Iconic Historical Costumes of the 1970s

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This is an occasional series highlighting historical movie and TV costumes that best represent the decade they were produced in. They may or may not be the most historically accurate, but we think these costumes stand out as icons of when they were made. Comment with your faves, and watch the blog for the next decade we review!

For a decade that gets crapped on constantly for its fashion choices, the 1970s were a weirdly rich era for historical movies and television, with surprisingly high production values and large costuming budgets that allowed for a rarely seen level of historical accuracy on film. We haven’t seen anything quite like it since!

 

Cromwell (1970)

The English Civil War, starring Alec Guinness and Richard Harris.

 

The Railway Children (1970)

I remember watching this movie in 6th grade after we read the book that the film is based on.

 

The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

Keith Michell stars as a very convincing Henry VIII, as the series covers each of his six wives.

 

Elizabeth R (1971)

Literally the only screen version of Elizabeth I you should pay any attention to, with Glenda Jackson as the Virgin Queen. The six part series covers the length of her reign and the costumes are some of the best for this era that have ever appeared on film.

 

Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)

Glenda Jackson reprises her role as Queen Elizabeth, opposite Vanessa Redgrave as the titular Mary, Queen of Scots. The film does what the 2018 Mary, Queen of Scots tried to do but so much better and with a way better costuming department.

 

Nicholas and Alexandra (1971)

Another movie I remember seeing on reruns as a kid in the 1980s. The casting was particularly good.

 

1776 (1972)

1776 (1772)

John Adams and Hamilton this is not. But then again, I was never one musicals.

 

Antony and Cleopatra (1972)

Blonde Cleopatra. That’s really all I have to say about this.

 

Cabaret (1972)

Probably one of the most iconic films of the decade, regardless of it being historical. Set in 1920s Berlin, Liza Minnelli arguably cemented her irrefutable status as the camp queen of all time in this Bob Fosse-choreographed cinematic tour de force.

 

The Godfather (1972)

Another iconic 1970s film, regardless of historical motif. Marlon Brando and Al Pacino as father and son withing a mafia family in the 1950s.

 

Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972)

Two years after the miniseries came out, it was reshot as a feature length film with some of the actors recast. Keith Michell reprises his role as Henry VIII.

 

Lady Caroline Lamb (1972)

This movie looks like it was a whole thing.

 

Lady Sings the Blues (1972)

A lavish biopic about Billie Holiday, staring Diana Ross. The costumes look amazing.

 

M*A*S*H (1972–1983)

MASH -S3- Abyssinia Henry -Jamie Farr

Having grown up with MASH, it never really dawned on me that it was set in the 1950s until WAY later. But heck, everyone loves it, so here it is!

 

The Three & Four Musketeers (1973 & 1974)

The best, in my not so humble opinion, of all the zillions of Musketeer versions made so far.

1974 The Four Musketeers- Milady's Revenge Geraldine Chaplin in "The Three Musketeers" (1973)

 

Ludwig (1973)

An Italian film about the death of King Ludwig II. The costumes look A-MAZING. This is definitely something I’m going to have to track down and give a serious watch.

 

The Godfather II (1974)

The sequel has an extensive flashback scene to the early 1900s before picking up again in the 1950s.

 

The Great Gatsby (1974)

Starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, this film couldn’t get any more 1970s unless it cast Raquel Welch in it.

 

Upstairs, Downstairs (1974-1977)

One of the most quintessential British historical miniseries ever made, this long running show is considered the spiritual predecessor to Downton Abbey.

 

Barry Lyndon (1975)

I honestly felt that the film was a total clunker, but the costumes are fabulous.

 

Edward the King (1975)

Timothy West stars as Edward VII, Helen Ryan as Queen Alexandra, and Annette Crosbie as Queen Victoria (she won a BAFTA for this role).

 

Eleanor and Franklin (1976)

There were actually two separate miniseries dealing with the pre-White House years of their marriage and the post-White House years.

 

I, Claudius (1976)

I dare anyone to find a more decade-defining historical miniseries than this. DARE YOU.

 

Poldark (1976-1978)

Poldark 1975

Before Aidan Turner made us all thirsty for shirtless man action, the Beeb released this take on the novels by Winston Graham. And Trystan will probably fight you if you say it’s not as good as the recent series.

 

The Slipper and the Rose (1976)

THE COSTUMES IN THIS MOVIE ARE AMAZING AND ANNETTE CROSBIE IS A DELIGHT. I AM SHOUTING BECAUSE THIS IS IMPORTANT.

