SNARK WEEK: Top 10 Shitty 1980s TV Historical Costume Movies


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As the person who generally posts images to our Frock Flicks Facebook feed, every so often, as I’m scouring the Internet for images, I come across a few clunkers. This post was inspired by an image of Casanova from 1987, starring Richard Chamberlain and what looks like all the extras from Dallas. I had to find more for Snark Week!

Now, I know this is shooting fish in a barrel. The 1980s was all about low-budget TV movies and miniseries, and I realize that many of these films probably weren’t even TRYING to be historically accurate … and I’m sure the costume designer spent most of the production quietly weeping in the corner, wishing desperately s/he had just five more dollars to spend.

Also, I haven’t seen ANY of these! So they could very well be god’s gift to acting/storytelling/whatever. I don’t care. Behold, where polyester goes to die…

Honorary Mentions:

1981 East of Eden1

Jane Seymour in East of Eden (1981), for her stiletto-heeled soft-core porn look.


Leonard Nimoy for yellow face in Marco Polo (1982).


LIZ TAYLOR and GEORGE HAMILTON for allll their makeup for Poker Alice (1987). I’m not sure whose lips are pinker.


10. Ivanhoe (1982)

1982 Ivanhoe

England, 1194, when all the jewels were hot-glued on…

1982 Ivanhoe

Short, feather-y hair was fashionable…

Ivanhoe (1982)

And the ladies were all about the Hayley Mills hair.

Ivanhoe (1982)

Rebecca, the Jewish girl. My Barbie had this outfit. You think I’m kidding.

Ivanhoe (1982)

Silvery sparkly pink brocade was THE fashion trend of the 1190s.

1982 Ivanhoe

Anthony Andrews. I have residual good feelings towards him for The Scarlet Pimpernel, but could they perhaps vary his hair just once?

Watch one scene in HD on YouTube!


9. April Morning (1987)

This would be higher up the list if I could find more images than just these two, which hint at SO much American Revolutionary War goodness:

1987 April Morning

Tommy Lee Jones and Chad Lowe (brother of Rob Lowe) as American militia-men.

1987 April Morning

Love interest Ruth, churning the butter in her spiral-laced jacket and Justine Bateman hair.


8. The Blue and the Gray (1982)

It’s the American Civil War (1860s), baby! And yeah, it’s not all bad:


This is quite lovely!


I don’t hate this, although I am suspicious of the fiber content!

The Blue and the Gray (1982)

Not bad, even if the fringe was stolen from an innocent couch!


Presumably she’s wearing this at home, with no one else around?

But then it quickly goes downhill:


Short poufy sleeves? Really? Also shitty lace and not-great fitting.

1982 The Blue and the Gray1

Julia Duffy clearly decided to hang on to her Newhart hair.

1982 The Blue and the Gray5

Stacy Keach of Mike Hammer AND bangs, woot!


Clearly someone watched the Prince Charles and Diana wedding on repeat.


I’m not kidding, Charles and Di! (BTW, IS your bertha supposed to eat your head?)


I’M SERIOUS, CHARLES AND DI! Also, we have now found why there was a sudden dearth of nylon lace in 1981-2.


7. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1982)

With none other than Anthony Hopkins as the hunchback! But what’s far more entertaining is Lesley-Anne Down as Esmerelda, just your average Romani (i.e., Gypsy) woman in medieval Paris:

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1982)

Can anyone explain the print on her bodice?

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1982)

Are they … giant paisleys? Fish? Amoebas?

1982 The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Oh wait, maybe this is actually an early adaptation of the The Mists of Avalon?

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1982)

Why support the boobs when you don’t HAVE to?

1982 The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Am I going to have to be the one to use the word “saggy”?

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1982)

The goat objects to all the shiny peach poly-satin.

Note: the costume designer’s (Phyllis Dalton) credits include: The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982), Doctor Zhivago (1965), and Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

Watch one scene in HD on YouTube!


6. Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story (1987)

Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story (1987)

You’ve got Armand Assante as Napoleon and Jacqueline Bisset as Josephine.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine- A Love Story

Armand has some REALLY excellent hair.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine- A Love Story

Would I, of all people, lie to you about a mullet as glorious as this?

But wait, there’s more!

1987 Napoleon and Josephine- A Love Story

Stephanie Beacham (Dynasty) as bestie Therese Tallien. I think she’s in prison here, nothing else can explain that hair.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

OTOH, I’m not sure anything can explain THIS hair either.

And then you’ve got a wardrobe for Josephine that consists of:

Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story (1987)

Some “meh” numbers.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

A lot of slutty red.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine- A Love Story

A WHOLE lot of acetate.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine- A Love Story

A bridesmaid’s dress (with potential zipper).

1987 Napoleon and Josephine- A Love Story

1980s permed hair.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine- A Love Story

Stretchy, sparkly 1980s prom-dress fabric.

Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story (1987)


1987 Napoleon and Josephine- A Love Story

I think it’s made of a shower curtain.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

And I’m pretty sure you can see Full Beaver when she dances in it.

5. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1980)

This would again be higher up the list if I could find clearer images.

Jeff Goldblum as Ichabod Crane:

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1980)

But where it really gets good are the two main women. First there’s Thelma Dumkey (woo, that’s quite a clunker of a name), who has the hots of Ichabod and is mean girl-y to Katrina:

1980 The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Thelma on the left, hanging out with what appears to be the cast of an early 1980s cop show.

And your resident 1790s Dutch-American It Girl, Katrina van Tassel:

1980 The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Katrina (right), being fitted (using the term reservedly) for her party dress (also using this term reservedly).

1980 The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Finished party dress. They didn’t even try here, did they?

1980 The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

It was important to me that you see all of the angles of this dress, so you could appreciate it in all its glory.

1980 The Legend of Sleepy Hollow


Also, let us not forget the members of the Sleepy Hollow Glee Club:

1980 The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Are these dresses actually dishrags, perhaps?

1980 The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

I don’t know which I prefer, the be-grommeted waist corset on the left, or the dumpy dressed Dutch woman on the right. It’s a toss up.


4. George Washington (1984)

This miniseries was nominated for SIX primetime Emmys. SIX.


Barry Bostwick as El Presidente.


Patty Duke as Martha. Wearing god knows what. Yes, you can be the proud owner of this photograph.

George Washington (1984)

Jaclyn Smith as Sally Fairfax. Well fiddle dee dee, Scarlett!


Belvoir, Virginia. The Fairfax Estate. The birthplace of acetate.


Where bust darts, poodle perms, and fontange caps are ubiquitous.

George Washington (1984)

Among its Emmy nominations was one for Outstanding Achievement in Hairstyling. In my fantasies, this is one that clinched the nomination.

George Washington (1984)

This outfit isn’t too bad, but let us note that the series was also nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup.

George Washington (1984)

I’m sorry, is this 1790s or 1690s? Again, another for your personal collection.


Why is Martha wearing a shower curtain to her wedding?


That mob cap is DA BOMB.

A shitty copy of the whole thing is on YouTube!


3. North and South (1985)

The American Civil War. When brother fought brother and women fought over the Aquanet.

North and South (1985)

Patrick Swazye, rocking the mullet AND the peach cravat.

1985 North and South

Swayze’s love interest, who clearly is in the “I don’t care if it’s historically accurate, I just want my boobs out” camp.

North and South (1985)

And who also is fiddle-dee-deeing with Scarlett.

North and South (1985)

Whose peach lipstick matches her peach dress. That silver lace — shudder.

North and South (1985)

I’m sorry, I can’t hear you over all those jugs!

North and South (1985)

Then you’ve got Kirstie Alley, who is inherently funny in a historical film.

North and South (1985)

But is even more entertaining when she’s in full Dynasty jewelry.

