Movies Playing Fast and Loose With History Part II: Why Does It Happen?


In Part 1 of my series “Playing Fast and Loose With History,” I looked at how this “trend” isn’t new. Historical movies and TV — and really, all forms of drama — have always mixed history with fiction, whether for dramatic purposes or for simply for fashion. It’s a story as old as time, and it’s not going away. There are valid reasons for doing it, even if this bugs the crap out of us at Frock Flicks and our readers.

Now in Part 2, I’ll look why playing fast and loose with history happens in movies and TV series, whether due to ignorance or market forces or artistic vision. Because we realize that every movie has its own reasons for what they do, and they’re all on a spectrum of historical accuracy, from vaguely set in ye olden times to precisely recreating a specific time and place.

Movies Playing Fast and Loose With History

  • Part I: It’s Not New
  • Part II: Why Does It Happen?
  • Part III: Why Does It Bother Us?
  • Part IV: Does It Really Matter?

As I alluded to in Part 1, the Frock Flicks audience is a little different than the mainstream movie and TV-watching audience. We actually like history. We think history is interesting. History is part of the draw when we choose a film or TV series as our entertainment du jour. But that’s not typical.

Many people are looking for a show based on whether it will make them laugh or cry or does it star their favorite actor or does it have explosions. I’m not saying people are stupid, not at all. People want to see entertaining stories and be transported out of their everyday lives by movies and TV.  That could be with a complicated story or a simple story, but the film or TV show has to be entertaining and do something for them. Now, for you and me, an entertaining story that “transports” us may mean “tell me more about the court of Queen Elizabeth” or “take me to a party with Marie Antoinette,” but we’re in the minority. And that’s a big part of why things are made the way they are, or to put it more bluntly:

Historical accuracy is not the Number One goal of making movies and TV shows.

Let that sink in for a bit. I’ll wait. What is the goal of making a movie or TV show? Usually, it’s some combination of a) entertaining a specific audience, b) making money, and c) fulfilling the artistic vision of a director and/or a producer. There can be other factors, of course, but those three tend to be the big drivers at work. For major productions, issues (a) and (b) work together and may overpower (c) — a film or TV show trying to make money by entertaining a specific audience demographic may sacrifice artistic vision, for example, and along with that goes any pretense at historical accuracy. But thems the breaks.

You can’t make movies for free, and Hollywood isn’t run as a nonprofit. Compare with PBS, which has to literally beg for donations and corporate sponsors in order to show mostly high-quality historical dramas. So let’s keep this top of mind when we’re talking about WHY the movies play fast and loose with history. It’s not their goal, they’ve got other fish to fry.

Now let’s talk about some of the common questions bandied about when we complain about historical inaccuracy in movie and TV costumes. From a viewer’s perspective, we often imagine that the directors, producers, actors, and ultimately the costume designers have a specific reason for why they do what they do. But whoa, it’s way more complicated than we imagine. I’m going to address several issues separately, but let’s realize that all of these can interact together at different levels in a single production!

Are They Ignorant?

Sometimes, we’re watching a historical movie with strikingly inaccurate costumes, and we’ll think, ‘OMG, was the costume designer stupid? or were they high?’ And yeah, we have our fun during Snark Week mocking the really out-there takes on ‘historical’ costume. But realistically, we at Frock Flicks know most costume designers aren’t totally ignorant about historical fashions. They have Google and Wikipedia just like you and me. These days, vast numbers of museum collections are searchable online, where anyone can pull up period images of people from most any era, in addition to tons of photos of extant garments from at least the 18th century to the present. Costume designers may have even taken some kind of fashion history overview class in school. I doubt each one is an in-depth expert in every single historical era — who could be? — but any costume designer can crack open a library book (one with pictures even). So no, they’re not stupid.

