TBT: Doctor Zhivago (1965)


OMG, you people suggested Doctor Zhivago (1965) and now I think you have a death wish for me! Over three hours of ’60s bouffants and Russian fur hats, with pathetic costumes and heapin’ helpings of misogyny and boring old war.

Supposedly set during the 1910s through the 1930s, this film is 100% in styled in the 1960s when it was filmed. Sorry, Phyllis Dalton, I know the Academy gave you the Oscar for Best Costume Design, but they clearly weren’t judging on historical accuracy. Yeah, sure, the “look” of Doctor Zhivago was super popular at the time in contemporary clothes (and still is, in some ways) with fur trim, oversized sweaters, and asymmetrical closures in high fashion being called ‘Zhivago’ style. But that’s not my issue. I’m irritated that that costumes have so little to do with the historical period of the, y’know, history of the time period the movie is set in.

Yves Saint Laurent's Russian Collection, 1976

Yves Saint Laurent’s Russian Collection of 1976 was no more historically accurate than this film.

Alas, in this giant flick, the Russian Revolution is incoherently enacted, as is World War I. Despite three hours of footage directed by David Lean, with all the wide, sweeping vistas and hundreds of extras in uniform, I’m no more clear on WTFrock happened during this part of history than if I cruised through Wikipedia (actually, Wikipedia helped more; the movie was just prettier).

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Token revolutionary is token.

So, OK, if the history is just a backdrop that we’re supposed to ignore, then the characters should be fascinating, right? Well, IDK, maybe they were back in 1965, but they don’t hold up today for me, especially from a feminist POV (which makes me think this was a retrograde flick in its own time, hello, Betty Friedan, much?).

Contemporary reviews praise Julie Christie for the role of Lara as mesmerizing and pivotal. But I see her as pathetic and weak. Lara is just a sad trope, a woman who is admired and used for her beauty and nothing more. In the first scenes, she says something about studying and working on a scholarship, but super-fast, she finds she can advance by trading on her sexuality with an older man, even if her affair sends her mother to a suicide attempt (though mom was the one who set up Lara and the old guy, UGH). She briefly fights against that man’s rapey actions by trying to shoot him, but it’s a minor incident, quickly passed over.

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Then she heads to the war zone to follow her new husband, but doesn’t really find him. So instead, Lara has an affair with the eponymous Zhivago, who’s married to his cousin. Wut? Whatever. All Lara wants is sex or love or validation from men, I guess. How old fashioned. She’s just a cipher for these men’s desires. Or at least that’s how David Lean directed her or Boris Pasternak wrote her in the original 1957 novel.

And the men aren’t much better — they’re cardboard caricatures. They’re either horndogs (and poets on the side; those go together) or political revolutionaries. This makes for a really boring film, nor is there much sex to keep the fires going. There’s about two creepy sex scenes and maybe two romantic ones, nothing explicit, just implied, snooooooooze.

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Since the film has nothing much to recommend it IMNSHO, let’s just get down with the snark. Here’s my rundown of the crazy 1960s bouffants, giant fur hats, and other anachronisms in Doctor Zhivago!


Lara’s Black Fur Beret

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

So mysterious! So 1960s!

Our heroine is introduced in the film wearing black fur and bangs. The director will be using this kind of closeup of her eyes A LOT, so get used to it. She’s sexy and irresistible or something, I guess.


Moscow’s Crappiest Dressmaker

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

The gown on the dressform kinda looks OK for 1910s, but the lavender dress center-front has 1960s-style bust darts and is probably a heavy polyester.

Lara comes home to her mom’s dressmaking shop, where everyone slaves to make historically inaccurate clothing.

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Why is that dressform wrapped in brown paper? Is that supposed to be a shitty attempt at patterning or are they going to FedEx it somewhere? Do any of these seamstresses know WTFrock they’re doing?


Lara’s Schoolgirl Bouffant

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

All innocent ‘n sweet ‘n stuff.

Yeah, sure, whatever. I’ll give this a pass — EXCEPT FOR THE BOUFFANT.


Lara’s Dinner-With-Future-Sugar-Daddy Bouffant & Bow

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

The dress doesn’t totally suck — it’s generically Edwardian girl-ish, I suppose.

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

But is that a Bump-It?

Sure, young girls and teenagers would wear their hair down during this era, but here’s what it would actually look like:

C. early 1910s | Photodetective.co.uk

No bouffants in action, and the bows are the only big thing going.


Tonya’s “Barbie at the Moscow Station” Suit

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Who doesn’t love a Pepto Bismal pink suit?

