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It’s not just back-lacing dresses that we have a problem with. We have issues with the really random lacing inserted into clothing in historical costume movies and TV shows. It’s endemic to medieval and renaissance costumes, presumably because people think, since they didn’t have zippers, how else could people get in and out of their clothes? Never mind the fact that functional buttons have been used in clothing since, what?, the 14th century — something else we’ve ranted about, but hey, let’s remind y’all here:
1360, Speculum Humanae Salvationis, Cologne, Germany. Look at this knife-welding bad-ass wearing buttons!
Using pins as a closure was also super-common in the pre-zipper, pre-velcro eras, such as:
1470, The Birth of the Virgin by a Master of Munich — Pinned-on sleeves were totally a thing in the Middle Ages and renaissance. Pin-making was a huge industry. Google it.
But maybe a costume designer out there (or a director or someone else involved in the production; I’m happy to spread the blame around) is thinking that surely buttons and pins were, if not too far advanced technology, well that’s just too expensive for the stinking, slovenly poor folk running around in muck and mud in ye olden times in their show.
OK then, but that doesn’t mean poor folks would have GIANT FUCKING LACING OPENINGS using metal grommets (which haven’t been invented yet) laced up VERY LOOSELY and using fat, inept, useless laces that would be difficult to tie up modern shoes with. No, this is what folks would look like:
1494, Cutting the Stone by Hieronymus Bosch — This old guy is doing so poorly he’s getting his head cut open. Yet his clothes are laced closed tightly using narrow little lacing through handmade eyelets.
1463, The Visitation by a Master in Cologne — On the left is the most you might see a woman’s gown unlaced in public, just a little accidental gap showing her brocade kirtle.
Now, in a few very specific times and places, multiple sections of lacing in a garment were used as a decorative element in fashion. But when you get to decoration, that’s going to be for high-status people. Such as…
1490, Herod’s Banquet by Domenico Ghirlandaio — You see a lot of decorative sleeve lacing in late 15th- to early 16th-century Italian clothing, along with functional front-lacing gowns. Worn by people who could afford such luxuries.
1505-10, Portrait of Bianca Maria Sforza by Bernhard Strigel — 16th-century clothing of certain Germanic states used decorative sleeve lacing.
1560s, Portrait of a Lady by Jacopo Zucchi — Laced-on sleeves, a renfaire favorite! But notice how tightly the sleeves fit to her gown. And those appear to be fancy gold buttons attaching the sleeves, not giant shoelaces either.
Lacing as a decorative element was a fairly limited thing, however, most popular in the very late 15th century and in the 16th century. Otherwise, lacing remained functional, such as for underwear.
1660-80 stays at the V&A Museum — Lookit the tidy, tight lacing in both the front and on the sleeves! So nicely fitted!
Because people, even in the past, weren’t stupid and didn’t want giant gaps in their clothing unless they were so idle rich that they could sit around somewhere, IDK, enjoying the breeze that created.
In case there are any movie-makers out there, let me list the ways to depict laced-up clothing in a historically accurate fashion:
- No metal grommets on outerwear before 20th century.
- Lace tightly, the goal is to close the garment up.
- If there is a gap in the lacing, no skin should show through, only undergarments.
- The cord used to lace should be thin and simple, not a chunky shoelace.
- Use the least number of lacings needed to actually close up the garment, unless the character is clearly wealthy enough to afford wholly decorative lacing.
Now let’s see how they get it wrong!
Robin Hood (1991) — You thought your mullet could distract us from both metal grommets and unnecessary lacing, didn’t you Kevin? HAH.
The TV series Robin Hood (2006-9) is a hot-bed of unnecessary lacing, in particular, the trope of “in the past, poor people couldn’t afford to sew, they could only lace together random pieces of material with leather strings.”
Is the lacing for easy access? Robin Hood (2006-9)
I nearly used up all my red arrows in this one scene. Robin Hood (2006-9)
There is just no reason to have laced-on sleeves in a 14th-c. French gown like this. And doing a shitty job of it doesn’t help. La Commanderie (2010)
Black Death (2010) — This lacing doesn’t even make sense.
The Vampire Diaries (2009) goes back in time to add multiple random pointless lacings on their garments, apparently.
No, Pillars of the Earth (2010), adding cutesy little metal findings doesn’t make this sleeve lacing right.
Newp. Not those either. Pillars of the Earth (2010)
Yeah, the sequel, World Without End (2012), didn’t do any better. Why would anyone need a sleeve laced there?
So this chick’s dress in Isenhart: The Hunt Is on for Your Soul (2011) seems OK at first…
But WTF? Front lacing, side lacing, AND back lacing?!? Are you fucking kidding me?!? Isenhart: The Hunt Is on for Your Soul (2011)
Apparently, every women in Isenhart: The Hunt Is on for Your Soul (2011) has the same or worse dress.
Die Rache der Wanderhure (2012) — Oh c’mon, you’re not even trying here.
You might think Knightfall (2017) is going for 100% in with modern cold-shoulder gowns, but no, they throw in some random laces into the sleeves for that ye olde-time look.
The White Princess (2017) indulges in some unnecessary neck lacing.
Laced sleeves aren’t accurate for this period, plus it kind of looks like an angry mouth. The White Princess (2017)
Margaret Beaufort as a laced-up leather dominatrix in The White Princess (2017).
La Celestina (1996) tries for German, but is hanging by a thread.
Henry VIII (2003) fails on so many counts, it’s almost unfair to nitpick the sleeve lacing (but remember, there’s no fairness in Snark Week).
Jamestown (2017) — No, you don’t get points for a shitty attempt at spiral lacing.
Yeah, no, that’s not what a sleeved corset looked like in the 18th century. Outlander (2014)