But just like fashion designers who take inspiration from historical clothing and interpret it into something new, movie/TV costume designers may be interpreting historical fashion for their work instead of making literal copies of historical outfits. They’re designing costumes, after all, and the costumes are for characters within a story. A lead character has to stand out from a supporting character, heroes and villains need to look certain ways, and the story may indicate something iconic about a character that must be displayed through his or her dress.


He’s too sexy for a razor.

The audience has expectations too — romantic leads are very often dressed and styled in a more contemporary fashion, no matter the movie or TV show’s historical period, because they need to be appealing to a broad audience as the Love Interest. This can be especially noticeable with the hair and makeup. In Hollywood from the 1920s to the 1960s, makeup was always done in the then-modern styles on the studio stars, by decree, so audiences could identify the stars, no matter what movie, historical or modern. Bette Davis always had her penciled-in 1940s eyebrows, even if she was playing a Victorian governess. That’s how you knew it was Bette Davis. Similarly, Aidan Turner’s Poldark gets a five o’clock shadow because it reads “sexy rebel” to 2015 eyes, even if in the 18th century, it would have read as “lazy bastard.” The men-with-open-shirts/doublets thing is another attempt to make historical men more appealing to modern audiences.

Now, some Frock Flicks fans may say, “oh, so they’re not stupid but they think WE’RE stupid, huh?” But again, I remind you that we are not the main audience, and historical accuracy is not the main goal of movies and TV shows. It’s not pandering to stupidity, it’s broadening the appeal or simply appealing to someone who isn’t you. Subtle difference, I know (but, then, I work in marketing as my day-job).

What’s Their Budget?

If you’ve watched Project Runway, maybe you can imagine designing, sourcing, and sewing an entire gown in one day and with $100. Now try making it historically accurate! Good luck! That’s pretty much what happens in many movie and TV productions. Movies may have a somewhat longer lead time, but a network TV series may have only a few days from when a designer learns what costumes are required for an episode until the complete outfit is needed on set.

Add to that the fact that costumes are typically a very small part of a film or TV series’ budget. For example, the upcoming Versailles series made news because the set decoration and costumes combined for an impressive 12% of the production’s total budget. And the set decorations include “pieces carefully designed to reproduce Louis XIII’s hunting lodge that Louis XIV transformed into a sizable castle during his reign” — so the actual budget for costumes is even less than 12%.

Now some historical costume dramas do get big budgets … if they’re produced by an American pay-cable channel (or a streaming service trying to compete with cable). Four of the top 10 most expensive TV shows ever produced are historical — Deadwood (HBO, $4.5 per episode), Boardwalk Empire (HBO, $5 million per episode), Rome (HBO, $9 million per episode), and Marco Polo (Netflix, $9 million per episode). But most US network shows have an average budget of $3 million an episode.

Like on Project Runway, budget is a concern.

Yet where do our costume faves rank? Sure, those HBO series have some great costumes because they can afford it. But they’re the exception. A bit more common are Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, produced in Australia for about $800,000 USD per episode (according to IF Magazine in 2012) and Downton Abbey, made by Britain’s ITV for about $1,500,000 USD per episode (as of 2014, reports The Telegraph). At best, that’s half of what an average show has and a fraction of what those cable shows got.

Plus, these are the total costs, including actors, travel, special effects, you name it. Take less than 10% of that relatively small budget and then stretch it to costume all the leads with multiple outfit changes in one episode. Plus each episode may have a dozen or more extras in street scenes and crowds and also add any special guests. So that could be hundreds of full costumes to create, from headgear to shoes, corsets to coats, which the designer needs to buy materials for and create with his or her staff. Because, oh yes, you need staff to make the costumes. Sandy Powell and Colleen Atwood get all the glory at the Oscars, but they have minions cutting, sewing, and making their designs come to life. For what it’s worth, minimum wage in the UK is approximately $10 US and California‘s minimum wage will be $10 as of January 1, 2016, thus Hollywood would be the same — though I’d hope that costume shop staff would be paid more.