Yuri Zhivago’s cousin, Tonya, returns home (the first time we see her as an adult in the film), and she sure does stand out at the train station. Close, but nope, not right for the period, as you could guess.

1915 October fashions

Some actual 1915 winter fashions with “a distinctly Cossack note” and a totally different shape than Tonya’s outfit.


Lara’s Slutty Red Dress & Bouffant Updo

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Yeah, she didn’t pick this dress out, but…

Did her sugar daddy provide a dress that’s 10 years out of date? Because, if I’m extremely generous, this red dress is similar in silhouette to an 1900s evening gown.

Harper’s Bazar, 1901

Kinda sorta the same shape as this gown from Harper’s Bazaar, 1901. If you squint.

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

But there’s always the bouffant, now with an updo. Not helping.

You know what she should be wearing? Does anyone care?

1913 evening gowns

Something like these 1913 evening gowns. Yeah, yeah, I’m asking too much.

The mirror shows off her bouffant in all its glory. How many fake hairpieces are up there?

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Fake hair, don’t care.

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Hot bouffant action!


Tonya’s Slinky ’60s Edwardian Gown

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Lest you think Lara gets the only historically inaccurate gowns around here!

This also looks nothing like the 1910s evening gowns pictured above. I can give Tonya’s hair a pass for being randomly Gibson Girl-esque though.

1960s wedding dress patterns

Honestly, Tonya’s outfit reminds me of these 1960s wedding dress patterns.

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

These costumes make me sad!


Lara’s Innocent Bouffant & Bow With Her Fiance

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Her true wuv (for the moment) Pasha doesn’t care that she’s a slut, awww!

I guess going back to the hair-down-with-bow shows she’s remorseful about the whole sugar-daddy thing. Whatever!


Tonya’s Massive ’60s Updo at the Ball

Doctor Zhivago (1965)


Tonya and Yuri are going to announce their engagement at a fancy ball, so everyone breaks out the Aqua-Net and 1960s hairpieces. It’s all-bouffants, all the time! Tonya’s dress is probably the most historically accurate costume in the whole film, but her hair is so distracting, I can’t even.

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Mega bouffant action!


Lara’s Little Ball Bouffant

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

She’s not here to party.

Lara isn’t dressed up, so she just slaps her hair into an everyday bouf’ and is good to go.


Old Lady With Crappy Hair & Gown at the Ball

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

This lady announces Tonya & Yuri’s engagement.

How is this dress not something they pulled off the rack from a ’60s department store? How is that not the same hairstyle any woman of her age would wear to a fancy event in 1965?


A Plethora of Very ’60s Hair at the Ball – Old Lady With Wiglet

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

It’s way too easy to spot the wiglet just plopped on the top of this old lady’s head.

I wasn’t even trying to ID all this bad hair. It jumped out at me. For a movie with a huge budget, I feel like very little of it was spent on costumes and zero on the extras.


A Plethora of Very ’60s Hair at the Ball – Lady in a Layered Cut

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Layers, people, layers!

Mom hair, dental assistant hair, WHATEVER, IT’S NOT EDWARDIAN.


A Plethora of Very ’60s Hair at the Ball – Woman Wearing the Same Style of Wig My Southern Grandmothers Wore in the ’60s

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

I’ve seen this before.

Both my grandmothers in Florida wore wigs and hairpieces well into the 1970s because it was quite the fashion, and as a kid, I thought this was super-cool because my mom was a cross between a hippie and a no-nonsense working woman (meaning, her hair was wash-‘n-wear and so was mine!). I loved playing with grandmom’s wigs and going to the beauty parlor with grandma!

1960s-1970s grandmoms

I only have faded photos from this era, so the hair doesn’t show up much. But check out the fancy braid on the left! And trust that both have the high, teased curls just like the lady in the film.

Yeah, my grandmothers back in the ’60s and ’70s were not wearing 1910s hairstyles.


A Plethora of Very ’60s Hair at the Ball – Lady in a Bouffant & a Cheap Tinsel Tiara

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

If the hair wasn’t bad enough, that “tiara” looks like it was recycled from Christmas-tree decorations.

OK then, what should all these ladies’ hair really like? Here are some examples…

Oslo Museum, 1910

Oslo Museum, 1910

Vogue, 1912

Vogue, 1912

Esther Cleveland, c. 1918

And here’s what the hair does look like…

1960s Fredericks wig advertisement

1960s Fredericks wig advertisement


Tonya’s White Fur Hoodie

Doctor Zhivago (1965)


Since she’s wearing it on the way home from the ball, this is probably the second most historically accurate outfit in the film.