North and South (1985)

And in REALLY badly fitted dresses.

North and South (1985)

And swathed in acetate.

North and South (1985)

Then you’ve got Liz Taylor as a madam. She is the PATRON SAINT of “I don’t care if it’s historically accurate, I just want my tits out.”

North and South (1985)

These two are pissed that Point of Honor ripped off their look.

North and South (1985)

“It’s not FAIR [stamps foot]! WE dressed like Sweet Valley High c. 1862 long before they did!”

1985 North and South

Swayze started this film with a mullet, he’s going to end it with one by golly.

Watch the trailer, then check out the whole thing on YouTube!


2. Casanova (1987)

1987 Casanova

The image that started it all. I have so many questions, I don’t even know where to begin.

1987 Casanova

In the end, I decided to make an advent calendar of snark:

  1. Drew Barrymore, is that you? LOVE the winged eye-makeup.
  2. Does #2 have a mustache, or is it just me?
  3. Apparently they let #3 come straight from the set of North and South.
  4. I kind of can’t handle the fact that 4’s outfit is pretty great. Put your hair up, girl.
  5. I think the Van Helsing set is that way.
  6. Not bad! Here’s some hairpins. No no, don’t thank me.
  7. Now we know what Alison was doing before Melrose Place!
  8. Siouxie Sioux?

But wait, there’s more to love!

Casanova (1987)

RICHARD CHAMBERLAIN and his manly pelt!

Casanova (1987)

Shitty wigs!

1987 Casanova

Shocking lack of hairpins!

Casanova (1987)

Renfaire corsets!

Casanova (1987)

Floating ruffs in a non-ruffed period!

1987 Casanova

It’ll hurt if I swallow!

Watch the trailer on YouTube!


1. The Wild Women of Chastity Gulch (1982)

You guys. I didn’t think anything could top Casanova. Until I found The Wild Women of CHASTITY Gulch (get it?). Here’s your synopsis, courtesy of Wikipedia:

In Civil War-era Southern Missouri, Dr. Maggie McCullough (Priscilla Barnes) travels to the aid of her ailing Aunt Annie (Joan Collins), the town’s madame, in the lovely community of Sweetwater. With all of the men away at war, Maggie coordinates a truce between Aunt Annie’s girls and the respectable women of the town. While Maggie contemplates the love triangle that’s formed with an injured Union fighter (Donny Osmond) and a captured Confederate doctor (Lee Horsley), a demented faction of soldiers invade Sweetwater and the women must spring into action to defend their homes.

The Wild Women of Chastity Gulch (1982)

That’s right: JOAN COLLINS and PRISCILLA BARNES (Teri from Three’s Company).

The Wild Women of Chastity Gulch (1982)

In a town run by WIMMEN!


Apparently there’s a lot of “You git your lily-livered butt outta my whorehouse!”

The Wild Women of Chastity Gulch (1982)

LISA WELCHEL (The Facts of Life) with her tits out! And Blair Warner hair!

The Wild Women of Chastity Gulch (1982)

DONNY OSMOND as a Civil War soldier!

The Wild Women of Chastity Gulch (1982)

A light hand when it comes to makeup!

The Wild Women of Chastity Gulch 1982

Subtley in costuming!

The Wild Women of Chastity Gulch 1982

Old West Barbie!

The Wild Women of Chastity Gulch 1982


Watch a (nail fetish) fan-made compilation on YouTube!

And then watch the whole thing at DailyMotion!!


Okay, have at me. Which made-for-TV movies and miniseries of the 1980s did I miss?


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65 Responses

  1. Michael McQuown

    On the other hand, if you can find it, Abel Gance’s silent “Napoleon” is a masterpiece.
    If one were to name the 80’s it would be The Polyester Era.

    • M.E. Lawrence

      Polyester-and-Popcorn-Hair Era. I’m still astonished any of us crawled out alive.

