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.
In this scene, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire hostesses her first big fancy dinner party at the side of her husband. It’s ONLY men in attendance and the talk is all politics, and Georgiana starts to show everyone that she’s got a brain by engaging in those conversations — except the duke doesn’t care, wanders off mid-dinner, and goes to shag a servant. Georgie catches him and has a sad.
It makes sense that Georgiana wears the most formal and traditional style of dress available, the robe à la française or sacque, for this event. This is her first formal event where she’s supposed to play the role of an adult all on her own two feet, with no parents in sight. Compare her more fashion-forward nightgowns/robes à l’anglaise with her wedding dress and her mother’s française.
You don’t see much of this dress on screen, as the scene is mostly shot in close-up. This is about the extent:
Luckily there’s a behind-the-scenes shot, and photos from the dress when it was on display, to help us out!
The dress is made of a pale silvery/lavender silk, probably taffeta, with a narrow woven stripe in groups of four. The stomacher is trimmed with a dark purple fabric that coordinates with the sleeve cuffs; there’s a more medium purple trim on the “robings” (the vertical front edges of the gown, which goes from shoulder down to the the side front waist and down the skirt to the hem). Silver lace makes serpentine patterns on the skirt front; this kind of curvy pattern is more typical of the 1760s and early 1770s, showing again that this dress is going for an established, traditional style. That same silver lace is integrated into the stomacher and cuff trim.
All these purple-y colors look great on screen, and Georgiana looks formal yet muted — she’s no peacock here!
I LOVE the makeup and hair in this scene. 18th century makeup aesthetics were all about rouged cheeks and darkened eyebrows, and this looks great. For jewelry, she’s got some pearl drops hanging from another stones-in-setting, some kind of jeweled spray in her hair, and a ribbon/lace choker which has something sparkly at the center.
Georgiana’s hair is frizzed and then worn up in a high, fashionable style, but not so high it’s crazy macaroni OTT time. Once again, this film outdoes most others set in this era for getting the shape of the hair right, and most importantly, the side and back styling, which most productions fuck up. She’s got three large “buckles” (rolls) behind the ear, and presumably the back looped up.
What’s your take on the dinner dress – yea or nay?