going for here.

I have pretty much given up on trying to figure out with the costume designer was going for here.

Mmmm. Tacos.

Mmmm. Tacos.

 

5. The Invisible Chemise

Once upon a time, when I was young and dumb, I actually tried to wear a gown without a shift. It did not go well. Face it, the undershirt is there for a reason, and that reason is to avoid chafing your entire torso. Also, it protects your precious silk gown from getting disgusting levels of dead skin, sweat, and fabric-eating bacteria ground into it.

La Reine Margot is probably the most notorious offender in this category. Isabelle Adjani is absolutely stunning in this film, but the lack of chemises are worrisome from a practical standpoint.

la reine margot

“I’m showing you everything you need to know about me as a woman.” La Reine Margot (1996)

 

And there’s The Tudors. OF COURSE.

undies optional

“Ever get that feeling that you got dressed and forgot to put on your underwear…?”

chemise optional

“No? Maybe it’s just me… BTW, do you feel a draft?”

 

It’s not just for women, either.

Welcome to the gun show, ladies.

Welcome to the gun show, ladies.

 

6. Boots Not Shoes

So, here’s the thing, if you’re the average 16th-century nobleman, you wore boots for specific activities like riding, hunting, fighting in wars ‘n stuff… Y’know, the kind of activities where you want your nice wool or silk stockings to stay clean and your legs protected from the elements. When you were indoors, you wore hose and shoes, because boots weren’t practical for indoor or light activities. Besides, you spent all that money on nice cordovan leather shoes, and you want to show off your shapely calves to the ladies, and boots just obstruct the goods.

Hollywood, however, thinks you should wear boots for every occasion. If you’re a leading man, you’re not going to be caught dead in hose and shoes (unless you’re an extra). You need to proclaim you manliness by wearing boots all the time! Even in bed! Because who knows when you’ll have to jump onto your faithful steed and ride off to battle in a manly fashion at a moment’s notice?

Notice the fact that the hot young thang is in boots while the older men are wearing proper hose and shoes, in this still from Anonymous (2013):

Boots = Sexy, according to Hollywood.

Boots = Sexy, according to Hollywood.

 

And The Tudors:

the tudors

Getting married? Don’t forget your wedding boots.

the tudors

Chicks dig boots in bed.

 

Look, here’s how it works. Horseback?

The Other Bolyen Girl

Just about the only thing The Other Boleyn Girl got right.

 

Presenting yourself to the Queen in Orlando (1992)?

Tilda Swinton shows us how its done, in Orlando (1992)

Tilda Swinton shows us how its done.

 

Wooing a fair maid in Young Bess (1953) —

Young Bess (1953)

Woah, ok, Stewart Granger, maybe that’s a little too much leg.

 

7. Open Doublets

I think we mainly have Joseph Fiennes in Shakespeare in Love to blame for this trope. Fiennes spends a good chunk of this movie running around with his underwear hanging out of his doublet. Trust me, this would have been the 16th-century equivalent of leaving your fly unzipped.

HE'S A SHE???

Hey, Will. Your barn door’s open.

 

Rufus Sewell, who is probably the only redeeming thing about Dangerous Beauty (1998), a movie so bad we couldn’t even podcast it, even lets it all hang out:

This doublet can barely contain my hotness.

This doublet can barely contain the hotness. Also, the guy in the background.

 

And then there’s Tom Hardy in The Virgin Queen (2005):

Insert witty comentary here

I’m too sexy for buttons. And codpieces.

 

8. Random Embroidery

One of those bad 16th century movie costume tropes that seems to have a significant bleed over into historical reenactment costuming. I say this with love, but if you’re going to embroider or embellish your outfit, don’t just do one giant motif in the center of your bodice/doublet/skirt.

The Tudors:

Nope.

Nope.

Nope.

Nope.

 

And The Other Boleyn Girl:

Noooope.

Noooope.

 

9. Biker Doublets and Leather Pants

First of all, yes, men wore leather doublets and jerkins in the 16th century. HOWEVER. They didn’t really look like the renaissance take on a biker jacket, unlike what costume flicks would have you believe. They looked like this:

Martin Frobisher, by Cornelius Ketel, 1570s.

Martin Frobisher, by Cornelius Ketel, 1570s.

Or this:

Studly Dudley, attributed to Steven van Herwijck.

Studly Dudley, attributed to Steven van Herwijck.

 

They don’t look like this:

Rhys Ifans in Anonymous, rocking the Wilsons Leather jacket look.

Rhys Ifans in Anonymous, rocking the Wilson’s Leather look.

 

Or this:

Tony Regbo as Francis in Reign is going to meet his tragic destiny in a nice suede number.

Tony Regbo as Francis in Reign is going to meet his tragic destiny in a nice suede number.

Or this:

Ok, what is it with this kid and leather? Like, every other costume of his is like this.

Ok, what is it with this kid and leather? Like, every other costume of his is like this. Trying to look hard because he can’t get it up?

 

Or this:

[[[SEXY POUT INTENSIFIES]]]

[[[SEXY POUT INTENSIFIES]]]

Or this:

I am still unconvinced that this actually leather.

I am still unconvinced that this actually leather.

 

In the trouser category, there’s Cesare Borgia in The Borgias, who strides around in tight leather pants:

Granted, he spends the other half of his screen time not wearing any pants.

Granted, he spends the other half of his screen time not wearing any pants.

 

Is nine enough? What else makes for bad 16th century movie costumes? Share the things you love to hate in Elizabethan-era movies and TV 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. When she’s not hauling crap to SCA events and ren faires, she enjoys the solitude of a long, hot bath. You can find her costuming trails and tribulations chronicled at Mode Historique.

