Top 5 Films We’d Love an Expert to Review

64

At Frock Flicks, our expertise is the history of fashion, but we can’t be experts in every specific period or place. We often go ahead and review films and TV series set in eras or places we don’t know, but we prefer to have SOME knowledge of what we’re talking about. Sometimes we’re able to pull in a guest expert, which makes us so very happy! But there are certain titles, periods, or eras that we just know too little about, and so we’d love to have an expert either write a review, or at least consult with us about the film. So, if you’re an expert in any of the below periods and/or places, get in touch! We’d love to have your help.

Side note, we wrote a whole post about Vikings and how we were pretty sure it was all WTFrock, but we don’t know enough specifics to comment. We’d still love someone to review that for us!

 

Gone With the Wind (1939)

We’ve mentioned it numerous times, but we’ve never done an in-depth review of the film’s costumes. That’s not because we don’t know something about American fashion in the 1860s, but more that the film itself is SUCH a complicated piece of American history and folklore with so much resonance today, and we just don’t feel right about reviewing its costumes without talking about how those relate to the real history of racism and slavery. Tom and Lorenzo wrote an amazing post on their blog looking at the design of Scarlett’s first dress and how that relates to these issues; we’d love to have someone who knows the fashion history but also can speak with authority about race and slavery in both the 1860s, 1930s, and our current period in terms of history and cinema. If that’s you, contact us!

1939 Gone With the Wind

Sure, we’d all be interested in knowing how well this captures mid-1860s fashions.

"Gone With the Wind" (1939)

But even more, we’d like an analysis of how this film and, especially, its costumes figure in our modern understandings of race, slavery, and American history.

Gone With the Wind (1939)

We all know that the African American characters are relegated to the background.

1939 Gone With the Wind

But this film has and continues to play SUCH an iconic role in American culture, that it would be irresponsible to look at the costumes on a solely design level.

 

Korean Drama

Korea churns out a LOT of period TV series, and they are hugely successful. We’d love to know more about them all! Because sadly, all we can say is “pretty.” We did review The Royal Tailor (2014), but that’s just a drop in the bucket, and we were barely able to scratch the surface in terms of looking at historical accuracy. If you know ANY era of Korean fashion, please get in touch, because we NEED to know more about series like:

Queen Seondoek (2009)

Queen Seondoek (2009): about Queen Seondeok of Silla, one of the three kingdoms of Korea, who reigned from 632 to 647.

Mr. Sunshine (2018)

Mr. Sunshine (2018): set in Hanseong (present-day Seoul) in the early 1900s, and focused on activists fighting for Korea’s independence.

Mr. Queen (2020)

Mr. Queen (2020): a comedy in which a modern man is trapped in the body of Queen Cheorin of Joseon (1851-64).

Empress Ki (2013)

Empress Ki (2013): about the real-life empress, a woman who ascended to power despite the era’s class restrictions, eventually marrying the emperor in the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368).

 

Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

Set during the Crusades in the 12th century, a French blacksmith goes to fight for the Kingdom of Jerusalem. This means LOTS of Middle Eastern dress, plus costumes worn by Eva Green as Queen Sibylla of Jerusalem. We’re guessing the women of the crusader kingdoms wore Western dress, but did it have its own specifics? And what was worn by Egyptian/Syrian rulers and soldiers? We don’t know! We’re hoping maybe you do?

2005 Kingdom of Heaven

Because, Kendra, who is writing this post, can only say “it looks medieval?”

2005 Kingdom of Heaven

Although she gets VERY dubious when she looks at all this Middle Eastern-inspired stuff on Queen Sibylla.

2005 Kingdom of Heaven

Maybe they did mashups! I have no idea! Of course I doubt it, but your informed snark will be much better than my dubious face!

2005 Kingdom of Heaven

Did they lounge around in Game of Thrones dresses?

2005 Kingdom of Heaven

And then is there anything historical about this on Giannina Facio as Saladin’s sister?

