Who doesn’t love a little black dress? Or a big one? It can be chic and sophisticated, dark and spooky, morbid and mourning — all things to all people. And historical costume movies and TV shows have plenty of opportunities for fabulous black dresses. I love so very many of them that these aren’t really my top five, just five that I’m thinking of right now. Enjoy!
Marie-Antoinette’s Black Masquerade Gown – Marie-Antoinette (2006)
This is more about the scene than the dress itself, because, let’s be honest, the black dress is neither all that historical nor terribly interesting on its own. What she’s wearing looks like a modern ballgown. But the little sheer mask makes it delightful, and I lovelovelove that ball itself. If I believed in heaven, that’s what it would look like, and I want to go there.
Claire’s Black-and-White Vandyke Dress – Outlander (2016)
During season 2, while in France, Claire wears this wonderful black satin gown with white sleeves that we call her “Vandyke” dress because the style references the 18th-century trend of women being painted wearing a certain 17th-century fashion. I’ve been obsessed with these portraits for YEARS, starting when I saw the portrait of Lady Frances Finch by Thomas Hudson, 1741, at the Huntington, and then I looked online and discovered dozens upon dozens of similar portraits. I’ve had materials set aside to make my own, and then bam Terry Dresbach goes and does it. Now I feel like if I do make it, people will think I’m doing Outlander cosplay. Oh well, I still love the dress! At the very least, I need to write a scholarly paper about it (in my copious free time…).
Lady Mary’s Beaded Black Dinner Dress – Downton Abbey (2016)
Mary often wore black for dinner, but this dress from season 6, episode 8 is special. It’s long, ultra-elegant, and super-sexy. She’s even wearing a rather fashion-forward beaded net thingy on her head. And it’s all to make an impact on Henry Talbot, as she tries to tell him off and say “I don’t need you” even though she really does. Whatever, Mary, you’re going to marry him at the end of this episode.
Lucile Sharp’s Black Velvet Bustle Gown – Crimson Peak (2015)
I’ve had a deep, visceral need for a black velvet bustle gown ever since the first pix of this came out, long before the film did. This dress is simple gothic perfection. It was only on screen briefly, for a picnic, but it made an impact. Lucile’s whole wardrobe is a goth girl’s wet dream, but this black dress is a classic ideal.
Mary Sibley’s Spider- and Bug-Trimmed Black Dress – Salem (2014)
It’s a pity that Salem was such a bad show because the costuming was really pretty and showed a ton of creativity and detail work. But, like the plot, the costumes didn’t make much sense for the historical period or the characters. Set in early 17th-century New England, the clothes were entirely too elaborate and mixed details from 50 years earlier and in the future. But dayum, they were beautifully dark and spooky! This season 1 gown does have a reasonably 1630s silhouette, and being decked out with silver spiders and bugs kinda makes sense for a witch getting in touch with natural powers, I guess.
What are your favorite black dresses in historical costume movies and TV shows? Bonus points if they’re not mourning gowns!