Versailles Costumes, The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

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The first season of Versailles finished airing on Ovation last weekend, and it’s headed to Netflix next, according to reports. The second season has already been filmed, and a third is in the works. We know all about the hair and the sex, but what about the costuming? Overall, I’d give it a middling to good grade, somewhere above Poldark overall but below Outlander‘s Paris episodes in terms of visual interest and attention to detail.

Les Recompences de Louis XIV, 167, via Wikimedia Commons.

Les Recompences de Louis XIV, 1676, via Wikimedia Commons.

For all the advance press about Versailles‘ huge budget spent on art direction and costume for the 1670s setting, I think more of that went to the art side for locations and scenery. Many of the interiors were filmed in historic French chateaux, giving the series an authentic spacial feel. But it’s clear that costume designer Madeline Fontaine was limited in materials to work with for her large ensemble cast. She and her team worked hard on the historical styles overall, and there are times when, watching Versailles, I am truly transported away by the grandeur and the steamy, soapy stories. But occasionally, a small visual clunker brings me back to the 21st century. So here we go, the good, the bad, and the ugly…

 

Versailles Costumes: The Good

The Lace Everywhere

Louis XIV, 1662, via Wikimedia Commons.

Louis XIV, 1662, via Wikimedia Commons. Wearing lace, even with armor.

It may not be perfectly period, but it passes well enough on TV. And considering there is so very much lace, that’s no small accomplishment. They didn’t skimp, which is good because abundance was significant in this era.

Versailles (2016)

In the middle of a tryst with Louise de La Vallière, we can see the King’s fancy lace cuffs.

Versailles (2016)

The King’s council, older men, tend to wear an older, more conservative style of lace collar, but still with extravagant lace itself.

 

The Fit of the Women’s Dresses

Louise de la Vallière, 1667, via Wikimedia Commons.

Louise de la Vallière, 1667, via Wikimedia Commons. The ideal woman’s shape is conical on top.

Costume designer Madeline Fontaine and her team apparently took time on the principle actors gowns. The fit and shape suits the 1670s aesthetic. Even though the storylines revolve around sex, Fontaine resisted the temptation to stick boobs in everyone’s faces, which could have been done with corsetry (a la The Tudors). The gowns’ necklines could be a touch more on the shoulder point instead of sliding down off the shoulders, but that’s a quibble, and I can see how this may have been a concession to modern tastes — a small one that doesn’t bug me.

Versailles (2016)

Louise de La Vallière

Versailles (2016)

Queen Marie-Thérèse

 

 

Phillipe’s Corset

Versailles (2016)

He should be wearing a full dress over it (not just a robe thingy), but at least if he’s wearing women’s underwear in public, it looks historically accurate. Also, kind of hot, especially when he kicks ass. Yaaaaas, queen!

Versailles (2016)

Nice boning, heh!

Versailles (2016)

He’s even wearing a bum roll, tied underneath the front corset point, as you do. (And those spangled mitts are FABULOUS.)

 

Versailles Costumes: The Bad

The Puffy Shirts

Versailles / Seinfeld puffy shirts

It’s that Seinfeld episode, and the shirts are straight out of an International Male catalog circa 1992. Every single man — from the court to the middling classes to the guys strung up in prison — is wearing shirts with puffy, two-tiered sleeves, and sorry, but there is a striking lack of historical evidence for that style. Men’s shirts have been made with a straight, rectangular-cut arm since wearing shirts was a thing. Also, to create those tiered puffs in a historical fashion, you’d need some kind of casing tied with ribbon, of which there is zero evidence in this entire TV series on any male wearing said shirt. You know what that means: elastic. Yup. And that ain’t historically accurate.

Versailles (2016)

I defy you to tell me that’s not elastic.

 

Henriette’s Front-Lacing Corset

Versailles (2016)

Sure, it may have been done. But not with four skimpy bows down the front or dinky little loops. No, you’d see handworked eyelets, about a zillion of them, and a strong cord would lace through the holes in spiral fashion. Go take a look at the cross-dressing prince’s corset, it’s a lot more realistic. Also, Henriette wears this bad corset AS A DRESS later on in the series, just adding some sleeves. That definitely was not done.

