Costume Designer Susannah Buxton: The Frock Flicks Guide


Susannah Buxton has been designing costumes mostly for British TV since the 1980s. She’s won a BAFTA and an Emmy, among other awards. In 2018, she started Costume Symposium so technicians working in UK theatre, opera, film, and television could share their knowledge and try out new skills. While she’s done contemporary designs, historical research seems to form a solid basis for much of her work. In an interview at Cosprop and the John Bright Collection, Buxton said:

“Looking at originals is the most important part of the preparation and there is never enough time to spend researching, once the actors are cast. The more research you are able to do, the more the production value of the drama benefits. I also go to the V&A and other museums, Worthing has a good collection. Looking at paintings of the period in books and galleries, particularly the National Portrait Gallery here in London is invaluable, and of course online too.”

Take a look at her wide range of frock flicks work!



Swallows and Amazons Forever!: Coot Club (1984)

Susannah Buxton, Swallows and Amazons Forever!: Coot Club (1984)

TV movies based on a popular children’s book series set in the 1930s.

Susannah Buxton, Swallows and Amazons Forever!: Coot Club (1984)

That’s Peter Davidson on the left, the 5th Doctor Who.



Swallows and Amazons Forever!: The Big Six (1984)

Susannah Buxton, Swallows and Amazons Forever!: The Big Six (1984)



A Dangerous Kind of Love (1986)

Susannah Buxton, A Dangerous Kind of Love (1986)

TV movie about the first woman to climb the Matterhorn in 1871, which sounds awesome! But, based on the title, I’m afraid it’s turned into a sappy romance.



The Disputation (1986)

Susannah Buxton, The Disputation (1986)

A TV movie set in 1263 about a debate between Judaism & Christianity — with Christopher Lee!

Susannah Buxton, The Disputation (1986)

And spiffy headgear!



Mr. Wroe’s Virgins (1993)

Susannah Buxton, Mr. Wroe's Virgins (1993)

Susannah Buxton won a Best Costume Design BAFTA for this miniseries about a 19th-century cult.



Boswell & Johnson’s Tour of the Western Isles (1993)

Susannah Buxton, Boswell & Johnson's Tour of the Western Isles (1993)

Set in 1773 & chronicling Samuel Johnson’s trip around the Hebrides with James Boswell.

Susannah Buxton, Boswell & Johnson's Tour of the Western Isles (1993)

I think this might be the elderly Flora McDonald of Jacobite legend?



Jane Eyre (1997)

Jane Eyre, 1997

Starring Samantha Morton as Jane.

Jane Eyre, 1997

Ciarán Hinds as Rochester.

Jane Eyre, 1997

It’s Kendra’s favorite version, & I agree the 1830s-40s costumes are very good. But the story is truncated, which always bugs me.

In the Cosprop interview, Susannah Buxton said:

“The idea of looking at originals is not to copy them, the intention is to create a character. For that actor in that drama, things will be different. You’re taking the inspiration and understanding — but it would not necessarily work to recreate a costume. Costume design is not about copying paintings or original costumes. The characters have a life of their own and are taking part in a story. The original may be beautiful but it may not suit the actress, in shape or colour. When I used the original [from the John Bright Collection] as reference for Jane Eyre, I decided against the lace which, in this case, I found more distracting for Jane. Otherwise I have to say, it’s pretty close to the original in that instance.”



The Woodlanders (1997)

Polly Walker as Mrs. Charmond gets the fanciest dresses.

Jodhi May, The Woodlanders (1997)

Jodhi May in more typical garb for a Thomas Hardy Wessex tale.

Susannah Buxton, The Woodlanders (1997)

While the country maids wear simple clothes, they can still be colorful & each woman is unique.



St. Ives (1998)

Miranda Richardson in St. Ives (1998)

Miranda Richardson in cute stripes!

Susannah Buxton, St. Ives (1998)

And in another intriguing gown! But I can’t find much more about this flick.

Susannah Buxton, St. Ives (1998)

Apparently set during the Napoleonic Wars, so it looks like the costumes span the late 18th century & early 19th century.



The Blonde Bombshell (1999)

Susannah Buxton, The Blonde Bombshell (1999)

Playing 1950s actress Diana Dors — Keeley Hawes looks so different from her other roles!

The Blonde Bombshell (1999)



Britannic (2000)

Susannah Buxton, Britannic (2000)

A fictional account of H.M.H.S. Britannic sinking in 1916.



Tipping the Velvet (2002)

Tipping the Velvet (2002)

The costumes show the full range of society, high & low, in this miniseries.

Tipping the Velvet (2002)

Fabulous bustle gowns!

Tipping the Velvet (2002)

Dramatic details.

Tipping the Velvet (2002)

Appropriate to the characters & period.



Fingersmith (2005)

2005 Fingersmith

The costuming in this miniseries is subtle, but the details are important.

Fingersmith (2005)

Dresses play a key part in the plot.



