TBT: John Adams, Episode 6


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.

I gotta be honest… Now that the show has moved into the late-1790s I’m less interested in the costumes. Doesn’t mean they’re not nice, it’s just the Regency era is one big “MEH” from me.


Jefferson has a nice outfit, but it’s brown and blah. I mean … It’s really subdued for him, but maybe that’s because he’s Vice President and has to look more sober and serious and less … I dunno … French?


I wanted to get a good shot of the ladies in the background, but of course the dreaded shaky cam thwarted me. Also, I’m fairly certain Jefferson was making eyes at them…


Again, another shot of extras in nice/interesting costumes that aren’t really visible because it’s literally a throw-away scene.


Ugh. What is he still doing here? Captain Smith basically tells Adams that he’s ditching his wife and kids with him to go off on some harebrained adventure (and debt-dodging scheme? I was unclear). Of course John is not thrilled. (In reality, of course, it is for a good cause, please don’t murder me in the comments.)


Abigail is wearing a really nice navy blue lightweight overgown, while Nabby is wearing a kind of sickly lavender roundgown. Obviously, this color choice is foreshadowing Nabby’s illness.


A better look at Abby’s gown. From this point forward we will see her wearing a lot of cross-front dresses, WHICH I LOVE. Seriously, I’m a little obsessed with cross-front dresses. It was my longstanding dream to make one from every era.


The Adamses attend the opera. There’s a lot of nice Regency outfits to be seen. I liked the stark contrast between the bold red/white/blue of the bunting and the austere fashions of the elite.


I lightened the fuck out of this image so we could see Abby’s dark green (?) velvet frock, but obviously it didn’t have much of an effect. The difference between how dark and somber the Adamses are dressed compared to the light colors of the women on either side is definitely intentional.


Meanwhile, back at the executive residence, Abby is dressed in a moss green silk drop-front gown. You will see more of this dress in a later scene. The portrait behind her looks very similar to an extant portrait of Abigail, but it isn’t the same.


Fast-forward a bunch of plot, Abby and Nabby are working on the farm and discussing Captain Smith’s success (or lack there of).


More fast-forward … The new executive mansion (i.e., future White House) is getting underway. It is, of course, being built on a swamp and is VERY … rustic.


The camera lingers over the countless slaves who are toiling away to build the White House. Their clothes are out of date, but well-fitted if not shabby.


Enslaved women carrying various things on their heads turn to watch the carriage arrive with the President and First Lady. Abby is horrified that slave labor is being used to build the nation’s capitol: “Half-fed slaves building our nation’s capital. What possible good could come from such a place?”


The President and First Lady dine in the unfinished Executive Mansion under the watchful gaze of General Washington: “Is he welcoming us or showing us the way out?”


I was super annoyed that the camera didn’t give us enough of a good look at Abby’s black striped gown. The best I could do was this back view. Either way, Charles Adams is not doing so well … alcoholism and bad decisions have caught up with him and he’s not long for the world.


Back at the Executive Mansion, Abby gets word that Charles has died. Here’s that drop-front gown seen earlier.


Abby is PISSED that John won’t utter more than a few neutral words about their son’s passing. She gets up and walks off, resolving to leave for Peacefield as soon as possible to be there to bury her child.


One of the last shots of the episode is of Abigail, surveying the frigid landscape as slaves are still toiling away to build the White House, waiting for the carriage to take her away and back to Peacefield. She’s wearing a wool redingote in a subdued green.



What did you think of Episode 6? Share with us in the comments!



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.

7 Responses

  1. Shashwat

    Abigail’s dresses are very impressive.They give us the idea that she is a warm,caring person but her attires are gorgeous.Jefferson looks a bit too mellowed down,especially after the lavender beauty of the previous episodes.
    Is “Adamses” a legit expression?I always fail to use the plural of a surname when it ends with an ‘s’ but ‘es’ sounds a bit weird.

  2. Roxana.

    Please. Yes it’s true that slaves were rented from their masters to build Washington DC. But it’s also true they worked alongside free black laborers, immigrant laborers and white stonemasons. In other words white people should be working on the White house alongside the black laborers, slave and free.

      • Roxana.

        There is the question of how she could tell free blacks from slaves. But what I meant was there should have been white people working on the site too.

  3. M.E. Lawrence

    Love the lighting, especially when Abigail and John are eating supper and Abigail is standing alone in the drawing room; it always worries me when non-royal households of that era are supposedly spending a fortune on good candles just to give us viewers a better look at the characters.

    • Roxana.

      I see your point about accuracy but I do like to be able to see what I’m watching! 😀

  4. Charity

    I wonder if they chose colors intentionally to wash Nabby out and make her look more sickly? That lavender doesn’t suit her at all (but would look great on me, ha, ha).


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