So it’s no wonder that historical movies and TV series take shortcuts with costumes. Whether that means using less-than-period materials (because real silk and authentic lace is ridiculously expensive) or skimping on petticoats and other undergarments, it may just be a lack of budget or time issue. If you aren’t lucky enough to work for HBO or another big-budget project, you’re likely to be scraping by.

One way costumer designers deal with the the budget/time problem is by using recycled historical costumes, which we’ve often pointed out in our podcasts and reviews (and we direct you to our favorite resource on the topic). Costumes made for one movie may go into stock at one of the big rental houses like Angels, CosProp, or Western Costume, where they can be rented over and over again, sometimes with alterations, sometimes in parts or pieces. Rental costumes are frequently used on extras in a production and often for supporting characters, but you’ll find them on lead characters too if the budget isn’t there to make brand-new costumes (and if the actors can fit or the story doesn’t require a particular item).

Rentals are also where we tend to see less historical accuracy. Back-lacing gowns in the 18th century screams “rental” because it’s easier to fit multiple sizes without showing (as long as the extra has her back to a wall!). Less-than-period fabric choices like dupioni silk and the infamous poly baroque satin also say “rental backstock” to me. Yeah, it’s annoying, and we’ll snark, but we also get it. They need to fill a scene on a budget somehow.

Do They Have a Vision?

We’ve talked about this before. Sometimes the director or screenwriter has an idea about how the history should be. Not how it was. Usually, this starts with the action of the story — changing names, dates, and what happened for dramatic effect. Nine times out of ten, this leaks down into the costume and means historical accuracy will be sacrificed in the looks department too. It’s totally a thing that when a biopic becomes “inspired by true events” then the costumes become “inspired by historical clothing,” and nothing is very historically accurate.

Now, some may say this can make for better storytelling and a more entertaining movie. For example, in regards to The Imitation Game (2014), which was knocked for being wildly inaccurate about the pioneering WWII scientist Alan Turing’s life, the screenwriter and director told the Huffington Post:

“When you use the language of ‘fact checking’ to talk about a film, I think you’re sort of fundamentally misunderstanding how art works,” he [screenwriter Graham Moore] explained. “You don’t fact check Monet’s ‘Water Lilies. That’s not what water lilies look like, that’s what the sensation of experiencing water lilies feel like. That’s the goal of the piece.”

“A lot of historical films sometimes feel like people reading a Wikipedia page to you onscreen, like just reciting ‘and then he did that, and then he did that, and then he did this other thing’ — it’s like a ‘Greatest Hits’ compilation,” [director Morten] Tyldum said. “We wanted the movie to be emotional and passionate.”

I may not agree with these filmmakers (see my review of The Imitation Game), but at least they had a specific vision. They saw a historical story, and they wanted to make a particular kind of emotional tale out of it, without getting wrapped up in specific historical facts (as I’ve said before, historical details sound boring to most people). They did what they set out to do.

Likewise, some historical productions have a specific aesthetic vision that deviates from the historical era for whatever reason. And that’s fine as long as it’s done consistently and clearly to carry out this vision — which we’ve discussed before. My favorite example of historical-costumes-with-a-vision done right is Angels & Insects (1995), where the big 1860s crinoline gowns on the main female lead all have insect themes in the colors and trim. It’s visually stunning, reinforces the story, and is subtly anachronistic.

Who Are They Making This For?

I don’t mean to beat this like a dead horse, but movies and TV are a business, and thus market forces are at play. Yep, they aren’t always making this for us, the history-loving weirdos. They’re making the movie or TV show for the 99% who don’t know and don’t judge the history, they want a story (smart, silly, or somewhere in between).

Let’s take everyone’s current favorite punching bag, Reign. Look at this interview on Tyranny of Style with Reign‘s costume designer Meredith Markworth Pollack. Check out the photos of the designer’s “Research and Inspiration Board” for the show’s designs. I see at least 10 images of historical portraits, all recognizable French and English 1550s or 1560s women, including several the same as on my Pinterest board of authentic MQoS images. This designer knows what Mary Queen of Scots really wore, she is not ignorant of historical sources. But she has different priorities than you and me.