 

The Duellists (1977)

Back in the day when Ridley Scott was super anal retentive about historical accuracy, this film is kind of his showpiece. I’ve seen it numerous times, but since I don’t know much about early-19th century military uniforms, it’s hard for me to say anything beyond “Oooh, pretty.”

 

Roots (1977)

One of the most well-known and influential historical miniseries of the 20th century, Roots sought to center the history of enslaved people in the American South.

 

Death on the Nile (1978)

Who doesn’t want an Agatha Christie adaption starring Maggie Smith, Bette Davis, Angela Lansbury, Olivia Hussey, David Niven, and Peter Ustinov (among SO MANY OTHERS)?

 

Lillie (1978)

Lillie (1978)

Francesca Annis reprises her role as Lillie Langry (from Edward the King). The costumes are STUNNING.

 

A Woman Called Moses (1978)

Cicely Tyson plays Harriet Tubman in this biopic of Tubman’s remarkable life organizing the Underground Railroad.

 

Pretty Baby (1978)

Literally the only thing I know about this film is that 12-year-old Brooke Shields appeared nude in it. But because it was such a controversial film that basically challenged the entire movie-going population’s comfort with pre-teen nude scenes, it bears mentioning here.

The Europeans (1979)

The 1840s costuming looks good, but I’m skeptical that it can hold my notoriously short attention span.

 

Tess (1979)

Tess (1979)

It’s a Polanski film, which might tell you everything you need to know about it. But the costumes look amazing.

 

 

What’s your favorite iconic historical movie costume of the 1970s? What would you add to the list?

49 Responses

  1. Elizabeth Kerri Mahon

    I’m old, so I watched most of these movies/TV series/miniseries actually in the 1970’s. I loved the original Poldark series. Robin Ellis was much less of a fuckboi than Aiden Turner in my humble opinion. I agree that the Richard Chamberlin/Michael York/Oliver Reed 3 Muskateers in the best version ever, even though Racquel Welch is in it. Also, a 70’s movie that you should see is the great Glenda Jackson playing Sarah Bernhardt, in fact I think the movie is called the Great Sarah.

    Reply
  2. LydiaR

    My mother adored anything British on tv or at the movies, so I grew to love it all, too. We spent years playing what we came to call “Anglophile Bingo,” which was really just a British-oriented version of Six Degrees… Everyone can be traced back to “I, Claudius.”

    I’d give almost anything to share some tea and watch Masterpiece Theater with my mom again.

    Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      Six Degrees of Bernard Hepton? When I visit my daughter in England, she pulls out her “I, Claudius” boxed set, which I think got her through long night feeding and rocking the babies.

      Reply
  3. Gail

    Saw ‘Slipper’ at Radio City … and watched all the BBC/PBS shows, from Elizabeth to Henry to Poldark to Upstairs.
    I, Claudius was the 70s equivalent of Monday morning water cooler conversation.

    Reply
  4. SarahV

    Look how cute and adorkable young Edward Hermann is!!!! (Eleanor and Franklin).

    Would do.

    Reply
    • Heather

      I’ve never seen this film but I need to look it up.
      I got to very briefly meet Mr. Herman. He was emcee at a charity event I attended and I won the door prize (a 10k diamond bracelet, don’t hate me). He was a delightful person and talented actor, and pretty cute too. My brush with fame…

      Reply
      • Laura

        So jealous! I had such a HUGE crush on Edward Hermann since… forever! He did plenty of documentary work too, to enjoy that wonderful voice! Lucky, lucky you!

        Reply
  5. Frannie Germeshausen

    Just watched Godfather II over the weekend. The “flashback” scenes were stunning. When the family drinking a toast among the olive oil vats is so beautiful. Gosh, I love mob movies.

    Reply
      • Boxermom

        Don’t bother watching 3- it was awful. Sofia Coppola might be a good director, but she couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag. I remember Andy Garcia being good, though. :)

        Reply
      • Lily Lotus Rose

        Oh, have a few pink drinks and give Godfather III a chance. Yes, Sofia Coppola’s performance is an issue, but that doesn’t override so many other good aspects of the film. It’s gorgeous, heartbreaking, plus Andy Garcia and Sicily and opera and and and… It’s the weakest of the trio of films, but it is by no means a bad film.

        Reply
        • Boxermom

          I saw it when it came out in the theater. No pink drinks, alas! Perhaps I should give it another try.

