Frock Flick Free-for-All


You asked for it, so here’s an occasional open thread to bitch about anything tangentially related to history, costume, movies, or TV shows! Or whatever else is on your mind right now. Note that URLs are automatically held for moderation, but most anything else goes as long as you’re not bitchier than we are!

We missed a February open thread because the first Friday fell during Snark Week. Speaking of which, what did you think of this year’s efforts? Any suggestions for next year? Anything on the horizon that already seems like snark-bait?


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Three historical costumers who decided the world needed a podcast and blog dedicated to historical costume movies and everything right and wrong with them.

80 Responses

  1. crypticmirror

    What do we gotta do to make capes and cloaks come back into fashion!!!

    • Andrew.

      You can buy capes off-the-rack in Austria and Southern Germany. The are part of a fashion style derived from traditional clothing, “tracht’, and turn of the last century riding clothes. It is sometimes called Habsburg Mode (although there is also a manufacturer called Habsburg.)

      Made out of loden, they are also still worn within the traditional hunting community there. Speaking from experience, these “wetterfleck” keep you dry without overheating.

  2. Mel

    I loved snark week this year (it was even better because I forgot it existed – it’s been a long year). So much of what looked like casa satin and other polyester garbage.

  3. Sam Marchiony

    I kind of think Katie McGrath should have a Woeful Woman Wednesday next year — I love her as an actress, but I have yet to see her in a frock flick that wasn’t garbage in some way.

    • tomtengaard

      Oh my god I would kill for a play by play of Merlin’s costumes. It’s… I’ll be kind and call the costuming proto-Game of Thrones in style.

  4. tanya2austin

    Not screen-related, but I just can’t stand reading historical fiction where the author makes a point of writing an elaborate description of the clothing and gets it SO WRONG. Regency dresses did not include sheer overlays embroidered with butterflies and thousands of tiny crystals. A lower-middle class woman in 1850 would not have an entire gown made of lace with a rainbow-colored underdress. And where do these writers get the idea that anyone before, say, 1900 could walk into a store and pick a gown off the rack to wear that evening?

    If you’re going to write a huge description, please, please put some effort into making it remotely plausible. Even if the rest of the story is good, the clothing issues just take me right out of it. I actually find this a more egregious offense than in film, because in a movie or show the actors have to wear SOMETHING– if the director gets it wrong, it was a necessary evil. But in a book it’s the author’s choice to describe the outfit in minute detail– why do so if they have no idea what they’re talking about?

    Okay, rant over.

    • Vivika

      Oh Yes, especially since my first exposure to detail description was Jude Deveraux’s A Knight In Shinning Armor. I could see the clothing and almost smell the odors. (Which I haven’t read in years and now want to reread to make sure it is as good as I remember.)

    • Trystan L. Bass

      We’ve had some romance & historical fiction writers comment on Frock Flicks saying they appreciate the help understanding what’s accurate costume & what isn’t. But I guess not enough of them are researching…

    • Kendra

      Seriously!! If you’re not going to do the research, don’t go there. I’m also thrown by descriptions of them disrobing themselves or corsets doing things that corsets don’t do.

      • yosa

        I am even harsher about it- I think we should research not only what the people were wearing- but also how people were writing about their clothes. If you are pretending to be a novel of the time but write about the clothes like a modern person it is just plain weird. There are period novels that do a great job of describing clothes to use as inspiration, too!

    • Tanya Stewart

      Years ago, I pushed myself to get through a book called “The Secret Diary of Mary, Queen of Scots.” I don’t remember the guilty author’s name, which is as well, since she described women’s headdresses of the time as—hennins. If a prospective writer of historical fiction decides not to bother researching the period of which she/he will write, then it’s just plain fiction. How does Philippa Fucking Gregory get away with her “take” on historical people and events? Because there’s too many of her readers who, like her, don’t want to be bothered with actual history, but lovelovelove romance novels with plenty of ripped bodices—and hennins.

    • Lynelle

      I read a Regency romance once that involved a male character struggling with “all of the little buttons down the back” of the heroine’s gown. I thought about throwing the book across the room but it was an ebook on my iPad.

    • Terri Moore

      I remember reading a Regency romance novel I found at JFK when I was flying home, one of the ballgowns was described as being Grecian in design with one shoulder left bare. Another was whipped up for our heroine over night from a green silk shot with gold that matched her eyes. 😂

      • tanya2austin

        Gowns could be made quickly, yes, but not instantly. Especially not with all of the embellishment these authors add in. They did not have embroidery machines back then, and embroidery takes time!. And don’t forget the Regency novels describing a dress as accentuating the heroine’s “tiny waist.” Have they even seen images of Regency gowns?