Some of Reign costume designer Meredith Markworth Pollack's inspirations.

Some of Reign costume designer Meredith Markworth Pollack’s inspirations.

As she told Tyranny of Style: “Being very familiar with the CW network and their strong relationship with fashion and fans — it was presented from our first conversation that there would be contemporary elements — elements that the fans could emulate on their own.” The show’s producers wanted to mix historical stories and modern fashion to appeal to the teen-girl demographic that the network advertises to. As I discussed in Part 1, the historical elements have a romantic draw, but the modern clothes make it more relatable and/or aspirational.

Lest you think this attitude is a product of the last few decades, I found this gem of a quote about the movie Young Bess, released in 1953, and telling about the teen years of Elizabeth I of England. Producer Sidney Franklin said:

We’re telling an intimate story against a background of 16th-century court life, as opposed to a historical pageant about royal intrigues. We feel the love story between the Princess and Seymour — actually he was 25 years older than Elizabeth — will be more valid to audiences than a lot of historical detail which has no relation to our customers lives.

Romance over historical fact, that suits our “customers,” they say. Go fig. Nothing is new under the sun.

The Truth About the History Channel

These are undoubtedly just a few of the factors that go into why movies and TV play fast and loose with history. We’re not industry insiders, so we can’t tell you how every production is made and the reasoning behind every decision. This is just my research and current understanding, and I’m sure there are also big differences between both movies and TV shows, as well as different tiers of production (just think of the pay-cable network budgets, for example), and series produced in the US vs. Britain or Europe. We’re working on some interviews with costumer designers in the biz for more background info to help answer some of these “why do they do that?” type questions as well. But for now, let’s just try to keep in mind that movies and TV have the main goal of entertaining an audience first, and historical accuracy is down much farther on the list.



About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

52 Responses

  1. Leaj

    Unless you were there, it’s anyone’s educated guess as to the actuality of how garments truly were. HEAVY & NOT ODOR FREE is my EDUCATED guess.

    • Bess

      Except they aren’t that heavy as they are balanced across the body (I know I wear them for a week at a time) and odor is in the nose of the beholder. Our ancestors did understand and wish to keep themselves and their environment as clean as they could. This included clothing but many period materials cannot be immersed in water unless one wishes to ruin them. Our ancestors had their own methods of “dry cleaning”.

  2. Michael L. McQuown

    Sad, but true. Probably better now in some cases than in the heyday of the studio system, which had its good and bad points. But even so, I remember the to-do over “Forever Amber,” which got a big spread in the Saturday Evening Post for the big budget for costumes ($75 for one ostrich feather, e.g.) But in the end, it came out with all the men except Charles II (George Sanders) wearing 1640s suits complete with padded shoulders, while His Majesty was in full Restoration drag. It also has to be considered that garments were not mass-produced then, so each outfit would have minor variations in any case.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      Hah, Forever Amber! That’s one I need to find for a Throwback Thursday — so very ‘of it’s time,’ & by that, I mean, when it was produced, not the supposed historical period.

      I’d like to write about how we generally give a pass to older historical costume movies/TV & expect more today, trying to figure out what date that happened & why. I know it started sometime in my lifetime, but I’m not sure when or why. The BBC 1970s productions like Elizabeth R had something to do with it, but also the 1990s Merchant-Ivory films. This will be an ongoing series, as you can see :)

      • Joanne Renaud

        My theory is that it all started with Piero Tosi’s costumes with The Leopard– even the underpinnings were historically accurate. As far as I know, that was the first time that was ever done, and the attention to detail shows (it still looks amazing 50+ years later). It seems to me that many films (especially those directed by Zefirelli) that were involved with the Tirelli costuming shop– founded in ’64 by Tosi– had far better/detailed/more historically accurate costuming than many other films. (There’s a history here of his atelier– the guy is hardcore.)