 

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

This film, set in 1930s-40s Japan, won costume designer Colleen Atwood an Academy Award. But literally every time we’ve posted images, people have popped up to say that Atwood made some major tweaks to traditional Japanese kimonos (and other aspects of dress? I don’t know!). None of us know kimono well enough to comment! And we’d LOVE to know! So please, for the love of frock, tell us!

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

All we can say is “pretty”!

Michelle Yeoh - Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

It looks like what I think of a “kimono” looking like, but then I am uneducated!

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

EDUCATE ME.

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

I am all ears!

 

Horses!

Okay, this one may seem totally random to you, but it is literally my dream to get one of y’all to write a post about how historical films and TV shows fuck up horses. Not just the type of horse shown, but also the bridles and other gear as well as horse-riding styles and techniques. Because every time we post an image from a frock flick in which there’s a horse, someone pops up to tell us about how the “cavesson” is wrong, and we don’t know what a cavesson IS! I think what makes me so happy about these commenters is that they are another version of My People(TM), and reading their commentary must be what it’s like for non-fashion history people to read our reviews. They’re probably wondering “what the HELL is a ‘grommet‘ and why does it matter??!!” So I’d love to give you a forum to geek the hell out, so long as you explain your terms so a non-horse person like me can understand.

Here’s a few examples that make me laugh and scratch my head all at the same time:

2013 Death Comes to Pemberley

We posted this image from Death Comes to Pemberley (2013)…

2013 Death Comes to Pemberley

And this is what resulted!

 

1991 Duel of Hearts

This Snark Week meme — making fun of Duel of Hearts (1991) — got all KINDS of chatter going among the horsey types!

1991 Duel of Hearts 1991 Duel of Hearts 1991 Duel of Hearts 1991 Duel of Hearts 1991 Duel of Hearts

 

And I recently posted this trailer for Margrete, Queen of the North (2021):

And was thrilled to see this ensue:

2021 Margrete Queen of the North 2021 Margrete Queen of the North

 

 

Can you shed some light on any of these films, periods, places, or topics? Get in touch, we’d love to feature your review!

Tags

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.

64 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    What about the horses in Ladyheart? Rutger’s was gorgeous. Or the Rohirrim in LOTR? I know they’re fantasy but the horses were gorgeous.
    Queen Margrethe looks awesome. Hopefully it will be released here.

    Reply
    • Jordan

      Ladyhawke! Fun fact, that movie is largely responsible for saving that breed of horse from extinction. It’s still vaguely rare, but the numbers bounced back REAL hard after demand for Friesians skyrocketed after that movie.

      Reply
      • Mary

        My sister had a part-Frisian horse. Beautiful and very easy to ride bareback. But higher maintenance than she was able to maintain.

        Reply
      • tggadda

        Once I got a Friesian myself I started noticing them in all the movies and especially Outlander. It’s interesting because in the book the author makes such a big point about Phillip Wylie raising and breeding this extremely rare and special breed of horses (the Friesian) and then in the TV show that’s what they’re all riding. Or you know, a lot of them. They’re great horses but I feel like pioneers would all be riding something a little more sturdy and scrappy.

        Reply
        • Carrie

          Maybe the forerunner to the Quarter Horse? Horses are usually my favorite part of any period drama or tv show :)

          Reply
  2. Fran in NYC

    On Bernadette Banner’s Youtube channel, she posted a 2 part vlog where she and other costume experts analyzed the accuracy of 2021 costume films and shows. She had people who know about Asian costumes participate in the analyses of Asian films. Maybe you can contact them? She probably gives contact info about them.

    Reply
  3. SmallCatharine

    I can help you a little bit with Kingdom of Heaven. The coronation mantle that guy is wearing is all wrong – it should look like this roughly contemporary mantle of Roger II of Sicily, made in Palermo probably by Arabian tradesman https://www.trc-leiden.nl/trc-needles/individual-textiles-and-textile-types/secular-ceremonies-and-rituals/mantle-of-roger-ii-of-sicily. In addition, all of the highborn characters should be wearing gloves for ceremonies and riding.