    • Roxana

      It’s not just regencies. I’ve read any number of Tudor period novels that seem to have a weak grasp of period fashion. A big offender is ‘ The Queen’s Grace’s by Jan Wescott, which was only the start of its problems as it could be best described as Katherine Parr played by Scarlett O’Hara.

  5. Julia Atkinson

    I’d love to know if Frockflickers who share my interest in family history have come across any stories crying out to be made into a film or mini-series. A few years ago I discovered that my great-great aunt Amelia’s husband Harold Heneage Dilke was the illegitimate son of an earl and a baronet’s daughter – and Harold’s uncle Sir Alexander Dixie was married to Lady Florence Douglas, aunt of Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas! The story of Harold’s scandalous mother Rosamond Dilke (two of whose siblings married into scandal-prone aristocratic families), his relatively impoverished upbringing (at one point he worked as a railway labourer), marriage to a former factory girl and emigration to Bermuda in the 20s could have been dreamed up by Julian Fellowes. Harold’s disreputable father Joseph Henage Finch, Earl of Aylesford, appeared in an episode of the 1975 series ‘Edward VII’:

    • Kendra

      Wow that is totally movie-worthy! I am a total genealogy nerd. My most interesting branch were German Jewish circus performers. You’ve got the sister of my great great grandmother who was a star trick (horse) rider and married the filthy rich textile merchant who took over her father’s circus and then ruined it; they later accompanied their daughter who was on tour with a circus in Indonesia and were there for the Krakatoa explosion. Then there’s my great-grandmother, daughter of an English jewelry merchant who married my German Jewish circus performer great-grandfather when she was 7 mos pregnant; her sister married his brother; both sisters joined the circus troupe.

      • Tanya Stewart

        What a wonderful true story, Kendra! Might you feel a screenplay coming on?

      • picasso Manu

        You’re both lucky. Me, I’m a weird mix of Montmartre Anarchists ( my grandpa HATED the Sacré Coeur for reasons) and end of the line Aristocrats (who, knowing them, must have succeeded accessing the nobility the 13th July 1789… late evening). Considering the amount of drama (both sides) happening in the last 3 generations I know of, I’m not that curious about the rest… except be a descendant of Jack the Ripper may have a certain cachet.

        As for a snark week suggestion, and if you really, REALLY don’t want to follow up on North & South, may I suggest Angelique, Marquises des Anges and all the sequels? The stories AND costumes are snark rich fodder.

  6. Anarkali4ever

    I don’t know if anyone else watches Chinese costume dramas but if anyone has watched “Ruyi’s Love in the Palace”, please explain how you can get past the fact that the main actress ( Zhou Xun) is in her mid-40s playing a teenager.. I can’t do it.. As a side note I’d love to hear about ya’lls feelings on ” The Story of Yanxi Palace”, the acting and costumes are divine! Rose Byrne’s Duches Du Polignac voice

    • Kendra

      Oh god, the way-too-old-actress playing a teen… I haven’t seen either, but I feel your pain!

      • yosa

        Oh so totally.
        At the same time teenage me was all- wow they look like they are in their 20s (insert starry eyes and cartoon hearts) so as long as they don’t look like the 30 year old mistresses of a producer I usually let it fly.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      I’m always looking for tips on which Chinese costume dramas to watch bec. there are TONS out there but it’s a commitment bec. the series tend to be long + subtitles + costumes I’m not familiar with (so to review, I’ll be doing new research). I don’t want to slog if it’s super cheesy or boring! Also, it has to be on Netflix / Amazon / Hulu – bec., again, I’m not slogging thru crappy YouTube or downloads for questionable content.

      • Yanina

        Speaking of Chinese costume dramas, I would second Story of Yanxi Palace – it is a great story with a badass heroine, coherent plot and a very hot emperor (with whom heroine has sparks and snarks all way long, and they end up being perfect team). Plus, they went to great length with costumes, hair etc to make it as authentic as possible and used old traditional techniques like making velvet flowers to decorate hair and so on. You can watch it online on Viki with English subtitles, the downside is that it is quite long (about 70 episodes).
        Minor and very, very local rant: just seen teaser of a biopic about our 19th century poetess and national icon (Ukraine). She was a figure larger than life, but they decided to put everything down to her unhappy love! So fed up with this. Rant off.

