SNARK WEEK: Cold Shoulders Leave Me Cold


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I’m not a fan of the “cold shoulder” look in modern fashion, but when the look creeps into historical films and TV shows, it’s like nails on a chalk board. It’s a straight-up modern look that has no earthly reason to be in any flick that’s set pre-mid-20th-century. And yet, cold shoulders abound in movies set in medieval and renaissance eras. Let’s look at some of the more notable offenders:


Queen Margot (1994)

Why is it that the French can make something tacky look so elegant? This was the first period film I recall seeing a cold shoulder gown make an appearance, and in fact, I hadn’t even internalized it was a cold shoulder gown until I was doing research for this post!

1994 queen margot

Even covered in blood, this gown is fabulous.


Dangerous Beauty (1998)

The film that inspired a thousand renfaire knock-offs, and probably helped to cement the cold shoulder gown as a staple in films set in the renaissance.

1998 Dangerous Beauty

Because nothing says sexy like baring as much skin as you can theoretically get away with.


Robin Hood (2007-2009)

The Beeb’s “Robin Hood for the Playstation Generation” relies hard on the cold shoulder look to “sexy up” Maid Marion’s look.

2006-09 Robin Hood

Also, the unnecessary lacing and unnecessary corset. Unnecessary!


The Tudors (2007-2010)

Of course, The Tudors makes use of the cold shoulder, but only for “artistic purposes.”


I have to wonder if this was a recycled costume from Dangerous Beauty


Camelot (2011)

I think you all should know that I wrote “Cameltoe” here, and I’m not sure it’s an accident. This movie was baaaaad and the costumes were worse.

2011 Camelot

The bra strap look is a medieval classic.


Da Vinci’s Demons (2013-2014)

This show was a frequent off-the-shoulder-offender. Virtually no female character was exempt.

Da Vinci's Demons (2013-14)

I weep for the abuse of that silk damask…

Da Vinci's Demons (2013-14)

There’s four strikes in this Da Vinci’s Demons ensemble: 1) cold shoulders; 2) waist cincher; 3) free-flowing hair; 4) cotton Swiss dot.

2013-14 DaVinci's Demons

Ok, now they’re just not even trying. The dress doesn’t even fit the actress!


Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (2016)

Everyone but me liked this flick. I just couldn’t get past the David’s Bridal gowns.

2016 Pride Prejudice Zombies

Can’t kill zombies without baring your shoulders, apparently.


Still Star Crossed (2017)

Trystan wanted to like this TV series, but just couldn’t manage it. I noped out when I saw the still of Rosaline in this cold-shoulder bodice.

Still Star Crossed (2017)

I’m not sure what offends me more, the cold shoulder bodice, or the fact that her sleeves are 3″ too short even still.


Knightfall (2017-)

Kendra wants me to watch this series for the blog, but 2 minutes into the first episode and I couldn’t handle the testosterone overload.

2017-19 Knightfall

Knightfall (2017-) is off to a cringe-inducing start with the bra-strap cold-shoulder look.


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24 Responses

  1. Nora

    Ugh, I hate the modern cold shoulders fad with the fire of thousand suns, so to see it weasel its way into “historical” films is just too much. :P
    Also, P&P and Zombies was a painful experience, I’m with you there!

    • Kelly

      Exactly! Most of the time it would look better as either off the shoulder or regular long sleeves. It’s like people think that but of skin makes it a bit sexy but like, it just looks awkward.

  2. MoHub

    As soon as I found out that Knightfall was produced by Domenic Minghella, who also produced the 2006 Robin Hood, I decided to give it a miss.

  3. Eilis

    I think I saw that Camelot dress pattern in a late-90s Simplicity costume catalog. sigh I get what they were going for here, but the cold shoulder is soooo off (no pun intended).

    • Maryanne Cathro

      The Knightfall photo is hilarious! The chair armrests aren’t that noticeable and it looks like they’re all trying to get air into their armpits or something. Which given the amount of dead dino in their costumes may be legit. Also wishing I had the Photoshop skills to put each ofthem on an ape bar Harley.

