SNARK WEEK: I Don’t Care If It’s Historically Accurate, I Just Want My Tits Out

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We get it, sex sells. Movies and TV shows are products, and frock flicks are no exception. Using sex to sell what’s onscreen is as old as film! Also, as people with sizable breasts of our own, we occasionally like to flaunt our boobs, even in historical costume. Hence the now iconic phrase:

I proclaimed this myself as Sarah was lacing me up at Costume College that year, and we found it funny enough to immortalize. As the saying itself proclaims, we know it’s wrong (that’s why we thought it was hilarious and worth recording, as did the fine Tudor Tailor ladies!). But we’re not so sure about Hollywood. Either they don’t know it’s wrong or they’re just pandering to base instincts to sell their flicks.

This being Snark Week, it’s time for some a smackdown on this seemingly squishy subject!

Throughout history up until very recently, Western women’s fashion has been pretty consistent about keeping women’s breasts under control. In some eras, more of the upper chest might be on display by wealthier ladies, but even then, the idealized form of beauty was a controlled and confined bosom. “Letting it all hang loose” wasn’t fashionable, “lift and separate” wasn’t desirable, and “tits on a platter” was generally avoided. Not until the 20th century does a fully rounded, individual breast cup shape become part of everyday outerwear visible clothing. You just don’t SEE a lot of boob in historical images unless it’s a nude!

For historical examples here, I’m going to use a lot of period portraiture. This shows what was considered the beauty ideal for the time, especially for upper-class, privileged women. These were the type of images that were influential and aspirational — women wanted to look like this in their day. I’m also including a few atypical paintings to show what was not the desired look; those are the scandalous art of their time, not what most women would want to be associated with. Let’s go chronologically…

 

 

The Dark Ages / Early Middle Ages

Or what I call in the SCA, sack clothes and T-tunics. Definitely not bullet bras.

1100s women

1115 – Matilda of Tuscany from Cod. Vat. lat. 4922, fol. 49r (left); 1170 – Women at the Raising of Lazarus from the Hunterian Psalter (right)

Attila the Hun ruled from 434-453, and I can’t find a decent image of what his lady folks might have worn, but I can 100% guarantee it wasn’t slinky poly-knit with big seams under the boobs and visible nipples. Ditto 11th-century Castile, I’m positive they didn’t have cross-your-heart bras then.

Attila (1954)

Attila (1954)

El Cid (1961)

El Cid (1961)

 

 

The High Middle Ages

Yes, the hats are weird/cool, but note the filled-in and flat necklines.

1470-90 - womens necklines

1471 – Elizabeth Woodville (left); 1473 Maria de Hoose, from the Triptych of Jan de Witte (center); 1490 – Mary of Burgundy (right)

No sternum should be visible!

Pleasant Nights aka Le piacevoli notti (1966)

Pleasant Nights aka Le piacevoli notti (1966)

Also, no pushed-up breasts, sorry, newp.

Robin Hood (2006-9)

Robin Hood (2006-9)

The White Princess (2017)

The White Princess (2017)

 

 

The Renaissance

Where bodices were structured and partlets were worn a-plenty!

1530s-1560s - womens necklines

1537 – Mary of Guise, attributed to Corneille de Lyon (left); 1565 – Lavinia, his daughter by Titian (right)

Maybe if this had some structure? Eh, it’d still look like crap.

The Tudors (2007-10)

The Tudors (2007-10)

That neat split-front thing on some Tudor bodices was never that deeply cut!

The Prince and the Pauper (1977)

The Prince and the Pauper (1977)

Sure, she needs a smock or partlet or something, but I also think a nip slip is about to happen.

 

 

The 17th Century

Frock flicks see a lot that’s on the “unusual” side instead of the “ideal” when it comes to bust shapes and necklines.

1620s - women necklines

1622-25 – Anna of Austria by Rubens (left); 1628 – The Gypsy Girl by Frans Hals (right)

Oh Raquel! You will never live this hideous dress down among frock flickers!

I love this version of Moll Flanders and I love Alex Kingston, but any time I see flesh squeezing out of a bodice like this I call it a fit problem and a tits-out problem.

17th-c. Salem had a lot more cleavage than ever possible in a Puritan colony, even if these are supposed to be witches.

Salem (2014)

Salem (2014)

 

 

The 18th Century

We should have serious corsetry here, either in a stiff “V” shape or a softer cone shape at the end of the century. But always structured and keeping the actual flesh inside the garment.

