Timeless Goes 18th Century, with Mixed Results

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We’ve been covering the TV show Timeless (2016-) since before it came out — which is kind of random, for us, in that this is more mainstream and sci-fi than our usual fare. But, since most episodes spend about 95% of the screen time in historical settings AND since they’re jumping around to different eras each episode, it’s been fun to watch!

Plus, Matt Lanter:

Matt Lanter Timeless tv show (2016- )

WAIT FOR IT

It’s been good binge-watching while I’m doing crap around the house, and now there have been TWO (count ’em!) episodes set in my era of expertise, the 18th century! So, of course, I gotta break it down for y’all.

What’s been interesting throughout the show is, as I said in my previous review, the surprising levels of quality for a TV show that has a different historical setting in Every Single Episode. My mind boggles at the idea of having to coordinate, design, and create that, so my hat is off to costume designer Mari-An Ceo and the rest of the designers/creators.

That being said…

Stranded: 1754

This was the first of the two 18th-century episodes to air and not really my favorite. Mostly because we didn’t get to join the three time travelers (Lucy, professional historian; Wyatt, military special ops guy; Rufus, tech guy who pilots the time machine) in entering the period. Instead, we catch them when they are multiple days on the run, after everything has gone to crap. I love in particular watching Lucy’s awe-filled reactions as she enters different historical periods, because I would be the same way, and I missed seeing that this time. It does, however, give them an excuse for our three leads to look kind of crappy:

Timeless tv show (2016- )

Dirty, no jacket on Wyatt, no hats on the boys, Lucy’s hair down. None of this would fly in 18th-century society, but of course the idea is they’ve been lost in the woods for days.

Looking more specifically at the outfits … I’m not totally convinced by Rufus’s ensemble. As always with his character, they have to make him look racially appropriate, so he can’t be dressed too fancy. I’m not sure if his waistcoat is some kind of glazed fabric or leather, but the long length works for 1750s. However, his coat seems relatively narrow for an era when men’s coats generally were very full-skirted (as in, the portion below the waist):

Timeless tv show (2016- )

Rufus, too pared down even for someone of a lower station? Note that his waistcoat is of a far less fancy cut than Wyatt’s and also his simple shirt collar.

Wyatt’s outfit is okay-ish … it’s harder to evaluate without the coat. I like that they gave him ruffles on his collar, showing he’s of a higher station than Rufus, and I think his waistcoat is some kind of brocade. I do, however, continue to question his VERY 21st-century boy-band hair — I think any historical person would look at him and think “Who’s the dweeb with the weird haircut?” Okay, so it would be hard to literally change his haircut for every different era, but it doesn’t help him blend in.

Timeless tv show (2016- )

Oh Wyatt (left), so carefully tousled!

Lucy is a mixed bag. I don’t want to overstate the situation, since again, the filmmakers are doing a different era every episode and most people would never know or care about the nitpicking I’m about to do, so, GRANTED. But with that caveat…

What I like:

  • Nice fabrics! Stripes were popular in the 18th century (although more in the 1770s, 20 years later) and the sprig on the petticoat checks out to me.
  • The ruched trim around the neckline looks great, as does the lace ruffle.
Timeless tv show (2016- )

Dirty, sad, and lost. But still stripey!

  • The fact that they put elbow cuffs on her gown, which is totally typical of the 1750s — the layered sleeve ruffles that are often seen are much more 1770s-80s.
  • The fact that her dress CLOSES IN FRONT, and with either pins or basting to boot!
Timeless tv show (2016- )

Also that sleeve cap looks very 18th century to me!

  • Her fitted-back gown checks out as a nightgown (aka mantua), very appropriate to the era
Timeless tv show (2016- )

Fitted-back gown — can’t tell if the dress is cut completely separate from the bodice, which would be 30 years too early, but let’s give them a pass.

What I don’t like:

  • Any gown of this era would be open in front over a stomacher. Fully closed bodices don’t come in until the 1770s at the earliest.
  • HER HAIR. Okay, so she’s been running around in the forest for 3 days. But I’m confused what her hair was supposed to have started as, because having just the crown pulled back isn’t the basis for any 18th-century hairstyle that I know about.
Timeless tv show (2016- )

18th century Bump-It?

And let me finish with the sage words of Rufus:

Timeless tv show (2016- )

He makes me LOL in every episode! He’s totally Marvin the Paranoid Android of this show.

 

The Capture of Benedict Arnold: 1780

Skip two episodes ahead, and the Timeless team is in 1780 at the capture of Benedict Arnold. I was happier with this group of costumes, minus the requisite quibbles.

But first, Lucy realizing she’s meeting George Washington:

Timeless tv show (2016- )

That’s a historian having an orgasm right there!

