Top 5 Curvaceous Historical Costume Ladies

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As a member of the generously-proportioned club, I’m always on the lookout for people who look like me in media — who doesn’t want to see themselves in their entertainment, and particularly as beauty icons? Well Jezebel’s recent Titanic fiesta included a post about Kathy Bates as Molly Brown as plus-size style icon, and one of our fabulous Facebook readers suggested the idea for this post.

Initially my idea was to list my top 5 plus-size historical costume ladies, but I admit that I got stumped. Our society is so anti-“obesity” that it’s pretty hard for someone who isn’t model-thin to break through. Luckily some actresses have done so, and the body-positive movement is definitely changing things, but I still had to tweak my theme to make it “curvaceous” ladies rather than strictly “plus-size.” (Come on, Hollywood! Put any or all of the following in a historical costume movie, particularly in a leading role: Melissa McCarthy, Nikki Blonsky, Gabourey Sidibe, Brooke Elliott, Dascha Polanco, and all the fabulous ladies who I haven’t immediately remembered).

Melissa McCarthy in fantasy/historical costume: YASSSSSSSSSSSSS

Melissa McCarthy in fantasy/historical costume: YASSSSSSSSSSSSS

Anyway, in no particular order, here are some of my favorite curvaceous actresses who have strong resumes in historical costume movies!

 

Queen Latifah

She’s gorgeous, she’s multi-talented (rapper! singer! actress! probably many other things!), and she looks damn good in slinky beaded dresses.

Chicago (2002)

Latifah shimmied her way into all of our hearts with her performance as Matron Momma Norton singing “When You’re Good to Momma”:

Chicago (2002)

Gender bending and looking great in that Marcel wave!

Chicago

The drape on this gown is gorgeous, and clearly she has a fabulous corset on underneath!

Chicago

The definition of slinky!

Bessie (2015)

Latifah takes the starring role as 1920s blues singer/icon Bessie Smith. Not only does she rock the hell out of her 1920s wardrobe, her singing is on point AND she gives a really nicely emotional performance.

Bessie (Queen Latifah) & Lucille (Tika Sumpter).

Owning it in sparkles and jewels.

Queen Latifah as Bessie Smith.

Belting out one in the studio.

Queen Latifah as Bessie Smith.

Rocking the 1920s glam!

Bessie

Bringing it!

 

Christina Hendricks

Thank you, universe, for Christina Hendricks. Not only is she gorgeously curvaceous, she’s a redhead AND the world has realized that she is 1) stunningly hot and 2) her curves are a large reason for her hotness.

Mad Men (2007-15)

Okay, so I occasionally needed breaks when this show got too intense, but this show was amazing for its stunning accuracy to the period and fascinating characters. Hendricks as first office manager, then partner Joan Holloway smoked up the screen with her hotness and blew everyone away with her smarts. Don’t underestimate the hottie in the tight dress, because she can take you DOWN.

Mad Men

Joan’s signature look: body-conscious dress, pen necklace, bouffant hair.

Mad Men

The costume designers almost ALWAYS flattered Hendricks’s figure.

Mad Men

Her color palette was really well done, too.

Mad Men

A redhead in green — you just can’t go wrong!

Mad Men

I’m glad someone has standards around here!

Mad Men

Okay, so early on her brain was discounted, but Joan was happy to use her sex appeal to her advantage. And to tease!

Mad Men

She also ALWAYS knew her own worth.

Mad Men

She could knock ’em back with the best of them.

Mad Men

You and me both, Joanie.

 

Another Period (2015- )

Hendricks is now a regular on Another Period, the tv series that mocks both Downton Abbey and reality shows. She plays “Chair,” the servant who is secretly having affair with the scion of the family, and through various machinations she ends up taking charge in the wife’s role.

Another Period

Okay, so she starts off dowdy and servant-y.

Another Period

And yes, she has to wrangle the kids.

Another Period

And she has to go spend some time being demeaned.

Another Period

But she ends up on top…

Another Period

…with her priorities right where they should be!

 

Kate Winslet

James Cameron can fuck right off if he thinks I’m including Winslet in Titanic (1997) or any other film where she was on the thin side of perfectly average size. In fact, it’s a stretch to include her on this list at all, but since she’s been a bit more curvaceous in a few films (particularly lately), and because she’s hot as all get-out, I’ll embrace her as one of my people!