1750-85 - womens' neckline

1756-60 – Marie-Josèphe de Saxe, dauphine of France by Maurice Quentin de La Tour (left); 1785 – Self-Portrait with Two Pupils by Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (right)

Oh Stanzie, what giant boobs you have! Further emphasizing Mozart as a dirty little man, sure, but this is ridiculous.

Amadeus (1984)

Amadeus (1984)

Marie-Antoinette would never wear such a sloppy neckline and let it all  hang out!

Liberté, égalité, choucroute (1984)

Liberté, égalité, choucroute (1984)

Supposedly Joséphine de Beauharnais, but just NO.

The Loves and Times of Scaramouche (1976)

The Loves and Times of Scaramouche (1976)

This costume would be fantastic if the designer could just get the cleavage situation under control.

YES WE KNOW IT’S IN THE BOOK. But it’s not historically accurate, and it looks dumb.

Outlander (2014-)

Outlander (2014-)

WE KNOW THIS WAS IN THE BOOK TOO. But it’s also not historically accurate and also looks dumb. Here, we wrote about what’s the closest to historical 18th-c. breast hanging out of your dress, go have fun.

Outlander 2x2

Outlander (2014-)

The Kent Chronicles, Part 1 (The Bastard) and Part 2 (The Rebels), is tragically missing any historical bust support.

1978 The Bastard

The Bastard (1978)

1978 The Bastard

The Bastard (1978)

1979 The Rebels

The Rebels (1979)

While this “wench” look is used by movies for 17th-c. lower-class women, I feel like it inspired generations of crappy renfaire peasant costumes. Also, there is nothing attractive about it so WHY?!?!?!?

Dick Turpin (1979)

Dick Turpin (1979)

Here’s a bit of obscure 18th-century fashion — a mini-trend of European woman wearing Turkish clothing. Relevant because in Angelique et le Sultan (1964) the main character is taken into the harem of the King of Morocco so she could be wearing something much more accurate. Not that anything else about the Angelique series is historically accurate, but in case you were wondering!

1756 - Marie-Fargues by Jean-Etienne Liotard

1756 – The artist’s wife, Marie Fargues, in Turkish dress by Jean-Étienne Liotard 

Angelique et le Sultan (1964)

Angelique et le Sultan (1964)

 

 

Early 19th Century

The neoclassical empire-waist style did raise the breasts and put them on display somewhat. But it’s still easy for movies and TV shows to get wrong!

NO STERNUM, I MEAN IT.

I have no idea why this movie about Emma Hamilton and Horatio Nelson has two different costume styles, but they’re both inaccurate, and it’s rather funny.

Emma Hamilton (1968)

Emma Hamilton (1968)

Then there’s all the sexah takes on Empress Josephine.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine- A Love Story

Napoleon and Josephine – A Love Story (1987)

This French TV movie about Napoleon and Josephine just makes me sad. Her poor boobs look mangled!

1978 Les Grandes Conjurations - L'Attentat de la rue Nicaise

Les Grandes Conjurations – L’Attentat de la rue Nicaise (1978)

 

 

Mid 19th Century

This era is known for berthas — the wide pleated or ruffled decoration that hangs from a gown’s neckline and obscures any possible chance of cleavage. If that wasn’t enough, there’s the tucker, which is that dainty white strip of gathered nonsense tucked into the gown’s neckline and covering up the top inch of visible cleavage (as I always say: No-one’s gonna fuck her if she’s wearing a tucker).

1850s-1870s - womens necklines

1851 – Madame Moitessier by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (left); 1867 – Victoria, Crown Princess of Prussia, by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (center); 1874 – Grand Duchess Maria Fiodorovna by Heinrich von Angeli (right)

Now these are the whores so sure, tits out all day!

Kendra calls the main character in North and South “Tits Out” for the obvious reason.

North and South (1985)

North and South (1985-6)

North and South (1985)

North and South (1985-6)

This Ukrainian series is fully onboard the “I don’t care if it’s historically accurate, I just want my tits out” train.

Love in Chains (2019)

Love in Chains (2019)

There’s a lot of excessive cleavage in this Sweet Valley High production, but the squished boobs hurt the most.

You’d think a flick like The Wild Women of Chastity Gulch (1982) would have plenty of tits out because, y’know, all them hooooors. But HELLO, these are the good girls! (Yes, that’s Blair from The Facts of Life and Donny Osmond!)