As You Like It (2006)

Susannah Buxton, As You Like It (2006)

Kenneth Branagh’s version set in a late 19th-c. European colony in Japan after the Meiji Restoration.

Susannah Buxton, As You Like It (2006)

Most of the characters wear European costumes, though with Japanese elements.

Susannah Buxton, As You Like It (2006)

Especially at the wedding finale.



Death Defying Acts (2007)

Catherine Zeta-Jones, Death Defying Acts (2007)

Set in 1926 about Harry Houdini having an affair with a psychic played by Catherine Zeta-Jones. There’s ’20s daywear.

In the Cosprop interview, Susannah Buxton talked about combining historical styles with what works on film:

“There was a dress for Catherine Zeta Jones for Death Defying Acts and I looked at many originals from the 1920s. One of them had the most beautiful deep rose colour, and I used this as reference and we matched it in the dye room, the style of the dress wasn’t used at all.”

Susannah Buxton, Death Defying Acts (2007)


Susannah Buxton, Death Defying Acts (2007)

And Guy Pearce as Houdini in smart menswear.



Downton Abbey (2010-11)

Downton Abbey

Susannah Buxton set the tone with Downton‘s first season (plus a couple more eps). This was what we fell in love with — the Edwardian look with big hats, nipped waists, & so much detail!

2010-15 Downton Abbey

Elegant evening gowns on all three sisters for dinner each night.

Downton Abbey

The Dowager Countess in the just-getting-old-fashioned style she’ll keep wearing through the entire series.

In Time magazine, Buxton said that Queen Mary was an inspiration for the Dowager Countess’ style:

“That queen always had a certain look and it was right because we wanted a really strong, positive look for Maggie Smith. She’s the dominant character in the series. You want to costume to help emphasize the character, to be part of who that person is.”

Susannah Buxton, Downton Abbey (2010-11)

Delicate Edwardian whites on the eve of World War I.

2010-15 Downton Abbey

And who can forget Lady Sybil’s harem pants in episode 4 of season 1?

Susannah Buxton used vintage materials when she could, but that sometimes lead to problems, as she described in Time magazine:

“The most scary thing that I can remember is that I designed a harem dress — with Turkish trousers — for Lady Sybil. That was considered very shocking at the time because no women wore trousers then. I used a panel of embroidery for the bodice that was very old and very beautiful. She came down for the first scene and after the third take the whole panel started to split at the back. Fortunately we did have another piece of it, but watching a dress part from itself in front of your eyes on camera is pretty scary.”

Susannah Buxton, Downton Abbey (2011)

Buxton finished off her work on Downton Abbey with the first Christmas special, set in 1919.

Talking of the season 2 costumes, Buxton mentioned Lady Mary’s hunting outfit to Cosprop:

“For a suit for Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey we looked at a 1920s hunting, shooting and fishing suit and changed the style of it completely, but there was a lovely pocket detail which I kept.”

And in Time magazine, she said:

“I’m very proud of the tweed suit Lady Mary wears during a hunting party during the Christmas Special. People would happily wear it now. It looks good, but it also fits comfortably in the era where it’s supposed to sit.”



Galavant (2015)

Galavant costumes

Not strictly historical, but medieval influenced.

Galavant costumes

With some spot-on 16th-c. hats.

Galavant costumes

And a 16th-c. lady’s loose gown (just ignore the supposed French hood).

Galavant costumes

While the king is back in the 15th century.



Poldark (2016)

Poldark (2016) season 2

Susannah Buxton gave Poldark‘s second season a wider range of costumes for the ladies.

Poldark season 2

Demelza got a whore-red gown.

Poldark season 2 finale

And there were some snazzy redingotes.



What’s your favorite frock flick costume design by Susannah Buxton?

7 Responses

  1. M.E. Lawrence

    So many costuming details to love! There are several flicks here I’d like to see, including “The Woodlanders.” I own a DVD of that “Jane Eyre,” my favorite version (the ONLY true Rochester), although it could stand to be an hour longer.

  2. Brandy Loutherback

    Britannic was terribly inaccurate, but had great costumes to fit ca. 1916! It came out a couple years after Titanic won all the awards.

  3. Cheryl from Maryland

    I own Blackadder, and Robbie Coltrane was spot on as Dr. Johnson as well as hilarious, but there is ANOTHER flick with him as the great doctor? I can’t find it on IMBD.

  4. Amtmann B

    St. Ives is my favorite of the flicks. I found it on Youtube and it is on Amazon Prime. Very funny although some uniforms are strange (espoecially for 1814!!!).

  5. Lily Lotus Rose

    Oooh, I really liked this deep dive. I was not familiar with Susannah Buxton by name, though I have see a few of the productions that feature her work. I love it when the posts introduce me to so much info and films. There’s a lot here that I haven’t seen that really intrigues me. My fave, of course, is Downton Abbey.

    And also, I need that pic of Ciaran Hinds as Rochester to be the wallpaper on my computer. (Sigh!)


Feel the love

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.