 

Enigma (2001)

Winslet always rocks the curves, but it’s when she’s pregnant that she really qualifies for this list. In Enigma — the story of British spy/code-breakers during World War II — she’s the brainy overlooked girl, but she ends up good.

Enigma

Winslet (right) is only really curvy when compared with Saffron Burrows (center), but who cares, she looks GREAT in 1940s styles.

Enigma

And she gets to make out with Dougray Scott!

 

A Little Chaos (2014)

Winslet was pregnant again for the filming of A Little Chaos — in fact, she was quoted as saying, “We were in the early stages [of pregnancy] so I didn’t really have much of a bump at all, but I had huge, huge breasts and at a certain point there really isn’t any place to put them. So they either go down or they up, but then you’re like, ‘Do we have any space in my armpits for these things?’” (Variety).

A Little Chaos (2015)

Although she’s gorgeous in this as always, the costumes had an unfortunate tendency of not really fitting her larger bust in a very period-appropriate manner.

A_LITTLE_CHAOS_2.jpg

This ensemble worked better due to the lower neckline.

A Little Chaos (2015) podcast

But they used a lot of weird darts. Oh well, at least this one isn’t all “rampart”-y like the first blue dress.

 

The Dressmaker (2015)

I’m not sure what Winslet’s biological state was for the filming of this 1950s couture/revenge film, but I do know she had curves and rocked them like nobody’s business.

The Dressmaker (2015)

Nobody can resist a gorgeous girl in a tight red dress!

The Dressmaker (2015)

The epitome of glamour.

The Dressmaker (2015)

And of #nofucks.

 

Polly Walker

Another talented actress who has gained some curves later in life. I look forward to more from her in the future!

 

Rome (2005-7)

As Atia of the Julii, Walker OWNED Rome as the bitchiest, sexiest, smartest, and scheme-iest badass EVER. She shagged the fuck out of James Purefoy, berated her children into marriages to benefit herself, and was generally a horrible person … but she ate the scenery with the best of them, and was SO much fun to watch. In the first season Walker was naked a decent amount, but she was very covered up in later seasons — which appears to correspond with her being a larger size. Which was disappointing to me, but I’ll respect it if it was Walker’s choice. I just hope it wasn’t body-shame-y.

1x03-An-Owl-in-a-Thornbush-rome-18977916-2560-1702

Deciding how to do away with you.

Rome (2005-7)

Knowing she’s Teh Hotness.

Rome (2005-7)

“Why yes, I will murder/betray/etc. anyone who gets in my way.”

Rome (2005-7)

Always self-effacing!

Rome (2005-7)

She wraps ALL the boys around her finger.

Rome (2005-7)

And she’s a strong candidate for Mother of the Year!

 

Mr. Selfridge (2013- )

Walker was an important addition to season 2 of 1910s department store series Mr. Selfridge as Delphine Day, novelist, club owner,  and friend of Rose Selfridge. She gets a smashing wardrobe that celebrates her curves, and she gets to be the bohemian bad influence — what more does a girl want?

Mr. Selfridge (2013- )

I want this ensemble SO bad. That color is faaaaabulous!

Mr. Selfridge (2013- )

The consummate hostess!

Mr. Selfridge (2013- )

And she gets to be artistic.

 

Kathy Bates

The inspiration for this post! Thank goodness for Kathy Bates, supremely talented actress AND one who has been cast/taken roles in a number of historical productions. I love that she’s not tiny by ANY means but she rocks it. Let’s hope for many more such roles to come!

 

Titanic (1997)

Okay, so even if director James Cameron gets the credit, I’ll say it: it was GENIUS to cast Bates as “Unsinkable” Molly Brown. She’s the brash-talking, take-no-prisoners, tell-it-like-it-is chorus in the film. It’s quite possible Rose would have fallen for Jack anyway, but Brown’s near-instant recognition of his finer qualities certainly helped. And it’s good to have someone around who can take the nobs down a peg, especially while doing it dressed to the NINES.

Titanic (1997)

Blinging the bling AND looking ultra sophisticated!

Titanic (1997)

And she’s whip-smart, too!

 

Chéri (2009)

Bates plays the mother of a young man in love with an older courtesan in this film set in turn of the century Paris. Whatever, check out this glamour:

Chéri (2009)

Ooodles of sparkly black!

Chéri (2009)

Okay, not AS fab but perfect for the period.

Chéri (2009)

Beautifully intricate!

