The Duchess Deep Dive: She’s Had a Baby!


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.

This is going to be a catch-up post so we can get to some more key costumes — specifically, next will be the ball scene with the huge Marge Simpson hair.

Georgiana was pregnant, and now she’s had her first baby — nine years after marrying the duke. It’s 1783, and it’s a girl! Mom arrives to meet the new baby, wearing a hooded cloak:

2008 The Duchess

She’s got a “pouf” or “bonnet” cap, with lappets of lace (the hanging bits), in back. The pouf or bonnet — ok, those are the French terms — was a puffy cap, usually made in a white sheer silk gauze fabric (what today we would call silk organza), that was meant to suggest a turban effect.

Gallerie des Modes 1778

“Pouf in a new taste in striped gauze ornamented with flowers with a string of pearls,” Gallerie des Modes, 1778.

2008 The Duchess

Notice how the hood’s lining matches her dress color. We discussed those lace lappets in this post.

Underneath, she’s wearing what might be a rewear of her marriage ain’t all it’s cracked up to be dress — either a robe à la française or anglaise. We really don’t see enough of it to be certain, but I’m pretty sure it’s a rewear. It’s definitely in her warm, brown, maternal color story:2008 The Duchess 2008 The Duchess

Georgiana is wearing a pet-en-l’air or short sack, the knee-length, jacket version of the robe à la française:
2008 The Duchess

Pet-en-l'air robe, ca. 1770, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Pet-en-l’air robe, ca. 1770, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Pet-en-l'air robe, ca. 1770, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Pet-en-l’air robe, ca. 1770, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Gallerie des Modes, 1778.

“Pretty Woman coiffed in a Peasant Bonnet, with a gallant jacket of taffeta in apple green color, trimmed in Italian gauze like the petticoat,” Gallerie des Modes, 1778.

It’s made of a beautiful striped and floral brocaded fabric — this style is SO spot-on for the period, and I can vouch that it’s incredibly hard to find nowadays.2008 The Duchess

Here’s two very similar fabric closeups of period gowns:

Gown, fabric 1760-65, sewing c. 1770, Victoria & Albert Museum.

Gown, fabric 1760-65, sewing c. 1770, Victoria & Albert Museum.

Sack, fabric 1770s, sewing 1770-75, Victoria & Albert Museum.

Sack, fabric 1770s, sewing 1770-75, Victoria & Albert Museum.

Her hair is in a low arrangement, with some curls on the back of the head and hanging ringlets.2008 The Duchess

The maid is dressed relatively simply, although she has some height to her hair. She’s got a frilled cap and a pinner or bib apron:

2008 The Duchess

The maid looks relatively similar to these two servants from the French Gallerie des Modes:

Gallerie des Modes 1778

Cook newly arrived from the provinces and who begins to adopt the elegant airs of Paris, Gallerie des Modes, 1778.

Gallerie des Modes 1780

Gallerie des Modes, 1780.

This apron style is called “bib” because it has a bodice covering, and “pinner” because the two top corners of that bib are pinned to the gown or jacket:

Jean-Etienne Liotard, The Chocolate Girl, around 1744 - 1745, Old Masters Picture Gallery Dresden

Jean-Etienne Liotard, The Chocolate Girl, around 1744 – 1745, Old Masters Picture Gallery Dresden.

We jump forward in time to a few years after 1785, when Georgiana has had ANOTHER daughter (the Duke is, of course, crankily waiting on a son) — that’s three along with her adopted daughter. We only get a quick glimpse:2008 The Duchess

The reason I include this (besides general cuteness) is the “bonnet” cap of the girl on the left (Harriet?). It’s such a GREAT version of the style of day cap worn in the period, which you hardly ever see on screen. Compare its square shape, cut, and trim to these:

Gallerie des Modes - bonnets - 1778-83

Bonnets: à la Dormeuse (sleeper, 1778), laitiere (milkmaid, 1778), négligé avec un fichu à trois points (informally fashionable with a three-point kerchief, 1778), laitiere (1780), paysanne (peasant, 1782), rond au bandeau d’Amour (round with a Love band, 1783), Gallerie des Modes.

Side note, I feel it is important for you to know there was a Marmot Hairstyle:

Gallerie des Modes 1783

Coëffure à la Marmotte, Gallerie des Modes, 1783.

And a quick glimpse of Georgiana, in which I mostly notice the fabulous trimmings on the hat:
2008 The Duchess

I THINK this may be this nightgown or robe à l’anglaise worn retroussé, which was displayed in one of the many exhibitions of the film’s costumes. I’m wondering if we may see it again? If so, I’ll get more in-depth when we do:

The Duchess (2008) The Duchess 2008

Stay tuned for some BIG hair next time!


About the author



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.

6 Responses

  1. Saraquill

    I’ve been handsewing 1780s caps recentlyc and it’s fun seeing the variations on style. It’s also tempting me to try sewing an over the top lappet style, but that’s quite a bit of work…

  2. Shashwat

    Oh Kendra,how we love thee for thy Duchess endeavours!
    I swear I spot an eerily similar floral striped fabric(the one for Georgiana’s genuinely gorgeous pet en lair)on a costuming blog,but I cannot figure it out from the abysm of my memory.Brocaded silks are so beautiful,but the cost of the genuine brocades is too much even for big budget productions.Imitations don’t read well on screen because of a certain artificial sheen.

  3. Karen Lavoie

    Kendra, after looking at it for a while, I’m wondering if the leaf trim on Georgianas hat might be beaded–if so, adds a whole new category of trims for me to be on the lookout for. Wondering if it might be a bit heavy to support, though? (I have baby fine hair and no matter what I do, it eventually falls) Lovely trim applied nicely, though.

  4. Lily Lotus Rose

    Wow, your very detailed post has reminded me just how sumptuous the costumes were in this film, which I’ve only seen once. After seeing this film I was more upset by the maltreatment of Kiera Knightley’s character by Ralph Fiennes than I was taken in by the look of it. I think the prettiest costume in this post is the final one. And the painting of The Chocolate Girl is exquisite.

    Also, the number of different bonnets styles and head-coverings is mind-boggling!