SNARK WEEK: Top 5 “Ohhh This Is Supposed to Be PERIOD” Movies

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You know what I’m talking about. You’re tootling along, watching some movie, when suddenly someone references Pearl Harbor or the stock market crash or some other historical event, and you sit up and say, “OHHHH this is supposed to be PERIOD. I missed that, because of the total lack of historical wardrobe/totally wrong hair/complete lack of effort.” Or maybe it’s the opposite, you go in thinking, “Yay, a period piece!” and then spend the rest of the time squinting at various ensembles and thinking, “MAYbe? I guess?”

During Snark Week, let’s look at five contenders for this category — I know there are more, suggest them in the comments!

 

Honorary Mention: War and Peace (2016)

This BBC miniseries hasn’t been released yet, and so we haven’t seen the full wardrobes … but what the hell is Gillian Anderson as Anna Pavlovna Scherer WEARING here — a bridesmaid’s dress from David’s Bridal? I’m sorry, has anyone heard of one-shouldered gowns in the Regency era?

War and Peace (2016)

That looks like a sheer georgette overlayer. Did they HAVE georgette in the first decade of the 1800s?

War and Peace (2016)

WHOA. That’s a whole lot of armpit there. And clearly boning used to hold up the sleeveless half.

War and Peace (2016)

Maybe the bridal alterations place messed up and hacked off one sleeve?

5: A Christmas Story (1983)

Okay, so yes, this movie is a classic and rightly so. We watch it at my house at least once a year, and phrases like “Bumpuses!” and “I like the Wizard of Oz” are used weekly. The filmmakers clearly weren’t working with a huge budget, but they did a decent enough job showing a middle-class family in the 1930s … except for mom’s hair. WHAT is up with that bad 1980s poodle perm? It looks like the actress (Melinda Dillon) even has naturally straight hair, so this is DEFINITELY a perm. There’s just nothing 1930s about it. It’s not waved or pin-curled, it’s not styled at all, and THOSE BANGS!

A Christmas Story (1983)

Okay, sure, everyone looks fine.

A Christmas Story (1983)

But wait! Those suspiciously straighter bangs just scream “PERM.”

A Christmas Story (1983)

And okay, maybe she wouldn’t worry about styling it too much when she’s at home. But it looks like this when they go out! No self-respecting 1930s woman would EVER have hair like this.

A Christmas Story (1983)

POODLE. FRIZZ.

4: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Okay, so Raiders of the Lost Ark did okay in terms of putting lead actress Karen Allen into plausibly 1930s clothing:

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Okay sure, it’s long, it’s got full sleeves, I can buy this.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Bias-cut satin evening gown, sure.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Although those bangs are questionable…

But really, Kate Capshaw in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) is BEYOND 1980s.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

I mean, sure, you could work really hard to tell me that this “bwong!!” sort-of-Chinese-Cheongsam is 1930s.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

But it just looks like something from Dynasty to me.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

AND THAT HAIR. THE HAIR JUST RUINS IT.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

And then once they’re off on their adventures, she’s in a white shirt and 1980S MOM HAIR.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

There is no way in hell she’d have a base haircut like that.

3: The Searchers (1956) and Most Other Mid-Century Westerns

I’m so confused when I look at mid-century (1940s-60s) Westerns. When the hell are they set? It seems like it’s ye oldey-timey 19th century, as everyone’s riding horses to get around and there’s no pizza delivery. But then all the women are in jeans, and the hair is just uber-of-its-period, and I have no idea. The Searchers is a great example: it’s set in 1868. Please to enjoy.

1956 The Searchers

Okay so sure, “jeans” were invented in the 19th century — the Levi’s company started in 1873 — but I doubt that the people who wore them looked like they came out of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog.

1956 The Searchers1

So the lady on the right’s dress looks somewhat 19th century, with the full skirt and the cap on the sleeve. But the older lady on the left just looks like she’s from Dust Bowl Oklahoma.

1956 The Searchers2

No woman over the age of 16 would wear her hair in braids.

1956 The Searchers3

AND NO WOMAN IN 1868 WOULD WEAR JEANS. EVER EVER EVER.

2: Most 1960s-70s Barbra Streisand Movies

The movies that Barbra Streisand made in the 1960s-70s are great examples of the period’s preference to hang on firmly to contemporary fashions. She’s not the only one — look up most “historical” movies made in this era and you’ll be able to spot bouffants right and left.

But let’s take a look at a few Barbra classics, like On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970), in which Barbra plays a modern woman who, through hypnosis, gets in touch with a previous life in English Regency era. Here’s what that looks like:

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970)

Oh-kay…

Clearly they are trying to reference period images like this one (Madame Recamier by Jacques Louis David).

Clearly they are trying to reference period images like this one (Madame Recamier by Jacques Louis David).

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970)

But unless Barbra’s character has a deformed head, that’s a WHOLE LOT OF HAIR.

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970)

I mean, they wore hairpieces in the Regency era. But they didn’t wear HAIRPIECES.

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970)

Oh good, put a turban on it! Now she looks like she’s from outer space.

I’ve never seen Funny Girl (1968), but it’s a biopic about Fanny Brice, singer and actress who was active from the 1930s to 1951. Maybe you can explain looks like this to me:

Funny Girl (1968)

The dress is sort of 1910s?

Funny Girl (1968)

Wait, are we back in On a Clear Day…?

Funny Girl (1968)

Please explain what is 1930s or 1940s about this outfit. PLEASE.

Funny Girl (1968)

WHAT. THE. HELL.