          Reply
  6. krismcd59

    I’ll add “The Duchess of Duke Street” (1976-77)! The costumes span 1900 – 1925, and some of Gemma Jones’ Edwardian gowns in particular are stunning. I’ve watched this series and “I, Claudius” more times than I can count. — between them, they did in fact employ almost every British character actor of the 70s.

    Reply
  7. Shashwat

    The 70s was probably the best decade for miniseries-churning out one classic after another.
    My favourite of these are the Godfather movies,but they have little to do with their historical setting.
    I,Claudius is as close to perfection as one gets,as far as a historical drama is concerned(where courts are more important to the plot than courtships).

    Reply
  8. mmcquown

    The best thing about the Duellists is that they showed the difference in uniforms over time. Unfortunately, the actors weren’t always as informed as the tech people. In an interview, Carradine said his sabre weighed 10 lbs. Not hardly. At most that particular weapon weighed about 3lbs.It’s too late for this list, but I would nominate “Restoration” as one of the best-ever costume films. Or — think about the Marvel Films version.

    Reply
  9. Dianne K

    Wow! I just had a flashback to my teen years!! I’ve seen 90% of the films/miniseries listed. Hmmm… guess I watched a lot of miniseries in the 70’s. These shows formed my opinion of historical costuming before I even knew it was a thing. Now if only I could sew well enough to make a historical costume…

    Reply
    • Boxermom

      You can blame imdb for that one; they have an incorrect caption on the photo. :)

      Reply
  10. JLou

    I’ve seen nearly all of these and loved them all!

    However, let me correct your spelling — it’s “I, Clavdivs”!

    :-)

    Reply
  11. Lily Lotus Rose

    The Godfather I is my hands-down favorite on this list but, in my opinion it’s tied as the Best movie of all time, so there really were no other contenders for me in this category. Plus, let us acknowledge that Al Pacino looks absolutely beautiful in Godfather I!! I’ve only seen a handful of these productions, but since starting to visit this website, I’ve added a few of them to the queues on my streaming services.

    Re Pretty Baby: The place where that photo was taken is a great place for drinks. It’s still decorated like that, but unfortunately the music they play over the speakers (not the live musicians) does not match the atmosphere of the hotel. And they still have paraphernalia up proudly proclaiming that the movie was filmed there. In that picture from The 3 Musketeers: He’s giving off of some serious Javier Bardem vibes right there. The actor in The Six Wives of Henry VII (1970) is giving off some serious late-Sting vibes.

    Reply
  12. Kelly

    The Great Gatsby and Barry Lyndon both used actual period clothing (not for everybody–paging Mia Farrow for her fitting of the perma-pleated polyester chiffon frock!)–look at some of the extras dancing in the Gatsby parties, and I saw an exhibition of 18th-century fashion at the Met when BLyndon came out. They used some genuine pieces–can’t remember exactly what. Film: boring. Costumes: lovely.
    And even if that photo shows the Octavia actress, I think the Cleo was also blonde–with a name like Hildegard Neil, you’re probably blonde!
    There’s also L’Innocente and Death in Venice, both costumed by the incomparable Piero Tosi.

    Reply
    • Shashwat

      Barry Lyndon had some of the most accurate bust silhouettes for the era,the way ‘they’ appear separated instead of pushed together.But the men’s hair,after the towering glory of women hair,was laughable.Mullets,layers and boy bangs.As you pointed out,the film was a bit slow paced,but good as an atmospheric film and if that was the director’s aim,it is great(but I find it weird in the filmography of the director,different from his other works).

      Reply
    • Heather

      Did you know Mia was preggers during the filming? Hence most shots are shoulders and higher.

      Reply
    • Kathleen Julie Norvell

      Barry Lyndon is one of my favorite costume flicks. I’ve seen it 4 times and will catch it every time it’s in town. Besides the novel camera techniques, the actors were posed per 18th century portraits in some instances.

      The Three and Four Musketeers — still the best versions.

      I saw so many of these (Henry VIII, Elizabeth R, Lillie, Edward the King, on “Masterpiece Theatre.” A great reason to donate to public television.

      I recommend “Lady Caroline Lamb” if for no other reason than Richard Chamberlain as Lord Byron.

      Robin Ellis will always be Ross Poldark to me.

      Has anyone noticed how many of these films have Richard Chamberlain in them? I would include his “Count of Monte Cristo” and “Man in the Iron Mask.”

      Thank you for the memories.

      Reply
  13. Heather

    Thank you for this post!