  2. Bea

    You got North and South–that’s all I needed
    My sister had a thing for Patrick Swayze in that film. I couldn’t get it myself (the books are much more convoluted and weird).

  3. Eric Thomas Black

    Jane Seymour, soft core porn look…. now googling more East of Eden images….

      • hsc

        I just recently discovered this blog, and I love, love, LOVE what you’re doing!

        One correction, though:

        The photo at the top of the article isn’t from “East of Eden”. It’s a photo from the January 1987 issue of PLAYBOY, part of a non-nude spread titled “Jane Seymour: Enchantress” shot by the late Richard Fegley, in which Jane sprawls and lolls around an English Country House in all sorts of Victorian-esque deshabille.

        (I’m not sure, but I think it was her own house at the time and her own wardrobe.)

        If you Google Image search “Jane Seymour East of Eden” the PLAYBOY shots pop up in there as well, so it’s a common mistake.

        The photo linked in the reply with Jane in the corset and chemise is from “East Of Eden,” but I’ve heard it was a publicity shot, rather than a scene from the film. I haven’t seen the TV version since it aired, so I can’t be sure.

  4. Adam Lid

    Yes! You hit all my quality favorites of the 80s…a few of those shots in North & South look like photo layouts for an early Victoria’s Secret catalog (not that it’s necessarily a bad thing… ;-) ). The Wild Women of Chastity Gulch is my all-time five-beer favorite. Keep it up!

  5. Kim S.

    I have a confession to make…
    Looking back at “North and South” I can see where I found my love of big, poofy dress, with inappropriate fabrics. Thus my choice of a polybeast confection for my own bridal gown. I’ll have to share with Trystan so you can see where the trend had gone in the 90’s.
    I have learned better, and when hubby and I renew our vows in 2018, I can promise you, it will not be quite as devastatingly polyfantastic.

    • Kendra

      We all (okay, many of us) started with big, poufy, pretty pretty princess dresses… I know I did!

  6. Trystan L. Bass

    I think the only ones of these I *didn’t* see in the ’80s were Sleepy Hollow & Hunchback. And now you know why I’m the originator of the phrase, “I don’t care if it’s historically accurate, I just want my tits out!”

  7. Liz

    That version of Sleepy Hollow was one of my faves as a kid LOL! Can’t say it was one of the films that launched my love of historical costume, but maybe my love of ghost stories. :) And Jeff Goldblum.

  8. opusanglicanum

    Ivanhoe was the worst film shoot I have ever been on bar none. They invited medieval reenactors as extras, and then the clueless wardrobe woman made everyone change into polyester (my friend wore esther rantzens old dressing gown). she also forced several women to strip to their underwear in the back of an open lorry with leering crew outside (she treid it on me, I flat refused)
    the extras were then expected to stand in full sun all day, on one of the hottest days of the year, with no water provided. There was water on site but they refused to give any to the extras until several people passed out, then I think It was pretty much taken under threat of decapiting the director.
    I should add there were young children amongst the extras at the request of the director. my friend swears Ronald pickup saved his daughters life. She was four and visibly getting very red and upset from heat+no water, dad was arguing with a crew member that the child should at least be allowed into the shade before she died. Ronald pickup happened to be passing and saw the state of the child, he clicked his finger and had crew fawning over her like a princess – water, fans, the lot – then he had words with the arsehole of a director.
    lovely man, Ronald pickup

  9. Dean Gilbert

    Nooooooooo…not North and South!!!!! :-)

    Seriously though, inaccurate costumes aside, it’s that show that had a big influence in getting me me interested in historical costuming.

  10. Charity

    I don’t know whether I spent more time laughing reading this post or yelling “Noooo… oh nooo…” It’s a tossup.

    Though I had a moment of, “Is that Anthony Perkins??” in N&J. IT IS.

  11. Amy Osterholm

    This post could have been divided up and made up all of Snark Week, there is SO MUCH HERE.
    This made me so happy.
    Also: why does fontage sound so dirty?