144 Responses

  1. Isis

    Da Vinci’s Demons! Obviously white shirts are for sissy’s. Also, never buttons whatever it is that you do wear under your leather jacket… Not to mention that it is clear that Leonardo Da Vinci invented the har gel.

    https://mindreels.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/tom-riley-da-vincis-demons-5.jpg

    http://static.gamesradar.com/images/sfx/2013/02/da-vincis-demons-050213-1.jpg

    Also boots.

    http://fanaru.com/da-vincis-demons/image/35273-da-vincis-demons-da-vincis-demons.jpg

    And as an extra bonus; weird corset on top of gown.

    https://falaseriotheia.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/vinci-5.jpg

    I couldn’t even stomach the whole first episode.

    Reply
    • Allisa

      While every point you made is quite true, I must defend my fellow costume designers (myself included).
      Firstly, not all costume decisions are left up to us. Producers (most often), directors & actors can take an odd view of how history “looked” and they make most decisions on what they feel will sell (I’m sure that doesn’t come as much of a shock). Rarely, if ever, is what is accurate important to those above the line (BBC seems to be a larger exception to that).

      To that end, we are not costume reproducers -like those of you in the SCA and other reenactment clubs who labour beautifully over accuracy!- we are costume DESIGNERS, so we are hired to take what was and rework that to fit the aesthetic of the current day, the aesthetic of the people who are in charge, the aesthetic of the actors and actresses and roll it all up into one happy little ball. Sometimes the public notices our great discrepancies, most people however, do not. And, if we do it right, it’s best when the audience doesn’t even care.

      A last note about boots… having shoes made is expensive and labour intensive when you need to produce them individually. However, there are plenty of ready made boots out there that serve to set the tone of the day. Much more cost effective and lets face it, dramatic too.

      Please continue to reproduce those beautiful outfits in all their accurate glory. We will continue to add fodder to your blog with our inaccurate but oh so “sexy” costumes.

      Cheers, Allisa

      Reply
      • Trystan

        First off, we know it’s not all about the costume designers — all throughout our articles, we’re trying not to pinpoint any one person for blame (unless it’s obvious via, say, an interview or behind-the-scenes show). It’s “the movies & TV,” it’s the production, it could be the directors or the producers, sometimes even an actor will say “hey, I’m not wearing that.” It’s the system.

        But that doesn’t make it right. That’s not an excuse. And it doesn’t serve history well, which is our main point.

        (Also, you can rent shoes as well as boots; I was just watching the fairly bad 1970 “Wuthering Heights” with Timothy Dalton, & while the costumes are pretty meh, everybody was wearing reasonably 18th-century style shoes. I want to say the screen credit said costumes by “Nathan’s” e.g., rental, tho’ I’d have to check at home, & IMDB only lists a wardrobe supervisor. They sure as hell didn’t construct anything special for this stinker, yet they had shoes on most of the principles, not boots. Different century than this article’s topic, but same concept.)

        Reply
        • MoHub

          I remember seeing a documentary on the failed attempt to make a movie version of I, Claudius in the ’40s—with Emlyn Williams as Caligula—and when the costume designer showed the director his sketches for historically accurate costumes for the Vestal Virgins, he was told, “No. They should be nude.” Of course, in those days, nude meant very brief, revealing costumes something like bikinis, but at any rate, the costume designer was not to blame.

          Reply
        • Helena

          Wha, wha, wha, I’m right and you’re wrong and I know EXACTLY how movies are made and everyone should listen to me even if they DO know how movies are made, wha wha wha because it personally affects ME that people aren’t dressed correctly in FANTASIES… 9_9 (btw, NOT history, most of this is … SURPRISE made up… Albeit BASED on some truths)

          The rest of us know, but couldn’t care less… because BY GOD, Nancy, it’s effing entertainment.

          Let’s be honest, people are watching “The Tudors” to see Jonathan Rhys Myers breathe heavily into someone’s ear and get a glimpse of his nether regions, not comment on his “non-period boots”

          Grow up.

          (BTW, I don’t watch any of this junk anyways… not even historical… just a bunch of heavy breathing)

          Reply
          • Kendra

            Uh, you don’t watch historical movies/TV. So why are you reading, let alone commenting on, a blog that’s specifically about something you don’t watch and don’t care about? Don’t watch/don’t care = invalid opinion!

            Reply
    • Stephen Hartman

      For one thing, having been a member of the SCA in good standing for a number of years, if you could afford to garb yourself in exact period piece, than more power to you – most of us were poor working slobs just starting out after coming home from having served for 4 yrs. and hand low paying jobs, and apt.’s to handle. so, we did what we could, and garb was 2d thought. we were lucky just to be garbed. as far as Faire’s, and SCA gatherings, you wore what you had, and again I say, what you could afford. where Hollywood went wrong was they decided to show off both the attribute’s of both the men and the women who were portraying the historical figures of the movies – please don’t make me believe that a woman of substance would appear in public with her boobs hanging out, unless she was attending a ball, and was attempting to capture the attention of an earl, or a another high ranking individual?

      Reply
    • Ana

      I believe costumes are made by the same person that did the Tudors which explains a lot…

      Reply
      • Michael L. McQuown

        Stephani — in Britspeak, ‘sexy’ doesn’t mean having sex appeal, it means being sexually charged (which make the song lyrics make more sense. On a parallel point, fight director Anthony de Longis, in an afternote of a smallsword training video, said that fight directors that didn’t incorporate authentic technique in their fights were doing a disservice to the material and the audience. I think the same applies to costuming. I realise that producers, directors, and myriad others get to stock their tuppence hap’ny in, but I think the designers should fight a little harder.