  4. Andrew.

    I think the movie costume idea of off-the-shoulder gowns in the Middle Ages can be laid at the doorstep of the illuminated Bible of Wenceslas IV, (1389). Setting aside the many bathhouse attendants depicted, there are several instances of close-fitting OTS gowns. In the illuminations available on line it is hard to see if there are chemises worn underneath but the OTS gowns are distinctly outerwear.

    Mind you, the woman depicted wearing the OTS clothes in these samples is Delilah so that may have some bearing. Still, OTS gowns do seem to be a Bohemian fashion in the late 14th C.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      1) I seriously doubt the folks involved in any of these productions knew about that research. 2) Those are also exceptional styles, not the standard, most common styles of the period. Let’s face it, these historical TV shows/movies are totally inspired by modern 20th/21st-century fashion!

  5. picasso Manu

    And remember, ladies didn’t shave. Our fear of any kind of hair is fairly recent. But that doesn’t mean it was shown, neither in fashion or IN PAINTINGS (there’s a painting at the Musée d’Orsay that never fails to make me laugh: it’s called “La Vérité” by Bougereau. Well, might be Truth, but there’s nary a armpit or pubic hair…in fact there’s no need for pubic hair since there’s nothing there! Some truth!)… Anyway, it must have been a bit iffy in the brocade, methinks. All the best reason to keep all that closed, and with a CHEMISE, Godammit!

    • MoHub

      The failure of art critic Joseph Ruskin’s marriage is attributed to his shock at finding out that his wife had body—especially pubic—hair. He had never seen such things in classical paintings and statues and couldn’t understand why his wife had hair on anything other than her head. She was lucky enough to run off with a man who understood her body for what it was.

      • MoHub

        Oops! I meant John. Ruskin. Joseph was a character actor in the 1960s. My mistake.

  6. Susan Pola Staples

    Gag. Vomit…that’s what these – except PP&Z which I liked- OTS dresses make me want to do.

  7. Rebecca M.

    HAHAHA The Tudors dress was actually from Dangerous Beauty, but you only saw it on Veronica when she is sitting down. They reused SOOO many dresses from DB when making that show. It actually is a fun game to spot the rental. It happened in every season that a main character would wear at least one dress from DB.

    And the 3rd Da Vinci dress is from Ever After. Gotta love it when the costume department just gives up.

  8. Nzie

    I find cold shoulder shirts and dresses annoying and silly for the most part. Then I had misplaced luggage and bought a shirt not knowing it had a slit on the sleeve—mere moments after I’d given a short rant in the store on how much I hated them. Oops. :-)

    Weirdly though I was looking up 1890s last night and I spotted a photo from the period with a cold shoulder look! I was shocked. Naturally I can’t find it now, but I did find this fashion plate with a different cold should style in an evening dress.

    That doesn’t justify any of these looks though. I was just surprised by it.

  9. Charity

    I LOVED PPZ but… Lizzie’s ballgown was a big miss for me. The rest of the time, I liked her costumes.

  10. Brandy Loutherback

    I don’t like it on either, so I AM here for the cold shoulder mockery! If I have to see it on more time I will RIP the offending Shirt/Dress off the offender body!

  11. Terry Towels

    Cold shoulders are good for old ladies who want to feel youthful. After about 50-60, the chicken wings set in, but the shoulders still look good. So, long sleeved is good (holds in the flapping) and cold-shoulders for oomph.

    (Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything–nah, I just live to be a horrible example– sleeveless in the summer)

    But, you will find these tops in catalogs that cater to women of a certain age.

  12. themodernmantuamaker

    I hate this SO much. It’s like flames; flames…on the side of my face….

  13. M.E. Lawrence

    Oh, god, the stuff those “Tudors” costumers gave Katherine Howard is even worse than I remember. (I think I just blocked the images, and concentrated on poor K.H. acting as if she were about to ask Henry for a ride to the Hampton Shopping Centre to hang with her besties.)

    The modern bare-shoulder look in wedding dresses also drives me mad: sweet young things trying to carry off frocks only Lena Horne or Ava Gardner could manage.

  14. pandorrah

    You are correct, the dress pictured on your still of Katherine Howard from the Tudors is wearing a recycled costume from Dangerous Beauty.

  15. Amanda

    Knightfall is rough costume wise. It gets worse for Isabella, and queen joan’s drop-shoulders are even worse.