When I was doing a WCW on Tamzin Merchant, I stumbled down the rabbit hole of Salem (2014-17) costumes again. Because, as disappointing as the show was in terms of convoluted, unconvincing plot, the costumes were freaking GORGEOUS. The hair did not measure up at all, but the gowns were stunning riffs on late 17th-century fashion layered with oodles of gothic witchy wonderfulness.
Costume designer Jospeh A. Porro used all kinds of strange and symbolic materials to create these costumes, from black patent leather and vinyl to human hair and beetle wings. Porro told FIDM in an interview:
“When you’re doing fantasy, you have to know what is correct. Then you make compromises based on your budget. Because this is about witches and fantasy, I’m going to bend the rules, using fabrics that weren’t available in the 17th century.”
He added details to costumes such as Victorian mourning jewelry, silver jewelry from the 1930s and 1940s, a thousand carats of amethysts, and sterling silver bugs, often from his own collection. But I really love how he combined new embroidery (usually custom-made in India) with vintage laces and fabrics to build depth into these outfits.
What makes this good costume design IMO is there’s an internal consistency and logic to Porro’s work on this series. The characters wear things that make sense for who they are and what they do — these are witches, often wealthy characters, gaining profit from their deadly dealings, so they wear dark, rich, elaborate clothes. These women are full of secrets, and their costumes are layered and complex. The costumes follow a basic historical silhouette, and the deviations are purposeful to emphasize the character’s weird, magical qualities. If you’re gonna break the rules, do it on purpose and with style!
Now, indulge an ElderGoth here with a few pretty dresses!
Do you love a good gothic historical gown too?
I love all the detailing on the dresses; I just wish for Mary’s S3 dress they hadn’t done the little straps sticking out of the neckline – no matter how I look at it, it just looks like the actress forgot to take her modern lace camisole off before she put the dress on.
I think it’s a necklace, not straps. You can click on the photos to see the larger versions, & it’s a little more clear in the second pic (walking thru the grass).
Of your kindness pray WARN a man before we get to Ms. Lucy Lawless looking glorious in silver lame – the neighbourhood was kind enough to overlook my ripping that shirt off and beating my chest like a pair of bongos, but I’m told that a full blooded Tarzan yell of raw Lust was perhaps a BIT much.
Looks back to the picture in question –
LORD HAVE MERCY. It’s wonderful to be reminded that Ms. Lawless not only makes a fabulous Amazon, she can also do Glam the way da Vinci did chiaroscuro.
May we someday be lucky enough to see her share a screen with Gwendoline Christie and may we get at least a few seconds to enjoy the sight before the screen melts!
You mean something like – ‘Testosterone Warning! Gorgeous woman in gorgeous dress below. This will be your only warning.’?
I would also accept “Dear Reader, the following may inspire purest Lust – please remember to bite your pillow before reading.”
Or: ‘ You’ll need to be in younger for this one’?
I mean, you need to be In Your Bunk!
Can I just say, I hate the “Real Witches in Salem” trope in general, but I don’t mind it in this instance!
There were no real witches at Salem. Possibly a few folk magic practitioners but mostly feuding and backbiting.
Don’t forget all the Puritans! (I was about to type “Angry, judgemental Puritans” but is there any other sort?*).
*The answer to this, surprisingly, may be “Yes”: in the only full history of the Witch Trials I have read, there was mention of a possible case of demonic possession in a young lass in one of Salem’s neighbouring communities: the local reverend (or Congregationalist equivalent) managed to keep on top of things, put the girl on bed rest and resolved this potentially-violent spiritual crisis in the community very quietly).
Huh? You mean Puritans who didn’t hang Witches? Heresy!
I read an interesting essay collection on Salem called Witches and Historians (do recommend!) in which one essay argued that intent to effect an outcome via folk magic, within that context, did make one a witch (and take the efficacy out of the equation!). I found that interesting, but even under that standard, the evidence for any folk magic relates to Mary Sibley, Tituba, and the “afflicted girls.” I suppose “cursing” people might fit.
Part of the travesty to me is that they really did know better, both spiritually and juridically. But more reasonable voices were not listened to until dozens were embroiled in false accusations on poor quality evidence. I think there weren’t any convictions after they changed the evidentiary rules to prohibit spectral evidence; that made the question of children’s evidence, which was not permitted in most cases under common law but had a precedent for witchcraft cases from the Lancashire/Pendle witches, moot.
Salem seems to have been a powder keg of barely suppressed tension and conflict and the whole Massachusetts colony was under stress and uncertainty over their charters. An outbreak of hysteria among girls who’d been playing magical games was the match that fired the explosion.
Basically a group of young girls acting as servants in other houses seem to have taken to hanging out in the Parris kitchen and playing the kind of supernatural games girls still play at slumber parties. The small girls, Abigail and Betty, living at the house became involved and the conflict between the games and her religion apparently induced a psychological state in little Betty that we will call hysteria for lack of a better word. The other girls were not just terrified of being punished but that they’d somehow called up a demon and the hysteria spread. The idea of witchcraft was suggested to the girls and the rest is history.
To answer your question, yes, I also love a good gothic historical gown. And all the ones you featured here were, as you said, gorgeous. I love the breaking the rules with knowledge and purpose!! Salem is one of those shows that I never got around to watching but have always kept on the backburner of getting to someday… This post definitely gave it a huge nudge up on my list. That said, I think I always keep getting it confused with another show that was out at the same time and took place in relatively the same historical period. Either way…yay for these beautiful costumes!!!
And to Ed’s point, I was excited (though not in the lustful way, though I will admit that she is beautiful) to see Lucy Lawless. I didn’t know she starred in this show. She has range beyond what most people give her credit for, and I’m interested to see her in this show.
The dresses are gorgeous, but not gorgeous enough for me to forget the improbability of a woman living in colonial Salem owning such elegant and ornate gowns. As I recall a scarlet bodice was considered fashion forward in the village.