Top 5 Films Set in the 1910s

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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:

A Very Long Engagement (2004)

Beautiful shirtwaist blouses with inset lace and embroidery

A Very Long Engagement (2004)

Pintucks and chic hats.

A Very Long Engagement (2004)

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

A Very Long Engagement (2004)

Beautifully tailored suits on men and women.

A Very Long Engagement (2004)

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

The Wings of the Dove (1997)

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

THE HATS.

For Carnevale, you get to see “costume”!

The Wings of the Dove (1997)

Beautifully recreated Fortuny Delphos dresses, which are made of a thin, super-pleated silk.

One of my favorite redheads!

The Wings of the Dove (1997)

Check out how well the Eastern fabrics work with the architecture…

The Wings of the Dove (1997)

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.

Downton Abbey (2010)

Cora, the countess, was always the epitome of elegance. You really can’t go wrong with black and white (or ivory) in my book!

Downton Abbey (2010)

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.

Lady Sybil, the rebel!

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.

Downton Abbey (2010)

Meanwhile Violet, the dowager countess, showed us late Edwardian styles in all their regal splendor.

 

Titanic (1997)

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:

Titanic (1997)

There’s a reason this suit is so iconic: STRIPES. Navy and white. Stripes in different directions. Contrast. Fit.

Titanic (1997)

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.

Titanic (1997)

Then you’ve got your famous Jump Dress, which has such a beautiful drape and amazing fabric (sari, do you think?).

Titanic (1997)

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.

Titanic (1997)

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!).

Titanic (1997)

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.

Titanic (1997)

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:

Howards End (1992)

I’ve already waxed poetic about this particular black and white gown on Thompson…

Howards End (1992)

But let’s pause to admire its genius once again!

howards end 1992 movie

I love the contrast with Carter’s slightly wilder, more romantic character…

Howards End (1992)

Although even comparatively straight-laced Margaret (left) still has tons of bohemian influences.

Howards End (1992)

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!

 

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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.

31 Responses

    • Sonya Heaney

      Yep: the “jump” dress is just about my favourite costume – ever. So I can definitely tell the difference! :) :)

      I was in high school when Titanic came out, so I am immune to the (well-deserved) criticisms of it being a melodrama – we were all obsessed with it! I don’t think I should – or could – watch it through now, however.

      Reply
  1. sitfan

    You missed my favorite, “Somewhere in Time”, set in 1912, with incredible costumes by Jean-Pierre Dorleac, a master of Edwardian fashion! Dorleac received a nomination for Best Costume Design at the 1981 Academy Awards.

    Reply
  2. Liutgard

    ‘Teens fashion is my favorite! (Outside of medieval stuf, that is. I’m also very fond of 1950s-very early ’60s also. Works with my figure.) It’s flattering on just about everyone, can be very sleek, elegant, ‘modern, or very fluffy, feminine, frilly, etc. And all points between! I really love Margaret Schlagel’s black and white dress. And pintucks and insert lace- oh my. And Fortuny? Oooh. To have the figure to wear those pleated dresses! He also did some fabulous velvet tunics and coats- very geometric, very dramatic. And the Orientalism is fascinating!

    Count me in!

    Reply
  3. gail

    oh, I am so glad that someone else has issues with Lady Mary’s dress – it is so veryvery off.

    Reply
    • Karen K.

      Out of curiosity, what’s wrong with it? Is it because the waistline is so much lower? I do love the fabric.

      Also I notice that Edith’s gown in that photo has almost a Regency look to it.

      Reply
      • themodernmantuamaker

        During the teens there was a conscious regency influence – they even referred to it at the time as “regency revival.” So Lady Edith’s dress is no accident ;o)

        Reply
    • Danielle Fredrickson

      Thank you thank you. Not only is it ‘off’, it’s hideous. It’s unflattering. She wore it so often during WWI??? Why??? It was so awful. So glad I’m not the only one to notice this awful dress!

      Reply
    • Sonya Heaney

      Lady Mary’s dress actually looks like a ballet costume. I don’t find it hideous at all, but it doesn’t look right.

