I recently ran across a comment on another site that had linked to one of our posts and called into question our expertise, alleging we were just hobbyists and “cosplayers” who have no experience in the Real World with costuming for television and film and therefore we have no right to “criticize” professional costumers.
So, let’s get our credentials out of the way. Firstly, we are two academics and a professional writer with an academic background, not hobbyists. We actually do get paid to do this shit in the real world.
Secondly, we are not cosplayers. I know the term “cosplay” has become the catch-all term for anyone wearing costumes these days, but there’s a strong fandom element to cosplay that has nothing to do with what we do. We study and make and wear historical costume. I also want to point out that the comment was intended to trivialize what we do by calling it “cosplay,” but the cosplay community has extremely talented costumers in it as well. That’s just a totally different thing from what we do.
Thirdly, it’s kind of a stretch to say that because we are not professionally paid as theatrical costumers that we have “no right” to “criticize” the costumes in film and television. Let’s be honest … You feel entitled to critique the food you eat at a restaurant without being a professional chef, right? Well, media is another type of product, that, like food, is subject to critique by those who consume it.
But really, I want to address the use of the term “criticism” because what we do is not criticism. It’s critique and, yes, there’s a big difference between critique and criticism. Critique is pointing out issues in a body of work or, in our case, historical inaccuracies in film and television, not just saying the entire body of work is utter shit and everyone involved in making it should be taken out back and shot. The former (“this costume has these inaccuracies”) is critique. The latter (“the costumer is a drooling idiot”) is a criticism. I think people who are not from an academic or journalism background tend to confuse the not-exactly-subtle differences between the two terms, but it is an important distinction.
What we write here on Frock Flicks are actually opinion. We are not under any illusions that what we are writing is going to change the way history is portrayed in film and television. We are three chicks with a blog and a podcast, out of millions of blogs and podcasts. The success or failure of people’s careers are not hanging by a thread based on our opinions, and while it might not be fun finding out that your favorite TV show or movie doesn’t pass our muster, it’s honestly not the end of the world. In fact, in some cases, our readers’ disagreements with our reviews has generated lively and interesting discussions. Of course, we always are entertained by the occasional post from someone who accidentally wandered in from some random place on the Internet and thinks we need to be told that we are WrongTM and MeanTM for having an opinion contrary to their own.
We praise and we critique and sometimes we do it in the same sentence. We understand that the professional costumer’s job is to augment the story and the characters and that frequently means creating a historically accurate costume is not appropriate. We get it. But — and this is really, really important — we are here to discuss historical costumes in visual media and that means fielding a lot more discussion about inaccuracy than accuracy. And we’re going to keep analyzing and discussing these things until people stop reading our blog or a major studio in Hollywood decides to hire us as historical costume consultants.
Every wonder why we write what we do? Check out our FAQs and our POV articles.
LOL! I’m sorry, I can’t stop quiet-laughing (at my desk) over the Elder Jones/Young Jones/Outlander gif! Oh, my.
Anyway, excellent rebuttal/explanation. Excellent gif selection, too.
Me too! I’m snorting!
All I can say is that you need to keep doing what you do. You do it well, and the true costume nerds among us love that you care bout accuracy as much as we do.
Almost the entirety of this column could be used to rebut the criticism (AKA ‘flames’) fired at anyone who holds different opinions about anything in any fandom. Especially “The success or failure of people’s careers are not hanging by a thread based on our opinions,” Some people react as though the fate of entire shows are in peril because of one dissenting opinion.
And I love the Indiana Jones gif, too.
*snort* *cackle* *wide grin* also at Outlander/Indiana Jones (ik der Holy grailen) gif.
I can imagine how all of you must feel when someone who isn’t qualified to criticize and critique your work.
Your readers know that you love what you do. You have a sense of humour, (the Blackadder gif alone established that). All the critiques are done with love. Your guest costume designer comments alone prove it.
Thanks for being here.
Bravo. You guys need to just keep doing what you’re doing.
I always said that my reviews were solely my opinion, and that readers should make up their own minds. I was always aware of the idea or reviewing the play or film rather than writing a review, which was being witty at the expense of others’ efforts. Ultimately, I considered it a consumer service.
I am a professional theatre/TV wardrobe mistress with an Honours degree in costume design and you guys are SPOT ON! I found your site after having a personal meltdown watching Outlander (The Red Dress)and went online to see if I was insane because it seemed everyone else refused to see any issues with the designs(many of which I really liked). I was so relieved and delighted to find you gals voicing exactly what i feel when I watch historical costume dramas. I am addicted to you guys :-D
I was just thinking this morning — if I’m ever so fortunate as a historical novelist to have a television series made out of one of my books, maybe one of the conditions of my contract should have a promise that the costume designer will consult with you lovely ladies.