        So, anyway, things still haven’t reached the costuming singularity, it seems that there’s more of an expectation of an effort to be made along those lines than there was sixty years ago. Look at the fine work Terry Dresbach is doing for TV! You’d never see costumes with that level of detail or historicity even twenty years ago.

        • Trystan L. Bass

          The Leopard was a huge influence, to be sure, & Tirelli has produced some AH-MAY-ZING work ever since. Also, starting in late ’60s & peaking the ’70s, there was a trend for “realism” in cinematography, mostly was in evidence with gritty works like Scorsese but I think it filtered into historical dramas as well. After all, Kubrick filmed Barry Lyndon in ’75 by candlelight! Nobody did that (until Wolf Hall in 2015).

  3. Michael L. McQuown

    Oh — speaking of Zeffirelli, has anyone ever commented on his “Romeo & Juliet”? Or, in the words of Ogden Nash, “Twas in a restaurant they met. Romeo & Juliet. He had no dough to pay the debt, so Rome owed what Julie et.”

    • Trystan L. Bass

      Thank you & love your blog, btw!

      I do get what Moore was saying, specifically about Water Lilies at least. Impressionism was about the light & emotions & sensations. Of course, it can be said that Monet’s gardens really do look a lot like he painted them too. (And “Imitation Game” pissed me off royally; my review is linked above.) But I was trying to play devil’s advocate there :)

    • Sarah Lorraine

      Ha! I was about to reach out to you, because, as Trystan said, we love your blog, only to see you posting here first!

      I’m a friend of Matt’s btw. We slum it in the middle ages on the weekends. ;)

  4. joyce

    tl:dr. It’s because they think we’re stupid. Too stupid to know any history, too stupid to pay attention long enough to learn any history, too stupid to look at someone dressed in styles that aren’t modern, too stupid to appreciate anything other than our selfie, instagramming shallow appearance laden culture.
    (why yes, I had a REALLY SHITTY day, and tomorrow isn’t looking any better. Feel free to delete if you don’t need a side of vitriol with your dinners.)

  5. brocadegoddess

    For many years I was fine with historically inaccurate costuming (as long as it was quality work according to the seeming budget of the production) and fully understand all of the considerations you’ve mentioned – and the ones you’ve yet to present. I took a lot of costuming and costume design classes during my undergrad, had all of this drilled into me and used to think I wanted to be a costume designer (except that it turned out the real history was my real love). So I get it, I get it all, I really do. However, I am increasingly questioning this total self-absolution of all responsibility to historical integrity, supposedly in the name of art. The general public spends a lot more time watching tv and movies than they do visiting museums (traditional, living history or otherwise) or reading books. So, their primary encounters with history and its fashions occur within this entertainment context, by which they are perpetually miseducated. Now, I might not be too bothered about this, except for the fact that this directly impacts me as an actual dress historian who genuinely wants to contribute to people’s understanding of the past and its meaning for us today but constantly comes up against all this (dare I say, willful?) misinformation. With the average person I have to spend some time de-educating them because of what they’ve seen on screen before I can get to the really fun/relevant/real stuff of historical dress practices. Essentially, I feel like: I’m not the one who misrepresents history to people, why should I be responsible for cleaning up a mess I didn’t make, just because it’s my area of interest? The nature of my kind of work is challenging enough (cycles of years of research then years of writing, more research, more writing, and on it goes with hopefully some exhibitions thrown in for extra fun – and don’t mistake this for complaining, I love it and am beyond grateful I get to do this, but the fact is it’s tons of challenging work) without these additional hurdles recklessly thrown in my way. It just doesn’t make the educative aspect of my life any easier. Add to this that the study of dress history still struggles for legitimacy and acceptance within both academia and museums and I just can’t feel as indulgent towards inaccurate costuming and the defense of “this isn’t a history lesson” as I used to. Unfortunately, oftentimes it’s the closest to a history lesson that a lot of people will get.

