SNARK WEEK: Battenberg Lace

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Snark Week is all about the nitpicking, and this post is dedicated to a little nitpick that bugs the crap out of Kendra. But I’m writing about it because, some years ago, I researched the topic for part of a class I taught at Costume College. Teamwork makes dreamwork here at Frock Flicks HQ!

Here’s the problem: a lot of historical costume movies and TV shows use Battenberg lace parasols and fans because they look ye olde-timey and, of course, because they’re cheap and easy to find these days. As we’ve said a billion times before, we get it, budgets are a thing in film production! But that doesn’t mean we have to like it, and especially during Snark Week, it’s no holds barred.

OK, what is this lace? What’s generally called Battenberg lace is a type of tape lace, meaning it’s made up of tapes that are folded or twisted and connected by strings. Today, the whole thing can be machine made. Tape laces do date to around the 16th or 17th century and were used in clothing.

1650-1700 - Venetian Mezzo Punto lace cuff

c. 1650-1700 – Venetian Mezzo Punto lace cuff. From Lace For Study website.

But tape laces weren’t the most popular of laces for garments or accessories. In the mid 19th century, they were mostly used on household linens like tablecloths, until the very end of the 1800s when Battenberg lace made it to dresses. It wasn’t until the 1920s that Battenberg lace was really used for parasols and fans.

Now why is it wrong? Well at least partly because it wasn’t used in alllllllll the various and many time periods it’s plopped down in! Sure, the costume department can Amazon Prime these babies to whatever shoot is going on, but please, we’re tired of seeing it.

battenburg lace parasol amazon

$25 each on Prime! Cheaper in bulk on AliExpress.

battenburg lace fan amazon

If you need it tomorrow, this can be yours for $13! But we’re gonna bitch about it.

Also, these modern versions can look clunky and cheap — because they are cheap, duh. But hey, paper parasols were used starting in the 19th century and can look less cheap, and cloth parasols are appropriate for any era.

1901, The Mall, Central Park by Maurice Prendergast, via Wikimedia.

Look at this sunny day scene with lots of ladies carrying simple, colorful parasols, no lace! That’d look lovely recreated on screen. 1901 – The Mall, Central Park, by Maurice Prendergast, via Wikimedia.

1883 - Danse à la campagne by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Simple paper or fabric folding fans work great for so many eras! 1883 – Detail from Danse à la campagne by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, via Wikimedia.

1901 - Portrait of Mildred Stokes by William Sergeant Kendall, via Wikimedia

Historical evidence of Battenberg lace used in clothing & possibly in the fan. Still more delicate than modern versions. 1901 – Portrait of Mildred Stokes by William Sergeant Kendall, via Wikimedia.

So here’s where frock flicks get it wrong (and you can practically hear Kendra’s teeth gritting in the background)…

snark week - The Tudors (2007-10)

Using a black Battenberg lace fan does NOT make it blend in on The Tudors (2007-10).

Doctor Who, Vampires of Venice (2010)

Sure, they’re vampires & it’s a Doctor Who episode, but they’re in 16th-c. Venice, when these parasols just wouldn’t exist unless the Doctor, Amy, or Rory brought ’em with.

Blackbeard (2006)

The ladies of Blackbeard (2006) not only wear shit that doesn’t fit, but they keep ye olde sun off with ye olde parasols.

Maria Theresia (2017)

Maria Theresia (2017) was deeply committed to the shitty lace fans & parasols!

Maria Theresia (2017)

Kendra had to suffer through all of this when she recapped it during a previous Snark Week.

Maria Theresia (2017)

Oh how she suffers!

The Book of Negroes (2015)

We know The Book of Negroes (2015) had the tiniest of budgets — & the story made up for it in quality! — but we still have to point this out.

Good for Nothing (2011)

I don’t know much about Good for Nothing (2011), made in New Zealand but set in the American old west. But I know this gothy mourning look is clunky AF.

Anna Karenina (2012)

Anna Karenina (2012) got a deal!

The Harder They Fall (2021)

The Harder They Fall (2021) thought they could sneak one by us with blue & white Battenberg lace, hah.