Back to costumes…

We start with meeting George Washington and Benedict Arnold. I reached out on Facebook for input from my military reenactor friends, and while there was a lot of salty language about theatrical costumes, no one said anything terribly specific was wrong with the uniforms:

Timeless tv show (2016- )

Although note soldier to our right of Benedict (or wait, is this Washington? I got confused looking at images after the fact) is holding his musket backwards. Maybe that’s why he looks so nervous?

Timeless tv show (2016- )

Once he turns traitor, Arnold gets to go redcoat.

We did all agree that the hair/wigs were very questionable. They should have buckles (side rolls), be less feathered, and just less overall teased-and-Aquanetted:

Timeless tv show (2016- )

This is Washington.

Timeless tv show (2016- )

And this is Arnold. Their hair is kind of ’80s, not quite metal-band but certainly boy-rock.

Arnold’s wife looks GREAT, however! Her dress (I think it’s a fitted-back robe à l’anglaise, but I can’t be sure) is perfect for 1780 — stomacher gowns were going out of fashion, but definitely still worn. Here you can see the sleeve ruffles at the elbow that came into style in the 1770s. The fabric choice and trimmings are also spot-on for the era. I do kind of think the skirt could be a theatrical approach in that I don’t think I’m seeing an open overskirt over a petticoat, but instead just one skirt — which would make this dress a “round gown,” but I don’t believe I’ve seen that style with an open, stomacher bodice.

Timeless tv show (2016- )

Hi, I’m nitpicking!

And now, HOLY SHIT HER HAIR! Okay, I don’t want to toot my own horn here, but it looks suspiciously like one of the styles I demonstrate in my own book on the history and how-to of 18th century hair and wig styling, and from what I can see, this is to very much a style worn in this era. Whether they used my book or not, mad props to the hairstyling department!

Timeless tv show (2016- )

Seriously great hair!!

Now to our time-traveling leads. Both Wyatt and Rufus look acceptable for c. 1780 to me, with shorter jackets/waistcoats than in the 1754 episode and both in rougher fabrics. NO HATS, however, which would be verboten in the period.

Timeless tv show (2016- )

HATS, PEOPLE, HATS.

Lucy looks similarly working-class in her green quilted petticoat and nicely fitted blue jacket, with loops for the lacing…

Timeless tv show (2016- )

Not grommets or anything else scary — I checked.

Timeless tv show (2016- )

Although that princess-y seam down the side front of the bodice is very much a modern approach to fitting. Hey, at least it’s not bust darts!

But again, HER HAIR. No excuse here, she didn’t lose all her hairpins and her cap in a freak curling-iron incident. Nope, they sent her back in time with Carefully Curled Beachy Waves, which, NO NO NO.

Lucy also gets a cape for running-from-the-Americans purposes:

Timeless tv show (2016- )

The boys never get hats, tho.

 

The World’s Columbian Fair Exposition: 1893

And one last relevant note! At the beginning of the following episode, before heading to 1893 where she gets some very questionable hair, we see Lucy in her stays that she was presumably wearing under the 1780 outfit. I like that they are cut and boned in a very 1770s-80s style! I don’t like, however, the mid-19th-century front-opening corset busk, with metal tabs and loops. Sure, a perfectly reasonable theatrical shortcut, but if anyone had seen Lucy undress in 1780, they would have said “WTF?”

Timeless tv show (2016- )

This technology (the silver bits on the front of the corset, which indicates a front-opening corset busk introduced in the mid-19th century) did not exist in the 18th century.

 

Are you keeping up with Timeless? What’s your thoughts on these costumes?

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

19 Responses

  1. Katie

    I agree 100% about the objective shittiness of Lucy’s hair, but based on other episodes, I’ve decided that it works as a thing for that character. In a lot of episodes she starts out with perfectly coiffed period hair, and gradually as she looses pins or sleeps on it or whatever her hair deteriorates into lose, sloppy looking shit. The same thing can be said of Wyatt, where there are attempts to style his hair into something era appropriate, at least as far has his dorky haircut allows.
    The hair issues is actually pretty typical of the costuming in general-whenever there is some kind of glaring, WTF-level mistake, its always on the leads, who are people from 2016, not on the historical people. From a theatrical standpoint it works, because it serves as a handy visual reminder that These Three Are the Time Travellers.

    In my headcanon, there is a very vexed and salty group of costumers who are in charge of dressing our heroes and who go to a bar and drink heavily every time the principals return from the past, asking each other “Why the hell can’t Lucy keep track of her damn hairpins, why can’t Wyatt grow his hair into something more generic and most of all, how hard would it be for them to go into a dry goods store and hook us up with some of the shit that just isn’t being made anymore.”

