Flowers in the Attic: The Origin Has Surprisingly Great Costumes

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Flowers in the Attic: The Origin (2022) has surprisingly great costumes! No, not surprising because of talented costume designer Nic Ede, but because this is a V.C. Andrews novel adaptation. For those who aren’t familiar, V.C. Andrews wrote a ton of super trashy, usually incest-focused young adult novels written in the 1970s-80s. If you were like me, you read many of them before you realized they were awful — depressing stories about abused girls in LUDICROUS plots. I’m not sure what exactly got me to watch this, except hey, I like trash! Color me shocked to discover some quality costume designs, from both a historical and character perspective.

The story is a prequel to the famous book Flowers in the Attic, which has been adapted twice I believe. This miniseries takes two prequel books and turns it into one continuous story. Now, I’m not even going to review the plot. There are parts I liked, and parts that made NO sense from a character perspective (as in, “why is this character okay with this super weird and creepy development that just happened? Wouldn’t a reasonable person run like hell?” but also sorry, I don’t believe in the 4th quarter arc of the main character). I’m tempted to call them all out! But you get what you sign up for here.

That being said, the acting, script, etc., is strong, with performances by Jemima Rooper as the main character, Olivia; Max Irons as her awful husband Malcolm; and Hannah Dodd as their daughter Corrine, among many others.

Instead, let’s dive right into the costumes, shall we? As I mentioned, they were designed by Nic Ede (Wilde, Bright Young Things, Hysteria, The White Queen — and yes, Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot). Sadly I haven’t found any press interviewing him for his thoughts on the series, but a little birdy told me we may be able to score an interview with him, so look forward to that possibility! It’s obvious that Ede did his research, as so many of the costumes look PERFECT for the period.

The series spans the late 1910s, late 1930s, early and late 1940s, and 1950s, with a little blip to c. 1900 — I think. I did get a little confused on the timeline near the middle. I had thought we were still in the late 1930s, but then there was a reference to World War II having ended (without it being mentioned in the plot previously, which was surprisingly given the family had two military-age sons). So, go with me here! Let’s look at these different periods and see how well Ede’s costume designs channeled the period — and the plot/character — although I am limited by the images I can find online.

 

The 1910s in Flowers in the Attic: The Origins

I think this period’s costumes are what impressed me most, because they perfectly capture that transition from 1918 to 1920. Let’s start with Olivia, well-to-do secretary who marries a wealthy man. So her costumes should be practical but up to date:

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

This kind of almost-sailor-style collar is a super-typical style for the late 1910s/early 1920s.

Butterick pattern catalog, July 1918

Compare with the two bottom-right blouses | Butterick pattern catalog, July 1918

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

There’s a similar collar on this embroidered and tucked lingerie blouse.

Sears catalog, Fall 1917

The 1900s to early 1920s were THE era of the “lingerie waist,” sheer, tucked and/or embroidered blouses | Sears catalog, Fall 1917

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

This shot of Olivia’s wedding ensemble is sadly blurry, but look at the lines of the collar and neckline.

2022 Flowers in the Attic- the Origin

I think this is the same dress — it has embroidery and tucks, and that vertical/horizontal neckline layering.

New Idea Quarterly – Summer 1918

That neckline treatment is ubiquitous from at least 1917 through 1921 | New Idea Quarterly – Summer 1918. Via Pinterest.

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

The suit Olivia wears to travel to her new home. SO MUCH THAT’S GOOD, from the silhouette to the textured collar revers, cuffs, and pocket flaps…

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

To the delicate, lace-trimmed blouse and asymmetrical hat!

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Back view of the hat.

1919 fashion plate

Compare the hat to the yellow one (center) and reddish (top left) | Fashion plate, 1919

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

More blouses and skirts for day…

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7
2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

While this green suit has a tunic-length blouse.

Delineator, May 1918.

They LOVED tunic-length tops in the 1910s | Delineator, May 1918.

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

And then this dinner? dress again has the square yet filled-in neckline so typical of the era.

