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When you’re a hobbyist costumer for renaissance faires, the SCA, Dickens events, Jane Austen balls, and the like, you often take short cuts. You’re on a budget, you don’t have much time, you make use what you have on hand. As long as it passes the 10-foot-rule, it’ll do.
But when you’re a professional costumer for film and TV, you have to worry about your work being seen on 20-foot screens and in high-definition these days. And every little detail can be obsessed over via screencaps online. So while the pros also may have tight budgets and short deadlines, sometimes using any old fabric just doesn’t cut it.
Especially when it comes to the use of modern Indian sari fabrics, sari trims, and Indian embroidered materials. These are too frequently called to stand in for richly embellished historical fabrics, and sorry (sari, hah!), no, there’s a big difference.
It’s also ironic that Indian fabrics were super expensive and rare in western European fashion when they were first imported, starting in the late 18th century. The distance made these materials hard to get, and the fine quality of the cottons, in particular, made them valuable. Highly embellished Indian fabrics were used sparingly both due to cost and rarity. This all flipped in the late 20th century with global trade, labor, etc., and now embellished Indian fabrics are cheaper than having to embroider and trim a garment in your own costume workshop in the U.S. or U.K.
For a good on-screen example, the 2004 Vanity Fair directed by Indian-American Mira Nair has a legit Bollywood flair but still doesn’t go over-the-top all the time when it comes to the Indian fabrics.
Oh, and who could forget the 1995 Pride and Prejudice — everyone’s favorite snotty sister wears sari fabric!
So while there are points in European fashion history when using Indian materials are accurate, most of the stuff we see in frock flicks is just a budget-saving effort. Especially because it’s so often done for periods waaaaaay before Indian fabrics were historically accurate, like Elizabethan. This gets so obvious and cliche that, oh yeah, let’s snark it!
Now, the 16th century is really when Indian fabric use goes to hell on-screen. Let’s start with a little background on what things might have looked like in the period:
I chose these because this is the style of trim most often attempted in movies and TV, yet most often failed. 16th-century trim tended to be regular in pattern with geometric or small evenly spaced motifs. It’s typically just gold or gold and black or gold, black, and one color, but not multi-colors. And none of the big flowers or little shisha mirrors that are commonly found in Indian embroidery!
But wait, there’s one more! Or, at least, one more recycling:
Do you notice Indian fabrics and sari trim in frock flicks? Do you use it when you make historical costumes?