  7. Brandy Loutherback

    The live action The Little Mermaid movie was so bad, I’d put it on the “Oh, the bad movies you’ll watch!” list. It was set in the South, at an unspecified point in the 20th century, my guess is the 1920s/1930s based on the (ho-hum) costumes. The was a black character, but the movie completely ignores the raging racism in the Jim Crow South, like in The Princess and The Frog, I know this is fantasy, but why try to put this in a recognizable place and time in US History?

    • Nina Jackson

      I can understand princess and the frog, but for other movies and series it’s simply no one wants to talk about it and admit that, that era did happen and still has lasting effects to this day and beyond.

      And if they do talk about it, it’s gonna be a typical “oh racism bad but look at these good white people who hates it”

      It’s terrible and annoying

  8. Charity

    I finally saw Mary Queen of Scots. WTF. It’s been awhile now and I’m still going “….”

    Ya know, it’s bad enough they get two epic actresses for a movie about two queens who are almost never on-screen in the same thing (5 minute cameos does not count), but who the hell wrote this revisionist historical bullshit? Yes, I am QUITE SURE MQoS being a devout Catholic and all would be all “So ye banged me husband last nite, on me weddin’ nite, but tis okay, tis in yer natore!” Just no. Also, who puts David Tennant beneath all that fake hair? That’s a sin against humanity.

    I mean, I’m still scratching my head over this — was I supposed to root FOR Mary or AGAINST her? Because even with an emo, self-loathing Elizabeth I was like “Oh, Mary. NO.”

    • Trystan L. Bass


      Yeah, the pre-wedding cunnilingus? Riiiiiiiiiiight. Even for a widow, not for a super-mega-hardcore Catholic in the 16th century, nuh uh, nope, no can do. That was gratuitously modern.

      The Tennant-gone-Hagrid look was sad. So very sad.

      And both Mary & Elizabeth were just awful as characters. I’d pitch the both of them in the sea & put a rotten turnip on the throne of both countries at that point.

      • Charity

        I can’t even, coz I have no words. I have been attempting to come up with a full blown rant about it, but all that come out of me are strangled noises of pure rage. :P

        SO MUCH WAS MODERN. Her attitudes about… well, everything. It’s like the writers either forgot or didn’t know that a queen’s reputation could make or break her, and that little pre-wedding tryst would have been all over the countryside in 34 seconds. :P

        (At least I can look at Tennant in all his lovely glory in the upcoming Good Omens series. Ain’t a costume drama, but I’ll take it, thanx.)

        See, that’s what I’m on about. You get two great actresses and waste them on that shite? IMO, Mary Queen of Scots was not that hardcore of a bitch, either. I mean, she was no pushover but I really hope she wasn’t dumb enough to spit in her enemies’ faces like she did in that oh-so-fictional meeting with Elizabeth.

        I need to re-watch the Vanessa Redgrave version to get the bad taste out of my mouth.

        • Trystan L. Bass

          The attitudes were SO FUCKING MODERN. OMFG, Reign was less obnoxiously modern in comparison — Reign was going for ‘ye olde timey’ BS w/romantic cliches. While this goddamn movie grafted 2018 sensibilities on top of the Elizabethan court in such a glaring fashion. It felt cheap & pandering, along with the fucking denim.

          • Charity

            Yep. As I am hate-re-watching Reign, at least there are a few contemporary issues thrown in there like, you know, being the king’s mistress and that being taboo in most polite circles and such. (I really only watch for Queen Catherine’s brutal insults.) This movie wasn’t even discreet about its pandering. It beat you over the head with it. And anyone with half a brain would go, wut? this was an issue in 1653 or whatever? NOPE.

            • Nzie

              worse than Reign makes me really, really pissed about waisting some seriously talented actors on this tripe. I haven’t seen; maybe it’ll be a personal snark watch—when it’s part of some streaming service I already pay for.

              I don’t think I know anyone who watched it, and it wasn’t that widespread… all the positive things seemed to be the sort of arranged articles and chat show appearances. Probably should’ve been a sign.

              • Charity

                That was my main gripe too. Neither of these actresses are B-grade in terms of talent, yet they made a B-grade movie.

  9. yosa

    Two things-
    Mynra Loy is the shiznet.

    I would love to see a Captain Hook on screen retrospective. Hawt. Alan Richman in An Awfully Big Adventure is my fav. T
    he plot though- upsetting and sad.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      Ppl always suggest the Thin Man movies, & as much as I adore them, um, no, they were contemporary for their time, thus not historical costume films. But I’m happy to use a gif!