        Reply
  2. Stephani

    Oh, excellent! A great read, too.
    Anne of the Thousand Days was actually the second ye olde historical movie I ever say, preceded by Much Ado About Nothing, and I do have a special place in my heart for it, although even way back then in my innocent teen years I knew the costuming was meh.
    And open doublets: I could actually hear Tom Hardy saying “I’m too sexy for buttons. And codpieces.” To which I reply, “yes, yes you are, dear.”

    #10 thing films get wrong: Inappropriate garment colors.

    Reply
    • clara

      LBR Tom Hardy is too sexy for everything. So we forgive him the lack of buttons and codpieces.

      Reply
    • Karen K.

      I would love to read an entire posting on inappropriate garment colors — what is/isn’t appropriate for various time periods. For example, it always bugs me that movies & TV show set in certain periods dress an entire cast in dull colors, as though bright colors didn’t even exist — is this possible? Enquiring minds want to know.

      Reply
  3. Bess Chilver (myladyswardrobe)

    Once this snarkfest is finished, I need to do that post on Prince and the Pauper (BBC 1996) as a lovely antidote….we don’t get any of these problems with that.

    I hate earrings being worn when they shouldn’t be and particularly earrings which are patently NOT Tudor in style. My hand itches to reach through the screen and yank them off. And that includes the latest Tudor offering Wolf Hall! (and they seem to like boots too!)

    Reply
  4. red*razors

    Ha, bess, that was one of the biggest things i noticed about wolf hall! Halfway through it I thought, “why is everyone wearing boots?”
    That and, “they did have effing spoons back then!”

    Reply
    • Kristen

      Actually, since Anne Boleyn is practicing for a court masque in that scene, the see through corset is not entirely unrealistic. There are some really interesting drawings of masque costumes by Inigo Jones (so a generation later) and other designers that clearly show transparent tops. For a few of the pictures where this appears you can go to http://www.shafe.co.uk/art/early_stuart_10_-_the_caroline_court.asp. There are also lots of books that talk about it. There are some debates over whether or not the actual costumes were intended to be as see through as the drawings appear, but it seems that they were ok with court women wearing somewhat see through gowns (at least up top) in the closed environment of a court entertainment. All that being said, the costumes in general are a mess.

      Reply
      • Trystan

        Yeah, I have books on Inigo Jones’ masque costumes & they’re A LOT more covered than what The Tudors did (also, no obviously synthetic materials, heh).

        Reply
  5. Lisa

    The see-through corset! Ugh! And sleeveless! No sleeves? Really? The other one that’s gotten me is having Elizabethan and pre-Elizabethan women in high heels. Wildly decorated high heels, no less. Wrong! Tudor women did not wear Christian Louboutin! It’s not like there aren’t portraits of these people with beautiful clothes that could be copied or at least used as reference.

    Reply
    • Kendra

      It’s that same thing: “They were the celebrities of their era! Modern people won’t understand that unless we put them in 10″ stiletto heels!”

      Reply
    • Alex

      I thought Elizabeth did wear high heels? It is the lack of sleeves that bothers me – I have never seen an image of a pre-eighteenth century woman where there are no sleeves at all.
      In Wolf Hall I didn’t notice the boots, but it did seem to me that some of the French Hoods were rather lacking in substance, although it was the first time I got a real impression of the sheer bulk of the gable hood. The skirts also did not seem to be sufficiently supported to me, and would the bodices actually have been wrinkled like that?

      Reply
      • Kendra

        We’ll be getting waaay into all this Wolf Hall stuff as soon as it airs here in the US! Expect a podcast no numerous posts :)

        Reply
  6. Jilly

    The first glimpse I got of Reign had me absolutely ROTFLMAO at the costuming. I immediately e-mailed a friend who majored in costume design, taught theater arts for awhile, and now works on Broadway as a dresser. We agreed that the costuming was SO bad it was impossble to take the show seriously. Others are inaccurate, but that is spectacularly BAD.

    Reply
  7. SUzy

    The Musketeers. It’s delightful campy fun but for the love of God what drugs were the wardrobe department on. I’ve not seen that much coloured ‘leather’ in the one place this side of a mardi gras.

    Reply
    • MoHub

      I can’t with The Musketeers.

      And although it’s 12th century, I have to add the Jonas Armstrong Robin Hood, which was more Robin Hoodie and had Marian in garments straight out of Top Shop.

      Reply
    • Kendra

      I’ve only seen about 2 episodes, and I alternated between “GAH!” and “ooo what is that?” and “TAKE IT AWAY!”

      Reply
  8. athene

    I’m cutting some slack for the leather britches on Cesare in “The Borgias,” but only because he is so hot in them. Soooooo hawt…..

    Reply
    • Kendra

      I DON’T GET THE ACTOR-PLAYING-CESARE IN “THE BORGIAS”! He’s just not hot to me! It’s so weird, because normally he’d totally be my type.

      Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      Eh, not so fast. The bulk of the show straddles the very end of the 15th century and the first decade of the 16th century. Cesare died in 1507 and Lucrezia died in 1519, just to put a frame of reference out there. And the wiki entry for The Borgias states that it is set in the early 16th century.

      So it counts!

      Reply
  9. Sensi

    I love the show Reign. I think the costumes are gorgeous. However, they don’t resemble ANYTHING that would have been worn in the time period. And, it drives me crazy!

    Reply
  10. Kevin Roche

    I remember when I was performing at RPF as Robert Carey we talked about the boots thing while designing our wardrobe as members of the court. A key point being that we were “on progress” IN THE COUNTRY and therefore a bunch of us could very well be spending much of our day hunting/riding/etc.