    • brocadegoddess

      I should specify that I meant flippantly, thoughtlessly, or carelessly inaccurate costuming (or some such descriptive) at the end of my comment. And perhaps reinforce that it’s the coupling of willful inaccuracy with a total washing of the hands of any responsibility for miseducating people by saying it’s just entertainment that has really come to irk me.

      • terrydresbach

        Interestingly, I agree with you.
        But here is the thing. The costume designer is almost never the source of this. You just cannot underestimate the pressure put on designers to make costumes modern (and SEXY!!). It is phenomenal.
        And this is the way we all make our living, and there are not many people in this business, or any other, that can turn their back on their livelihood. It is not as if they just need to speak up, and then everyone will go “oh it’s not accurate? The audience will watch historically accurate costume design??? Well then, let’s do it right.”

        They will be asked to step aside, and lose their job. It is a cutthroat business.

        And not only does the study of dress struggle for legitimacy and acceptance in academia and museums, it struggles mightily in film and television.

        Costumes departments are 99.9% women and gay men, in an incredibly old school, boys club.

        Think costumes take front and centre in the making of a costume drama? Think again.
        It is a very complicated and nuanced issue.

    • aelarsen

      As a medieval historian who does a lot of teaching, I ENTIRELY empathize with this. Every time a new movie about the Middle Ages comes out, part of me groans and thinks “Oh, lord, what am I got to have to unteach my students about now?” I’ve learned I have to go see the big films simply so I know what nonsense is in my students’ heads now.

      On the other hand, movies do provide a jumping off point for my students, a point of contact between me and them, and they are generally willing to hear that 300 or Braveheart bear about as much relationship to actual history as Star Wars does. And if a movie like this gets students interested in history, then it’s done some good.

      • Trystan L. Bass

        “movies do provide a jumping off point for my students” — true true! And not just for the classroom, but even in the SCA & renfaire, plenty of people get interested because they love Game of Thrones or The Tudors, & then they start researching actual history & see how fascinating that is vs. the fantasy. I’ve seen this having run newcomer events :)

    • Trystan L. Bass

      Valid points! And I want to take this into consideration in the next article about ‘why this bugs us.’ I’m digging up conflicting studies about how much movie history does & does not influence people’s understanding & memory of actual historical events. I think there’s a broad spectrum of ‘the general public’ to consider & how much they may get that movies aren’t historical fact.

      • aelarsen

        I will be very interested to see what sort of studies you find. I recall one that I read years ago that concluded that Stone’s JFK had substantially altered viewers’ ideas about the assassination, but I’ve never been able to find it again.

        • Trystan L. Bass

          Two I’ve read so far were done specifically to see if using historical movies in a classroom setting influenced students’ memory of historical events — which the movies did, but it depended on what they were told before & after about the movies. So it sounds to me that if people are told “this is not accurate history,” they’ll get that a movie is fiction. It’s when they’re told “this movie is a true story” that things go awry.

          It’ll take me about a month to finish that article tho! These longer ones are more work :-)

      • terrydresbach

        To your point, when you google 18th century clothing, and any sub-category therein these days, pictures from Outlander come up.
        I am appalled by this.
        Our costumes are fictional. Though we work really hard to make historically accurate clothing, it is impossible to accomplish, for no reason other than we are modern designers and makers, working with modern fabric. It cannot be accurate no matter how meticulous we are, because it is not an actual garment from the period.
        Yet it is right there on the page under 18th century gown, or stock or waistcoat.

        Not sure how you deal with that, but you do see how history gets slowly subverted.

  6. Elizabeth Cherry

    The other factor to consider (and I speak as someone in the wardrobe side of the industry ) is that producers can often have more control than designers regarding what ends up as the final costume. So while a designer may have a gorgeous and accurate design, it can be thwarted by a ‘can we make this sexier? ‘ production meeting.

  7. Saraquill

    Reading this, I remembered my irritation at “The Last Samurai.” I remember being irritated at a number of things, but the only one I recall now were scenes where Japanese people wore shoes indoors. I know budget is a huge consideration, but I don’t understand when the matter is as inexpensive as going in stocking feet.