But special mention has to go to…

1: The Way We Were (1973)

Okay, it’s another Barbra film. BUT SERIOUSLY. I spent the entire time watching this movie say, “No. NO. THERE IS NO WAY THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE A PERIOD MOVIE.” It theoretically covers the 1930s through the late 1950s or early 1960s. Apparently that memo never made it to the costume or hair designers:

The Way We Were (1973)

I guess this is supposed to be the ’30s, but then why all the volume in her hair?

The Way We Were (1973)

1940s or proto-1980s?

The Way We Were (1973)

He looks like a Pan Am pilot, she looks like she’s a secretary out of 9 to 5.

The Way We Were (1973)

Barbra’s hair is vaguely 1930s here, if awfully ploufty.

The Way We Were (1973)

In post-war Hollywood, Barbra now looks like she’s auditioning for A Chorus Line circa 1975.

The Way We Were (1973)

A wardrobe test. She looks like she’s about to be on Three’s Company.

The Way We Were (1973)

I CAN’T EVEN.

Alright, lay it on me. Which “ohhh this is supposed to be PERIOD” movies did I miss?

 

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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.

31 Responses

  1. Michael

    The early part of funny girl is set in the 1910s, and Fanny Price was a comedienne which explains the whacky stage costumes.

    Reply
  2. Adam Lid

    Digging the 70s haircut on Robert Redford…but it just doesn’t work for the 1940s and especially for a naval officer. I guess he had a “no cut the hair” clause in his contract…

    Reply
  3. Black Tulip

    War and Peace. Trust me, you ain’t seen nothing yet. So bad it’s . . . . bad (but train-wreck compulsive).

    Reply
    • Alexa Levin

      I think my favorite thing for War and Peace was that they embraced that Russia might as well be Narnia when it comes to winter, but then you have someone run outside throwing a shawl around their shoulders. NO! PUT ON A JACKET!! Also that one-shoulder look is at a ball during the winter – yes it was indoors but do you really think they could efficiently heat that palace?

      Reply
  4. aelarsen

    One of the things I tell my students that that women’s hair is ALWAYS styled to be attractive to the time the film was made in. It’s a rare film in which a medieval woman plucks her hairline back.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      Yeah, this is the easiest dead giveaway for historical films, and modern makeup is a close second. It’s what makes “Elizabeth R” so great–they completely eschewed modern hair & makeup aesthetics and went whole-hog Elizabethan with Glenda Jackson. The supporting female characters are iffy, though. But at least they really stuck the landing with Bess.

      Reply
  5. Kelly F

    I had scene publicity stills of Gillian Anderson in that dress on tumblr and I assumed it was from Hannibal or a magazine shoot or something. I wish I’d remained in ignorance.

    Reply
  6. Donna S.

    (1) Fanny Brice. With a B. (Not Price) (2) Barbara’s fingernails: huh? Check out the photo with the harp. WTF????

    Reply
  7. Janette

    So far every image I have seen from the new War and Peace makes me shudder. War and Peace is one of my favourite books. The original BBC series which I watched when I was about 13, (and read the book immediately after) inspired my love of period costume and history. Why do contemporary productions feel they have to make the characters appear “modern” as though audiences can no longer relate to characters who dress differently to the familiar norm?

    Reply
  8. Sarah Lorraine

    Clue comes immediately to mind as one of those “wait, it’s supposed to be period?” films. It’s set in what, the 1920s/1930s? Hell if I know because it all just looks like black tie 1980s.

    Reply
  9. Mel (@estelsgirl)

    Wait. A Christmas Story is set in the 1930’s? I legitimately did not know this. I’ve only ever seen pictures and figured it was set in the 1970’s. Didn’t pay much attention to the clothes, but the Mom’s hair always said late 1970’s to me for some reason.

    Reply
  10. Karen

    I watched War and Peace on Monday evening and also thought, WTF re Gillian Anderson’s lavender frock…it was like you read my mind…seriously? One-shouldered Regency??? That isn’t the only infraction…I will continue to watch just to see what else pops up. I swear I get more entertainment value from costume rather than storyline…

    Reply
  11. Cristiane

    The MGM movie Ziegfeld Girl (1941), which starred several young on-the-verge-of-superstardom actors (James Stewart, Lana Turner, Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr), is one of my have-to-watch-its, even though it’s really a fairly crappy soap. I must have watched it at least 3 or 4 times before I realized that it was set in the 1920s (Stewart’s character gets arrested for bootlegging). The clothes are pure 1940s.

    Reply
  12. The Author

    Wait…The Way We Were is a period piece? I always assumed from stills it was contemporary to the time it was made. (I’m not being snide, I really mean that.)

    Reply
  13. Chiara

    As s person who binge-watches Funny Girl, the film starts out in the mid-1910s and ends in the mid to late 1920s. The “leopard” outfit is actually supposed to be in the 1920s. I don’t think that the last Funny Girl picture (with the red dress and crazy hat) is from the film; I’m not sure if it’s even Barbra at all. The picture is referencing a sailor outfit she wears in the “I’m the Greatest Star” scene, which is set around 1915, give or take a couple of years. I’d be interested in an actual review of the movie so you can let us know your opinion of the clothes.

    Reply
  14. ladylavinia1932

    Okay, so Raiders of the Lost Ark did okay in terms of putting lead actress Karen Allen into plausibly 1930s clothing

    No, they didn’t. Karen Allen looked as if she was wearing a debutante gown, fit for a 17 year-old. How old did Rene Belloq thought Marion Ravenwood was? And I wasn’t fond of Allen’s hairstyles. My major problem with Kate Capshaw was her hair. Her movie was supposed to be set in 1935, not 1945.

    Reply
  15. Motorboaterer

    I know this is an old post, but the resigned tone of the Barbra turban photo made me laugh uncomfortably long. :’D

    I also like how the flash in the background makes really seem like 1970’s sci-fi thriller, Barbra Streisand in the “Attack of the Domeheads!”

    Reply

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