You are always fair. What you say is important.
The problem lies not with your critiques, but readers who cannot admit that something they love is flawed. However much you may adore “Outlander” as a fan, the costumes are not always historically accurate (often gorgeous, yes!). It never hurts to be objective, and critiques do not mean something is total rubbish.
I think you’ve been very even handed in your critiques. You show a lot of understanding and tolerance for constraints of theatrical design. On the other hand you are not shy about calling out crappy, lazy work in a fun and entertaining way. Anyone one who cna’t see that should start their own darn blog and see just how hard it is. The quality and the fact that they come out a regular basis is an example of discipline to be admired. You know your subject and will say so if it’s not your period of expertise. As a person who is often screaming at the television my family thanks you for this outlet. The day would not be the same without you. Thanks!
Keep on keepin’ on! I love your blog!
Outlander fans tend to be pretty crazy, so I’m not surprised by them freaking out whenever you comment on a costume.
OMG, I love Outlander and the fans freak me out to no end. They’re…obsessive and creepy in a lot of way.
Please do not tar all Outlander fans with the same brush. Most of us aren’t the fanatical obsessives.
Actually, I’d say it’s pretty rare to find an outlander fan who isn’t a fanatical obsessive. The majority come across as quite nutty.
The bloggers do not represent the vast majority of Outlander fans if that’s who you’re basing your opinion on. Nor do the fans who show up at the Cons.
Are there vocal/nut job fans, absolutely, but compared to the thousands upon thousands of other fans they really are a small minority. They’re just loud.
I’m not talking just about bloggers. Of the several hundred outlander fans I’ve “met” online, through Twitter, FB or IG, I’d say that fewer than five seemed normal and not like nut cases. I don’t even like the books, the show, or DG anymore after dealing with the fandom. I think it’s the craziness of the stories that appeals to so many crazy, obsessive fans.
And yet they still aren’t the majority of fans. Most fans you’ll never know about because they aren’t on social media spouting their opinions or trying to run roughshod over other people.
Sorry the obsesssives have ruined the books and show for you. You’re missing some good stuff. If nothing else Terry’s costumes.
We will have to disagree. In retrospect, the books really kinda suck, especially after the first one, so I know I’m not missing out. I tried to keep reading because unfortunately I had bought a boxed set, but half way through voyager I was pretty disgusted with her inability to craft a decent plot, and once I got to drums of autumn I just threw in the towel. Between DG’s crassness, the constant raping of pretty much every major character, and the nutty fan base I can’t say that I miss it at all.
To each their own I guess.
Right on, ladies! While some on this list are professionals, some of us are “talented amateurs.” [Name that citation!] While my university minor was in history, I have been researching historical clothing since I was in high school and the available references weren’t very good. I’ve grown in my knowledge and the reference books and research have gotten better and more focused.
Not only that, but we are all entitled to our opinions. Not all of us agree on a point, but that’s good because it frequently leads to discussion and more research. Keep up the good work!
Is this about Outlander, or a general approach?
I agree completely with your points, Sarah. I think that the Creative Arts (in any medium) thrive on critique/criticism. An artist should not only expect it, but should welcome it, in my opinion. That is why there are people out there who make their livelihoods as critics. There are also people like you who also give critique from a particular view, which you have very clearly laid out, a unit adds a really important element to the larger discussion.
I think we are also in agreement that the problem may be that too many people do not know what criticism is.
To use your analogy, I can go to a restaurant and say that I personally do not like what the chef has made.That I do not like his choice of ingredients, or that the meat was dried out, the sauce to heavy, whatever. I can even be very critical of that meal and the choices the chef made.
That is not the same thing as saying she is a horrible person, who clearly never cooked anything in their life, and should be fired and never allowed to cook professionally again.
Nor does someone need to BE a chef in order to have an opinion about the food they eat.
I see this misunderstanding of what criticism is, all the time.It drives me slightly mad. If someone does not like an episode of our show, a costume I make, or maybe anything we ever do, that is their right.
If you guys point out that back lacing is inaccurate, that is just a statement of fact, and I completely support that. Not only do I support it, I am kind of grateful, that you caught something we missed.
It is also very interesting to be a Costume Designer in this day and age of SM. I was very vocal against spoilers on Outlander. One of the main reasons was because I knew that I was going to make some choices that were going to set everyone’s teeth on edge, without knowing what context they were being made in.
What does one do as a designer when publicity photos are the subject of critique, viewed completely out of context, outside of the story which supports the choices?
Would I choose to dress Claire anachronistically again? Even though it made sense in the context of the story? I am not so sure I would.Not because I don’t like criticism, but because I think context matters, and the marriage of the internet and promotion, blows that up.