  12. Bridgette

    That was amazing!! After reading the comments I am relieved that I am not the only one to have loved North & South. My nine year old self thought everyone looked so glamorous!

  13. Michael McQuown

    If anyone wonders about the literary peculiarities of the North & South books, John Jakes started out as a fantasy writer of such epics as the Brak the Barbarian series.

  14. Joanne Renaud

    OMG. When I was 12, I saw “Napoleon and Josephine” and I thought it was the bestest, most romantic thing ever. I think it started my love the French Revolution/First Empire period. But when I tried to watch it 20 years later… it was SO BAD! The dress made out of a 1960s shower curtain has me laughing hysterically.

      • Donna S.

        He played middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears in the 60s….a mean, powerful, nasty fellow. So weird to see him in a period drama!

  15. aelarsen

    So in Chastity Gulch, Maggie and the Union soldier are competing for the Confederate doctor’s affections? I would totally watch that in a 1980s tv movie…

  16. Amy Woj

    Is that an Asian knot print on the front of the rose-colored North and South gown? I keep hoping it’s a watermark…

  17. Shawna Spiteri

    All I want to know is when are we going to have a bad movie night and watch The Wild Women of Chastity Gulch? I need an evening of pants-wetting hilarity.

  18. Liutgard

    So I *did* do a quick search here, so don’t yell at me- but have you reviewed ‘Centennial’ or ‘Roots’? Especially Centennial. Some very interesting stuff there…

  19. Kendra

    We appreciate you trying! Nope, we haven’t talked about either — I haven’t seen either, although Roots is definitely on my list. Did you see they’re making a new version, coming out later this year?

  20. Heather

    Awesome post. “The Blue and the Grey” was filmed in and around the town I grew up in (Fayetteville, AR). My boyfriend (we’re talking 4th grade, so we weren’t super serious) was an extra and got to meet Gregory Peck, who played Abraham Lincoln. And a girl a couple years ahead of us had, gasp, a SPEAKING ROLE. Good times.

  21. BarleySinger

    Hey “Kirstie”. Madonna called… she want’s her black (bad polyester) finger-less lace gloves back. And cleavage in 1860 America was NOT a duplication of a “modest” (by their definitions) 1780s curved bustline Cirocco.

      • Joe

        Sometime you ought to do a post about the way that women’s Victorian-era gloves are (in)accurately represented in film. “The King and I” (Yul Brynner/Deborah Kerr version) is the worst offender in that regard, IMO. Kerr wears white kid opera gloves in one scene, whereas there was literally no such thing in women’s fashion as gloves longer than wrist level from 1840-1870 or so. I love opera gloves (so much so that I used to have a website devoted to them), but that particular instance is just wrong on so many levels.

  22. AnaMarija Abramovic

    “North and South” and “Napoleon” are incredibly well done and detailed as far as the storyline is concerned, I would recommend them even in the face of these costumes.

  23. Angel17

    If I may, I’d like to defend the Green frock Kirstie Alley is wearing. It’s supposed to be ill-fitting, she stole it from her sister-in-law, Constance!! That bitch!

  24. Andrea

    There are also some truly lovely and historically accurate machine hems in Ivanhoe.

  25. ladylavinia1932

    I have a few comments regarding “NORTH AND SOUTH”.

    One, I didn’t have a problem with Kirstie Alley’s performance in “NORTH AND SOUTH”. She was one of the best things about that production. However, I didn’t care for the gown she wore at the Mont Royal ball sequence or her hairstyle. She looked like a cast member from “DYNASTY”. Two, the badly fitted gown she wore in “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” did not fit well for a reason – the gown originally belonged to the Constance Hazard character portrayed by Wendy Kilbourne. And Alley was portraying an upper-class Northern woman who lacked the means or the skill to readjust the gown.

