Watch Z: The Beginning of Everything and Decide If It Makes the Cut

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It’s another Amazon pilot season, in which Amazon releases a number of TV show pilot episodes, Prime members get to watch them, and then vote as to whether Amazon should make more episodes. Last season, we got to watch and vote on Casanova (which, by the way, is still maybe going forward — Amazon ordered more scripts but hasn’t made the call as to whether they’re going into production yet). This season, the main show of interest to Frock Flicks viewers is Z: The Beginning of Everything, a bio-series about Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, quintessential 1920s flapper: novelist, dancer, socialite, and wife of author F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The show stars Christina Ricci as Zelda, and it looks quite promising. The first episode is set in 1918 in Montgomery, Alabama, just before/as Zelda meets Fitzgerald. Zelda is the wild and rebellious daughter of a patrician Southern family. World War I and the arrival of masses of soldiers (many of them Yankees [clutches pearls]) who were stationed there has shaken up Montgomery society and provided Zelda with an outlet for her sneaking-out-late, no-corset-wearing energies.

The show is fun but not fluffy, with a few stereotypical notes but nothing too cloying. Ricci plays Zelda as a bundle of contradictions: she doesn’t care about society’s strictures, she’s boy-crazy, and she talks back to her father. At the same time, she’s brainy, has a good relationship with her (indulgent) mother, and has an artistic side. Through the first episode we see her chomping at the bit for MORE than her staid socialite life as she skinny-dips, sneaks out to go to a dance full of soldiers, wraps men around her fingers, does volunteer war work, goes shopping, and performs ballet at a society cotillion.

Costumes in Z: The Beginning of Everything

The setting is 1918, right on the cusp of the 1920s — but not quite yet. Women’s styles had gotten shorter and more practical over the course of World War I, but there was still a bit of an Edwardian feel to things. Dresses overall were very blouse-y — skirts were ankle-length and slightly full, necklines were V or squared, the natural waist was emphasized with wide belts, and insets were typical in blouses/tops.

The costume designer (Stacey Battat) did a good job of capturing this transition, clothing-wise, although she tipped things a bit more towards the 1920s in terms of Zelda’s (and her friends’) hair and makeup.

I was impressed that when we first meet Zelda, she’s about to go skinny dipping and is shown without makeup, although I admit I inwardly questioned whether Christina Ricci could capture the real Zelda Sayre’s fragile feminine look.

Zelda Fitzgerald

The real Zelda Sayre, 1919.

Z: The Beginning of Everything (2015)

Stripey bathing suit, which doesn’t stay on for long.

Z: The Beginning of Everything (2015)

Clothes back on after swimming. Zelda and her friends look very modern and comfortable, although Zelda’s middy blouse collar and the hats remind you that we’re not quite in 2015.

Z: The Beginning of Everything (2015)

Zelda’s conventional sisters are shown as a counterpoint, and they do look more formal, although I question the heavy makeup. The left-hand sister’s inset blouse is very much of the period.

However, once Zelda gets dressed up to sneak out and go to an army dance, she gets that gamin look that was so popular in the 1920s. I liked that they didn’t go full fringey flapper dress on Zelda, but instead went with a very modern-feeling print that still had a frilliness to it that made it read oldey-timey and Southern.

Z: The Beginning of Everything (2015)

Zelda getting dressed to go out, during which she has a cute conversation with her mother about how girls her age don’t need corsets anymore.

Z: The Beginning of Everything (2015)

Dressed up for the dance. The black and white print feels modern, but the trim and frills keep it from being too modern. The wide belt, and the blouse inset, are very late 1910s.

Z: The Beginning of Everything (2015)

At the dance, which is a whirlwind of energy. Note the skirts look very 1918, both in terms of length and fullness.

The next day, Zelda is back to casual comfort in a pink and white dress linen-y dress:

Z: The Beginning of Everything (2015)
Z: The Beginning of Everything (2015)

I like the dresses on the two right-hand women — the Peter Pan collar and the lace inset read very late teens.

There’s an interesting moment where Zelda goes dress shopping. She poo-poo’s this green dress as being too old fashioned (mostly because the shop assistant is being bitchy), but the saleswoman tells her it’s from Chanel’s latest line … and it looks VERY 1920s with its dropped waist and loose silhouette. I was all set to say “wait a second,” until I thought to look for Chanel designs from 1918, and was able to find somewhat similar silhouettes — although I still think there should be a waist seam in there.

Z: The Beginning of Everything (2015)

The TV series “Chanel” dress.

Chanel 1918

Four Chanel designs from 1918.

I liked that you could see something of a generational difference amongst the women, particularly these two ladies who were leading the bandage rolling effort.

Z: The Beginning of Everything (2015)

The lady on the right has a longer hemline and higher neckline than the younger women, which makes her read Edwardian old-fashioned. On the other hand, the sailor-y feel to her dress are right on point.

Zelda’s mother isn’t as old-fashioned as the war effort lady, although her neckline is higher and her bust lower than Zelda’s (this was a low-bust era — corsets usually came up just under the bust, which was supported by a separate chemise/proto-bra type thing). I love this dress — the vertical stripes are on point and nicely contrasted with the lace inset, collar, and cuffs. I just wish they had a wider belt on her.

Z: The Beginning of Everything (2015)

Mom also seems to be wearing an awful lot of makeup for the era, given her age and station.

The most interesting scene, costume-wise, is at the end of the episode, when Zelda performs ballet for a society ball (and meets Scott). I was impressed that they bothered to dress the extras in late-teens-appropriate evening wear (I would think that the extras would end up in “Edwardian” or “1920s” wear, just to cut costs). Overall, it’s a great effect, with layered dresses, lace, wide waistbands, and semi-full skirts. Now that I can squint at screencaps I see a few clunkers in there, but they don’t read on screen.

Z: The Beginning of Everything (2015)

The lady on the left (walking out of frame) seems to be wearing a 1980s wedding dress, and the lady on the far right (yellow/white) looks very “Titanic.” That being said, that painted pink and silver dress is FABULOUS (although whoa, makeup). And mom looks nice too!

Zelda herself is wearing a very interesting outfit. I really can’t comment in terms of historical accuracy given that it’s a mash-up between a ballet costume and an evening dress, but it’s pretty and I like that it’s 1) not a tutu and 2) has the lines of a late teens evening gown, just slightly shorter and with more layers in the skirt.

Z: The Beginning of Everything (2015)

F. Scott comes in and sees Zelda dancing, and you can really sense how magical she must have seemed to him.

Z: The Beginning of Everything (2015)

And here he is, F. Scott Fitzgerald. He’s in a military uniform, but I was SUPER impressed that they went full center-part for his hair. This is SUCH a 1920s look, but it’s one you hardly ever see onscreen because to modern eyes, it looks dorky. But compare it with photos of the real Scott, and you can see that the designers made the right call:

Z: The Beginning of Everything (2015)

F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1921

F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1921

So, if you like the 1920s and you’re an Amazon Prime member, check out Z: The Beginning of Everything and send your feedback!

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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.

5 Responses

  1. Emily Barry

    Hmm. Not too bad. I will say that I think our era has an entirely different attitude towards foreheads than the era this is trying to portray… ;-)

    Reply
  2. mishkagora

    Another TV series set a few years earlier that managed the centre part was ‘Reilly, Ace of Spies’. Made in 1983 – so it’s slow paced for modern audiences – but well worth watching (and not just for the costumes)….

    Reply

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