 

Midnight in Paris (2011)

Despite being a Woody Allen production, this is a great film. Bates plays the small part of famous author Gertrude Stein, who could do amazing things for lead character Gil…

Midnight in Paris (2011)

LGBTQ people in history, on screen — represent!

 

American Horror Story: Coven (2013-14)

Okay, so the character Bates plays — a New Orleans socialite who tortured and killed numerous enslaved African Americans, based on a real historical figure — is pretty horrible. But the character reaps her reward as the series develops, and Bates’s wardrobe is pretty damn fabulous:

American Horror Story: Coven (2013-14)

Okay so the machine-embroidered taffeta isn’t my fave, but they actually did crazy 1830s well!

American Horror Story: Coven (2013-14)

Well, minus the hair

 

 

Which curvaceous and/or plus-size historical costume actresses and actors are your faves?

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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.

29 Responses

  1. Charity

    When I saw the title of this piece, my first thought was: “Hendricks.” She’s just so utterly gorgeous in “Mad Men.” Always did love Joan and her fabulous style and red hair. Sigh.

    Reply
  2. Liutgard

    Christina Hendricks. SIIIIIIIGH… Might have to re-think my Straight status for her.

    (She and David Tennant are probably the two actors who might make me contemplate adultery…)

    Reply
  3. Lady Hermina De Pagan

    What? No love for Camryn Manhiem? From The Road to Wellville to playing Gladys Presley, she’s done wonderful work as a plus sized actress.

    Reply
    • Kendra

      I adore Camryn Manhiem, but I feel like she’s retired since I haven’t heard anything about her in FOREVER (or is that f’ed up Hollywood?).

      Reply
      • Lady Hermina De Pagan

        Really?! She was in Harry’s Law with Kathy Bates, Person of Interest, and Younger in the last three years. I think she’s just not getting the billing that the younger actresses are anymore, which is a damned shame.

        Reply
  4. Niniane

    Christina Hendricks also has a small role in the movie Leonie with Emily Mortimer which is set in the late1800-early1900s.

    Reply
  5. LadySlippers

    Queen Latifah in Bessie is smoking hot! I have always shied away from drop wasted outfits as I’m very curvaceous (even thin) and this was the first movie I thought otherwise. 1920’s/30’s styles are typically not friendly to plus sized woman and Latifah blew that idea out of the water. It honestly made me a lot happier about my size. Kathy Bates in Titanic would be a close second…

    (As much as I love the other women you’ve listed, they still aren’t exactly plus sized, even if Hollywood insists otherwise).

    Reply
  6. Tiruncula

    Great to be reminded by Queen L. that larger, curvaceous ladies can rock the ’20s looks. I think of that as a period for the flat-chested, but she – and the costume designers – are an inspiration.

    Reply
  7. LE

    If your going to look at (very small) cameos, Hendricks was actually in Angel as a tavern waitress in 18th century Ireland (which is admittedly really only interesting in that it probably led to her part on Firefly).

    Reply
  8. Adela

    Katy Bates was also in Warm Springs which is America 1920s/30s but they dress her on the dowdy side there.

    Reply
  9. Deeds

    I LOVE THIS POST! One small correction?

    I love that she’s not tiny by ANY means but she rocks it.”

    Should be she’s not tiny by ANY means AND she rocks it!

    Reply
  10. M.E. Lawrence

    Bates was the best thing in “Cheri” (apart from the production values and certain scenes with that Friend dude). Michelle Pfeiffer’s Lea was supposed to be a gorgeous, well-upholstered Belle Epoque woman of the world and pushing 50, not a skinny California girl. As for the Winslet, I love the non-thin Kate to the point that I wrote an angry e-mail to Vogue after they put her on the cover, so air-brushed that she was unrecognizable.

    Reply
  11. quinnyandco

    I’m volunteering Hayley Atwell! She has a beautiful figure and her costume designer for Agent Carter accentuated it perfectly, especially in season 2. The ’40s isn’t always my favorite era clothing-wise but I was super impressed with all of her costumes.

    Reply
  12. Cate

    I was somewhat irritated that Coven didn’t cast Delphine La Laurie more accurately. Bates did a wonderful job, but often does one really see a conventionally “attractive” white woman repudiated for her crimes, however heinous? I think the impact would have been greater if La Laurie had been all big eyes and dark curls and slender figure as she apparently was in real life. Conventional beauty can hide deep evil, especially if society wants to ignore that evil, and that’s one of the biggest takeaways from her story in my mind.

    Reply

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