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Frock Flicks is an empire built on what annoys us when we watch historical costume movies and TV shows, and one thing that drives me batty is flicks that explicitly state they take place in a certain year, but the costumes don’t match up with that year. Sure, the mainstream average viewer won’t notice that a fashionable lady wouldn’t be wearing bustles in the 1890s, but I sure as hell do! If a movie says it’s set in the 1890s, then the bustle is passé. Related, if a show’s story moves through a significant time, the costumes should change accordingly. A little girl who grows up won’t be wearing the same style of clothes her mother wore.
A lot of frock flicks state the year they’re set with a title card, and when I see one, I’m immediately on alert to nitpick the costumes. Are they accurate for that exact year? Because you don’t need to state the year unless there’s some intricate plot going on that relates to the year or that year is historically significant, as in a biopic or true story. The audience can tell a production is set in the past through the visuals alone, if they’re done well.
If a flick must use them, I prefer title cards that are romantically vague — then the story and costumes aren’t as solidly nailed down to a specific year. Such as:
But it doesn’t have to be all that wild…
It’s when title cards say one thing and the movie or series shows something else in costume that I have a problem. Such as:
Sometimes, the title card / costume mismatch is a result of an “artistic vision”…
Or a title card just throws out a year that relates to a random date within the story — and the costumes don’t match. C’mon, when is this supposed to be set?
And yeah, I don’t expect much historical accuracy from 1980s music videos, but again, don’t throw out a title card and expect me to play along, no matter how much I like the song!
It’s not just title cards that confuse the timeline. Frock flicks based on true events can muck it up if they don’t show the right costume for the specific year their stories happened.
The HBO biopic Elizabeth I (2005) starts in 1579, and part two opens in 1589 and continues until Queen Elizabeth I’s death in 1603. But almost all the costumes are in the 1560s to 1570s style of English gowns with only a couple in the distinctive 1590s wheel-farthingale style, and none in between. There’s little to no progression in fashion shown on the most fashionable woman in the land.
Now you may be giving that a pass because, hey, it’s Helen Mirren in gorgeous costumes designed by Mike O’Neill! Fine, then let’s pick on a more shitty movie, like Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008). Supposedly the most expensive Slovak and Czech film ever made, it tells the story of Erzsébet Bathory who lived from 1560 to 1614. The costumes are all over the place, time-wise.
As a child, she’s dressed in 1630s:
As an adult in the 1590s, at one point she wears something somewhat accurate for the period:
But then around 1600, she’s wearing a 1540s gown:
I’m not even going to discuss all the WTFrock costumes, because you get the idea.
Making films about real people and real events does raise the bar a little bit. Yeah, yeah, I know, these aren’t documentaries, but if it’s supposed to be about Real Person X who lived during Year Z, they should be wearing costumes from Year Z not any old time you want. They don’t have to look identical to the Real Person, just give the general period trappings around them a semblance of the historical period, m’kay?
Such as Becoming Jane (2007), about beloved author Jane Austen, ostensibly set in 1795. That’s an odd transitional period in fashion, so I get that it could be difficult to costume accurately. But it’s not rocket science either.
I kind of hate to pick on low-budget films, but as we always say, there’s no fairness in Snark Week. And the script for Wild Nights With Emily (2019) was great, so it’s a real pity they didn’t give more than a passing thought to the costumes. I guess someone knew that Emily Dickinson lived in the 19th century, so anything from that century worked. Most of the story should take place in the 1850s to 1860s, but you can’t tell stuff like this:
Does it bug you when a frock flick states one year but has costumes from a different year? Share your annoyance in the comments!