    Plus we were walking about in the mucking country streets of a rural shire. Very little of our day was spent indoors in conditions where hose and delicate shoes made any sense.

    My first year I was not in boots. My feet and I regretted it most decidedly, and I went to work on a set of riding boots for the next iteration of Robert’s wardrobe.

    Reply
  11. nicola stokes

    I see am not the only one who notices shifts are missing in The Tudors and other progammes. Also in The Tudors extra’s and zips in dresses. My only other annoying thing i hate about The Tudors is the two part dress that Anne wears in the forest when you can clearly see her skin.

    Reply
    • MoHub

      I can’t even get as far as the costumes in The Tudors when we have magnificent portraits of Henry VIII and know he was a redhead. And he was built broad even before he got fat. It takes me a second look to process the costumes.

      Reply
    • Kendra

      I know! I think they’re going for the whole “Christina Aguilera bare midriff” thing. Gag (in a 16th c. context).

      Reply
  12. Emma

    There are so many ways that Hollywood likes to overlook inconvenient details. My main area of interest is the 19th century, so I notice those details most, and fortunately, for the most part, those years seem near enough our modern awareness that most productions at least make an effort for accuracy—though of course, there are the baffling exceptions: look at the 2005 Pride and Prejudice, which is ostensibly set in the 1790s (an idea which I support, personally, based on the book) but which uses that fact as an excuse to have much too low of waistlines on some of the characters, and then puts them in colors wrong for ball gowns and even includes a ball gown with little more than a spaghetti strap! Hollywood doesn’t care about accuracy in anything, really.

    Still, returning to the topic at hand, I see a lot of similarities between the things that show up in these screenshots and examples of pre–French Revolution 18th-century clothing, at least in the women: statement embroidery on the bodice and skirt fronts, silhouettes that look (to me) more like panniers than farthingales, the way the décolletage looks in the low necklines, especially when worn sans-chemise. (Compare the neckline—but not sleeves!—of screenshot 5.2 to a robe a la française.) I don’t know if it’s just me or what, but they look much more like an odd combination of 18th-century with modern tastes and just a few small Elizabethan details thrown in, than anything truly worn in the 16th century. I wonder if common perception of 16th-century fashions is colored by the fashions of the 18th century, if only because times longer than 200 years previous start to all get blended together in the public conscience?

    Reply
    • Trystan

      “odd combination of 18th-century with modern tastes and just a few small Elizabethan details thrown in” — Yeah, that happens! Historical mishmash because the audience won’t know. *eyerolls*

      Reply
  13. Kami

    My personal favorite (translated as thing I hate most) is the French sun visor. A French hood is NOT a sun visor turned upside-down on the head. It hurts my soul.

    Reply
  14. Tim

    Well if you’re going to go c15th with the Borgias, why leave out The White Queen and all its attendant horrors? If you didn’t know better, you’d come away believing that they had zips, acrylic fabrics, no hose whatsoever (codpiece or not), doublets made of sofas, harnesses of armour with only one pauldron and no helmet and all lived at the time of the Great English Hat Famine…

    Reply
    • maggy

      The white queen had so many choices that were good and completely unrealistic. Oh and BBC great expectations had a few uh ohs.

      Reply
    • Kendra

      Oh god. There were some things that weren’t half bad in The White Queen, and then suddenly it would get all HORRIFIC.

      Reply
  15. Chantal Mallett

    I loved this article! I learned something :) If I was a costumier I’d be so terribly frustrated sticking to historical accuracy! I love costume, I find it influences me hugely but I’m very fickle & love picking & choosing & giving a vibe or a nod to; I love mixing up eras BUT I make bridalwear so there are no rules.

    Although, I have to say, sometimes just how stupid the costuming is annoys the heck out of me, the BBC’s recent Musketeers drove me mad, as did their dreadful Casanova which looked like they had no budget! I think sometimes it’s ok to romanticise history & sometimes, for serious films & series, historical accuracy gives the thing weight.

    Looking forward to reading more of your site :)

    Regards, Chantal

    Reply
    • Kendra

      I think most of us agree that you can tweak and mash-up the costuming if you do it WELL. It’s just the whole “we changed it up for no discernible reason!” and/or “we changed it up and made it shittier!” that we object to!

      Reply
  16. Michael L. McQuown

    It’s difficult to find any but maybe a handful of films that come close for any period. As far as Tudorbethan, let’s start with the fact that in “The Tudors,” the costumes are about 20-30 years ahead of their time. My particular passion in the 17th c, and I can’t begin to say how bloody awful some of that has gotten. The latest BBC offering, “The Musketeers” commits every sin you’fe listed twice over. At the most basic level, I have never seen evidence of anything but white shirts (or unbleached, which is a bit more yellowish), but colours keep cropping up. The two best films I’ve seen for their periods were “Restoration” and “The Duelists.”

    Reply
  17. Vicky

    Ohhhhhh yes, all of what you’ve listed and more!!! I always notice uncovered heads & loose hair immediately. In the 16th century, everyone from the highest noble to the lowest peasant would have had SOMETHING on their heads, and women never had their hair loose in public. I also can’t help but jump up & down in my seat whenever I see a white wedding dress in these films. Wedding dresses were not white until Queen Victoria wore a white wedding gown in the 1800s to help promote the trade of British lace. Before that, white was considered the color of mourning of a Catholic Queen.

    Reply
  18. KGW

    Although, not strictly speaking Elizabethan, I’m guessing that 1981’s Excalibur would just hurt your brain and/or soul trying to figure out where to begin….never mind boots in bed, they wore their armor.

