TBT: Somewhere in Time (1980)


This is one of those romantic films of legend — seriously, there’s a whole fan club built around it! Somewhere in Time (1980) was a small film release at first but gained cult-classic status on cable and VHS back in the day. Christopher Reeve chose this time-traveling romance as his first movie after his blockbuster success of starring as Superman. Featuring Jane Seymour as his 1912 love interest, the movie is almost entirely set at the historic Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in northern Michigan.

Well, how is the movie and what about the 1910s costumes? I may be bursting the bubble of some in the International Network of Somewhere in Time Enthusiasts (INSITE), but we have no sacred cows here at Frock Flicks! I swear I saw this movie on TV at some point in the ’80s, so I remembered the plot. And I probably felt it was SUPER romantic back then when I was in junior high school. But OMG watching it now? The cheese is so velveeta, I just couldn’t take it. Hallmark Channel clearly learned everything it knows from this schlock.

I didn’t have an issue with the time-travel part — hey, I’m an old Doctor Who fan, this is NBD. I do find the whole ‘guy falling instantly in deep passionate love with a photo of a woman’ thing to be ridiculous. Is he that hard up? C’mon. Romeo and Juliet at least met in person (and they were teenagers). Also, the staging when he sees the photo is insanely cheeziod with light streaming through the window and cliched music swelling, very much hitting you over the head with the ROMANCE OF IT ALL.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

Then suddenly, he’s obsessed! Has to research everything about this vintage chick in the photo! Figures out how to travel back in time to meet her! Stalks her in 1912 until she goes on a date with him! Forces a kiss on her when she says ‘no’ at first! Sure, this was made in 1980, back when Brett Kavanaugh didn’t think ‘no’ really meant no from a woman. But I guess all this male pushiness is supposed to be fine because these characters are star-crossed lovers? Whatever, it still reads a smidge weird to me.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

OK, what about the costumes? Let’s get one out of the way at the very start. The movie begins in 1971, when Reeve’s character, Richard Collier, is a young playwright, celebrating a successful play. A mysterious old lady comes up to him, gives him a vintage pocket watch, says “come back to me,” and disappears.

If you don’t figure it out immediately, you’ll soon learn that this was an elderly version of Collier’s true love, here played by Susan French. At this point, she’d be in her 80s. She’s wearing a dress that looks right out of 1900 (really, it looks earlier than her supposed time period of 1912). Yup, it’s that ‘old lady wearing out-dated clothes’ trope again! But geez, 70 years out of date?!? Wouldn’t people point and laugh in the early 1970s if they saw a grannie wearing actual 1900s clothes around on the street?!?

Somewhere in Time (1980)

She’s wearing this dress IN PUBLIC in 1971. C’mon!

Fast-forward a decade, and, due to the aforementioned immediately falling in love with a photo, Richard Collier travels from 1980 back to June 27, 1912. He wears one period suit that he has made in 1980, and several characters in 1912 remark that his suit is at least a decade out of date. I find this funny because Jane Seymour’s character, Elise McKenna, wears gowns that are beyond 1912!

Related, I find it hilariously misguided that some INSITE fan wrote this on their site: “Somewhere in Time received one Academy Award nomination, for Best Costume Design, but unfortunately lost to the movie, Tess, that year. (Who remembers that film?).” Yeah, I think Tess stands up better today as a film and for the costumes, and I’ll be reviewing it soon. For comparison, the major historical work that Somewhere in Time‘s designer Jean-Pierre Dorleac did previous to this was The Kent Chronicles, which Kendra recapped during Snark Week, so that speaks for itself.

Now to that man’s suit. There are subtle differences between, say, an 1910s suit and a 1900s suit, but the 20th century really was when men could start dialing it in by wearing the same suit for 20 years as long as it wasn’t threadbare. Minor changes in lapels and trouser widths are all they got, so I find it highly unlikely that many people would notice or care.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

Christopher Reeve as Richard Collier, traveling back to 1912.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

More screen-accurate color.

1899 - American Fashions via Met Museum Costume Institute fashion plates

1899 – American Fashions via Met Museum Costume Institute fashion plates

1910 - Claude Agustus Swanson, American lawyer & politician - via Wikimedia Commons

1910 – Claude Agustus Swanson, American lawyer & politician – via Wikimedia Commons

1910 - Edmond Miniac, French lawyer - via Wikimedia Commons

1910 – Edmond Miniac, French lawyer – via Wikimedia Commons

1910 - American Fashions via Met Museum Costume Institute fashion plates

1910 – American Fashions via Met Museum Costume Institute fashion plates

1912 - July issue of The Delineator, Kodak ad

1912 – July issue of The Delineator, Kodak ad – via University of Iowa

Comparing the fashion plates, photos of real people, and even an advertisement, Collier’s suit doesn’t look dramatically out-dated for 1912, IMNSHO. If anything, the 1912 fashion plate stands out compared to what people were wearing — and honestly, not everyone in any particular year is wearing only the fashions of just that specific year! That’s such a fallacy.

