The Duchess Deep Dive: Let’s Fast Forward

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You all — especially our Patreon supporters, whose requests we take very seriously! — have been asking for an in-depth review of The Duchess (2008) for a while now, but I’ll admit to being overwhelmed by the prospect. There’s a ton to unpack, both in terms of plot and character, but also in terms of costumes, costumes, costumes — designed by Michael O’Connor. Luckily Trystan came up with a great idea, which is that I discuss the film one costume at a time. So, here’s our series: The Duchess Deep Dive, in which I will go through the movie, one costume at a time, focusing on those worn by the principle female characters. I’ll be talking about the costume itself, as well as hair, makeup, and accessories, both how they work in the film and how they compare to real fashion of the 1770s-80s.

For a quick overview of what I thought of the film, you can check out my short review. At some point in this process, I’ll take some time out to talk about how well they got the history right or not.

I’ve been putting off writing more posts in this series because while the next couple of costumes are beautiful, they’re more of the same. So I thought I’d do a quick fast-forward post where I share those costumes, so we can move on to the more 1780s-type dresses that happen in a few scenes. If you’d like to read more about the styles worn here, including dresses and hair, check out my earlier posts, which have lots of research.

This is the “montage of short scenes in which Georgiana and Bess are besties.” First, it’s awkward dinner with your BFF and hubby:

2008 The Duchess

Georgiana in an embroidered? brown “nightgown”/robe à l’anglaise.

2008 The Duchess

It’s not my favorite but the color looks good on her.

2008 The Duchess

Bess is in black and yellow. Those sleeve ruffles are very early 1770s at the latest.

The Music Party by Louis Rolland Trinquesse, 1774, Alte Pinakothek

More fashionable would be just-past-the-elbow sleeves with a pleated or gathered ruffle placed on top | The Music Party by Louis Rolland Trinquesse, 1774, Alte Pinakothek

2008 The Duchess

A subtle stripe in the weave.

Next, Bess comes to stay:

2008 The Duchess

At first I thought Bess was in a too-long jacket, but you’ll see shortly that it’s a dress pulled up through the pocket slits. Georgiana is in a quilted petticoat.

2008 The Duchess

HATS. LIKE WHOA.

2008 The Duchess

MOAR HAT

2008 The Duchess

Bess’s dress is fitted in back. Georgiana’s hat is epic.

2008 The Duchess

Now you can see both have their dresses pulled up. Historically, these would be pulled up with ties OR looped through the pocket slits (openings in the dress to reach your pockets) as shown here.

2008 The Duchess

Georgiana’s dress on display. That quilted petticoat is beautiful!

March c. 1785 V&A

Quilted petticoats were popular from the early 18th century through the 1780s | March, c. 1785, Victoria & Albert Museum

1760-80 quilted petticoat V&A

The quilted got really elaborate. Here’s a swoopy design that’s similar to the film costume | Quilted petticoat, 1760-80, Victoria & Albert Museum

 

Next, we go to the opera!

2008 The Duchess

Everyone’s in dark colors.

2008 The Duchess
2008 The Duchess

Georgiana’s dress has a fitted back, and the skirts are worn pulled up again. Also, look at how good the back of G’s hair is!

2008 The Duchess

Another view of the pulled-up skirts. Very fashionable for the 1770s!

2008 The Duchess

Clearly a lot went into trimming this dress!

2008 The Duchess

The quilted petticoat is pretty but weird. It’s almost art deco? It’s a striped fabric and then quilted in waves.

2008 The Duchess
2008 The Duchess

Bess is in an orange-y brown brocade.

2008 The Duchess

This is very typical Bess-wear so far.

 

And finally, they’re just roommates…

2008 The Duchess

In dressing gowns, aka banyans. Georgiana’s is ruffly.

2008 The Duchess

Bess’s almost looks like some kind of Middle Eastern textile? Which tracks, dressing gowns were inspired by Middle Eastern/Asian clothing and so had exotic associations.

Woman's Banyan (dressing gown), 1740-50, Victoria & Albert Museum

Dressing gowns were hugely fashionable for at-home wear from the late seventeenth century | Woman’s Banyan (dressing gown), 1740-50, Victoria & Albert Museum

Next time – the chemise à la reine! Sort of!

Got questions about any of these costumes? Details you want to savor? Let us know in the comments! We’ll be back with more research in our next post.

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

4 Responses

  1. Susan

    Thank you for the deep dive. I’ve been waiting for it. Love Georgina’s purple. And I totally hated Bess for what she did ti Georgina.

    Reply
    • LadySlippers

      I blame the Duke and other men.

      This movie highlights the privileges rich women were allowed by the men in their life. Everything a woman has is because of a man’s ‘generosity’, including her children. Bess is forced into the Duke’s arms so she can have an opportunity to see her children. And men like the Duke, were thrilled when things like beautiful women ‘dropped’ into their beds like manna from heaven. It’s exploitation at its finest. AND IT’S WRONG.

      (The rape scene was not necessary because it’s clear how much exploitation was/is blatant. Sadly it’s not so blatant today but it has definitely not gone away).

      Ending on a high note, the purple is sublime. I lurve me some purple. 💜

      Reply
  2. Lynne Connolly

    I’ve never seen the movie because when I started to watch it, it became obvious that noboy had taught her how to walk in those outfits. Ladies glided. But with the tall hairstyle, it wobbled on her head like a jelly. It was so distracting I couldn’t cope. But I must have another go.
    It’s thought that the two women and the duke lived in a true menage, but obviously nobody knows for sure. Back then, marriage was seen as a partnership. It was the Victorians that turned women into chattels, and then women, not surprisingly, rebelled. Women could own their own property through a complex series of trusts, which could keep a husband or father away from the principal, though they would mostly have control of the interest. It was undoubtedly wrong, but there were women lower in rank than the aristocracy who lived completely independently. No entails, no worries about passing everything on through sons.

    Reply
    • Rosemary Richards

      I would recommend you try watching it again and try and get past how she walks as I’m interested in your review of the movie and story. :)

      Reply

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