    Reply
    • Trystan

      I.just.can’t.with Excalibur. I wanted to love it bec. I dig Arthurian fantasy, but it was SUCH a disappointment. I will write about it here someday, if I can bring myself to watch it again :(

      Reply
      • Jenny Ketcham

        Particularly appalling, Lancelot removing his shiny chrome plate mail to display his pristine birthday suit right underneath! Man! That must have hurt his nether regions!

        Reply
        • Michael L. McQuown

          Mo, I misremembered; you’re right; it was the 3rd.
          The two best things about “Excalibur” were Helen Mirren. Apparently, the budget for armour was so over the top they couldn’t afford a gambeson.

          Reply
  19. Val

    Zippers in dresses! – With all the notions out now, it’s not hard to just put the laces in, especially on the main actors.

    Head coverings! – Not having them is a pet peeve of mine. I understand that Hollywood’s aversion. At least put them on the supporting actors and extras.

    Reply
  20. Hope

    What about a mjaor one: cleavage! As in squashed together over-visible cleavage. Find me a period image that shows that. Maybe one or two come close in Italy (https://medievalhandwork.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/titian.jpg) but the only other one I can find that is as extreme as modern films/TV is this one, not a look most young actresses would want to envision themselves as, methinks. http://www.ganino.com/_media/artists:quentin_massys_1466-1530:massys_quentin_the_ungly_duchess.jpg
    And as for 18th century films/TV and cleavage…*shudder*

    Reply
    • Kendra

      Cleavage is a weird one, historically. I’m never quite sure where the boobs went! I think there was more “down and in” than “up and out,” plus partlets/fichus/etc.

      Reply
  21. Don

    How have you not drubbed me and driven me from that age all of these years? I violate every rule. TWICE.

    That being said, in the “I’m not eve sure this is leather” pic I didn’t eve see the guy, because what the heck is she wearing?

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      Because we like you and know that you’re about the theatrical portrayal.

      We here at Frock Flicks reserve the right to make exceptions to every rule at any point, without warning. ;)

      Reply
  22. Jenny Islander

    Complete amateur here. What I can’t stand, in any period, is HAY GUYZ BEWBS. Like, somebody did their research about just how tight an upper-class dress could be in circa c13, but completely missed the way that the sideless surcote on top was supposed to show off her hips and waist because HAY GUYZ BEWBS. So they leave the surcote off and give the dress a low neckline with a cut that just plain was not, and put the person wearing it in a push-up bra that makes her look like a grapefruit smuggler. HAY GUYZ BEWBS.

    It’s even dumber in dynastic Egyptian clothing. Sculpture and painting from the New Kingdom clearly show upper-class women wearing clothing that was see-through. Everything was visible! Buuuuut we MUST, we MUST have spherical cleavage bulging over the neckline, because HAY GUYZ BEWBS. (And do not even get me started on the “sexy Egyptian ladies” who are posed, topless-but-for-a-wig, in men’s kilts. Wut.)

    Reply
    • Kendra

      Yes! For some reason, BEWBS are the ONLY thing that reads “sexy” to modern audiences. Apparently. For example, they gave Isla Fisher (the lower class sexy character) a tight dress AND massive cleavage in the recent The Great Gatsby, because otherwise nobody would understand she was a tart, supposedly!

      Reply
  23. Vicky

    I have done historical and theatre costume for nearly 40 years. I can’t watch Reign it is so bad, will we ever have a magnificent Henry Tudor who was as massive and handsome as Henry was when he was young ? Will Hollywood ever understand in eras where women were breastfeeding that ankles and elbows and knees were erotic ? Sheesh!!! I nearly fell out of my chair I was laughing so hard reading these posts. I thought I was just the only grumpy ! But , as a friend of mine in the movie industry said: “It’s not about historical accuracy, it’s about entertainment !!!” (sigh) And if you think we costumes are bad, watch a Western with gun enthusiasts . Holy cow.
    On the colored shirt note- In the book “Elizabeth and Leicester” there is a quote from a letter written by Sir Robert Dudley concerning the ordering of clothes for his nephew, Sir Phillip Sidney. He does order black and blue shirts, as well as leather trunk hose. I guess this is the 16th century equivalent of jeans and T shirts for noble children ! Cheers!

    Reply
    • Michael L. McQuown

      My biggest grotch about hair lately is that the current notion is that the comb did not exist, especially for men. At one time, there was a notion floating around Hollywood that contemporary audiences wouldn’t accept actual historical fashions, so in order to make them more accepting, ther designers incorporated contemporary elements into the costume, such as padded shoulders for men and the “sweetheart neckline” for women. Somewhere in the 60’s this changed, largely because of the upsurge of British and European films which were closer to the mark.

      Reply
      • MoHub

        The shoulder pads on Olivier’s “18th-century” jackets in The Beggar’s Opera are broad beyond belief.

        Reply
    • MoHub

      There was a lot of accuracy there, especially in the first series: The Black Adder. What I really appreciated, though, was the hairstyles, including the hideous but accurate bowl cut on Rowan Atkinson.

      Reply
      • Kendra

        We should really get Sarah or trystan to talk about the costumes in the first 2 series of blackadder! I could do the 3rd.

        Reply
        • MoHub

          I like that. Actually, all the Blackadder series were pretty accurate in terms of costuming, makeup, and hairstyles. I’m particularly fond of Blackadder the Third and its Regency setting.

          Reply
        • Michael L. McQuown

          I really wanted Blackadder’s Elizabethan outfit. I tthought it one of the neatest ever.
          A major point for “The Duelists” is that it takes place over a long period of time, and the changes in the uniforms and the men’s hair and facial hair were shown. John Mollo, or one of his brothers, was the consultant. He is one of the premier experts in military fashion and is often consulted when the producers want it done right. His book “Military Fashion” is worth a look.