1919 fashion plate

Similar treatments on these dresses | Fashion plate, 1919

And on these dresses worn by Esther Cleveland, c. 1918

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin

This evening dress is discussed as being fashion-forward. At first I was thinking it read 1930s…

Evening dress ca. 1920 Jessie Franklin Turner American Met Museum

But maybe it works along the lines of something like this? Evening dress, ca. 1920, Jessie Franklin Turner, Metropolitan Museum

Alicia is a very young and pregnant trophy wife. Her costumes need to be younger and fresher (while accounting for her pregnancy):

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

Arriving in a very loose, light-colored, almost 1920s-style dress with hat and gloves.

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

A fuller view of that dress. You’d say it’s 1920s, but look at that hemline!

Chanel 1918

Many late 1910s dresses look 1920s-ish, but the hemlines are indeed long | Four Chanel designs from 1918.

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

Another similar look in cream.

2022 Flowers in the Attic- the Origin

Here’s a long, drapey knit sweater. Also note the mid-length curled hair. I think they’re trying to make her look fashion-forward by not pinning her hair up as you see is most of these other images, but the slightly longer-than-a-bob length is a nod to it not quite being the 1920s. I spent a lot of time trying to find an example of a similar style but didn’t find it — please link to anything you can think of in the comments!

1918 knitting pattern via Wearing History

Long, tunic-length sweaters were definitely a thing! 1918 knitting pattern via Wearing History

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

Alicia wears this dress at dinner. Either it’s too small due to pregnancy, or she has bound her breasts as was fashionable in this era. Sadly most of the color is lost on screen.

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

Look at how cute it is in full!

1919 robe de Style - Fashion Museum Bath

It reminds me of an early “robe de style,” like this one | Robe de Style, Jeanne Lanvin, 1919, Fashion Museum Bath

1918 Lucile dress - national museums scotland

Or this evening dress | Dress, Lucile, 1918, National Museums Scotland

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

And finally, here’s a sheer evening dress with embroidery over a slip.

Dress owned by Helen Chapin, 1919, Western Reserve Historical Society

Sheer embroidered dresses were very fashionable in this era, and the loose boxy style definitely comes in before 1920 proper | Dress owned by Helen Chapin, 1919, Western Reserve Historical Society

Kate Mulgrew plays the housekeeper, Mrs. Steiner:

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

In her uniform.

1918-Simpsons-apron-150-360x500

It looks very similar to these: 1918 maid & nurses uniforms via VintageDancer.com

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

I did question why a housekeeper would wear that much makeup in the late 1910s. Maybe in the 1920s??

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

Mrs. Steiner’s everyday clothes. Note the neckline of her dress, which again has that high horizontal line.

Now the guys:

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

Suits for Max Irons and Kelsey Grammar.

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

Evening tuxedo.

Members of the Louisiana Five jazz band looking over papers, 1919. Courtesy of Nunez family collection, Wikimedia Commons

Compare those suits with these | Members of the Louisiana Five jazz band looking over papers, 1919. Courtesy of Nunez family collection, Wikimedia Commons

Vintage Suit Catalog -1918. Via Pinterest

And these | Vintage Suit Catalog – 1918. Via Pinterest.

 

The 1930s in Flowers in the Attic: The Origins

We then jump forward. Olivia and Malcolm have had several children, particularly darling Corinne:

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

On her 16th birthday, Corinne wears this floral, ruffled dress.

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

Olivia on the left also in floral but with a capelet; Corinne’s dress’s ruffles are on the hip. The fit looks a little tight?

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

A bit more capelet.

1930s vintage dress sold by GuermantesVintage on Etsy

Compare both to this long, sheer, floral silk dress | 1930s vintage dress sold by GuermantesVintage on Etsy

Mrs. Steiner is still around:

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

In streetwear. The neckline! The pleats at the shoulders! The small cute hat!

Sears catalog, spring/summer 1938

If I looked long enough I could find an exact match, I’m sure, but this is in the same vein | Sears catalog, spring/summer 1938

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

Okay, so I can’t remember which decade this dress is supposed to be. It reads 1930s-40s to me.