OK, on to the more interesting women’s clothes, and by that, I mean what Jane Seymour wears as Elise in 1912. In a CDG Movie Night discussion, costume designer Jean-Pierre Dorleac said he decided that since Elise was a famous actress, she’d traveled the world, and she would wear the latest fashions. His research looked more towards 1913-1914 French styles than 1912. Also, because Seymour was noticeably shorter than Reeve, the designer used empire-waist gowns to give Seymour a longer proportion and more visual height, as he described it.

The 1912 portion of the movie was filmed on a different type of film stock with an intentionally sepia-toned, soft-focus look, which Dorleac also took into account. All of Seymour’s gowns were in light colors to go with the dreamy flashback romance of it all. He said, “I call the costumes in this film my Baskin-Robbins costumes because of all the pastel colors.”

The first thing we see Jane Seymour’s Elise in is an off-white / tan beaded dinner dress as she’s walking by the lake. This is the most fashion-forward gown in the movie, and it strikes me as closer to 1920s than 1910s due to the straight up-and-down silhouette instead of the S-bend corseted shape of the earlier period.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

Elise’s first gown.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

With Christopher Plummer, who plays her manager.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

Promo shot with Reeve.

I searched for DAYS to find a fashion plate, extant gown, photo, or portrait similar to her dress and came up with nada. The most similar shapes are late 1910s to early 1920s where the waist goes high and the bustline flattens out. Here’s one dress that is somewhat close in style:

1918-1919 - Callot Soeurs evening gown via Met Museum

1918-1919 – Callot Soeurs evening gown via Met Museum

But this first gown is really hard to pin down as to what exact date it is. Then, she’s wearing this 5+ year’s futuristic gown to dinner at the hotel, which is weird enough, but the other hotel guests are in a total mishmash of day wear and evening wear. This is supposed to be a fancy hotel and presumably the guests can afford to dress for the occasion. If there’s dancing at or after dinner, it strikes me as a little odd for some ladies to be in evening-ish gowns like Elise and others in day dresses and big straw hats.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

Behind the star-crossed couple dance big hats. If this were a tea dance, sure. But then Elise would be dressed incorrectly.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

For Richard and Elise’s big date, she wears a prim peachy-pink ensemble. This is definitely in that ‘ice cream color’ design that Jean-Pierre Dorleac mentioned.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

Promo photo with full view of her gown (& his suit).

Somewhere in Time (1980)

Jean-Pierre Dorleac’s costume sketch for the dress.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

Close-up view showing pleated sleeves, lace trim, lace bag, & netted gloves.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

His hair is a bit too ’70s feathered, but his excuse is he’s a time traveler. She has no excuse for the smokey eyeliner.

This outfit is more solidly 1912 in inspiration, just with a somewhat raised waist, as Dorleac intended.

1912 - July issue of The Delineator

1912 – July issue of The Delineator — Reminiscent of Elise’s peach gown.

1910 - July issue of The Delineator

1910 – July issue of The Delineator — This back view is even more similar to Elise’s peach gown.

Next, Elise wears this dramatic white crystal-beaded gown that’s both an evening gown and a stage costume. According to Dorleac, the outfit cost $30,000 to make, and it was stolen before filming wrapped! The necklace Elise wears is an antique from 1900 that was a gift to Dorleac from costume designer Edith Head. It was originally worn by Broadway actress Ethel Jackson (luckily, the necklace is still in Dorleac’s possession).

Somewhere in Time (1980)

The full gown.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

Jean-Pierre Dorleac’s costume sketch for the dress.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

Can just barely see the antique necklace here.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

Love this fan, & I suspect it’s antique as well.

This costume is undeniably beautiful, but it looks like a modern interpretation of a historical gown to me, mostly because it’s so drapey and unstructured. I’m not seeing evidence of a corset under there, and her posture is soft and languid. Compare with these evening gowns…

1910-1912 - G & E Spitzer evening dress via Met Museum

1910-1912 – G & E Spitzer evening dress via Met Museum.

1910 - cover of May issue, La Mode Illustree

1910 – cover of May issue, La Mode Illustree.