          Reply
  24. sylviag11

    I’m not as familiar with historical fashions, but I know a thing or two. The loose hair has always gotten me. I’m pretty sure it was considered unhygienic then to have your hair down.

    Reply
    • Rachel Holmen

      I think it was more of an age thing. Little girls had loose hair. Young ladies longed for the day when they could put their hair up and be consider more adult.

      Reply
      • Kendra

        Yes! I’ve read so many 19th century books (okay yes, not 16th century, but still) where the girls are so proud that they finally get to wear their hair up.

        Reply
      • MoHub

        You are right. There are Holbein portraits of younger women who definitely have long, loose hair.

        Reply
  25. Calamity Lulu

    BEACHY WAVES.

    Somewhere, at some point, Hollywood decided that women for all Olden Times (TM) wore their hair loose, in what today is popularly termed “beachy waves.” A subsequent decision stated that there was absolutely no need for any hairstylists to do any research or so much as look at a contemporary photograph or painting ever again.

    Ever.

    BECAUSE BEACHY WAVES.

    Tudor women…

    Ug, somebody please gouge my eyes out with a fork.

    Rococo women…

    Victorian women…

    Edwardian women…

    Everybody loves them some beachy waves!

    Reply
  26. Calamity Lulu

    Well, apparently the ol’ HTML image tags won’t work in these comments, so you’ll all have to imagine your own examples.

    Reply
  27. Madameshabbs

    GROMMETS. 16th century didn’t have em ( though they would whip stitch around a jump ring for button hole strength). I’m surprised this wasn’t in this list, the European made Boria tv show had them all over the place. it’s a cheap and fast way to make a closure but it’s inaccurate as the day is long. And when you’ve got a tv/movie budget – I feel like you can afford the far more accurate jump ring seam closure, a covered jump ring, or heck.. a freaking button hole.

    Reply
  28. Jackie Cassidy

    Lets start with the point of a costume design. Yes some Designers go for perfect recreations but must do not. Why? Because most ppl do not have a working knowledge of the details of historical clothing. So they take basic shapes and iconic trade marks and use modern ideas to give the impression they want to. The lace collar just floating. They are using something everyone knows and showing extra skin to show the character is trying to be sexy. If they dressed them prefect to time most people would be like “why is she so over dressed for a whore?” another explain the boots inside boots look more manly than the shoes of the day. “Why is that dude wearing heels?”

    I do applaud you knowing these historical details and found this funny but I wanted to point out the why. Most likely all these costume designer knew everything you pointed out. They play with these, you have to know the rules to break them. The point of the designer is not to recreate history but to make something that projects the ideas of the movie. If perfect history was the point all these actor would be filthy looking.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      We have gone on the record numerous times, both here on the blog and on our podcast, that we are not directing our ire at the costume designers in Hollywood. We are frustrated by the same mandates that probably frustrate a large number of them, such as the belief that modern audiences can’t “relate” to a historical show unless it bears no resemblance to history whatsoever. The difference is that since we don’t work as theatrical/movie costumers, we get to speak our minds about how much this annoys us without risking our livelihoods.

      I see so many comments coming to this blog that feel that we come down too hard on the costumers, but if you read the blog and listen to the podcast, you’d know that we are NOT attacking the costumers.

      Reply
  29. Elise

    Well, I watch Reign and I found myself frequently thinking that over 90% of the dresses were historically inaccurate. But it is a TV show… not a documentary ( found it listed as Drama & Fantasy ). And while I do realize that you, being a historical costumer, find it somehow offensive, it is still just a TV show and it’s supposed to sell. So I guess whoever is choosing the costumes is just making his/her job…
    I personally watch TV shows for fun, not for learning history and I really like the costumes they use. I’m pretty sure shows like this wouldn’t have much success if they just coped everything from a history book and put it on screen.
    This is just my opinion and I really hope I didn’t offend anyone. :)

    Reply
    • Christine Redding

      I contend that if it is billed as history, it should be historic. It’s a labeling thing, to not be misleading. REIGN I would find very entertaining, if it didn’t claim to be the story of Mary of Scotland. It would be perfectly reasonable to change the names, and keep all the inappropriate frocks and characterizations, and create a lively, colorful fantasy of it.

      I didn’t used to want to read straight history, but I wanted to immerse in past times, for which purpose historical novels were ideal, and from the good ones, I learned some history. Educational things need not be documentary, or dry and boring, and can be quite successful.

      Of course, history is my thing, not everyone’s, but I don’t know anyone who prizes ignorance.

      Reply
  30. Christine Redding

    As an enthusiast of history and an amateur costumer for theater and LARP, I protest wild inaccuracies of historical events, character casting and costuming in something that bills itself as ‘history.’ If you are going to present something with the claim that it is historic, then make it historic! If you don’t want to do that, then call it “fantasy loosely based on history.”

    REIGN is colorful, but a bad joke, costume-wise and in all historical points, and even ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE was too close to fantasy, however pretty it was. TUDORS makes me sigh with disappointment for the dreadful casting choices of major characters, like Henry and Catherine of Aragon. The actors themselves are excellent, but the producers were simply rewriting the iconic Henry as something totally unrelated to how very imposing he was. And it is definitely a point that Catherine is so often cast to resemble people’s ideas of a Spanish Princess.

    I want to be transported in time, when I watch period films. I want a sense of being there. I want to relate to how it was–the grit and the grandeur, the drama, the feel of living then, there.

