TBT: John Adams, Episode 3


We’re recapping the 2008 miniseries John Adams each week because the 18th-century costumes and American history are just that good! Catch up with previous episodes here.

First of all, let me just say: FINALLY, SOME ACTUAL COSTUME CONTENT. Episode 3 starts off with John Adams being summoned to France, much to the vast irritation of Abigail who is like, “WTF, things finally just settled down around here.” Since the Adamses are better off financially, Abigail’s wardrobe is getting more interesting, but the bulk of the interesting costumes are in the French court. And with that … Onward to the costume content!

The show starts with Abigail and John taking a nice stroll through a snowy landscape. Not much to talk about here in terms of costuming content, but John is wearing a Garrick coat again.


CURSE YOU SHAKY CAM. Abigail’s dress appears to be linen, and she has a nice white-worked kerchief that I was completely unable to screencap because of that infernal handheld camera bullshit.


John gets sent to France to chill with Ben Franklin … Little does he realize what he’s in for.


Not one for silk and lace and powdered wigs, John does his best to follow the fashion of the French court … up to a point.


Meanwhile Ben is rocking the coonskin hat because he literally gives zero fucks and realizes that the French want him to play up the eccentric American diplomat/intellectual/bon vivant character as much as possible.


OK! Now we are getting somewhere! Interesting dresses, finally!


A nice robe a la francaise or two. The wigs aren’t bad, but the one on the blonde girl is a bit extra special upon close inspection.


Respectable wig on the brunette. Blondie kind of looks like 1970s Dolly Parton.


John is really not down with the French O.P.P. Ben wants him to lighten the fuck up.


Ben introduces John to his French mistress, and hostess of the evening’s soiree.


John is quietly horrified that there’s actual commemorative plates of Franklin on the table. Also, nice lace cuffs.


So, John’s silk suit is really hard to get a good read on color-wise. When I first watched the ep on my TV, it was a pale seafoam green. Now, it reads a light mauve, and it almost looks like there’s lightly colored powder in his hair. Other shots of the same ensemble don’t read as strongly purple in either case, though.


Madame’s foppy BFF? Son? Lover? I was unclear. But I do like his embroidered jacket.


Ben tells John to pass out American flags and have the French donate money to their cause. John is even more horrified at the prospect but goes along with it. Also, kitty.


Meanwhile, the French enthusiastically sing a patriotic American song while waving their flags. The irony, of course, is that these are the same people who supported the American Revolution who then were guillotined during the French Revolution. There’s so much to unpack about the two Revolutionary Wars and their impact on one another, but I’ll save that for another post someday.


John is now off to Versailles to meet King Louis XVI and hopefully garner more support for the American independence cause.


My exact face when I first set foot in the Hall of Mirrors.


The Comte de Vergennes wears a very smart (and surprisingly sober) black and gold striped jacket. King Louis is in lavender, a favorite color on this show, I might add. Everyone is super amused that America would send someone who doesn’t speak a lick of French to the French court to petition for their support.


Meanwhile, back in the States … Abigail is invited to dine with the French Admiral aboard his ship.


Ok, it looks nice … Let’s see what Abigail is wearing…


Fuck if I know, because yet again, the director has given her a super tight shot that doesn’t show anything off past her shoulders. She could be wearing yoga pants for all anyone knows.


Annnd, we are back in France! Where John has just received word that he’s made such a hack of his job in France that they’re moving him to Holland. He storms off to speak to Franklin wearing only his waistcoat.


And of course bursts into the room interrupting the nice bath/chess game with Madame Helvetius. John is characteristically horrified.


Cut to Holland, where it’s so bloody dark you can barely make out that 1) John is wearing a gray wool suit, and 2) he is apparently sick.


The Dutch ministers aren’t buying into the American hype and demand that any money they loan the U.S. be repaid in full.


John retreats to his house where he gets progressively sicker. This scene is a really nice shot, though.


What do you think of episode 3 of John Adams?


About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

10 Responses

  1. Kate D

    I loved the contrast of John Adams in France. Especially in the dinner scene, his face looked so red against all the powdered white ones. He was not a good fit with that French party personality-wise! Tough for him, enjoyable drama to watch!

    More in the next episode, but some of those Dutch scenes looked straight out of a painting.

  2. Susan Pola Staples

    For all his talent and intellect, John Adams at the French Court is a mismatch made in hell. I always felt he was happier at home or even in London as our ambassador there than among the ‘godless’ French (‘godless’ to his Puritan principles). Wait till next episode, Abigail gets to France and she has some really beautiful clothes.

  3. Roxana

    John Adams and Benjamin Franklin always got bent all out of shape if they spent to much time together. I vaguely recall that they once had to share a room for some reason and nearly drove each other crazy.

  4. Damnitz

    I almost always hate it, when French are reflected as strange creatures. We see it in many films, but that doesn’t make it better.

  5. Author Jennifer Quail

    The Dutch ministers are so darkly lit I have to wonder if they realize The Night Watch is dark because of varnish darkening, not the preferred ambient lighting in the Netherlands.

  6. mjsamuelson

    They worked hard to contrast Adams with the French, to set up what would happen in his presidency. I think it worked well, because he’s the one were meant to be sympathetic with in this production. I adore Franklin in every scene, but this episode in particular.

  7. Lily Lotus Rose

    Oh, I think this was my favorite episode. John + Ben Franklin + French = Oil + Water. My favorite picture above is the one with the cat. Because, well, cat. I LOVED all the costumes on the French, but the face powder was sooo distracting in a bad way (even though I know it was accurate). Oh, the picture made me look it up…that’s Jean-Hughes Anglade (from La Reine Margot) as the Comte de Vergennes…I wish he was in more stuff that we see here stateside. He’s such a good actor!

    • Janet

      Yes, the Comte de Vergennes is played by Jean Hugues-Anglade, who played a perfectly sickly and weak willed Charles IX in ‘Queen Margot’. ✌🏻

  8. Aleko

    Unless there’s actually a tail hanging off the back of BF’s hat (in which case someone in the costume department needs shooting) that’s not a coonskin hat, nor would it strike 1770s Parisians as eccentric or American. It’s meant to be the fur ‘banyan cap’ that BF genuinely wore in Paris, and which appear in two portraits of him made during his stay:

    Caps in fur, velvet or other luxury materials were worn informally by gentlemen (to keep their shaven heads warm when they weren’t wearing their wigs), and to sit for your portrait wearing one was an established statement that you were presenting yourself as a writer, philosopher, artist or scientist rather than someone with aristocratic or diplomatic rank. In the case of this particular cap, the French connected it with the celebrated philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose portrait in a similar cap was well known through engravings –
    – and got the (intended) message that Franklin wanted to be seen as a man of science and ideas rather than a diplomat or politician.

    The Comte de Vergennes’ coat is not all that ‘surprisingly sober’ – see here:


    although it is more 1780s than 1770s.

    BTW, why do you twice refer to these fine French coats as ‘jackets’? Jackets don’t have tails! Jackets were worn by working men in the 1770s, but not by gentlemen, except for sporting activities.

  9. lesartsdecoratifs

    King Louis in lavender is really well-researched. Louis was pretty often in some state of half-mourning over some dead royal somewhere to the point that someone actually thought it was his favorite color.