Both of these gowns are very similar in concept to Elise’s gown, but they have more distinct bust / waist / hip lines as created by a corset. Even the magazine drawing shows this. The draperies flow over the structure underneath.

And since she’s not wearing a hat, I have to mention Elise’s hair. Yes, Jane Seymour is known for her ridiculously gorgeous hair! I’m a fan, absolutely. But this giganto Gibson Girl updo is cartoonishly large for the period. Her hair harkens back to the turn of that century while her dresses jump forward to the next decade. Her hair is reminiscent of someone like the actress Evelyn Nesbit from a decade earlier:

1901 - Evelyn Nesbit

1901 – Evelyn Nesbit

The ‘teens were really when women’s hair was being styled lower into fashions like the Psyche knot, the Recamier coiffure, and soft pompadours. These could have complicated waves or braids, but the mass of hair was pinned down towards the bottom of the neck — not up high on the crown of the head.

Vogue, 1912

1912 – Vogue

Princess Patricia of Connaught, c. 1912 | City of Vancouver Archives

c. 1912 – Princess Patricia of Connaught – City of Vancouver Archives

If Elise is supposed to be so fashionable that she has cutting-edge gowns, why is her hair out of date? Hmmm…

The next stage costume / dress we see Elise in could be the most historically accurate, yet we only get glimpses of it on-screen and I can’t find a really good promo image either.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

Backstage, you can glimpse her great black & white hat in the background.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

Tons of embroidery & lovely kimono sleeves!

And let’s wrap up with her final day dress, another pastel number, this one in minty green with white lace.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

Front view, with a huge wired brim hat.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

Back view shows nice lace V detail.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

Finally a full view — compare to the fashion plates above, it’s similar to the peach dress with a different collar treatment.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

Jean-Pierre Dorleac’s costume sketch for the dress.

This outfit is solidly in the 1910s realm, much like this Swedish actress photo:

1910 - Betty Nansen

1910 – Betty Nansen

That’s about it for the costumes. There’s some more mushy stuff, and then literally the penny drops.

Somewhere in Time (1980) Somewhere in Time (1980)


Are you a fan of Somewhere in Time? Or do you find it cheesy?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Facebook Website

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.”

16 Responses

  1. Mitzy Carter

    This is one of my husband’s favorite movies. If you knew my leather wearing, motorcycle riding, tough guy Aussie husband, you’d be howling with laughter right about now, but he seriously has a soft romantic side. It helps that he has a serious crush on Ms Seymour and the movie features his favorite piece of classical music.

    • M.E. Lawrence

      Oh, that’s charming of your husband. Mine is a grim-looking guy from Sheffield; he is mushy about certain cats and dogs.

  2. Kaite Fink

    I’m from Michigan and spent many summers up north. The Grand sometimes did movie showings for it. They certainly keep the memory of it alive. And the island and the Hotel are fantastic settings. It has been a while since I watched it though.

  3. Constance

    I never watched it due to strong aversion to time travel but after a weekend of bad made-for-tv movies on Youtube, who knows…

  4. LadySlipper

    I liked this when I was a lot younger. However, every time I’ve attempted to watch this as an adult, I’m overcome with how twee and clichéd it is….. so I’ll remember it as something I once liked and leave it at that.

  5. Rowen G.

    I really enjoyed it when I saw it originally my late 20s, but haven’t seen it since. Forty years on, I probably wouldn’t be nearly as impressed. (Which isn’t to say that I might not watch it again some time, if the opportunity arose.)

  6. Julia R

    I saw this in middle school and loved it. I’m addicted to tragic love stories.

  7. Charity

    It’s not one of my favorites — I’ve only seen it once or twice, but I remember how gorgeous her costumes were and… well, Jane Seymour was just gorgeous to behold when young. Period.

  8. Roxana

    Dear God! Christopher Reeves was beautiful!!
    Jane Seymour’s gowns may not be period but they are very pretty.

    • SarahV

      Indeed he was, but I had forgotten that Christopher Plummer was in this, dayum he looks good up there in that picture. He was dishy. Jane Seymour is one lucky gal.

  9. Katie O.

    I’ve always thought this seemed sort of depressing. I mean they spend basically a weekend together and then apparently have no will to live without each other? I’ll pass.

    Also it’s funny that Elisa is supposed to be so fashion forward and then later dresses 70 years out of date lol. The only exception I can think of (besides “old ladies always dress old fashioned!”) is that she’s stuck in the past because she’s never gotten over her love affair with Christopher Reeves. Which is also depressing.

    She has some pretty dresses though.

    • Katie O.

      Explanation, I mean, not exception. That’s what I get for commenting with half my brain on the tv lol.