The Wild Women of Chastity Gulch (1982)

The Wild Women of Chastity Gulch (1982)

The Wild Women of Chastity Gulch (1982)

The Wild Women of Chastity Gulch (1982)

 

 

Late 19th Century

How better to describe what was more typical fashion and what was unusual than by showing portraits from the same artist? John Singer Sargent painted many upper-crust portraits that looked like the one on the left, showing typical clothes and styles of the period. But his ‘Madame X’ portrait was considered scandalous at the time because it shows so much of her skin and is so low-cut in the front.

1883 - John Singer Sargent portraits

1883 – Mrs. Henry White (left); 1883-4 – ‘Madame X,’ Madame Pierre Gautreau (right); both by John Singer Sargent

This looks like she’s wearing her underwear with a cardigan, WTFrock?

The Frisco Kid (1979)

The Frisco Kid (1979)

Even otherwise excellent productions can slip up.

OK, so this flick is about the “amorous career of a courtesan” but do we really need to be so cliched?

Nana (1955)

Nana (1955)

 

Do you care if it’s historically accurate when you get your tits out?

 

 

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36 Responses

  1. Roxana

    The Sophia Loren costume from El Cid might actually pass as a bliaud if not for the bullet bra. In fact the middle ages liked small, firm breasts. If anything a lady would try to minimize her endowment. Throughout history respectable women have shown only a hint of cleavage if that. The squashed boob look always makes me wince

    Reply
  2. Amanda

    This was both fun and educational (and occasionally painful), but I grieve that you didn’t take the opportunity to poke fun at the movie title Twins of Evil.

    Reply
  3. Stephani Miller

    Ha! My very fave t-shirt is the tits-out one. As I like to say: sun’s out, guns out. I think if a film is claiming historical accuracy then historically inappropriate cleavage/boob exposure can ruin the illusion. Sometimes, if used as a visual assist to decoding a character’s personality or status etc, it can be effective. But it’s so often just shorthand for “slut” and it can be distracting when aaaallll you see is acres of bewb.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      My fave shirt too — I esp. love wearing it during setup for renfaire gigs, LOL ;)

      Most of the examples I used here aren’t even supposed to be the slutty characters! Like The White Princess – that’s just sexing up the story bec. Philipa Fucking Gregory, plus screwing around w/the period’s clothing design. And for all we call her Tits Out in North & South, she’s pretty faithful to her one true love, so why alllll the boooooobs?

      Reply
  4. Jennifer Faith

    You ever notice the women with big tits get cleavage shots but the ones with small tits are cthe ones that go full nude? I think Hollywood discovered what we top-heavy girls have known all along: big boobs are not sexy when unleashed! They’re a pain in the ass!

    Reply
  5. Lexy

    I notice that the only “tits out” historical portrait is of a gipsy; people had a tendency to erotize gipsies ( Esmeralda being an exemple), thinking of gipsy women as whores and easy preys, so that representation makes sense. It’s not fashion, it’s prejudice

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Yup, that painting is sometimes held up as an example of “historically accurate cleavage” of the period, but the subject matter was considered scandalous & not what was properly worn.

      Reply
      • Aleko

        I do wonder if the gypsy girl’s spilling-out tits are simply the result of her clothing poverty – that with puberty she has outgrown her support garment (which looks to me more like a justaucorps or similar unboned garment of strong fabric than a corset proper) and can’t afford a new one? Many years ago I commissioned a lovely pair of 1770s stays from a professional maker, which fitted me nicely. Then the menopause added another 5” to my bust measurement, and ever since then, when I wear them (and I really can’t justify the expense of a new pair), I really have to work to avoid that overspill look.

        That of course doesn’t in any way contradict Lexy’s point that this is a ‘Look, guys, sexy gypsy slut! Feast your eyes on those tits!’ picture: I’m only saying that it may be perfectly realistic.

        Reply
    • NuitsdeYoung

      I suspect the title is a euphemism: as I was told in Art History, it’s more probably a study of a prostitute.
      Re: the (19C fictional) Esméralda – one of the (spoiler) points is that she isn’t a real gypsy… but she is the daughter of a prostitute.

      Reply
    • lesartsdecoratifs

      This is because this article didn’t really mention 1610-20s English aristocratic fashion, the only time in recent history where the fashionable neckline went lower than what would be acceptable in present times. That Frances Howard, Countess of Somerset’s 1615 portrait does show extremely low cleavage and that we have a sketches of court masque costumes of the time period that were fully tits out means that even in the past a low cleavage was not always a moral judgement.