Someone might not have liked the Red Dress or any of Claire’s other costumes, but that opinion changed dramatically for a lot of viewers once they understood the context. Might some still hate the red dress? Most definitely, and that is perfectly fine, because that is they opinion/preference and they are entitled to it.
I think we are saying the same thing. I see critics get torn apart for doing what critics have always done. Critique various art forms. It is completely legitimate, and if one is able to refrain from making it personal, then the subject should have no problem. There have been some really unpleasant things said to reviewers and critics lately, that are just not okay.
As a Costume Designer, I engage in dialogue here because you know what you are talking about. I understand your perspective, and you understand mine, so it makes for good and respectful dialogue. You also have really shown a willingness to listen to a different view and I see that reflected in the blog. That is what happens where there is fair and objective criticism.
I hope more Costume Designers engage here.
I’m an amateur with a decent body of knowledge, yet I’ve walked into situations were I knew far far more than the professionals. I went to have an extant gown appraised only to discover I knew more than she did about the period. All she knew what about what it could fetch.
Being professional means you get paid for a certain skill, not that you are knowledgeable. Knowing a needle and thread and getting paid for it is not the same as understanding the shifting of the shape of an armscye over the course of the 19th century. Why should a movie or TV show care about getting the shoulder seam drop right, when 99% of people won’t recognize it? A movie or TV show costumer will only get in hot water if the seam bursts and filming is delayed.
What this website does is recognize then the professionals get it right, and calls them out when they do not. It is no difference from discussing how a movie deviates from a book.
“Why should a movie or TV show care about getting the shoulder seam drop right, when 99% of people won’t recognize it? A movie or TV show costumer will only get in hot water if the seam bursts and filming is delayed.”
We care because we are professional Costume Designers. We are motivated by much more than “not getting in hot water”.
It is our job to know and understand clothing in contemporary and in historical settings. We study these things extensively, as professionals. It is our job to help define characters and story, to help the viewer to understand time and place.
We need to understand structure, textiles, movement, color, lighting, psychology, history and sociology.
Why do ANY of us care about our chosen line of work?
One assumes it is because it is something they are passionate about, that they have studied and worked hard to achieve proficiency, skill and knowledge in that pursuit.
Those of us who have chosen Costume Design are the same as anyone else who cares about that which we work so hard and lovingly to produce.
I will offer you something I have never offered anyone before. Should you ever find yourself in Scotland, I would like to invite you to visit our Costume Department. I would like you to meet the team, many of whom have spent decades honing their craft. I would like you to inspect out work and see if you still think we don’t care, and have no particular knowledge or expertise.
I think you miss understand – caring is something to be admired. I certainly can see where and why you do what you do, even if I don’t agree with a few points. Corsets! Correct seam lines! Natural fibers!
At the end of the day – care is what makes you good and not a hack. My point is that being a professional does not equate to knowledge was to counter the charge leveled at the Frock Flicks ladies, not you. For years even high level professionals did not care about seam placement or hair, or were prohibited from doing it.
In my defense – I had not seen your post in I wrote what I did! We were writing at the same moment. I know these ladies personally, and was annoyed to hear questions on their credentials for having an opinion. :) Especially considering all that I’ve learned from them over the years.
Thank you for that. Invitation still stands!
I think that Costume Designers have always cared very deeply, and have fought hard to try to be as accurate as they could, in the face of powerful resistance. The commonly held belief is that viewers will not watch or will be turned off by accuracy.
I have to say, I am not entirely sure that view is wrong. Most of the audience does not know about accurate costumes, and frequently get distracted or “turned off” by the real deal. That can backfire in a story where we need people to actually pay attention to the story. Are they listening to the dialogue and following the plot, or paying attention to that “weird codpiece”?
But that doesn’t mean that we don’t keep trying, like we always have.
There are people in every line of work who just collect their pay check and go home. There are also even more who try to do the best they can with the circumstances they are given.
Like I said in my comment which was winging past yours in the ether.
You don’t have to be a chef to be a restaurant critic, or an author to be a literary critic.
Anyway, thanks for the dialogue.
Then again, people wouldn’t think that codpiece was so weird if they had actually SEEN a few of them before, right?
Always a possibility that some actors would refuse to wear a cod piece as well. Many actors are insecure and self conscious and get uncomfortable in authentic historical clothing. Some men just don’t want to show off their assets.
I see so many anecdotes of actresses refusing to wear the proper corset or stays under the dress which changes the resulting look no matter how hard the designer worked on it.
Back when Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet came out, I was working at a movie theater that was screening the flick. I remember hordes of teenage girls looking at the posters mounted outside the theater and going into uncontrollable giggle fits at the codpieces.
And yes, I am that old.
That’s the value of this site and others like it – it balances out the “viewers won’t like that” with the push for accuracy. That voice needs to be heard to push back against the modernization.