    Reply
      • Katie

        I lack the time, equipment or acting ability to make this happen as a video, but I’m going to be posting the first few fan fics on archive of our own on the 9th.

        Reply
    • Susan Pola

      And one of them replies, ‘I wish they would remember to bring back a couple of cases of Chateaux Lafitte & Mouton, Tully, Chateau Petrus and a couple of Monets along with a discarded Worth gown, or several…’

      Reply
      • Katie

        And one of the others replies”I don’t even care about the freaking booze. Or even a whole dress. I just want 10 yards of disposition printed silk.” *Clink of glasses* “Amen, sister. Hell, I’d be happy with five yards of freaking calico”

        Reply
        • Susan Pola

          And *motions to the waitress for another round* states, “Or if not calico, an effing bolt of polished cotton’ *clinks glass.

          Reply
          • Katie

            And later, when they are even more deeply into their cups:
            “Ok, we can all agree that those guys owe us, right?”
            “Yeah, big time.”
            “Especially after Lucy “lost” her bonnet. Seriously. If she knows that she isn’t going to wear it, she could at least take it off *in the lifeboat*. Those were all vintage trims. From my own stash.”
            (pause for sympathetic pats and refilling of glasses)
            “So yeah those bastards owe us. Big Time. So, what is the one thing that we’d most want them to bring back”
            “A French Hood” “An English Hood”
            (exchange of looks)
            “Ok, lets be real. Yeah, I want to know how an English hood was put together too, but how many people are really gonna wear that ugly ass shit?”
            “She does have a point.”
            “Just think….we could get rid of the headband French hood. Forever.”
            *glasses clink*

            Reply
            • Susan Pola

              *clinks glass* mumbling ‘Unfortunate Biggins do away with them, derpy bonnets…’ She left YOUR Stash trim behind? Lucy owes you…what about silver braid?’ Yes, silver braid. *Let’s toast to silver braid’ *raising glass for toast*

              Reply
          • Kendra

            Proper linsey-woolsey! Whatever the woven tape is that was used to cover the seams of 18th century stays! OMG the shopping list is endless…

            Reply
            • themodernmantuamaker

              Aww, no fair! I was going to say the trim that covers stays seams!
              Real camlet!
              proper silk velvet!
              Yes, endless shopping list!

              Reply
  2. The Author

    I wish my stays were front-opening. I have to slide them over my head. I have been assured there IS a way to self-lace in backlacing 1770s stays, too, but I have yet to figure it out.

    It’s hard to say without seeing it up close, but her cape for the woods looks an awful lot like the generic Townsend cloaks we have at work minus the borderline-useless clasp they come with….

    Reply
  3. Susan Pola

    The costumes are on the whole pretty good, but the men hairstyles bother me. Too modern. Also I really like Rufus, but, he’s too modern day in appearance, posture and bearing.
    Wyatt is the one I really have problems with: his hair, his lack of restraint, his actions without thought, etc.
    Lucy iand Rufus are really the brains of the team. But Flynn seems to have okay hair and Dress.

    Reply
    • Katie

      And Flynn also seems to be markedly more successful in infiltrating the various groups in the past. One thing that I really hope is that they’ll show Our Heroes getting more comfortable in non-2016 clothing, and maybe trying to blend in more, and more successfully. If for no other reason than it would cement my theory that the costume choices for Our Heroes are deliberate :D

      Reply
      • Susan Pola

        I liked what Lucy wore in the Houdini episode. Apparently, she kept her Bobby puns.

        BTW is my last comment to Katie posted? All I see is a symbol & date.

        Would like to see more women in professions, say Elizabeth Barton or Marion Anderson.

        Timeless astronaut episode beat release of Hidden Figures.

        Reply
  4. themodernmantuamaker

    Oh no, Kendra! I may have to disagree with you on a point of costume detail! Pleated cuffs/wing cuffs were out by the end of the 1740s. From then until the 1770s were the heyday of falling, ruffled cuffs. They started going out again in the later 1770s and were virtually gone by mid-1780s, when pleated/fitted cuffs came back in again. Or did you mean something else?

    What I find kind of funny is that the Lucy character’s gown in the 1754 episode is a perfect fit for the 1780s episode while Arnold’s wife’s dress would have been better in the 1754 episode. But yes, fantastic hair!!

    Also, I have encountered a stomacher-fronted round gown in the Museum of London’s collection that dates to probably late 1760s to mid-1770s and is mostly intact/unaltered. Oh, and the DAR museum in DC has a printed cotton one that dates to closer to mid-century but may or may not have been meddled with.

    Reply
  5. Vanta

    The show is fun to see, and the historical errors for cloths for the trio are “acceptables” because they are 2016’s fellows (with re-enactments 2016’s cloths borrowed form the local re-enactment cloths)

    Reply

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