      To be fair though, 1610-20 England is not a very popular time period and place to portray in film. And none wich have portrayed the time and place has ever used the opportunity to have this sort HA cleavage.

      Reply
  6. Jamie LaMoreaux

    As I went through the photos, I was singing “Mamm-ories! Mamm-ories!” some of these movies (written, produced, directed, designed by men) seem to think, no one is going to look at the female lead unless her jugs are front and center, out and proud! they would be WRONG of course.

    Reply
  7. Lily Lotus Rose

    The whole tits out phenomenon just makes me tired. Not only is it distracting and wrong, it’s just like, “Do we have to put with one more example of male gaze BS in one more Frock Flick?#%$#” And also, it just looks sooo uncomfortable. Someone above used the phrase, “suns out, guns out” and that made me think of men’s arms–guns–and how much I’m distracted by non-period tank-top cuts on shirts to show off an actor’s well-muscled arms. It’s like, “we get it, this actor works out!” The worst offender for that was the chain mail tank top they made Tom Hooper wear in Merlin. I can’t unsee that! Just like I can’t unsee all those women’s breasts!!!

    Reply
    • Kristina

      “Ripped” muscles in period dramas are the male equivalent of “tits out.” I doubt that very many men outside of the lower classes would have had that kind of physique. Muscular legs, yes, since rich men danced and rode horses, but not super-muscular arms and torsos! Where’s the pictorial evidence for that?

      Reply
  8. Kelly

    On the Amadeus director’s cut DVD, Elizabeth Berridge remembers shooting that scene, rolling around the carpet with Mozart, and she had a costume malfunction. The director yelled, “Keep going!” and Berridge said, “…Really?”

    Reply
  9. Saraquill

    I had a dormmate in college, a SCAdian, who loved to say “In Elizabethan times you could show half your nipple and still be considered modest,” and once added rouging said nipples was a trend. I still have no idea how she came to these conclusions.

    Reply
  10. Charity

    I laughed so hard over this post.

    In defense of Daniel Deronda, I don’t remember it being that low-cut from straight on, but yeah, when she bends over you can see a lot. Also… Sense & Sensibility seems to be a ‘tits out’ offender no matter which production it is. I worried Emma Thompson was going to fall out of her dress, and Charity Wakefield is certainly busting out of hers in the promo shots!

    Reply
    • Kristina

      The 1995 S&S definitely–Thompson’s boobs are the worst offenders, but Winslet’s, Walter’s, and Staunton’s aren’t far behind. The 2008 one is actually much more demure than you’re implying, aside from the unrepresentative promo shots. Wakefield shows extreme cleavage in the Delaford library scene, and nowhere else. But let’s not forget that Ehle’s cleavage in P&P 1995 is super-prominent in the majority of her scenes. Sometimes she is covered up, but not often.

      Reply
  11. hsc

    “But [John Singer Sargent’s] ‘Madame X’ portrait was considered scandalous at the time because it shows so much of her skin and is so low-cut in the front.”

    To some extent. But really, the outcry against the painting was more because:

    1) Mme. Gautreau already had achieved a scandalous reputation; tabloids speculated about affairs she was said to be having, and Sargent portraying her boldly displaying herself in a low-cut black dress was putting her notoriety squarely in the public’s face.

    2) The painting originally showed her right jeweled shoulder strap dropped down, a first-step level of partial undress resulting in the published remark in Le Figaro, “One more struggle and the lady will be free.”

    Sargent repainted the strap in its present position, but the damage was already done.

    Reply
  12. A

    There is at least one more thing about the 19th century the filmmakers miss a lot – while ball or evening dresses could be low-cut, during the day ladies went around covered up to their necks (in late 19th century up to their chins). The only part a walking ensemble left uncovered was the face – and not even that, as they had hats with veils. Or at least a parasol.

    Reply
  13. Etta

    I’ll admit I make my bodices too low but as someone with tiny tits, man I need whatever I can get ;)

    Reply
  14. Popka Superstar

    I think that’s a good point about there sometimes being a lot of naked chest but very little of what we think of as cleavage. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the neckline of extant 18th century dresses and a lot of them hit at exactly nipple level, so practically speaking I’m sure women spilled out a lot if they were moving or raising their arms, but of course there would be a chemise edge or fichu covering it. And for household tasks and stuff I’m sure they would wear something more practical anyway.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Many movie/TV shows leave out all the little bits of linen that women wore in many periods to cover up the chest — chemises, fichus, neckerchiefs, tuckers, etc. They aren’t sexy, but they were extremely practical.

      Reply

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