SNARK WEEK: Tit Swags

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I have a feeling I’m going to upset some costumers and re-enactors with this post, but we need to talk about tit swags, people. Like head necklaces, tit swags are a trope that arose out of a misunderstanding of what was being seen in historical portraiture, then Hollywood just ran with it.

So, what is a tit swag, you ask? Like its head necklace counterpart, tit swags typically show up as a necklace that has been pinned to the front of a bodice and looks as if the necklace is suspended by the nipples. Though by no means exclusive to a particular film era, tit swags usually are found in movies set in the 16th century.

Eleanor of Aquitaine only threatened us with the idea.

 

Lest you think we let our favorite films off the hook during Snark Week, I will point out that 1) I love Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) and think the costumes are fabulous, and 2) those pearls are definitely suspended at nipple level. Pretty much textbook tit swag.

 

A subtle example from Las Aventuras del Capitan Alatriste (2015).

 

Sometimes the swag is suspended close to the armpits, or in this example from The Musketeers (2014-16), affixed to whatever that funky shoulder strap is supposed to be.

 

I tried really hard to find a better image of this scene from Henry VIII (2008) where Emily Blunt is rocking the tit swag, but this will have to do. It looks to me like it’s a long chain suspended from the neckline, but it’s been ages since I’ve watched this show. BTW, this is another gown from Anne of the Thousand Days that has had a number of overhauls over the years.

 

I’m counting this from The Tudors (2007-10) as a tit swag, even though it’s less swag-y than the other examples.

 

I gave up trying to figure out what was going on with this bodice, from Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008), but I finally decided it falls into tit swag territory.

 

“But Sarah,” I can hear the screams already, “I can document tit swags in 16th-century portraits!”

Ah, but can you? Like the head necklace, there are a handful of historical portraits that, if examined uncritically, could lead one to mistakenly believe that tit swags are a legit documentable thing. Let’s examine some examples:

Portrait of Margaret of France, by Clouet, c. 1560.

Some people would say this is totally an example of a period tit swag, however, I will point out two things:

First, notice where the swag appears to end. It looks like it terminates at her armpits, and not suspended by her nipples.

Second, look closer:

The swag actually appears to attach higher up on her shoulder, which argues that this is probably a necklace that actually is pinned along the shoulder line and disappears into the shoulder rolls.

Oh, sure, that’s just my conjecture. How do I know for certain that it actually is a necklace that loops around her shoulders? Well, ok, I don’t know for 100% certain, but I do happen to have documentation that supports the supposition:

Portrait of a woman by Clouet, c. 1560

 

Please refer to the giant red arrow pointing at the double strand of pearls following the line of the sitter’s shoulder.

Want another example?

Catherine de Medici, by a follower of Clouet, c. 1565-1570.

I can do this all day…

Portrait of Jeanne d’Albret, by Clouet.

 

Portrait of Anna d’Este, by Clouet.

 

Margot de Valois, by Clouet, 1572.

 

Portrait of Beatrix Pacheco, Countess of Montbel and Entremonts, by Clouet, c. 1550.

Why so many examples by Clouet, you ask? Well, for starters he was a prolific painter of fashionable women in the 16th century. Second, he’s incredibly detailed, so you do see these tiny little details which might otherwise be lost to lesser painters. Seriously, you can’t go wrong with François Clouet if you’re at all interested in 16th-century female clothing.

Anyway, I think I’ve made my point. Tit swags are not a thing.

 

 

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

15 Responses

  1. Bea

    did you know….
    “Snark Week: Tit Swags” scans PERFECTLY to “Otto Titsling” from Beaches?
    .
    “Snark Week: Tit Swags, OMG what a trope!
    How costume designers maul pearls on a rope…”

    Reply
  2. Kathy

    See, these are one of the few inaccuracies that I would not laugh at a designer for. If the costume has the right sort of jewels in the right placement, on-screen there would be very little difference between if it fastened at the very corners of the chest or was part of a larger necklace. Of course, the problem is a lot of the designers do not content themselves with creating the decoration similar to the historical examples.

    Reply
  3. Addie

    I have such a crush on Beatrix Pacheco (that last portrait), in part because her clothes are so unique. Does anybody know what the deal is with her clothing? I’ve never seen anything quite like it in her time frame. (Beatrix came from Italy to France with the court of Eleonore of Castile and later served Catherine de Medici. This portrait is probably from later in her life, despite her looking younger than earlier portraits of her.) I’ve rambled to my friends on end about how her clothes don’t match the styles of the time- has anyone ever seen sleeves of that sort before?

    Reply
    • Stella

      My eye was immediately drawn to her as well, she has such a lovely face! But the clothes are strange, they look like earlier Italian styles if anything and I agree that she looks younger here than in portraits where she’s actually wearing up-to-date clothes. Is this a very strange attribution mistake or did she commission a portrait of herself as if she were younger? Either way I’m very curious!

      Reply
  4. Saraquill

    Anyone else want to scream at the portraits? If those necklaces are indeed pinned in place, it does not bode well for the pearls. They were worth more than diamonds in the period, but much softer. Scratching them by accident would suck.

    Reply
  5. Shashwat

    Bosom swags are not something that I will rip my eyes out for,but it is very clear that they were popular only during the 16th century as looped necklaces.Especially common on recycled costumes.The tudor era full U-bosom necklaces are more confusing though as the necklace chain,if any,is obscured by partlets.They sort of had a comeback during Edwardian era,in the form of embroidered pieces on a sheer background.

    Reply
  6. Attack Laurel

    You are a scream, and I love it!! I hate tit swags with a passion, even though I committed the crime in my earlier ‘bethan. Awesome. I thought at first that Judi Dench was wearing some big ol’ ones in Shakespeare in Love, but closer examination appears that they’re necklaces. Still hate Gwyneth, tho. Ugh.

    Reply
  7. Leigh

    Katharine Hepburn & Lion in Winter was my first though when I saw the title. I always assumed she meant topless tit swag, Rather then pinned to the bodice kind.

    Reply
  8. Sissi

    Wait I never realised those were just long necklaces I feel like I’ve been living a lie

    Reply
    • Stella

      Same, I thought that surely this wasn’t a huge deal as all the 16th century portraits are wearing them… apparently we were wrong!

      Reply
  9. SmallCatharine

    Funny thing is, nipple swag did actually exist – during the Edwardian era. If you look at pictures of Edward VII’s coronation, Queen Alexanda has the Dagmar necklace pinned at nipple height. It is a bit difficult to see beneath the dozen or so ropes of pearls, but it is there.
    Grand Duchess Vladimir did something similar when wearing court dress.

    Reply
  10. Donna

    Noticed another version of tit swag when we watched Guys and Dolls the other night. In one of the dance numbers in the nightclub, Miss Adelaide and her chorus girls have swag under the tits on sparkly “flesh” colored leotards.

    Reply

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