TBT: Gaslight (1944)


If you’ve ever heard the term “gaslighting” in reference to a bad relationship, this movie — and the British version in 1940 and the original 1938 play they’re both based on — is where it comes from. It essentially means a form a psychological abuse where one partner (usually male) manipulates the other (usually female) into questioning their sanity. The 1944 movie Gaslight really is the epitome of this term, and, trigger warning, it’s CREEPY AS FUCK.

No lie, about 20 minutes in and my skin was crawling, and I wanted to turn the damn movie off because I couldn’t stand what Gregory was doing to poor Paula. It’s reallyreallyreally hard to watch as 21st-century feminist without railing about patriarchy ‘n shit. Even the ending felt SUPER mansplain-y with the Scotland Yard inspector telling Paula to go to her room while he took care of things. I really wanted her to take the damn knife and kill Gregory in the end. Grrr… OK, I can’t talk about the plot because it makes me angry, so let’s talk about the costumes, because, for a 1940s movie set in the 1880s, the costumes are pretty good.

Mega-designer Irene gave Ingrid Bergman, playing Paula, a wardrobe of gorgeously fitted natural-form gowns, complete with proper hats, gloves, purses, and parasols. There’s a million little buttons, lovely lace, swag bustle drapery, and it all comes together to really fit the era. So while the story made me angry, at least the historical costumes were satisfying!

Gaslight (1944)

Her hair is down in this early scene to emphasize how she’s young and naive. So we’ll let it pass.

Gaslight (1944)

Is that a corset ridge under the bodice? Something’s giving it an excellent fit.

Gaslight (1944)

The striped ‘singing-lesson’ costume on display.

Gaslight (1944)

Clearly, some modern shortcuts were taken.

Gaslight (1944)

But they don’t show onscreen — same outfit as above with the fitted Victorian traveling jacket.

Gaslight (1944)

Even costumes that don’t get a lot of screentime look ah-may-zing.

Gaslight (1944)

The ombre tiered pleats look fab in black and white, even though you blink and you’ll miss them.

Gaslight (1944)

This was Angela Landsbury’s first film — she’s a nasty sneak of a maid, and this is her off-duty dress.

Gaslight (1944)

Can’t go wrong accenting a bustle gown with stripes.

Gaslight (1944)

The happy couple! Well, they look great.

Gaslight (1944)

Lovely 1880s silhouette, and lookit that pom-pom trim, it’s so ridiculously Victorian!

Gaslight (1944)

Her white ballgown is magnificent.

Gaslight (1944)

Alas, it’s hard to find or get a good screencap.

Gaslight (1944)


Gaslight (1944)

Even her aunt’s “prop” costume that sits in the attic is beautiful.

Gaslight (1944)

Nobody wears this in the movie, but it’s still a fantastic gown.



Have you seen Gaslight? Did you enjoy the costumes despite the ick factor?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

19 Responses

  1. Becky Nankivell

    Not costume-related, but on the creepy theme of the movie, this is an interesting point:

    ‘A thriller soaked in paranoia, “Gaslight” is a period films noir that, like Hitchcock’s “The Lodger” and “Hangover Square”, is set in the Edwardian age. It’s interesting to speculate about the prominence of a cycle of films in the 1940s that can be described as “Don’t Trust Your Husband.” It began with three Hitchcock films: “Rebecca” (l940), “Suspicion” (l941), and “Shadow of a Doubt” (l943), and continued with “Gaslight” and “Jane Eyre” (both in l944), “Dragonswyck” (l945), “Notorious” and “The Spiral Staircase” (both l946), “The Two Mrs. Carroll” (l947), and “Sorry, Wrong Number” and “Sleep My Love” (both l948). All of these films use the noir visual vocabulary and share the same premise and narrative structure: The life of a rich, sheltered woman is threatened by an older, deranged man, often her husband. In all of them, the house, usually a symbol of sheltered security in Hollywood movies, becomes a trap of terror.’ — Emanuel Levy

    http://emanuellevy.com/review/dvd/gaslight-7 (Yes, Wikipedia took me there.)

  2. decrepitelephone

    I’ve ALWAYS loved this movie even though the plot is creepy. You DO want to throttle Gregory many times, but I enjoy Paula’s knife monologue where she basically calls him out and tells him to go to hell.

    I’m so happy to see this film finally covered here! It’s a long-time favorite – even the HAIR, even though is slightly modernized, still feels pretty decently close to period styles.

  3. ladylavinia1932

    Lovely coverage of Gaslight — now puh-LEEZE do Saratoga Trunk (another Ingrid movie) and Raintree County!

    No, no, no! Not “Saratoga Trunk”! I cannot deal seeing an image of Flora Robson in blackface.

  4. Julia

    Absolutely love this movie! Just like you said, for a film from the 40s the costumes are unbelievable!

  5. Lyn Robb

    I love this movie! Of course once you know the story it is much less scary on rewatch… And yes you cannot bring a 21st century sensibility while watching.

    Ingrid Bergman never looks more beautiful than she does here — especially in her ballgown (stunning dress).