    • terrydresbach

      If you have more than two or three people in a room, bare or stocking feet are an issue. Everyone worries about actors getting hurt, including insurance companies. An actor with a slinger id a big friggin deal.

  8. Michael L. McQuown

    The film may not have been wrong. No shoes indoors is a part of traditional Japanese custom, but during a period where Westernisation was being pushed, it may have been part of that movement.

    • Saraquill

      Having seen the “History vs. Hollywood” featurette on the DVD, I don’t believe the production had that level of thought in the matter.

  9. Donna Smith

    I really appreciated this article. Recently I found myself in an unintentional argument with a lady who really knows her costuming and was upset over some photos of Season 2 filming of Poldark — noting that the female lead was dressed inappropriately for her class and station in life. I suggested it was a dramatic license – a symbol of the fact that the character came from poverty and did not identify with the upper crust. Big mistake on my part! Your article explains the dichotomy beautifully and I appreciated it. Thanks for this great blog!

  10. Michael L. McQuown

    A lot of films are derived from novels, or even from occasional nonfiction, and the writers may have already tweaked the history for the sake of drama. Even the estimable Dorothy Dunnett was not above inserting a character into “Pawn in Frankincense” who was actually from the 19th century.

  11. Kaye Dacus

    What a wonderful idea for a spinoff of Project Runway—PR: Costume Drama Edition! Each week, the aspiring costume designers are given a script, a time period, and a character to design a costume for, with a budget of $100 for all materials, one hour to do research online, and one day to complete the challenge.

    But would “historically accurate” be one of the scoring categories?

  12. Pam Plemouse

    I feel like a possible, partial solution is to build up a stock in the costume houses of pieces rife in historical details, but with *hidden* adjust-ability. The designers I know rushing around for 75 background costumes in a week rarely worry about reusing outfits, but would welcome features (even 5 or 10 years out of date) that did not necessitate blurry long shots, or bodices that could go up a cup size or two. (In this fantasy I get to sit around all day making and researching these costumes on a living wage.) This wouldn’t do much for principal costumes, but extras would look great!

  13. ladylavinia1932

    There is no real solution to this.

    A historical drama is not a documentary. To expect a historical drama in terms of story, costume, makeup etc. is to set yourself on the road to madness.

    I once read a book on how to write a novel. The author made it clear that if real history gets in the way of your story while writing a historical drama, toss it aside.

    And in regard to makeup, costumes, hairstyles, etc., one has to consider the production’s budget or the production designer’s/director’s vision.

    It’s just not worth making an effort to demand that all historical dramas be historically accurate. Frankly, I think one should be more concerned about documentaries and history books being accurate.

  14. Annette Smith

    We have a lot of academics and professionals commenting here so I am jumping in too. From the point of view of social science, people’s understanding of history forms their underlying ideologies and influences not only how they live their lives but how they view others too. Whether the directors and producers want to accept it or not, presenting a show as historical means that it is taken more seriously by the audience as being based in fact. It gives it added weight and creates more interest. Why else would the romantic drama Reign have been created using the names of historical people and yet bare no resemblence to history? If it didn’t have “Mary Queen of Scots” and French royalty in it, it would not have stood out as much. It is also very clear from the aftermath of Braveheart the reverberations of which can still be observed among tourists and in Scottish cultural forums online more than 20 years later.

    So it is irrespective of how conscious people are of this influence or how seriously they take it. As another commenter said, she has to spend a lot of time and energy on cleaning up this mess when the audience members of previous slap dash presentations of history start taking history seriously. This idea of the historical production as pure entertainment is frozen in time and freezes also the audience in time. It does not take into account that the audience for Reign will grow up, join at some point and want to wear tartan to weddings when they find they have Scottish ancestry. Then they may watch Outlander and Braveheart and think that all Scottish history is about the downtrodden Scottish Catholics defying the evil English protestant imperialists, when nothing could be further from the truth!