      Captain Hook, hadn’t thought of that ;)

  10. Rori

    Speaking of Mary of Scots, i read that the 2018 film is based on Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy. Is the biography book any good? I can’t imagine the book would claim Mary and Elizabeth met in person like in the movie.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      The Guy biography doesn’t bring anything new to the history that the Antonia Frasier one had. Frasier is more of the ‘Boswell was a rape situation not a love thing’ above all MQoS biographers & IMO she makes a strong historical case. Guy doesn’t have Mary & Elizabeth meeting — nobody does, that’s pure movie BS!

  11. Lucy

    I just finished watching Bramwell. The plot is pretty ho hum but the costumes are lovely.
    Also, I rewatched The Music Man the other day (the original Meredith Wilson version) and was surprised by how good the costumes were. Usually musicals don’t have great costumes, but I thought there were quite a few outfits that looked like remakes of museum pieces. You make take a look.

      • MoHub

        I’ve been wanting a Music Man retrospective for quite some time. The costumes are amazing, although they seem to forget that the show takes place in July and August.

  12. Brandy Loutherback

    Also has anyone else seen the trailer for the 1920’s set The Chaperone based on the book by Laura Moriarty? and the screenplay is by Julian Fellowes!

  13. Nina Jackson

    This is a little gripe of mine but I absolutely hate it when people gloss over 1910s-1920s day dress/gowns and walking suits. I’d been craving a flick or series that go into detail about those outfits and honestly I love evening gowns and such, but to ignore all those days and walking outfits is a crime.

    Also I’d love to see more series or flicks focusing on the Harlem renaissance! So much potential and space to tell so many great stories and for more representation, I hope we something like that this year

    • Roxana

      Troy miniseries, was that the one with all the cowery shell jewelry?

      • Nina Jackson

        Um yeah I’ve heard of it and seen it. Amazing series and I wonder if they’ll continue with the Odyssey and Aenid. Anyways what about the series?

        • Roxana

          Misplaced response on my part, it should have gone under Carrie’s post.
          As someone pointed out on the Helen of Troy thread no production has ever costumed Homer’s characters in Mycenaean/Minoan styles that would have been worn in the 12th c. BCE.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      Agree on the Harlem renaissance!

      Kendra has reviewed a bunch of 1910s flicks, so you might search the blog under her name. She’ll pick apart the good & bad.

  14. Carrie

    I have a new baby and snark week gave me so, so much joy this year! Snarky adult conversations are the perfect antidote to the happy sunny mother (grinds teeth) I feel like I have to be the rest of the time.

    The “behind the scenes at Frockflicks” posts are particularly hilarious.

    I know none of you specialize in it, but the ancient and medieval periods are my sweet spot and I would love to see more posts on those! Like your recent work on the “Troy” miniseries, which was… not nearly as bad as I expected?

    • Kate D

      Carrie, Congrats on the new baby!
      FrockFlicks is my always my first go-to “I’m stuck nursing my baby on the couch” phone reading. The snark here makes me laugh and keeps me sane.

      • Carrie

        Thank you, congrats to you also! Frock Flicks and Tom and Lorenzo are my salvation. Sometimes I’ve startled the baby by how hard I laugh : D

  15. Gosia

    Trystan, Sarah and Kendra, I wonder, if you are going to write a review of the costumes in “Gone with the Wind”. It would be great to read your opinion about them! Really!

    • Trystan L. Bass

      We don’t review fantasy movies & that’s one big white supremacist fantasy of the Lost Cause south. The costumes are nice tho.

      • Gosia

        That’s a pity. I’m not a fan of “Gone with the Wind” at all. I just wanted to know if the costumes are more or less historically correct, since the film is allegedly so iconic in American culture (I’m from Europe, from a not English-speaking country). When it comes to racism in “Gone with the Wind”, it is 100 times worse in the book. It is in fact hair raising. And something tells me that the opinions about people of African descent are not the of the ones of the fictional characters, but of the author …

        • Trystan L. Bass

          The book is … unredeemable, yes. It’s a product of a deeply racist time, & unfortunately the book & movie have been seen as ‘true history,’ which just reinforces all kinds of racist myths.

          The movie costumes, well, Walter Plunkett said he did a lot of historical research so they were “accurate” — but they’re still 1930s does 1860s. The studio spared no expense, so the gowns are lush, that’s for sure.

          • Gosia

            Thank you for your confirmation of my suspicions about the costumes! And the influence of the 1930s in not only limited to the costumes. The fashion of that decade is instantly visible when one looks at Clark Gable’s moustache and the eyebrows of the ladies :-).