Versailles (2016)

Honestly, she doesn’t need help in this scene. Four bows!

Versailles (2016)

Just. No.

 

Questionable Fabric Choices

Elisabeth d'Orleans, 1672, via Wikimedia Commons.

Elisabeth d’Orleans, 1672, via Wikimedia Commons. Historically accurate fabric patterns and colors, m’kay?

We get it, costume designers have to work with what’s available and what’s on-budget. But when there’s a generally decent historical palette, a few bad fabrics will stand out. I also wonder how / why this production had such a terribly hard time sourcing period-appropriate materials (as Fontaine said in multiple interviews) when, say, Terry Dresbach and her team did so much hand-painting and embroidering in her own workshop to get a lush look for the Paris episodes in season two of Outlander. I know, I know, every show has different choices to make … but hey, it’s my job to question this stuff! In Versailles, some costumes on main characters are made from blatantly modern fabrics, and some background ladies have just plain ugly gowns. I also spotted a lot of JoAnn’s-style trim on leading ladies who got repeated close-ups. Meh.

Versailles (2016)

Center, Madame de Montespan, has some modern upholstery fabric for sleeves, while the random lady on her left would look OK except the pink stands out too much among all the very dark or very pale colors.

Versailles (2016)

The crinkle-texture fabric for Montespan’s gown here is more Star Trek than 17th century.

 

Versailles Costumes: The Ugly

The Cross-Dressing Lady Doctor

Versailles (2016)

This is stupid. The whole subplot is dumb, as Kendra noted earlier, and it didn’t get better as the series continued (Claudine’s own father hated her because she was a better doctor than he ever was? the hell?). On the costume side, when the King appoints Claudine as his official doctor, everyone thinks it’s a good idea for her to dress in men’s clothing. But it’s ineffective, bad-looking cross-dressing. Is that supposed to be the point? To show Claudine doesn’t want to do it or that it’s a bad idea? Ugh. I don’t care, just make it stop.

 

 

What do you think of Versailles season 1 costumes?

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. When she’s not dressing up in costumes, she can be found traveling the world with her sweetie and, occasionally, Kendra and Sarah. Her costuming and travel adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also maintains a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

15 Responses

  1. Kathleen Norvell

    Besides the obvious, already stated above, my major beef are the hair (male and female) and the cheesy moustaches. Either dress the men’s hair better, with more curls and waves, or WIGS! Louis’ hair looks awful, especially if you compare it with the hair in his portraits. And should the women’s hair styles be so — POINTY– at the sides? The hair either looks underdressed a la Poldark (see the photo of Henriette, above), or like somebody set large cones on both sides of the head and dressed the hair around them.

    Louis’s moustache looks like a fake stuck on with spirit gum, while at least Phillipe’s looks like he actually grew it.

    And I seem to recall a lot of boots, rather than shoes, worn inside.

    A friend of mine, who knows a lot about 17th century history, complained that the actual stories of Louis’ court were scandalous enough without having to invent plots.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Kendra wrote up the hair already – http://www.frockflicks.com/versailles-2016-hair-historical-accuracy/

      And I was going to write up the shoes as a GOOD thing (but ran out of time to screencap) bec. the men are almost always wearing exquisite period shoes indoors, which the king & Phillipe even talk about. They primarily wear boots outdoors & only indoors when they are shown coming in from riding. The show did get that right! It’s key bec. in portraiture, Louis is often shown with his long legs & shoes displayed (he was an excellent dancer, which is also used in the show as a plot point).

      Reply
      • Kathleen Norvell

        Missed the hair discussion. For some reason, I didn’t get any Frock Flicks notices for several weeks last month (thought it odd that Versailles wasn’t being discussed) and still don’t know what happened.

        I haven’t made my way through the entire series yet, but was struck by the boots in the first episode or two. Maybe I noticed the boots because there was a lot of tromping around the grounds — if I remember correctly, the original Versailles was a hunting lodge — rather than serious court stuff going on. I’m all for great legs and wonderful shoes.

