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We frequently critique and mock the costumes in historical films for inaccuracies — making the wrong choices for the period. But sometimes the problem is much more basic: shitty sewing and fitting skills. A costume can be 1000% historically accurate, but if it doesn’t fit right? It’s just BAD. Here’s a wander through some particularly stellar bad decisions committed to celluloid:
Somebody’s Eyes Are Bigger/Smaller Than Their Head
We’ve complained about face-eating wigs before, but it’s not good when ANYTHING eats the actor’s face… or makes them look like their head just suddenly swelled up to twice its natural size.
Needs More Fabric
We know, balancing a budget is hard. But buying enough yardage is just baseline, people!
Skirts should fit over hoops with room to spare — and I’m not talking a few inches! Otherwise, you end up with the dreaded lampshade effect, where the skirt hugs the hoop too closely at the hem and your actress looks like an idiot.
I’m Guessing This Was Made for Another Actress
Okay, yes, costumes are FREQUENTLY recycled from one production to another — that’s the breaks of dealing with a budget, which means productions have to rent/buy from costume warehouses. But maybe don’t put your leads into the outfits that really clearly aren’t the right size?
Too Much Fabric
On the other hand, there’s buying more fabric than you need, and then there’s USING all that fabric…
Plausibly for Character/Story Reasons
Satin Isn’t Your Friend
Of course, fitting is hard, and costume makers often have too little time to fit their actors. But if you’re in any doubt, don’t use satin. It shows EVERYTHING.
I’m Guessing This Was Made for Another Actress/Actor
See above about needing to reuse/recycle costumes from previous productions. But you might want to make a few alterations…
Where Is My Waist?
Modern fashion has completely borked most people’s ideas of where their waist is — both men and women think it’s higher or lower than it is (it’s generally around your belly button, or wherever you are smallest on your torso). Consequently, we get a whole host of problems, like:
I’ve Worn Low-Rise Jeans All My Life
This one is a KILLER! The problem is that if you drop a woman’s waist over a full skirt, it causes some seriously wonky fitting issues. To wit:
I’ve Worn Low-Rise Jeans All My Life: Boy Edition
I’ll never forget hearing an interview with Jon Hamm from Mad Men, who said the first time they put him in 1960s-style trousers (which fit at the natural waist), he’d never seen a zipper that long in his life.
The other side of the coin is when you cut your waistline too high, without accounting for that in the skirt. Most high-waisted eras have gowns with bodices sewn to skirts, because otherwise you get the dreaded gaposis between the bottom of the bodice and the top of the skirt.
Wait I Have Shoulders?
We get it. Fitting is hard! And shoulders are these bony protrusions that can get in the way of your sewing fu. But they must be accounted for, because otherwise you end up with this:
Armscyes ARE Hard
Or, the dreaded cold-shoulder look.
Not Accounting for Bosoms
Boobs are hard, people. Sometimes you’ve got too little, sometimes too much, they’re annoying when you run or sleep on your stomach … But most women have some kind of curvature on their chest, so let’s start figuring out how to handle them, eh?
Needs Bust Pads
Mid-Victorian (1840s-60s) bodices have a particular problem, which is a dropped armhole creating wrinkling above the bust. Real Victorians solved this by padding this area. Clearly this is news to some modern costumers:
Somebody’s Eyes Are Bigger Than Their Boobs
Sometimes it seems like a maker got overly optimistic about the cup size they were working with, and there’s Just Not Enough Boob to fill things out. Two words: chicken cutlets!
Then you flip the coin, and we’re Just Not Leaving Enough Room.
Can’t Find My Underbust
The famous “Empire” line was worn during a few periods in history (late 15th century, early 19th, early 20th), and it worked like this: the “waistline” was moved up to somewhere around the underbust point. It did not, however, happen mid-bustline.
Can’t Find My Bust Point
The bust point is the fullest part of the bust. Generally, it’s at nipple point, but if you’re wearing a corset, it can be as high as the top edge of the corset. The issue is that the bustline then gets smaller from that point, and with a corset, that line happens dramatically. It’s important to know where your bust point is, because the bodice seamlines will need to change from that point on, or you’re left with this:
Fabric nipples occur when you try to add bust darts to a cone-shaped corset. The problem is cone-shaped corsets are 16th-18th century, and bust darts are 19th-20th century, when bust curve was fashionable. So trying to take a fitting technique made for a curvy silhouette and apply it to a cone-shaped garment… not a good idea.
To all of these, I have just one word:
Got any similarly stellar examples of shitty sewing on-screen? Share them in the comments!