    Also, Liz Taylor had a good reason to show a good deal of cleavage in her “North and South” costume. It was fashionable to show décolletage for evening wear in the 19th century. And she was portraying a whorehouse madam.

  26. The Author

    In 1194, even the horses wear half-assed glue on felt and bits that don’t fit! (No joke, that’s 1. a modern stainless-steel eggbutt snaffle that every hunter child of the Eighties still has about 50 of and 2. about 1/2″ too big for that poor horse.) I liked playing “spot the stainless-steel tack and stirrups” in the Tudors, too, though given JRM kept sawing on that poor sandy bay horse’s mouth they probably figured give him something with no leverage. They used period-appropriate tack included long-shank leverage bits in “Gettysburg” to go with the period-appropriate hair and costumes and at one point Stephen Lang almost flips his horse (a leverage bit is designed for little/no direct rein, slamming a horse in the mouth when they’re wearing one could hurt. He and the horse both seem genuinely startled when an explosion goes off, he pops the horse, and it nearly goes over backwards.)

    Speaking of Civil War costuming, I will give Donny Osmond minor, minor props for having something young attractive male characters in 1980s Civil War dramas never have–facial hair. It’s not accurate, but at least he doesn’t have baby face in that shot.

    • Constance

      The pink transparent gown in Napoleon and also Donny Osmond, in one post, I am dead.

  27. Joe

    Just found this terrific site – I do have one note about the 1987 “Casanova”, which is one of my favorite Silly Costume Period Pieces. (It’s a felony that this movie has never been released on DVD, even through any of the studios’ “archive” series, and can only be found online in its entirety through considerably more, ahem, dubious sources.)

    Anyway, in the group picture of Richard Chamberlain with a bevy of beauties, #8, the brunette in peach to the far left, is actually Marina Baker, the Playboy centerfold for March 1987. She appeared topless in the European version of the movie, which is about 30 minutes longer than the U.S. broadcast version (and even that is longer than the butchered version that was released on VHS in the early 1990’s), along with most of the other actresses in that picture.

    She’s best known otherwise these days for having been romantically involved with Daniel Craig at that time, and for more recently being a politician (at one time the mayor of a suburban community on the English coast) and environmentalist activist.

  28. mmcquown

    Bad is bad, no matter what part of the production it comes from. And what, pray tell, was the point of hiring reenactors, if not for their (theoretically) more authentic costumes? Sometimes, a thing can be too good. My second wife made a costume for her brother for a production at his little theatre group that was so much better than what the costume shop had come up with that they ended up having to re-do all the others. It was worth the effort: the show looked so much better.

    • Liutgard

      Irritatingly enough, I’ve hear of production companies who make a big deal of consulting reenactors (even local SCA costumers) and talk about how they want to make their thing soooo authentic, and how they soooo love our stuff… and then totally disregard everything we say, totally wasting our time. Aggravates the hell out of me.

  29. Kendra

    1. Reread the intro to the post! “Also, I haven’t seen ANY of these! So they could very well be god’s gift to acting/storytelling/whatever.”

    2. This site focuses on costumes in historically-set movies & TV shows/series, so that’s our angle. Of course, there are other angles (see #1 again).

  30. ladylavinia1932

    I’m sorry, but I don’t regard the “North and South” miniseries or “The Blue and the Gray” or even “George Washington” as shitty movies or miniseries. The costumes may not have been perfect, but I was more than impressed by the writing and acting found in them.

  31. Laura G

    If you just ignore the costumes, Anthony Hopkins “Hunchback of Notre Dame” was really good. It had a terrific cast that included John Gielgud and Derek Jacobi as Claude Frollo. Pity about the costumes though.

  32. mmcquown

    The writer of the North and South novels was John Jakes, whose previous literary efforts were the Brak the Barbarian novels. Apparently, he had input on the screenplay. It’s appalling that with all the sources for American and English Civil War, Napoleonic, and Rev War sources that these things can be done so badly. On the other hand, is there a list of the 10 best costume flicks?