We’re recapping the 2008 miniseries John Adams each week because the 18th-century costumes and American history are just that good! Catch all the episodes here.
We’ve touched on John Adams (2008) here and there over the years, but have never devoted a full, in-depth look at the costumes in this critically acclaimed miniseries. One of the biggest reasons is that as far as the first episode is concerned, the costumes are pretty boring. Getting past that, if all you’re looking for is a quick fix to scratch that frock flick itch, means having to sit through an hour of actual plot and acting and very little interesting costume content. Which is to say, I had tried watching John Adams a couple of times for what is probably the wrong reason: I wanted to see fabulous 18th-century costumes.
About a month into quarantine, however, Himself and I were looking for a good miniseries to watch, and John Adams came up on our Amazon Prime feed and I admitted I had never seen it. Himself expressed surprise, since he said it was one of the best shows dealing with that period of American history that he had ever watched. I kind of made some lame attempt to explain that if I watch a historical show, it’s for the costumes, not so much the content, but that made me sound like a weirdly stuck-up idiot, so I acquiesced and we put it on.
This was probably my third attempt at watching the show, but now I started to get interested because I had someone sitting beside me who was overflowing with interesting discussion points about the lead up to the American Revolution (which, again, is not my historical jam). And a funny thing happened … I started getting interested in the characters, the plot, the sets, and even, yes, the costumes. And without revealing too much for those who still think spoilers are a thing (also, why are you even here? Our motto is”there are no spoilers in history”) the costumes get much more interesting as the series progresses.
So! On to the costuming content for episode 1 (just be prepared … it’s not exciting).
John Adams is called to represent a regiment of British soldiers who allegedly open fired unprovoked on a crowd of Colonists. This is a career-defining moment for Adams, and he does not back down even though his own political leanings are against the British.
Abigail gives him sound advice while sitting in a cozy curtained bed.
Alright, you have my attention. The first somewhat interesting outfit Abigail wears in the series as she witnesses John’s closing statement in court. It’s a gorgeous brown/blue shot silk gown, which was super fashionable for this era, believe it or not. The only thing I have a gripe about, and this hold true throughout the series, is that her gowns OBVIOUSLY hook-and-eye in the front. Yes, they got the front closure right, but it would have been pinned, not hooked.
Abigail’s at-home costume is very utilitarian. There are no house servants, which I kiiiiind of wrinkled my face at, since the Adamses were decently well-off even at this point in John’s career. Even though they did not own slaves, they would have surely had a paid servant or two, yet Abigail is shown to be the sole “help” around the house (I’m sure our readers will chime in to correct me if I’m wrong about them not having any kind of paid help … 🙄).
What’s this? Looks like silk! Go on…
Ah, yes, a tasteful green silk frock and silk fichu for dinner at the British Attorney General’s home.
This is something that you will see throughout the series: the secondary female characters have passable-but-not-as-good-as-Abigail’s dresses, though the hair is pretty decent. Since most of the camerawork focuses on the neck up, the hair is usually the focal point in every shot, and the costumes are largely secondary.
The AG has a smart silk suit and an on-trend wig without being too over the top.
John and his cousin Samuel discuss Important Things while walking down by the docks. I do love me a good Garrick coat.
Attorney General Sewall wears an unpretentiously pretentious black silk satin frock coat and matching weskit.
I have nothing interesting to say about this scene other than I love the composition.
EXCELLENT wig, sir!
You catch the briefest glimpse of Abigail’s gown here. I like a lot about it, but the thing I disagree with is how high the neckline is. It needs to be lowered about 2-3″. I think they’re trying to convey that she’s pregnant (because “pregnant” = “extreme modesty,” I guess) since, like I mentioned above, the camera focus is on the neck up in almost every scene.
Kendra has promised to do a post in the near future on the trope of Girls Wearing Their Hair Down in the 18th Century and Why It Is Not Period, Thank You Very Much. Stay tuned.
Abigail is preggers and is wearing a nice patterned jacked in a suitably boring greige. John, meanwhile, is killing it in a tastefully blah brownish-mauve.
The whole family sends John off on the next stage of his career … As Massachusetts’ delegate in the Continental Congress.
Check in next week for another episode of John Adams!