      Many ballets of the post tutu-era variety have costumes in this style. It’s practical for dance (especially partnering), and looks vaguely historical enough for shows like Cinderella or Manon.

      Reply
  4. MoHub

    The Music Man is set in 1912. Some of the women’s costumes are amazing for a ’60s movie, and the hats are stupendous.

    Reply
  5. Karen K.

    I love this period also. Not a huge fan of Titanic, but those hats are amazing. I love all five of those but I think Wings of the Dove has the best costumes of all. I remember there’s a scene in a blue room that was just stunning. I think it’s time for me to watch it again!

    Reply
  6. Kathleen Norvell

    When I was in London in the 80s, Liberty (the department store) had an exhibition of Fortuny clothing and I fell in love. It even included one of the Delphos dresses pulled through a wedding ring! I do like this time period because it’s so eclectic and the fabrics are wonderful.

    Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      “Wings” has some of the best costuming ever, but the Fortuny gowns were also my favorites. (And really a pretty good movie overall.) Interesting that both the early 1800s and 1900s saw a rise in aesthetic and more comfortable dress for women.

      Reply
  7. Susan Pola

    My favourite is Wings of the Dove closely followed by Titanic. I want all of Allison Elliot’s clothes (I’m a redhead, too) and Rose’s opening hat and heaven dress (end dress when she goes up staircase…) And Howard’s End and A Room with a View are tied with second.

    PS why don’t you both make Bonham Carter’s dress with the amazeballs hat? Take pics & have a contest on FrockFlicks…

    Reply
  8. Shirley

    The 1910s is one of my favorite time periods. I love reading about history at that time, and the clothing styles are some of my favorites.

    For that reason, I’ll always have a soft spot for Titanic, even though I will readily admit it has a lot of problems, solely because it was the first movie where I noticed the costumes and it got me interested in researching clothes from that time period.

    So, I remember being in 4th grade and all the other girls were squealing about Leo, and I was like, “But Rose’s dresses!”

    Reply
    • Katie

      Kate Winslet in Titanic is everything. To quote myself at the time “Leo? You mean there were men in Titanic?”

      Reply
  9. Susan Pola

    Cheri is set during 1910-1913 or there about there’s a mention of WWI that Cheri either fought in or died in at theend of the movie.

    Reply
  10. totchipanda

    I loved Titanic when it came out for different reasons, and when I saw the rerelease in IMAX all I could think about was the dresses! (these days I only watch the first couple hours. Once the ship starts sinking, I’m out. I cried SO MUCH, every time… Yup, heaaaaavy on the melodrama, the sappy part of me loves it).

    A couple of WWI films I saw somewhat recently (Passchendaele and Testament of Youth) had decent costumes from what I can remember. Not going to watch them again any time soon because they were just so sad.

    Reply
  11. Melponeme_k

    I love all of these films (even sappy Titanic). But A very Long Engagement is my favorite after Howard’s End. At the end of Engagement, they showed black and white/sepia stained photos of their cast. All of them looked true to the time period, clothes, faces and body language. An amazing film.

    Reply
  12. Liutgard

    Has anyone else seen ‘The Last September’? Has Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Fiona Shaw, Keeley Hawes, David Tennant. Set in 1920, immediately post-war, on an Irish estate at the beginning of ‘the Troubles’. A _very_ late teens feel to it, and Hawes’ clothes are very much in that odd transitional phase. Actually, some of them are beautiful (I especially like one particular red dress).

    Warning though- it is not an easy movie to watch. Class, politics, interpersonal stuff, and a murder at the end that made me ill. But it is worth it. I saw it on Netflix, seems to be on Amazon too, and in 10 parts on YouTube.

    Reply
  13. Jimboo

    You missed my favorite: My Fair Lady. The film Is supposed to take place around 1913 when Pygmalion was first written.

    Reply
  14. esme

    I LOVE this era. have you seen testament of youth with alicia vikander/kit harrington? the costumes in that are so very beautiful, i’d love to know the accuracy of them! x

    Reply

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