  6. Melinda

    Hi! Finaly a recap on this one masterpiece too! Although for our moder, equal/feminist mindset it’s annoying and terrifying to see women being tortured, threatened by their hubby, but that’s the way it was! And in representing this depressing patriarchism this movie is just perfect! A man could abuse his wife? yep! A man could send his wife to asylum for little to no reason? Hell yes!!! In costume wise, it was allowed for young misses to the age of 18 wear their hair loose, but after the sweet 18 birthday party, all hair-up. Also I have at my pinterest board a pink flanel petticoat with pom-pom trim, so lovely and girl-y one day have to make it :D The ball gown on screen is an absolute stunner, just as perfect and perriod correct like the costumes from Anna Karenina or The Age Of Innocence :) And I especially love that finally we see the colored costumes, because the ombre toned pleats are so period correct (ombre in shade or thin lines was a hit in the eraly ’80s!) on the walking dress.

  7. Charity

    I love this movie. I ought to get this and a bunch of other creepy films (old and new) together for a Halloween rewatch with my friends. Hmm…

  8. arab200

    This is one of my favorite movies of all time, especially because of the costumes. Without giving anything away, a dress is critical to the plot, so it’s worth watching from that standpoint alone.

    You don’t mention the men’s costumes in the film, but it’s clear from flashbacks that Gregory’s marriage to Paula enables him to become the snappy dresser he always longed to be. His exquisite and expensive clothing, and the activities he engages in while dressed in it, denote his vanity and obsession with luxury. And one can tell that Joseph Cotton is a good guy in part because, while he can clean up well for a musical party given by nobility, he wears comforting tweeds in several scenes where he is required to move around quickly during his investigation of Gregory’s strange behavior.

    All in all, a movie not to be missed!

  9. CatnipTARDIS

    I first saw this in my late teens and had no knowledge of the plot or the gaslighting term. Consequently, this made the film that much creepier and fantastic. The GORGEOUS costumes from one of my favorite periods just adds to my love of this film.

  10. Maureen

    I discovered this movie when I was 13 and I’ve always loved it. The costumes are fantastic and quite accurate. Where did you find those color shots of the costumes on display?

  11. Laura Boyes

    I love love love Frock Flicks, so thank you, for everything!

    I screened this film at the North Carolina Museum of Art this weekend. It was a sold out house, and the audience ADORED the film. As Paula appears at the top of the stairs in her white satin ballgown, the crowd gasped in appreciation. When she says she’s going out–alone–they burst into spontaneous applause. Researching the film for my spoken intro turned up the theory that this cycle of untrustworthy husband films, as well as the Victorian revival craze of the 40s, was in part because women who had freedom during the war years when their husbands were away feared their returning male partners would assert unwelcome control on their lives when they returned from overseas. And, of course the term “gaslighting” has currency in the recent US elections– “I did not say that, you must have imagined it!” –meant that at least a few in the audience came to see the origin of that expression, now often in the news.


    Thanks for all you do!!!

  12. Olivia M.

    vague spoilers for the plot

    I played Nancy recently in a stage production (script and staging were the original version from 1938), and if you think the 1944 film needs a trigger warning, then the play will terrify you. In the original staged version, Jack (“Gregory” in the film) has been manipulating Bella (“Paula” in the film) not for weeks or months, but YEARS; he’s proven to have been actively isolating her from her family, engages in some serious physical abuse, and is generally an utter goddamn psychopath. She’s also not the niece of the murder victim, just a random woman he married for her money so he could buy the house and now that he’s closing in on his prize, he ramps up the crazy-making manipulation so he can casually dispose of her. Nancy also has a much bigger role and a manipulative streak of her own, as does Elizabeth (who is seriously sharper-witted and clever than she’s played in the film). It’s a female-dominated cast (always awesome), it refuses to stay neatly within the confines of typical theatrical tropes, and it’s such a well-written slow burn that we literally had audiences on the edge of their seats during the final showdown every night.

    Seriously, just read or go see the play if you can, it’s chilling and SOOOOO satisfying and shocking at the end.

  13. Michael NEISS

    Just re-watched the movie. It is perfection (if you disregard Joe-Cotton unfathomably non-British accent). Besides Paula’s perfect wardrobe, one should not fail to mention the claustrophobic atmosphere the house. It is cluttered up to the roof with a hideous combination of knickknacks and odd pieces of furniture, that have been bought in on Gregory’s initiative — undoubtedly with little say from Paula and with the obvious intention to prolong her mental torture during his hours of absence.

  14. Michael NEISS

    I just re-watched the movie. It is breathtaking in every aspect (notwithstanding the fact that Joe Cotton does not even try to sound like a British gent). Besides Paula’s perfect wardrobe, one should not fail to mention the claustrophobic atmosphere of the house. It is cluttered up to the roof with a hideous combination of knickknacks and odd pieces of furniture that have been bought on Gregory’s initiative — undoubtedly with little say from Paula and with the obvious intention to prolong her mental torture during his hours of absence …