The Fam in Their 1960s Clothes & Hair

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

I haven’t even mentioned Yuri’s ’60s ‘do — men’s 1910s hair would be slicked back and shorter. His uncle and aunt look a little more historically accurate, but they don’t get much screentime.

1910, Nikolay Vissarionovich Nekrasov

1910, Russian government minister Nikolay Vissarionovich Nekrasov, executed during Stalin’s Great Purge.


Lara’s Giant Kerchief (You Know There’s a Bouffant Under There), Part 1

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Getting peasanty.

During WWI, Lara’s hubby Pasha goes missing, so she becomes a field nurse. Much kerchief action ensues.


Lara’s Giant Kerchief (You Know There’s a Bouffant Under There), Part 2

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

No really, WTFrock is under there?!?

C’mon, how big does that kerchief need to be? I have long hair, I’ve wrapped fabric around my head, but it’s never looked that gigantic! Girlfriend, please.


Lara’s Peasant-Style Everyday Bouffant

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

There’s a war and a revolution going, but she has time for this hairstyle and false eyelashes.

Yuri meets up with Lara, they run a field hospital, she also has a farm or something, wearing her very-not-peasanty version of traditional Russian peasant clothes.

1917 pre Revolution Russian peasant women

These 1917 pre-Revolution Russian peasant women say “nyet!”


Lara’s Little Grey Fur Hat

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Very Mod Squad.

It’s cold (duh, it’s Russia). It’s also the 1960s, I guess.


Tonya’s Modern Bra Showing Through Her 1910s Shirt

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Sometimes, we just have to point these things out.

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Yup, both coming and going.

It’s not that I expected any of the women to be wearing corsets (when they should be), but between the costume designer, director, and cinematographer, couldn’t they have made sure that the outline of her modern bra didn’t show? Pretty please?


Lara’s Endless Bouffantery

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

David Lean’s favorite shot. Blerg.



Lara’s Little Brown Fur Hat & Matching Sweater

Doctor Zhivago (1965)


I guess the sweaters are supposed to be 1920s sportswear. The film doesn’t have a lot of clues about how much time is passing historically, just some unnamed war scenes.

1921 women's sweaters

Sure, her brown sweater does bear a resemblance to those in this catalog image for 1921 women’s sweaters. But the hat and hair are still wrongity-wrong.


Lara’s Grey Sweater & Bouffant

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

You were surprised that I found one accurate item of clothing, weren’t you?

These sweaters, though, are off-the-rack 1960s.


Lara’s Big Fur Hat

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

A classic.

Not a historical classic — the traditional Russian fur hat (called an ushanka) has ear flaps that can be tied up on the sides.


Lara With Her Hair Down!

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Hanging free.

Because sometimes, you just get tired of all that Aqua-Net out in the Ural Mountains.


Lara’s White Sweater & Bouffant

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Casual, as you do.

I give up.


Lara’s Big Fur Hat, Reprise

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Say good-bye to all this.

Nice lip gloss.


Lara in Mourning

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Hey, did she lose the bouffant?!?

Keeping it real for Yuri’s funeral.


Lara in the 1930s, Supposedly

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

She has a sad.

Searching through orphanages for her and Yuri’s child, she’s lost everything — EVEN HER BOUFFANT! TRAGEDY!



Have you made it through Doctor Zhivago’s historical inaccuracies?

25 Responses

  1. Frannie Germeshausen

    I dislike Dr. Zhivago. Thank you for articulating why.

    • M.E. Lawrence

      It’s not a classic, it just has that “sweep” so appealing to the Oscars. Hated the damned rainbow at the end, too. But Christie is always worth watching, even in bad make-up.

  2. Johnny

    LOL agree about the hair, ratted and sprayed hair in the Russian Revolution!? But I have to say that the red dress that Julie Christie wears has a special place in my heart.

  3. Nit-Picking Badger

    This was a fabulously and (well-deserved) snarky review. I’ve never like Zhivago, even when seeing it age nine and getting told that this was fabulous. Everybody is so slap-able. And could never buy Julie Christie (in the bouffant) as this luminous creature that was a justifiable object of adoration. I saw it recently now as an adult and gosh, it’s even MORE annoying. And the costumes are hideous. I did like the the private armoured train carriage at that early age but I was strange.

  4. Heidilea

    My mom made me watch this with her one Sunday afternoon when I was 12. I remember loving that red ‘hoor’ dress, but being bored to tears for the 3 hours it was on, and having to ask my mom a lot of “what is going on?” Good to know that it wasn’t just me, it was the film!