    What is so wrong with actually offering an audience a bit of education, instead of pandering to the public’s uninformed expectations? Is this part of the fantasy that people really don’t like to learn things? People love novelty, and it would certainly be novel to show things as they really were. Even to a few bad teeth.

    The makers of such films and series, they must see the audience as stupidly ignorant and unwilling to learn.

    Even in ages past no doubt there were garment-makers who were also creative, and confined to what they had to work with. They did not lack imagination or skills, far from it. The real challenge now would be to recreate that mindset and at least some of those limits, and still create masterpieces.

    All right, I’m done… Thanks for the place and opportunity for a good rant that has been years in the making!

    Reply
      • Christine Redding

        I enjoyed your article, and agree: as wonderful as Helen Mirren’s Elizabeth was, Glenda Jackson is the one that I love best! I did watch the original US broadcast, and now watch it from time to time on Netflix.

        I am pretty sure that the primary source-book for the production was ELIZABETH THE GREAT, by Elizabeth Jenkins, published in 1958. The production follows her work very closely in the specifics of Elizabeth’s life, reign and her deathl There is also a section of portraits of people and details of clothing that, even in black and white, can make a costumer’s teeth sweat! One of her loveliest gowns is shown, the floral Wanstead gown that I always think of as her Primavera.

        Reply
        • Trystan

          I still refer to the BBC Elizabeth R – it’s so inspiring, showing what TV *can* do, if someone cares. Of course, at that time, the Beeb had a specific educational mandate, & I’m not sure it does anymore (or if so, the requirements are less stringent; fewer total hours or more targeted towards young children instead of broadly trying to educate the populace about all topics). Even so, look at “Downton Abbey” — an ITV production (not public funded like the BBC) that successfully mixes historical accuracy & entrainment.

          Reply
  31. Lisa

    I’m curious, has anyone else noticed a complete or near complete lack of farthingales under the skirts in these productions? Why? Are the Hollywood powers-that-be afraid of them? Do the actors refuse to wear them? They’re period. We know they were worn, they’re in portraits.

    Reply
  32. Ben Baron

    Really, to be fair, on [2] codpieces were not always seen by the 1590’s – Shakespeare’s period, for some value of Shakespeare… The rest, though, I can’t save.

    http://www.elizabethan-era.org.uk/codpiece.htm

    The Decline of the Codpiece
    Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne in 1558. She dictated many of the fashions and the fashions of men became more feminized. The popularity of the codpiece therefore slowly declined. The codpiece became smaller, with less bombast (padding). Fashions changed and the codpiece went completely out of fashion by the 1570’s. It completely disappeared by the end of Queen Elizabeth’s reign in 1603. It had been replaced by a vertical opening which was concealed in folds of material.

    Reply
    • Trystan

      Codpieces got much smaller towards the end of the 16th century, but in shows like “The Tudors” they should have been BIG & obvious.

      Also, Countess Frances Carr wasn’t born until 1590, so her portrait couldn’t date until the 17th century, when ruffs did take some crazy turns.

      Thing is, exceptions don’t prove the rule. And the examples in the article above are, sadly, not exceptions.

      Reply
      • Ben Baron

        Totally agree.

        Except, again, I have to defend the costuming in Shakespeare in Love, which took great pains to be correct.

        One supposes by its internal logic, SiL, is dated to the mid-1590’s (Dame Judy as Queen Elizabeth is shown wearing the Armada Portrait gown), and is shown as an old woman, which pushes us very close to the end of her life in 1603. By the same argument, Shakespeare is shown as, I’d say, 25-35, which puts us into the 1590s, as does the mention of the Virginia Colony, which was only settled (absent the Lost Colony) in the 1590s. The Rose Theatre dates to 1587 – 1605, and the historical Shakespeare gave his first recorded performance there in 1592, so again, about 159x, depending on when we think he was writing “Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter” (the real R&J was actually staged first in ~ 1594-5).

        So, no codpieces is correct there.

        Reply
  33. bethwade1th W

    Speaking as someone (apparently one of the few?) who found this hilarious and not at all offensive (even though I’m in the SCA and a costumer), thank you for a fun article. I couldn’t agree more, especially with the lack of chemise (no sleeves?! In ENGLAND?!) and chafing. And would add the plethora of non-period color, which is hilarious to me because Victorian-era period flicks do the opposite- with a few exceptions, they tend to be dowdy shades with nary a chartreuse or heliotrope to be seen. I would love to see more period accurate hairstyles, for both men and women, but it’s one area I can see having to bow to the modern aesthetic. I think there’s room for compromise in there, but let’s face it- most period women’s hairstyles until the early 1900s were not flattering to most women’s faces.

    Reply
    • Trystan

      True, it’s so funny how earlier period shows will use crazy colors but Victorians have a tendency to ignore the more accurate bright aniline dyes!

      And the hair, I get it, long flowing hair is more attractive to a modern eye, but dayum, all the time? It’s so overdone as to be a cliche. It’d be edgy & risky to use historically accurate hairstyles at this point :-D

      Reply
    • Michael L. McQuown

      A well-endowed woman in proper period underpinnings will find herself tending to overflow upward and outward. The trick is to adjust the chemise for maximum or minimum exposure.
      On a more general note, in some films, dress extras are required to provide their own wardrobes. This was the case in Age of Innocence, which my wife and I did. Was also true for Gettysburg, which used many reenactors.
      Also, let’s remember that until the eighteenth century, clothing was not mass produced, so variations on any design are going to vary.

      Reply
    • MoHub

      Well, one has to remember that Fouquet used the King’s mistress as his model. He did lots of portraits of her with her boobs hanging out.