20 years ago most comic book movies were terrible because the people responsible didn’t understand the material. It took a generation coming of age to get it. Historic accuracy is no different – the more discussion, the more silly internet outrage, the more decisions like yours will get supported.
My sister-in-law is a huge Outlander fan, having re-read the book for years. After seeing the scene where Clair changes into her 18C, (after having known me for for 17 years) finally got why I do costuming. Thank you for that.
You mean I’m not the only one who screams at the TV?
No. I do too. But I’ve also been known to throw paperbacks across room when they contain inaccuracies in history like Reign, Tudors, White Queen, etc. Don’t we all?
I *DO* do this for a living, and I have LEARNED THINGS from you guys! Never stop, ladies, you are fabulous.
Anyone who reads the FrockFlicks posts and comments properly should be able to deduce that not only the writers but also the readers have considerable knowledge and experience when it comes to historical clothing. Attempts to belittle such discussion and silence all but the ‘professionals’ border on the totalitarian and reek of snobbery.
I only feel sorry that you felt this post was needed. Any and all such statements you encounter either here or elsewhere should simply be ignored. They’re not worth dignifying with any acknowledgement, let alone such a carefully crafted response. Though I sure do appreciate the gifs!
Not that you need it, but : I hold a PhD in Dress History, teach it at the university level and I endorse Frock Flicks!
I move that we create an army called the Frocadets to defend Frock Flicks from fools like the person this post is about.
(And we will have the most historically accurate uniforms ever)
I volunteer as a Frocadet. BTW what period for the uniform?
I will gladly join the corps.May I dress as Marie from Donizetti’s Daughter of the Regiment?
Any period, as long as you do it accurately.
I’m thinking on Russian Court under Elizabeth or Catherine II for evening and Early Queen Victoria for day. I mean have you seen the embroidered gold braid on the paintings of Wellington, Catherine II’s and Elizabeth’s male ‘Cher Amis’?
At Florida State and in repertory, I worked with the costume dept because I found it interesting. Later, as a reenactor, I started to really research and develop historical clothing, as opposed to costume, but I also found I had less and less patience with big-time professionals who didn’t seem to care to put it right. I well know that a lot of those decisions came from the Front Office and didn’t reflect on the people in the trenches. In many ways, it has gotten better because there are more people out there who have become aware of what’s accurate and what’s not. Aside from the SCA, there’s the group that puts on Costume Con, which always has a historical category, which is judged by some very knowledgeable people. There is another group called the Costume Society, as well as many serious reenactors of an increasing number of eras, and HEMA and related movements have increased the knowledge of the correct use of armour and weapons. At the end of an instructional video, fight choreographer Anthony de Longis made quite a heated statement about the use of accurate techniques in fights. So the Front Office had better keep their eyes and ears open.
I am one of those people who have judged historical costume at CostumeCon several times. The level of research has been amazing in many cases. A lot of people care and want to DO.IT.RIGHT. This forum has been beneficial to me in that it explores dress periods and styles that I am less familiar with. Keep up the good work.
We made the decision long before the show was green lit to NOT make a contemporary version of history, and to be as accurate as possible. Meaning that we cannot make everything by hand when making thousands of costumes or use actual 18th century fabrics.
Sometimes we miss something and given our circumstances, and I’m okay with that. That is just going to happen when operating in the scale we do.
I share the goals of most here to be historically accurate and not dumb it down for an uneducated audience. That’s how you create an educated audience.
I think 99% of film and television costume designers would agree with me.
I am not sure why I always sense this underlying contempt for us and what we do.
I am just an average schmuck and enjoy costume dramas, always have. This blog is a breath of fresh air to me. I love learning about what is accurate and what is not. Hell hath no fury like self-righteous academicians! You folks just keep on doing what you do, it is delightful, informative, and enlightening. And I love the GIF of the Jones Boys! (Yes, I speak as one who is not a viewer of the show with an O.)
The thing I love about your blog is that you provide sources to accurate information that proves your point. You make me thing about costume accuracy while I watch period films now. Keep it up!
I think you gals are awesome and reading this blog is one of my favorite bits of recreation. You seem like wonderfully witty, intelligent and educated people who are probably a blast to hang out with. If anyone dares give you guy shit, direct them at me and my icepick.
I also would happily enlist as a frocadet.
Juleia has probably seen the extremest of the extreme, but I well remember how a group of neurotic, sexually overheated fans ruined Blake’s 7 fandom by publishing extreme material that humiliated one actor’s wife and turned off the other cast members in the extreme. And this was BI (Before the Internet).
Oh there seems to be nut jobs in every fandom. I think SM and the internet have just excerbated the problem. Because celebs are on SM too many people think that because they’ve “friended” a celeb they actually know them and are really friends with them and nothing could be further from the truth.