  5. Zach

    I saw this movie years and years ago, and don’t remember much about it– but i gave the book a shot last year and couldn’t get through it. I’m pretty convinced at this point that the only reason Dr. Zhivago managed to become so popular is due to the CIA’s behind-the-scenes promotion of the book as anti-soviet propaganda.

  6. Christy Jenkins

    The only things I like about this film is Geraldine Chaplin, Charlie Chaplin’s daughter, as Tonya, and that spooky, surreal house half-full of ice. I love Omar Sharif in other stuff, but can’t stand him in this. He’s not sexy or charming, just a whiny cheater.
    I loved it when I was a kid though. I even had a music box that played “Lara’s Theme.”

    • Trystan L. Bass

      The ice house was pretty damn cool to see.

      Oh gawd, I had that music box too! Wasn’t every girl-child in the ’70s issued one? I was looking for an audio file of it to embed in this post that would play that tune just to irritate everyone.

  7. Frannie Germeshausen

    I hate this movie. It does my heart good that you do, too.

  8. Susan Pola Staples

    The only thing or actually two things I liked in the film was Tonya’s White Hoodie and the ice full house.

    Wonder if you’re reviewing the Keira Knightley Zhivago?

  9. Working Mom Having It All

    Oh god that screencap of them at the table in coats and turtlenecks and fingerless gloves is like what you would wear if the pipes froze, or if there were a blizzard at your summer cottage in June. There is no WAY that’s how any real Russian would really dress during a typical winter. Even in a time when that isn’t all highly anachronistic 60s Sears Catalog clothes. It looks so ridiculous (forgive me if this scene truly is a June blizzard, it’s been probably 10 years since I saw this movie and I’m happy to keep it that way).

  10. Lillian

    I once watched this movie with my brother and grandma (or, more accurately, hung out with them and read a book while it was playing in the background. I kept wondering, is it over yet?

  11. Justme

    I have to confess that i’ve never watched the film. I tried reading the book years ago, but it bored me to tears, and was really hard to keep track of all the characters (think Forsyte Saga, only multiply the number of characters by ten). Lara seemed to be given more agency in the book, but her decisions still don’t make a lot of sense, and none of the characters are at all likeable, especially Yuri (Zhivago). He develops this creepy fixation on Lara early on in the book, and this is treated as perfectly fine and normal. Then his wife and children are conveniently deported to France to get them out of the way so that he and Lara can be together, but instead, everybody dies senselessly. And i didn’t even care. It was like “welp, good thing i never got attached to any of the characters.” I think it’s regarded as great literature and people like it so much because of it’s critical treatment of the new regime after the Bolshevik revolution (which is why he couldn’t publish it in the Soviet Union).
    My mom likes the film. I couldn’t be bothered to watch it, and now i’m glad i never did.

  12. EA Gorman

    I read this book and A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch for my Russian History class in high school 30 years ago, and we saw both films. Now I know why I preferred the latter. Thank you for breaking down the costumes. [Ivan Denisovich’s costumes are much more boring.]

  13. A Reader

    I saw this movie when it was released, and also read the book. Didn’t connect with either of them; was left feeling like “what is all the fuss about over this?” Kept my opinion to myself in those days.

  14. Roxana

    Omar Sharif is pretty and Alec Guiness is in it…. Not enough.

  15. Alissa

    Thank you for the review! I am rolling with laughter, as a Russian :)) While enjoying pictures of the stunningly beautiful Julie Christie.
    A note regarding ushanka hats: they are originally male hats, while round-shape fur hats are actually quite fine for Russian women, sometimes with a tail (like the Yves Saint Laurent’s). Women started wearing ushanka hats probably at the WWII time, at least as pictured in our movies. They are also extremely popular in Siberia where I came from, since they are the best to protect ears in the winter cold (believe me, -45 degrees Celcius is so cold the air burns your lungs, you almost cannot breathe). Unlike men, women usually wore the earflaps tied up or back, only letting them down/tied under chin in severe weather. There is also a less expensive version, like half-ushanka, where earflaps are sewn up and cannot be let down – retaining the shape, but requiring less fur, only on the outside. It was SO funny when in the 1990s ushanka hats (with earflaps down) came into high Western fashion and we saw them in TV shows and fashion magazines :))

  16. Jez

    It wasn’t exactly hard for Doctor Zhivago to win that Best Costume Oscar.

    Look at what was nominated

    Doctor Zhivago (winner)
    The Greatest Story Ever Told
    The Agony and the Ecstasy
    Inside Daisy Clover
    The Sound of Music

    Doctor Zhivago’s costumes had plenty of beauty and detail despite the so-called anachronisms.