    • cocaine

      well, why not you suggest that the correct language being used, like the story about set in 15 century England should use 15th century English as the language and story set in French court should use French and not the language of the country of the production company.

      You see how absurd it is? Yes it is.

      I don’t care about historical accuracy. Many interesting stories of humankind came from interpreting past story through the view of the period when the story was being told.

      Arthurian legends tell the story about 5th or 6th century England through the perspective of High Middle Age and beyond. The concept of knighthood forming a huge part of the legends even though it was not really a thing in 5th or 6th century England. and the Shakespearean plays were inserting the contemporary Elizabethan perspective to old tales.

      Human culture would be a lot poorer without those stories.

      • weavingmaiden

        This isn’t about myths,legends and folklore.
        I love watching the 1981 version of Clash of the Titans. The costumes are not accurate, it’s based on a myth though so it’svsupposed to be a fantasy.
        It’s about how historical events and novels are portrayed.
        Braveheart had William Wallace have an affair with a queen who was a child at the time. Scottish friends have said this film was rubbish and historicaly inaccurate.
        Novels set in a certain time period don’t have to have inaccurate costumes. The charm of these novels is they are set in the past. Or were written in a particular period. It does the stories justice to have costumes that are as accurate as possible.
        Whilst Shakespeare tweeked his history plays, there were still people around at the time who were aware of the recent past.
        His other plays were very much fantasy. The costumes were what they could get hold, even donations from rich patrons.
        We might not know everything about history but there is enough information out there.
        Legends, myths and folklore are interesting and make great entertainment.
        History is equally interesting and doesn’t have to be sexed up to do so.

        • cocaine

          Braveheart is not history. Kingdom of Heaven is not history. Historical novels are not history. They are mass entertainment, just like the Arthurian legends & Shakespearean plays were mass entertainment of their time.

          You want to know what is history? Documentaries. Non-fiction historical books. If you want to poke hole & fault them for misrepresentation, go ahead.

          Judging Braveheart against Britannica Encyclopedia instead of judging it against legends, folk fores & fictional plays is nonsensical. Some people might confuse Braveheart as real history, but then there were also people at the past periods who were confuse that Arthurian legends & Shakespearean plays were real history. Just because some people in the past confuse Arthurian legends & Shakespearean plays were real history doesn’t mean they would be better if they “fixed it” and created a historically accurate Arthurian tales or Shakespearean plays.

  15. cocaine

    Braveheart is not history. Kingdom of Heaven is not history. Historical novels are not history. They are mass entertainment, just like the Arthurian legends & Shakespearean plays were mass entertainment of their time.

    You want to know what is history? Documentaries. Non-fiction historical books. If you want to poke hole & fault them for misrepresentation, go ahead.

    Judging Braveheart against Britannica Encyclopedia instead of judging it against legends, folk fores & fictional plays is nonsensical. Some people might confuse Braveheart as real history, but then there were also people at the past periods who were confuse that Arthurian legends & Shakespearean plays were real history. Just because some people in the past confuse Arthurian legends & Shakespearean plays were real history doesn’t mean they would be better if they “fixed it” and created a historically accurate Arthurian tales or Shakespearean plays.

  16. mmcquown

    Budget — most historical reenactors who make their own historically accurate costumes don’t have big budgets. Things that are often stumbling blocks for any costumer are shoes and trims. For a long time, there were no 17th-century shoes available, nor were there montero caps — but now, there are because interest in those areas have grown. We were never able to find really good trims for 17th-c outfits. Nor, I would imagine, does anyone else for any earlier period. Unless you can embroider.

    • OcarinaSapph1r3 -24

      That would imply a positive trend for the importance of adhering to historical accuracy, wherever possible – the more interest there is, the greater the likelihood of having stuff, right? It’s kind of an on-flow thing, isn’t it? You create, or draw from the niche- the more exposure is given to increase the niche.