McCall sewing pattern, 1940

That kind of underbust seam is super typical of both decades | McCall sewing pattern, 1940

 

The 1940s in Flowers in the Attic: The Origins

Story-wise, I got confused on the timeline here. But given the fashion changes, we must be in the 1940s … or 1950s. Because a lot of this looks 1950s. Except the series is supposed to end in 1957, and everyone ages a lot/has children that grow by then. So I’m guessing 1940s.

Olivia’s life is crap, so she wears a lot of dark:

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

Dark plaid shirtdress.

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

More dark plaid, this time with interesting tucks on the shoulders.

Late 1940s sewing pattern

I’ll split the difference with this post-World War II sewing pattern | Late 1940s sewing pattern

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

A black dress with a super wide collar for a funeral.

1950s Anne Adams pattern

Super wide collars were a thing in the 1940s-50s | 1950s Anne Adams pattern

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin

Olivia wears this super glam yellow brocade dress with capelet to her daughter’s debutante ball.

1930s sewing pattern sold by Eva Dress

It reminds me more of a 1930s-style evening dress, but then I can Olivia dressing conservatively? 1930s dinner dress pattern sold by Eva Dress

Corinne wears a lot of super cute day dresses that read more 1950s than 1940s to me, so maybe we’re just post-World War II?

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

I mean doesn’t this read 1950s to you, with the kimono sleeve and bias pleats?

1950s Simplicity pattern

It reminds me of something like this | 1950s Simplicity pattern

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

This is SO cute, with the contrast waistband and patch pockets! Again, though, I feel like it’s 1950s.

1950s Advance pattern

These kind of patch pockets that stand away from the dress read SO 1950s to me! 1950s Advance pattern

Simplicity 1940s sewing pattern

I’m not seeing as many in the 1940s, but I did find this, so maybe I’m crazy… | Simplicity 1940s sewing pattern

Yes, I’ve mostly lost the thread on the men, but look how nicely brother Joel’s clothes suit the period:

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

The fit on that shirt — not modernly baggy! — is great.

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin7

Good waistline on the pants, his shirt is tucked in!

1944 men's pants ad via VintageDancer.com

Are we going for this? 1944 men’s pants ad via VintageDancer.com

1956 men's summer shorts and pants via VintageDancer.com

Or this? 1956 men’s summer shorts and pants via VintageDancer.com

 

c. 1900 in Flowers in the Attic: the Origin

And now, out of order because that’s how it happens story-wise — Corinne wears her grandmother’s c. 1900 ball gown for her debutante ball. AND I LOVED IT.

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin

Blush pink with a wide A-line skirt and ribbon rosettes.

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin

No, it doesn’t fit her perfectly, but it hasn’t been altered, and would have originally been worn over a pigeon-front-style, very busty corset.

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin

The grandmother’s portrait in this dress. Surprisingly, it’s not that shitty!

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin

It has a long train.

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin

With most of the fabric angled to the back.

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin

More train!

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin

Close-up on those roses.

1900 House of Worth Met Museum

It completely reminds me of a Worth gown | Ball gown, 1900, House of Worth, Metropolitan Museum of Art

women-s-three-piece-dress-by-worth-from-house-of-savoy_u-l-polse80

Women’s Three Piece Dress by Worth, from House of Savoy

 

The 1950s in Flowers in the Attic: the Origins

And finally, a bit of the late 1950s! Corinne:

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin

In a bright red dress with a sweetheart neckline.

1950s McCall 9660 sewing pattern

Which is SO 1950s! 1950s McCall sewing pattern

Olivia embraces the drama:

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin

Super wide collar on this dress…

2022 Flowers in the Attic the Origin

Sadly I can’t find a full shot from the front, but note the full skirt.

New York, 1950-51, Dior Met Museum

The 1950s was ALL ABOUT the oversized dramatic collars | “New York” coat, 1950-51, Dior Met Museum

1950s vintage dress

Vintage 1950s dress with oversized collar

I hope this reviews inspires you to perhaps watch Flowers in the Attic: The Origin … if you can stand the trash!

 

What are your thoughts on the historical accuracy of the costumes in Flowers in the Attic: The Origin?

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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.

13 Responses

  1. Caroline Macafee

    That knit sweater! I love it, and if I thought it was knitted, I would be studying how to copy it. I don’t think it is knitted, though. I’d be interested to know if anybody has any idea what the method was – a combination of crochet and macrame perhaps?

