The Worth Gown From 1899 (2022)

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Netflix just dropped the first season of 1899 (2022), a dark thriller that has garnered comparisons to everything from The X-Files to Lost. What caught my attention, however, were the costumes (duh). While 1899 definitely has supernatural and science fiction elements, the costumes are surprisingly grounded in the last year of the 19th century. And not only that, they’re really good. I sat down to watch the first two episodes to figure out if it was worth watching all the way to the end for the plot, but was blown away by the quality and research of the costuming for characters from all over the globe, and from all walks of life. Bina Daigeler, the series costume designer, is well-versed in historical costume, and has worked on a number of other frock flicks, such as Mrs. America (2020), Mulan (2020), and The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017)

But honestly, I’m really here to discuss one gown in particular today.

1899 (2022)

Can you spot it?

 

1899 (2022)

I am, of course, referring to this gown, worn by the character Virginia Wilson (Rosalie Craig).

 

1899 (2022)

It looks to be a pretty faithful repro of this House of Worth gown from 1897, from the collection at the Palais Galliera in Paris. The original is a voided velvet in deep blue on an acid green satin ground. Worth made a number of gowns in this motif and in different colorways, but the green one is by far the most striking.

 

1899 (2022)

Of course the camera never shows the gown up close in any good detail. My friends and I have been speculating the last few days over how the fabric was reproduced… was it flocked? Appliqued? Custom woven?

I finally got a good shot of the bodice by watching the making-of documentary:

1899 (2022)

I’m reasonably certain that the design is printed in black on green taffeta. It’s so hard to make out in the show itself, but this still from the documentary shows how flat the design is on the surface of the fabric. It’s also not an exact copy of the original motif. There are subtle tweaks to include triangles, which have a special significance in the show and occur in everyone’s costumes in some way or another.

 

1899 (2022)

There are many other gorgeous outfits in the show so far, so stay tuned for another post that digs into the particulars!

 

 

Are you watching 1899 (2022)? Tell us your thoughts about it in the comments!

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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.

24 Responses

  1. Aleko

    The black parts of the repro gown don’t seem to reflect light as the green parts do, so my money would be on flocking.

    More than a decade ago I was at an international body-painting festival where I saw a portable flocking ‘gun’ being demonstrated on a model. (The theme of the day was ‘around the world’ and the artist was painting her with animals and plants from Australia. He had painted one of her boobs as a koala bear, and her tummy as a wallaby’s tummy with a joey peeping out. He added a layer of very light gum to the parts that he wanted to be furry, then just loaded a cartridge of the right colour flock and sprayed it on! It was very effective.) I had no idea that small-scale flocking could be done with such lightweight and (relatively) cheap equipment.

    Reply
  2. Roxana

    I don’t understand the who the Japanese woman is as the only asian passengers are supposedly from Hong Kong according to the cast list. The synopsis sounds very complicated indeed with a lot of unecessary sex.

    Reply
    • Katie

      So, the short, short version is that she’s a Chinese woman disguised as a Japanese woman to get around immigration. Also, not that much sex, and a fairly complex but compelling plot.

      Reply
      • Roxana

        It’s always had to judge from synopses. Necessary compression can wreck havoc on complex plots and make sexual encounters sound random.

        Reply
        • LadySlippers

          Why would any woman, Japanese or otherwise, be dressed as a maiko (apprentice geisha)? In these two still shots, the maiko appears as if she’s going to entertain, rather than be in the middle of travelling. The Japanese, still to this day, have very strict dress codes and I don’t see a Chinese woman attempting to pose as a maiko or a geisha. Maiko and geisha have highly specialised kimonos, make-up, and accessories.

          Reply
          • Roxana

            Very good point! That certainly looks like a Maiko hairdo, which was far more ornate than any Japanese woman would be wearing day to day, including Maiko.

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          • Mollie

            In the plot, it is a deliberate usage of a Victorian western idea of what a “geisha” would look like in order to market her as an “exotic bird” coming to a brothel. The characters involved are deliberately exaggerating the costume and making it over-the-top and also banking on Western ignorance of East Asian cultural differences and norms.

