You all — especially our Patreon supporters, whose requests we take very seriously! — have been asking for an in-depth review of The Duchess (2008) for a while now, but I’ll admit to being overwhelmed by the prospect. There’s a ton to unpack, both in terms of plot and character, but also in terms of costumes, costumes, costumes — designed by Michael O’Connor. Luckily Trystan came up with a great idea, which is that I discuss the film one costume at a time. So, here’s our series: The Duchess Deep Dive, in which I will go through the movie, one costume at a time, focusing on those worn by the principle female characters. I’ll be talking about the costume itself, as well as hair, makeup, and accessories, both how they work in the film and how they compare to real fashion of the 1770s-80s.
For a quick overview of what I thought of the film, you can check out my short review. At some point in this process, I’ll take some time out to talk about how well they got the history right or not.
Okay, so technically this should be maternity dress #1. Ah, the traditional shot that very quickly explains how an English marriage works:
This is the scene in which the Duke of Devonshire informs a pregnant Georgiana that she will be raising his illegitimate daughter. To her credit, although she’s initially (and rightly) pissed off, she is kind to the girl and embraces her into the family.
Now on to the costume! We don’t get a lot of clear shots of it, as she’s mostly sitting down or in the dark. It’s a nightgown/mantua — see the stitched-down pleats in the back (and read more about this style here and here) — laced open over a sparkly stomacher and quilted petticoat:
Technically, I should write about the quilted petticoat, but I’m lazy, so instead I point you to the numerous examples listed at the 18th -Century Notebook.
The fabric of the gown looks VERY upholstery to me. I don’t hate it, but I also don’t love it:
The puffy sleeves are a less usual style that I’ve mostly seen in the 1750s in France:
There isn’t a ton of research out there on 18th-century maternity wear. The main source is Linda Baumgarten’s What Clothes Reveal, which focuses on America:
“Because clothing was either adapted to pregnancy without alteration or was made over afterward to reuse the expensive textiles, few maternity gowns survive in their original form from the eighteenth century. Most of the gowns that have been identified as maternity wear date from the last decades of the century, when women’s styles were in transition from stomachers to edge-to-edge center-front closures. This new style without a stomacher was less adaptable to changes in body size and shape… [after pregnancy,] maternity clothing was altered back to regular size or given away to other family members.”
Here’s another rare example of a maternity outfit — supposedly. This WAS an era in which gathered fronts and loose drapery were fashionable, so whether it can be said for sure that these elements mean that this gown is for maternity seems questionable to me. However, it does point out how well contemporary fashions suited maternity given their adjustability and semi-loose fits:
And yes, they still wore corsets when they were pregnant. Here’s a diagram of a maternity corset in Diderot’s Encyclopédie:
I continue to be very happy with her hair and makeup, although I feel like her eyebrows are bit too dramatic:
Compare them with the real Georgiana:
I also find the neck-rose annoying. It feels too modern — yes, they were way into chokers, but these were usually a plain ribbon, pleated all the way around ribbon, or something with a center-front focus.
What’s your thoughts on Georgiana’s first maternity ensemble in The Duchess?