      Reply
  34. steffburton

    great article. just about Reign – in our national movie database it is described as ‘drama’ ‘fantasy’. :) it regain my faith in humanity

    Reply
  35. Debra Grasley

    While the commentary about costuming is very interesting, I am annoyed by the tack selections on 16th Century horses. Every time I see a flash attachment on the noseband of a bridle, sans flash strap, I wonder why no one tried harder for a little authenticity.

    Reply
  36. Presley

    I absolutely loved this article and so glad I found this site! Very funny and witty :) I just have to throw my own opinions in- The Tudors, oh where do I start?! The Tudor dynasty is my favorite, I have always loved learning all I could soak in about them, and Natalie Dormer is my girl crush for life but, wow I would cringe at times at the costumes on the show. And Reign… Oh Reign, I love Mary Queen of Scots, why must you make her first with a BRITISH accent and then her long flowing DARK hair, makes me want to scream and the headbands, does the hair artist not know how to style the girls hair any differently? “Oh we will leave it down, throw a few braids in and top it off with a beaded headband, perfect!”

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and opinions it was a fun read and I’m glad I got to vent about this with fellow SCA costumers, have a lovely day!

    Reply
  37. Andreas

    I love comedy and nothing gets my laughing faster than costume and 21 cliché’s screaming their way on the screen (big and little (and multiplex))
    While I am hardly the accurate historian, I have seen enough art and museum collections, to have seen what people wore. Well I do know more than that… Still it is laughable how people get things wrong–often, as you so accurately point, too many time4s. Such carelessness says not much counts but the accountants. (I worked with a war-horse of Broadway costume design, who always stressed accuracy and detail–and was willing to tell directors and producers what was and wasn’t (i remember one skirmish where the director objected to designs for Shaw’s Arms and the Man: when he said that Shaw would object, she quipped that WAS what was worn in the play as she had been there on opening night (some 50 years previously as a teenager.) Hopefully others will take note of your work and, at least, some of the glaring mistakes will vanish.

    Reply
  38. Michael L. McQuown

    Robin Hood got better in the 2nd season, actually making an attempt at historical clothing. I think everything in the first season was jumble sale in order to be ‘relevant.’ Someone must have come down pretty hard to get the producers to make such a radical change.

    Reply
    • MoHub

      Nope. The second season wasn’t much better than the first, costume-wise. It really took the third and final season to get anything that looked 12th century.

      Reply
  39. Jenny Ketcham

    Has the blog done a post on film that create their own successful costume vocabulary based on the historical? If so, I’d love to have my favorite of that type in the running: Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast (1946). Christian Berard, the costume designer, Did an amazing job, along with the production designer, and, even in black and white, send you straight back into the fairy taleshttp://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02787/belleetbete_2787366b.jpg

    Reply
  40. Alan Stacy

    Enjoyed the article. Laughed a lot at the captions. “Reign” earned my ire when it first premiered. Gave it ten minutes and never looked back. I thought my eyes might get stuck in the back of my head from the perpetual rolling = “costumes”, goofy drama and the wholesale throwing of history out the leaded glass window. Made me run to “Mary Queen of Scots” with Glenda Jackson and Vanessa Redgrave for solace. My biggest beef is with the more recent offerings of 17th century costume dramas, esp. “The Three Musketeers” with Mila Jovavich and Orlando Bloom. Yikes! Louis XIII as a pale-skinned ginger wearing purple damask draperies? Did the designers even look at period portraits? Yeesh. More leather outfits, open shirts, shaved heads, absurd airship battle, scenery-chewing, Milady’s silly-ass spy costume. Give me the Salakind version with Michael York any day.

    Reply
  41. Michael L. McQuown

    Richard Lester’s coda to 3M/4M, “The Return of the Musketeers” was a little more like the Jovovich with Kim Cattrall playing the ninja-type revenger, Milady’s daughter. (Has everyone forgotten she’s a Brit?) Maybe it was written by Cyrano, who was the world’s fist writer of science fantasy with “A Comic History of Travels To the Sun/Moon”

    Reply
  42. Gunnar

    Great points made! Not sure why you bash the French hood in films though, an accurate fashion item for the 16th century. Is it because it’s paired in films with long hair, something not seen in period paintings, or because it’s sometimes worn without an attached veil meant to cover the hair?

    Here are two more examples of period film costume inaccuracy.

    In 16th century England, Cardinal Wolsey was Chancellor of England. After his death, Sir Thomas More became chancellor. In the TV series “The Tudors” (which I detest) we see Wolsey and More together, with More – not Wolsey – wearing the chain of office of Chancellor of England. A costume designer saw the famous painting by Holbein of More as chancellor, copied the chain, but didn’t “think”.

    In other films and in TV series like “Vikings”, I’ve seen Catholic priests shown wearing accurate looking vestments worn at Mass, but with the stole worn OVER the chasuble – which wasn’t done or permitted until the late 1960’s! The same was done in the film, “The Field”, set in Ireland in the 1930’s or 40’s.

    Reply
  43. Gunnar

    Sorry, one more observation: under a photo from “The Other Boleyn Girl” showing King Henry riding, you have as the caption, “About the only thing the film got right.” I assume you think that the king is shown wearing a codpiece? Nope. What you seemingly see between the royal legs is the front part of his saddle, called the “cantle”. The back part is called the “pommel”. On 16th century saddles, cantle and pommel were much higher than they are today.

    Reply
  44. Nenamorut

    I can’t get into costume period dramas where the fucking COSTUME! is missing. Hollywood gets historical costumes 100% wrong if it goes beyond the 1800’s.

    Reply

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