            Reply
            • LadySlippers

              The problem here is that Westerners confusing/conflating geisha and maiko with brothels was because of WW2 — not before. Just being Asian would have been enough to be over the top in the late 1800’s. Plus, if a Chinese woman was trying to pass as a Japanese woman, they could have just dressed in everyday kimonos — something that she (and most Japanese women) would have had access to. But the Japanese were running towards Western wear, not the other way around.

              The other issue is that most geisha and maiko kimonos, accessories, shoes, etc. are only accessible to that population. The price alone for these items is prohibitive. Plus the people that provided geisha and maiko these items/services would not have sold to an outsider (gaijin) — it was a very insular world. Everyday people, even everyday Japanese women, would not have had access to this.

              To further complicate this particular plot point, Japan and China’s relations were very tense in this time period. China is huge, with several regional identities. She could have pulled from a different part of China and looked different than who she was.

              Stuff like this shows the show runners did not do any homework and know nothing about Asian history and cultures. Note: I lived in Japan for three years.

              Reply
              • Ninet

                Not to spoil too much, but there is a reason why she is dressed like she is and where she got a hold of the clothing. I also don’t think that she as an Asian woman in the 1800s had a detailed idea of what Westerners idea of Asians were – if you want to appear ”exotic”, why not go all out?

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              • Reyna

                You really do have to watch the show to get the context. Westerners in the Victorian era were obsessed with their ideas of Japanese aesthetics, so I’m sure their objectification of Asian women began long before WWII.

                I’m learning lots of interesting history from googling things about the character’s story, which makes me think the showrunners not only did their research, but intended to educate viewers about that history.

                Reply
  3. MsNomi

    I definitely watched this for the costuming and very little else. Every episode had me saying What The…? and (in my opinion) the ending was a complete letdown.

    Reply
  4. Mollie

    I watched all of this and all of the creators other show on Netflix, Dark. Both equally “what the…???” but the costumes are great in 1899! I’ve been anxiously waiting for Free for All Friday to discuss it and love that you beat me to it. The hair seems really good too!

    Reply
  5. Orian

    Wow! Blown away indeed. Will definitely being taking a look at the shown, if only for the costumes.

    Reply
  6. Caroline

    I binged it over Thanksgiving break and when I first saw the dress, I said a silent prayer that y’all would write about it!

    Reply
  7. The Scrivener

    The dress on the mannequin looks gorgeous, but the show is so dark you can barely see anything! Vox had a good youtube explainer of why films and TV are apparently shot in semi-darkness these days, but it’s such a pity, especially with frock flicks!

    The green in the original dress is indeed striking and otherworldly — I wonder if it uses arsenic?

    Reply
  8. Mizdema

    Technical point : Why, sometimes , are some comments written verticaly? Or appear so on my screen? Six or eight letters a line with a white area on the left?

    Reply
      • Mizdema

        Mobile (Android)with Chrome.
        In that post: from the comments of ladyslippers to kkittentoes (this one not included)
        At the beginning and the end of the posts, all right.

        Reply
        • Aleko

          For the last couple of days every post in every thread I’m following hits my inbox twice. Has anybody else got that problem?

          Reply
        • Trystan L. Bass

          Comments do indent so past 3 levels, it can be harder to read on mobile unfortunately. I turn my phone horizontally / landscape, which at least works on iPhone & Safari. Sorry!

          Reply
  9. Melanie

    Love this detail on the Worth gown and can’t wait for more posts about 1899! I am a fan of these showrunners since Dark. I would love to read more about Clémence’s dress, and why/whether it was acceptable for Maura to be running around in a split skirt. In the Making of 1899 special on Netflix (there are spoilers–finish the series before you watch it), there is close-up detail of the kimono and obi that you’re not able to see in the series. As someone said above, the “Japanese” costume is not meant to be accurate, but I think they did a beautiful job on those.

    Reply

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