          • Gosia

            Aha, when it comes to the topic of racism in the book “Gone with the Wind”, I’ve read somewhere that the heirs of Margaret Mitchell allegedly prohibit the authors of possible sequels to write about miscegenation! How can they be so bigoted in the 21st century!

      • Roxana

        I’ve watched it for the costumes but Ashley’s speech about the South only wanting to be gracious and beautiful makes me want to hurl.

  16. Nzie

    Has anyone seen the Soviet-era War & Peace (Bondarchuk, dir.)? Apparently it just got remastered/restored.. it was showing in NYC but I just couldn’t commit to 7 hours during a very busy time. I haven’t read the book (read AK and some short stories). Hopefully there will be other chances; a look at a clip from a ballroom scene to my not-expert eye costumes looked pretty good, although definitely some 60s hair (even from a Soviet film) on a couple of the featured characters.

  17. Amanda

    I have a question. I read your guide to Jane Eyre on film and I was wondering what your respective favourite film versions of Jane Eyre are.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      I rank them all in the guide! The 1983 TV series is the best IMO for accuracy to the book, enjoyable performances, & historical costume (even tho’ it should be set earlier).

      • Amanda

        I found the 80’s Miniseries a little dry, but Timothy Dalton is one of my favourite Rochester after Michael Fassbender. The 2011 is my favourite adaptation. I know lots of people have quibbles with it but i think Cary Fukunaga approached it with such a passion for the story and I nearly had a nerd attack when I noticed that the room adjoining Bertha’s attic had a wardrobe with the 12 disciples on the panels, exactly like the one described in the book.

  18. Carrie

    The Producers had to tone down the racism in the book in order to make the movie, which is just… astonishing. Margaret Mitchell was a piece of work : | GWTW is SUCH an amazing book and movie yet with such horrid racism and snobbery of poor whites, I’m really torn by how much I love both of them.

    (Frankly even modern classics like the Outlander series have incredibly problematic elements, but that’s a whole different story).

  19. Roxana

    Having read a great many memoirs of the pre war South I am so to speak prepared for highly offensive racism. You can’t really read history without being offended.

  20. Nzie

    There’s a new trailer for the Tolkien biopic out today—a lot of the same elements but more regular world shown, including some quick glimpses at Edith’s clothes. It looks like it’s covering some of his boyhood, and quite a bit of his student days and war experiences. So perhaps a 15 year or so period starting in the aughts through WWI. Most of the characters are men; for Edith, her hair is up (the only down hair I saw was on a child, which makes sense), and the styles look broadly correct to me based on what we see. In terms of story, this trailer conveys a better sense of what they’re doing than the last one, and it seems like it might be in the vein of The Man Who Invented Christmas and Guernsey L&PPPS in terms of writing/creation, trauma, and the power of story.

    According to wikipedia, they met when he was 16 and she 19 in 1908. They were engaged in 1913 despite his guardian instructing him to break it off until he was 21 (she also broke off an engagement at that time, and converted to Catholicism), and they married in 1916. I can say that I went to the special Tolkien papers exhibit and there’s a truly adorable ledger where, in recognition of how easily distracted he was (including by Edith!) he had to earn kisses with study time. :-)

    Here’s the trailer:

  21. Roxana

    In a long letter to his son Tolkien describes his troubled courtship of Edith and concedes that falling in love, even a true and lasting love, is not the best thing for a very young man who should be concentrating on his studies.

  22. Jennifer L. Schillig

    I’ve been meaning to ask for a while–I know that you guys slam on certain inaccuracies (costuming or otherwise) in historical dramas and/or novels. And it is true that some of them can be pretty blatant. But often, to make such stories work as dramas, some liberties do have to be taken. Witness, for example, the musical 1776. It’s got one of the best scripts of any Broadway musical, but there’s a lengthy appendix to the published playscript where the authors explain what was accurate and what wasn’t–and where they had to make changes for the sake of a dramatic story, and where they had to make educated guesses when information wasn’t available.

    Then there’s the most memorable scene in Anne of the Thousand Days…the final confrontation between Anne and Henry. (“Get a son on Jane Seymour and hope he will live…but my Elizabeth shall be queen!”) Historically, that could never have happened. Henry never set eyes on Anne again after her sentencing, and with the marriage annulled Anne would have known Elizabeth had almost no chance to ever be queen. But that doesn’t get in the way of an excellent scene that’s a favorite among fans of the movie.

    So…in your opinion, when are historical liberties acceptable, and when aren’t they? Where do you draw the line?