        Reply
      • Paula Reese

        I am just now watching the first season of Versailles but the men’s shoes were the first thing I noticed. Allbeit their shoes are a pointed toe heeled shoe, they do not have the “Louis Heel” so named after him. They should be a concave heel flaring at the bottom.

        Reply
  2. mmcquown

    Hats! Hats! Hats! All the guys running around outside without hats! Wrong! No! (I feel better now.) And I still say it was Monsieur who poisoned Minette. And scandals — the Affair of the Poisons was first uncovered in 1666, and de Montespan was in it up to her neck. Most of this must have been happening in Paris while the court was still there, but there has been no mention of the incidents, which ruined a lot of people. And no mention of de la Reynie, who led the investigation.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      The king is shown wearing a hat at least half the time he’s outdoors, but most of the other men aren’t (ran out of budget? or conscious choice to make him stand out? who knows!).

      Season 1 didn’t get to Henriette’s death yet, so stay tuned!

      Reply
      • Isis

        I think the lack of hats may have something to do with the difficulty of filming when a lot of people wear wide-brimmed hats. You kind of get stuck with limited angles if you want to see people’s faces. :)

        Didn’t stop my husband from yelling “Hats, hats, I need hats”, in every episode of Versailles. :)

        Reply
      • Susan Pola

        Does that mean we will see her make the trip to England to see Charles II, her brother, for Louis?
        One can only hope.

        Reply
    • lesartsdecoratifs

      The first season takes place a few years before the poison affair which actually was began to be revealed in 1675. It’s bound to be portrayed in either Season Two or Three. There is no way they will skip the absolutely juiciest real life scandal in a show like this.

      Reply
  3. Isis

    I was SO pleased when Sophie wore stays with the proper lacing. Then they spoiled the moment with a shift which barely covered her derriere. But I suppose it was so short so no one could miss what Mummy meant about Sophie’s value at court. Not the mother of the year.

    I hugely enjoyed Versailles and managed to take the costume oddities in stride. One day I will figure out why I can ignore one show’s inaccuracies, while other makes me turn of the TV in disgust.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Hahhahaha! I know, there’s *just* enough that’s right about this show that I can give the not right parts a pass — it’s good fun to watch for some reason, & I really appreciate that. Maybe it doesn’t take itself so seriously?

      Reply
  4. Susan Pola

    I am waiting for the DVD as I can’t get it on my cable TV. Show sounds like it goes from one extreme to another. What I liked from the pictures were the lace….

    Reply
  5. nabooclotheshorse

    The portrait of the real Louise shows her wearing a clearly uncorseted bodice that buttons up the front, with no stays underneath. (Her chemise is puffing out between the buttons, and the fabric would tear around the buttons pretty quickly if the bodice itself laced in back.) Given that, is the bodice that ties in front really that implausible? I also can’t figure out what’s going on with the skirts– I’d expect them to be closed all the way around, unless they belonged to mantuas or some other kind of full-length gown that opened in front from top to bottom, which doesn’t seem to be the case in these costumes. The only person who’s ringing any mantua bells for me is the king’s brother; I think maybe his robe is supposed to be a mantua, just worn without a stomacher.

    Reply
  6. Elizabeth

    In the case of the images presented (Louise de la Vallière, 1667) and (Elisabeth d’Orleans, 1672), what sort of fastening was this? Just buttons? Fancy clips? I know nothing about costuming, I’m just curious because they look lovely but they don’t seem to be addressed in usual costume adaptations. I’m trying to follow the conversations on here, which mention things like pins and spiral lacing, yet these paintings seem to depict something else altogether.

    Reply
  7. Isabelle Egan

    Not sure I agree with the Louis sleeves bit. I see a lot of fancy sleeves, with a lot of detail interest at the cuffs from that period. Check out this portrait for the beginnings of the tiered sleeves. Construction could also be an inner sleeve support, which would hold better than a casing. https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/322077810841056231/
    Also the front fastening for Henriette is another fashion that I see in vogue on portraits of that time. It is merely decorative, it appears, and allows a chemise or under bodice to show through.

    Reply

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