18th Century Quest: Manon Lescaut (2013)


Manon Lescaut is a weird (TV) movie, guys. It’s based on a 1731 French novel by the Abbé Prévost, and the summary is supposed to be “woman ruins relationship/lives because she’s too attached to luxury” but instead it plays out as “woman has sketchy relationship with brother, is pimped out, ruins love affair.” I don’t know, I think something that had Great Cultural Meaning (i.e., the moral implications of luxury and consumption) in the 18th century didn’t translate well here.

Meet the Chevalier des Grieux, who is studying to become a priest and looks like Jamie Fraser’s younger brother.

2013 Manon Lescaut

Sam Heughan‘s long-lost brother?

He’s hanging out in front of an inn, and despite it having been established that no floozy can distract him from his studies, spots a floozy from afar and is just In Love Done Over No Contest No Nothing.

2013 Manon Lescaut

Okay, I like this outfit for 1730s! Nice woven pattern in the fabric, the casaquin jacket style checks out, and I like the shabby gold trim.

He comes over to say hi, she apparently NEEDS TO STRIP IMMEDIATELY STAT RIGHT HERE IN THE INNYARD, he holds up his cloak in some ludicrous moment of chivalry, she drops trou, and he’s hooked.

2013 Manon Lescaut

Under her jacket ensemble, she is apparently wearing stays (possibly backwards? Note the V point at the waist?), which she unhooks and then POOF, everything comes off as one garment. No chemise, of course. Gotta get starkers in the innyard.

2013 Manon Lescaut

She then shimmies into this boring number. I have no idea why, other than so she could show the chevalier her hooters.

The next day, he shows up in civvies to run off with the floozy — Manon — who is back in dress #1 and wafting Edwardian panties around.

2013 Manon Lescaut
2013 Manon Lescaut


The costumes were designed by Florence Sadaune (The Queen and the CardinalAsterix and Obelix Meet Cleopatra), and they’re sometimes okay, sometimes very odd. Manon is sometimes chemised, sometimes not:

2013 Manon Lescaut

That teeny strap on the chemise is also very Edwardian. Also, I was right about the corset being worn backwards before — note now it has a wide lacing and tabs at the back.

She’s a fan of clunky straw tricorns:

2013 Manon Lescaut

It’s not terrible.

She’s WAY TOO CLOSE to her brother, but decently dressed in a française-type number:

2013 Manon Lescaut

Why isn’t there more of this?

Then whips out this pink, back-laced, be-grommeted nightmare:

2013 Manon Lescaut


Her brother sells her off to an aging aristocrat:

2013 Manon Lescaut

He only gets one suit, but it’s nice.

The maid is Team Zipper:

2013 Manon Lescaut

She’s also Team Anachronistic Princess Seams.

Manon wears a polonaise-type thing as a dressing gown:

2013 Manon Lescaut

She goes to a ball where her hair goes to center-part crazytown:

2013 Manon Lescaut

People. PEOPLE!!! 1. Powdered hair does not go from “dark brown” to “ash blonde.” 2. 18th-century hairstyles do not have a center part. 3. Women did not wear full wigs, or if they did, they tried to hide that fact.

2013 Manon Lescaut

The flowers and embroidery are pretty, they’re just not very period-appropriate.

2013 Manon Lescaut

Looks like a decent robe à la française, however.

2013 Manon Lescaut

Note back-lacing on the right.

Her brother refuses to shave, even for a poncy event:

2013 Manon Lescaut

I am poncy! I have a nice satin suit!

2013 Manon Lescaut

But I am committed to my Miami Vice stubble.

2013 Manon Lescaut

Lookers-on. Questionable hair on the left there.

2013 Manon Lescaut

She shacks up with her aging aristocrat lover in a machine-embroidered-fabric dress:

2013 Manon Lescaut

Whatever, it’s fine.

Wears a late 16th/early 17th-c. loose gown as a dressing gown:

2013 Manon Lescaut

I feel like someone wandered into the costume stock warehouse and got deeply, deeply confused.

Ends up in prison, where she’s rescued by the chevalier and the son of the jailer:

2013 Manon Lescaut

The chevalier has to become a card shark in order to support her and her brother:

2013 Manon Lescaut

I like the sparkle!

