The 1910s is a fascinating era to me, fashion-wise. It’s right in the middle of the change from the Edwardian era, which is all soft and gauzy and frilly, to the 1920s, which is comparatively minimalist. It’s the perfect era for menswear-inspired tailoring on women, which is something I ADORE. It’s a very streamlined, fitted silhouette, which I find super elegant. And, it’s one of THE BEST eras for women’s hats.
Let’s take a look at my top 5 films set in the 1910s, in no particular order:
A Very Long Engagement (2005)
It’s been too long since I’ve watched this magical tale starring Audrey Tatou (Amélie) as a woman whose fiancé goes missing during World War I. It’s by the same director as Amélie, so there’s a definite helping of magical realism, but it’s handled in the same deft manner. The story itself is sweet and sad.
But it’s the costumes that just slayed me as they are SO perfect, like:
Beautiful shirtwaist blouses with inset lace and embroidery
Pintucks and chic hats.
A nice range of styles on older and younger family members, AND great hair, like Mathilde’s (Tatou) faux-Native American/medieval Princess Leia braids…
Beautifully tailored suits on men and women.
Attention to subtle detail on underwear, like this gorgeous pair of combination undies worn by Marion Cotillard as a prostitute.
The Wings of the Dove (1997)
We did a detailed podcast about this AMAZE-BALLS adaptation of a Henry James novel starring Helena Bonham Carter. Costumed by legendary designer Sandy Powell, this film perfectly captures the Orientalist influence that was so strong in fashion in this era … plus, since part of the movie is set in Venice, it provided a wonderful chance for them to recreate the famed Fortuny Delphos-style dress (listen to our podcast for lots more info on the originals AND the recreations!). Oh, and the story itself is sad (in the best way) and complex and features a fabulous redhead…
AMAZING tailored suits… Trystan and I continue to fight over who gets to recreate this masterpiece.
When the story moves to Venice, the Orientalist influences really come out
For Carnevale, you get to see “costume”!
Beautifully recreated Fortuny Delphos dresses, which are made of a thin, super-pleated silk.
One of my favorite redheads!
Check out how well the Eastern fabrics work with the architecture…
And I give mad props to a film that addresses the fact that women were wearing cosmetics!
Downton Abbey: Season 1 (2010)
Downton Abbey meandered its way into the 1920s, but season one started things off with a serious bang by seriously rocking the mid-1910s-wear. You’ve been living under a rock if you don’t have an idea of this show, so I won’t belabor that, but I will point out how beautifully the TV series captured the era’s styles across a range of classes.
Cora, the countess, was always the epitome of elegance. You really can’t go wrong with black and white (or ivory) in my book!
Oh hey! We’ve got THREE daughters to dress, yay! I actually question Mary’s dress a bit here, but both Edith and Sybil sport stunning eveningwear that highlights one of my favorite elements of this era: light, draped fabrics on a firm (hidden) foundation.
Not only did they flesh out Lady Sybil’s rebellious character when they put her into trousers, they showed the very real influence of Orientalism — those trousers are 100% Turkish.
Meanwhile Violet, the dowager countess, showed us late Edwardian styles in all their regal splendor.
Okay, so many people groan when this movie is mentioned, because yeah, director James Cameron didn’t have a light hand when it came to the melodrama. And yes, the fashions in this film are maybe a little bit too conservative, especially when compared to, say, The Wings of the Dove. But who the hell cares when there’s such gorgeousness to admire:
There’s a reason this suit is so iconic: STRIPES. Navy and white. Stripes in different directions. Contrast. Fit.
Bless whoever found this original photo that clearly inspired the film’s suit. It’s fascinating to note the small differences, but also how much is Spot On.
Then you’ve got your famous Jump Dress, which has such a beautiful drape and amazing fabric (sari, do you think?).
Okay, so not EVERY costume is jaw-dropping, but if this is their version of “meh,” I’m okay with it.
What really gets me is how beautifully the supporting characters are costumed. This metallic lace overlay, on Rose’s mother, is something I would kill for.
I don’t think this character even gets any dialogue, but I’d quite happily kill for her dress (and the jeweled feather spray in her hair!).
Oh and did I mention HATS? Check out the fabulous toque on Rose’s mom (right)…
This image/shot is iconic for a reason — THAT HAT. THUNK.
Yeah, and Every Girl (and Guy) really IS Crazy ‘Bout a Sharp-Dressed Man…
Howards End (1992)
It’s Merchant/Ivory, you know they’re gonna do it R.I.G.H.T. If you can find something to complain about in this E.M. Forster adaptation starring Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter, you may have a heart of stone. Because the story has romance but also a deft hand with class issues and family relationships. Plus, costumes that are the equivalent of hospital corners on your bed:
I’ve already waxed poetic about this particular black and white gown on Thompson…
But let’s pause to admire its genius once again!
I love the contrast with Carter’s slightly wilder, more romantic character…
Although even comparatively straight-laced Margaret (left) still has tons of bohemian influences.
Then there’s the upper-class characters, like Vanessa Redgrave’s Ruth, beautifully done up in this lacey shirtwaist.
Which 1910s-set films did we leave off this list? Add your favorites in the comments!