    So many great films that I have loved and a few new ones I need to check out.

    I would add…The Boyfriend, Chinatown, and Paper Moon.

    Reply
    • krismcd59

      Oh, I’d forgotten Paper Moon — what a great film and even better book. Tatum O’Neal’s iconic crochet-trimmed cloche! And the incomparable Madeline Kahn, queen of recreated 30s-40s era glamour.

      Reply
  14. Christa A

    Thanks for the memories! What a rich decade it was now I am reminded. Loved Elizabeth R, The 3 Musketeers and I remember how girls magazines were full of 1920s makeup tips when The Great Gatsby came out!

    Reply
  15. ctrent29

    I have mixed feelings about the two “Poldark” productions. Neither was perfect, as far as I’m concerned. The 70s series did a better job with Books 5-7 than the current one did. And the 2010s series did a better job with Books 1-3. Both series did a crappy job with adapting “Warleggan” as far as I’m concerned.

    I don’t know if I agree with the assessment that the best period pieces were in the 1970s. The costumes for “The Great Gatsby” were great . . . for the women characters. As for the men – eh. Also, “Cabaret” was set in 1931, not the 20s.

    Reply
  16. Hooley

    An OT observation, but the Three Musketeers, the Four Musketeers, Barry Lyndon AND the Duellists all had the same fight choreographer, Williams Hobbs, who passed a few years ago. He was a genius — his mantra was that fights had to display character and motivation. Not surprising, he worked with Olivier for nine years at the National Theater. Other Frock Flicks favorites in which he was involved — Joseph Andrews, Clarissa, The Count of Monte Cristo (the one with Guy Pearce), Rob Roy, Casanova (with Heath Ledger), Dangerous Liaisons, Carrington, Shakespeare in Love, Sunshine (Ralph Fiennes tried to hire him whenever possible). He had about a month to train Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine for the Duellists!

    Reply
  17. classicmoviecat

    There’s a miniseries version of Luchino Visconti’s Ludwig (it’s like Scenes From a Marriage and Fanny and Alexander, there’s a ‘compressed’ movie version and the miniseries full version). I don’t remember it much, but I think it was sumptuous and sad.

    Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      I found “Ludwig” unbearable–unbelievable that a master like Visconti would release anything so dull and disjointed. Sumptuous costumes, but you have to sit through a bunch of boredom for their sake.

      Reply
  18. J

    the movie MAS*H was SO much better than the tv show. and you have the tv show shown. I loved the House of Eliot (though I think that was the 1980’s.) I love the Railway children, which was remade with Jenny Agutter as the mother. and of course the DUchess of Duke Street was incredible. I also loved the series By the Sword Divided by the BBC. it was about the English Civil war. and I Claudius was wonderful, scary and terrifying back then. but who could stop watching it? as for the Muskateer movies, I don’t bother with any of the others. I even had Michael York sign my DVD with Engarde! I swooned.

    Reply
    • Lily Lotus Rose

      House of Eliott was made in the early 90s. Even so, it was totally gorgeous and deserves to be on several lists! As someone else on this thread said, this is one of those shows that provides yet another great reason to donate to PBS!

      Reply
  19. Roxana

    It’s not impossible that Cleopatra was a blond. She was after all descended from multiply inbred Macedonian Greeks who were sometimes blonds.

    MASH was very seventies in theme, not sure about the costumes.

    Reply
    • Andy

      One of the only physical descriptions we have of her (which was still posthumous) says she had red/auburn hair.
      Considering she was also a fan of Egyptian culture (unlike most of her dynasty) it’s also possible she wore (dark) ceremonial wigs during at least some public appearances.

      Reply
  20. Melponeme_K

    A lot of money was spent on “Pretty Baby” and it shows. But it was pure disgusting. Nothing but Madam and a child’s mother selling a child to pedophiles. Literally.

    Believe me, it isn’t worth it not even for the costumes or set design.

    Reply
  21. Martina

    I must have watched Nicholas and Alexandra, because I then read the biography it was based on, and picked Alexandra for my confirmation name. BBC series were staples in my house…I watched all of the ones listed, and they were all great.

    Reply
  22. Badger

    I, Claudius was fabulous…and both the 3 and 4 Musketeers are favorites..despite Ms. Welch. I remember many of these from PBS since I was a poor college student and couldn’t go to the movies often.

    Reply
  23. Melanie Ruth Clark

    I haven’t seen I, Claudius (shame on me!), but is Roots any less decade-defining?

    Reply

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