2013 Manon Lescaut
2013 Manon Lescaut

That hairstyle is so wrong for 1730s (maybe 1770s-80s?), but I liked his sparkle! Another guy who missed the “everyone shaves in the 18th c.” memo.

She decides to sleep with the jailer’s son just to be friendly:

2013 Manon Lescaut

SO MANY QUESTIONS. She’s got two different front-laced corsets? stomachers? with wildly different necklines on under her damask gown. Did they try on the outer layer and realize they needed more boob control?

And things end badly, but I’ll leave something to the imagination.


Can you explain any of these costume choices to me?


About the author



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.

18 Responses

  1. MoHub

    The only good thing to be said about this is that it spawned not one, but two superb operas: one by Massenet and one by Puccini.

    • Adina

      Also the ballet by MacMillan, which is actually on stage at the royal ballet right ow.

      • MoHub

        Well, I’m an opera singer who can’t dance, so I lean more toward opera than ballet.

  2. picasso Manu

    I’ve read the book a long time ago, but the one thing I remembered from it was that poor Manon had no agency whatsoever. The only “decision” she made was that if she had to be miserable no matter what, she was not going to be poor on top of it.
    So of course she had to be punished for it.
    As for the costume, I have one word for ya: Lazyness.

  3. Nzie

    “I feel like someone wandered into the costume stock warehouse and got deeply, deeply confused.” — this seems to be the problem for a number of things in this flick.

    The HAIR. Including the stubble/mustaches.. GEEZ.

    I feel like intended moral is fine (honestly, what made The Favourite so uncomfortable for me was really the way people were so well off and yet so dissolute). But why does it have to be about a poor girl getting ahead? Is it to keep the lower classes down or, less negatively, to warn them that the haves also have serious problems and it’s better for the soul to be a peasant? If the purpose is to show how these things ruin the life, show it at the expense of the rich men, not the poor girl who gets sold, etc.

      • Nzie

        yes, a bit of obvious answer is obvious, lol. although showing a rich dissolute woman would also be ok with me. I just am annoyed at punching down instead of up when it comes to vices of wealth.

        • Aleko

          Then again, a lot of rich women had little or no agency either – the whole ‘stick your daughter in a convent till you’ve arranged her marriage shortly after puberty’ thing. If you were stuck for life with someone you didn’t like at all from the age of 16 or so, and had dutifully pumped out an heir and a spare for his benefit, a bit of dissoluteness was often about all you could do to cheer yourself up for the rest of your life.

          • Nzie

            I think in my hierarchy of who deserves criticism for dissolute behavior and attachment to riches, rich men are absolutely on top. I would just also put criticizing rich women as more justified than criticizing poor women for what’s in effect the sins of wealth, as it may have been understood. I think I would also rank rich women above poor men on that. I was trying to come up with a comparison but I’m not sure I can think of a dissolute poor male character off the top of my head who isn’t a criminal or terribly cruel… but I do feel like it’d be easier to feel compassion for, say, Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire than a poor but not malicious alcoholic, even though his sufferings be perhaps greater. The only modern novel I can think of that manages to make poor people sympathetic without making them idealized is The Book Thief. It’s interesting to think about the different effects of sex, class, etc.

  4. Katie

    Does one anachronistic chemise mean that this fails the Lorraine Test, or barely passes it? Discuss.

  5. Lyanna Faerie

    There’s a wonderful ballet based on this story. The costuming in the ballet is more accurate them this film.

  6. Saraquill

    Seeing the screencaps has me flash back to Karolina Zebrowska parodies. Especially the “who cares about period, show us the bewbz” ones.

  7. Damnitz

    The pictures gave me the impression of an low budget TV-production, although not the same quality like those odd German productions like “Trenck – Zwei Herzen gegen die Krone”.

  8. Joanne Renaud

    Boy these costumes suck. When are we going to get a show set in the 1730s that’s costumed accurately, with round hoops, casaquin jackets, mantuas, and robe volantes? Instead we have this generic mish-mash of costumes of late 18th century and Edwardian and fantasy styles. Hell, even the men’s jackets aren’t cut correctly for the period. (They are cut far too tightly, and the cuffs are much too small.)

  9. Liz Myrick

    In the “Love Done Over” costume (the yellow one) that you said was fairly accurate, is that skirt accurate or is it just a weird angle? It looks very Edwardian, and I’ve never seen anything like that in the 18th century.