    Reply
    • Mona

      Agree not knitted. It could be reproduced with crochet, I think, and with Irish Crochet for the bulky ornaments that evoke macrame.

      Reply
    • jen

      You can also look up ‘filet crochet’ which was really popular back then. Iva Rose has plenty of repro patterns but you can probably find some for free too.

      Reply
  2. Boxermom

    Nice to see Jemima Rooper getting some love! I saw her on Broadway 10 years ago in One Man, Two Guvnors with James Corden. I have never laughed so hard in my life. :)

    Reply
  3. Roxana

    I saw that, because my mother was watching. Hated the story, I’m not into oppression porn, I kept telling Olivia to just stick a dagger into her hateful hubby. But the costumes were lovely.

    Reply
  4. Lily Lotus Rose

    Yes, I am now inspired to watch this film based on this post. These costumes look gorgeous!!!!!

    Reply
  5. Nzie

    Thanks for covering the costumes. I was interested when I saw the ad but once I looked up the source material plots I was pretty horrified, so I am glad to see the costumes without having to watch the story. The earlier stuff I quite like – it can go a bit baggy/sacky approaching 1920 but lots of pretty details. :-)

    Reply
    • hsc

      Since Alicia is supposed to be “a very young and pregnant trophy wife,” this definitely could be, since Pickford was solidly associated with the early silent film archetype of “the sweet young maiden” and even played children far into adulthood.

      However, Pickford generally had longer than shoulder-length hair in distinct long sausage curls– they were her defining feature, since she was first known to audiences as “The Girl with the Golden Curls” before she broke through and achieved name billing:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mary_Pickford_cph.3c17995u.jpg

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mary_Pickford_1916.jpg

      While a lot of actresses doing similar ingenue roles in pre-1920 silent films copied the Pickford curls outright, there were a number of them that had less-defined curl to the hair and somewhat shorter lengths.

      Unfortunately, a lot of the pre-1920 images I’ve found are just not quite as short as what’s shown in the miniseries, and it’s hard to tell if they depict a contemporary hairstyle or an attempt at a “period” look.

      And it should also be noted that in addition to bobbed hair on young girls being fairly common, a number of women did bob their hair prior to 1920– largely eccentrics and women doing it for practicality.

      The French singer/actress Polaire– sort of the Lady Gaga of her day– was known in the 1910s for her thick cropped mane, her incredibly tight-laced “16 inch” waist, and nose rings:
      https://alchetron.com/cdn/polaire-3b33323e-d994-4217-8172-3e3612ce292-resize-750.jpeg

      https://alchetron.com/cdn/polaire-78681137-dc13-48c4-a58e-d4c9b9a911b-resize-750.jpeg

      while in Greenwich Village, the artist Clara Tice claimed to have been the first to adopt this hairstyle, as early as 1908 (photo is said to be 1916):
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clara_Tice#/media/File:Clara_Tice_and_her_dog.jpg

      However, the look didn’t really catch on as a popular style before 1920, possibly due to the influence of dancer Irene Castle– who sported “the Castle bob” in 1915– combined with women volunteer laborers during WWI who cut their hair for sake of convenience.

      But as early as 1920, you get a very similar style to what Alicia’s wearing on popular actress Betty Compson:
      https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Betty_Compson#/media/File:Betty_Compson_-_Feb_1920_Shadowland.jpg

      OTOH, given that the other hairstyles framecapped from later periods seem kind of half-assed to me– like most 20th century period pieces, they suffer from a kind of loose sloppiness you don’t see in actual period images– I seriously doubt they really put a lot of effort or research into this look.

      Reply
  6. Bev

    Oooooh, I read so much V C Andrews trash when I was in jr high!

    This looks pretty interesting. I may try to watch it if only for the clothes.

    Seeing the 40s section reminded me…will y’all be doing a fashion review of the new A League of Their Own series streaming on Amazon Prime?

    It’s really good so far!

    Reply
  7. Brandy Loutherback

    The daughter’s hair reads more 1940’s, IMO. Maybe it’s supposed to be the late 1930s?

    Reply

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