Around the World in 80 Days (2022)

And why would someone have that parasol in 1880s Al Hudaydah in Around the World in 80 Days (2021)? Photo by Joe Alblas – © Slim 80 Days / Federation Entertainment / Peu Communications / ZDF / Be-FILMS / RTBF.

Indian Summers (2015)

Indian Summers (2015) is set in the 1930s, so by now, a Battenberg lace fan is theoretically correct for the period. But a paper or cloth fan would go better with her outfit.

 

OK, lace experts, have at it, because there’s a lot more to the subject, and we barely scratched the surface with this nitpick!

 

 

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16 Responses

  1. Jenny

    Interesting! I’d love to learn more about what kinds of lace were period appropriate. Are there any shows that get it right? I feel like there can’t be many, cause I can’t even really visualize it.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Lace is a huge detailed topic of its own & I’m not an expert, but a lot of the modern machine-made laces — esp. the cheaper stuff found at craft stores — look very wrong compared to lace that’s 100+ years old.

      A couple good ones for early lace: Restoration (1995) used tons of lace, appropriately for the 17th c., & it looked awesome. Tale of Tales (2015) was kind of 17th-c. / fantasy & still had gorgeous period lace like this:

      Tale of Tales

      Reply
  2. hsc

    The thing that gets me the most about those items is that they were actually functional, not just pretty-pretty hand props. Parasols were supposed to protect your complexion, fans were supposed to keep you cool.

    So why would anyone want to make either out of a material with big open areas all over it– as opposed to a solid material that could give you full shade or move air more efficiently?

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Well, conspicuous consumption plays a part too — accessories can just be pretty, with a vague nod towards functionality if you’re rich & idle. But it was far more common to trim a parasol in lace or cover a parasol in lace over another fabric. There are extant historical lace fans that I didn’t include here, which may have been mostly for looks. But still not made of clunky Battenberg lace!

      Reply
      • hsc

        I’ve also heard that there was some sort of “flirtation” thing with fans at one point, where ladies would gesture with them in certain ways to send various signals to convey availability, interest, etc. to a prospective suitor at a ball or other social event.

        Unfortunately, the first place I ever heard of this was in a NATIONAL LAMPOON humor piece back in the early ’70s, which even featured a little chart of “the language of fans.”

        So, I’ve never been sure if this actually was a real practice or just nonsense a NL writer came up with that somehow took on a life of its own and became an urban legend.

        Reply
    • JLou

      “Parasols were supposed to protect your complexion, …” Yes!

      It drives me absolutely insane to see actors (and reenactors and so-called southern belles in costume) with their parasols propped up and twirling on their shoulders, not providing shade for their faces. I suppose that in films and television, there are some technical issues with not having good lighting on the primary characters in a scene, but please! Protect your delicate complexion, ladies!

      Reply
  3. Susan Pola Staples

    And the lace parasol and fans looked real cheap in Maria Theresa and I bet Maria Doyle Kennedy wanted to bash someone with her 20th century one. It just looked wrong. But what can you expect from a series that cast an actor who was totally inappropriate for HVIII? But they did get a good Katherine (wrong hair, but great acting chops) and Anne Boleyn.

    Reply
  4. SmallCatharine

    One extra point about the fans – the folding fan originated in East Asia and almost certainly didn’t reach England during the reign of Henry VIII – though it may have been a rare import in places like Venice or Lisbon.
    Fans were fashionable in Tudor England, but Catharine should have a fixed hand fan, probably of luxury feathers like ostrich or peacock.

    Reply
  5. Elizabeth W Traylor

    I feel the need to give a shout out to La Cocinera de Castamar. Costuming has some problems (already FrockFlicked), but a fan gets some serious screen time in an episode… plot point kind of thing… and the fan they used was exquisite.

    Reply
  6. Nzie

    Ooh, ok, so this is another thing I will be spotting from here on out. I do actually use hand fans; I wouldn’t use one with lace because I want MOAR AIR hitting me on a hot/humid day.

    Reply

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