    Reply
  4. Mary

    Oh yes please! I grew up in Korea, so their explosion into the cinema world makes me so happy, but I have absolutely no claim to being a costuming expert about anything less recent than, oh, 1972.
    All the gear and horses and heraldry of the Rohirrim were gorgeous, they used a lot of Nordic and Anglo-Saxon references, which would be fun to explore. But what I found most entertaining is the tidbit that about half of the riders of the mark were stunt-women with applied beards. The elvish warriors and even some of the Uruk-Hai were also very often women, but elves are more androgynous in general, so they didn’t do facial hair, and the Uruk stunties had all kinds of facial appliances and armor to hide their gender. And the two easterlings who walked up to Sam and Frodo hiding under the cloak-rock were almost certainly women.

    Reply
    • Karen B Hayes

      Never thought those Easterlings were women but that might explain the especially gorgeous eyes!

      Reply
  5. Orastella

    Oh, Memoirs of a Geisha caused an absolute firestorm in the kimono community back when it came out. That was what led me to the Immortal Geisha forum, now the facebook group called Global Kimono.

    Allow me to direct you to a couple articles critical of the costumes:
    https://www.google.com/amp/s/gion-lady.tumblr.com/post/144325246962/costume-inaccuracies-in-memoirs-of-a-geisha-a/amp

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/2005/12/15/hollywoods-faulty-memoirs/ea2dd96f-6a61-4171-acca-1a997f302bd9/

    The hair is all wrong, the makeup is translucent when it should be solid white with red and pink highlights, the kimono are too short or dragged over cobblestones…

    As someone who has been roleplaying as a geisha in second life since 2008, if a new addition to our okiya showed up dressed as they were in MOAG, I would strongly encourage them toward more accurate items.

    Reply
  6. Roxana

    Margaret of Denmark was an extraordinary woman who united the three Scandinavian counties int the Union of Kalmar which she ruled, in spite of crowning her nephew, until her death. She is well worth a movie, but this one?
    In the 12th century everybody was wearing shapeless tunics and gowns so Sibylla’s elaborately tailored costumes are definitely our. But the gorgeous fabric’s are appropriate enough.

    Reply
    • Roxana

      According to Wikipedia the False Olaf was quickly revealed as a fraud being unable to speak a word of Danish and promptly executed.
      Margarete was accused of having tried to poison her son forcing him into hiding. That is of course utter nonsense. Olaf was an asset to Margaret’s plans to unite Scandinavia, Erik was in everyway a second best. Basically the whole story is a smear against a powerful woman.

      Reply
  7. Al Don

    People with that highly specific knowledge are always impressive to me.

    I can say there’s quite a lot wrong with Kingdom of Heaven (2005), but my knowledge would be of Western clothes, armour, and technology. Like most movies that are given partial credit, their authenticity is highly overstated – honesty Braveheart (1995) lowered the bar so much that anything shy of that is lauded as time travel. But alas, when it comes to the Levant I’m completely out of my depth. I too would be interested to hear an expert weigh in.

    Reply
  8. Saraquill

    For Gone with the Wind, Cheney McKnight of Not Your Momma’s History is the best person I can think of, being a Black woman whose business id all about Black American history and education.

    As for Memoirs of a Geisha, Dr. Liza Dalby, anthropologist and former geisha who literally wrote the book “Kimono” would likely have a lot to say about the movie. Such as the middle aged geisha dressing like young women (sleeve length,) the yellow outfit looks a bit off color wise (the obi is in a coordinating rather than contrasting,) and the actresses in pink and blue are wearing different levels of formality.

    From what I recall, the production was a shitshow to the point that no one Japanese wanted to act in the film, so they got Asian people of other ethnicities to perform. The movie only plot point of the lead having blue also carries unfortunate implications.

    Reply
      • Kate

        I want to preface my comment by saying that I’ve been reading this blog for a few years now, and really appreciate the perspective that you bring to your analyses. I also understand that this is a labor of love for the three of you, and that Frock Flicks probably doesn’t have the largest budget in the world. That said, I think asking someone like Cheney McKnight, a highly experienced Black woman, to educate people about “how this film and, especially, its costumes figure in our modern understandings of race, slavery, and American history” for free is… distasteful. A lot of time, experience, and emotional work that would be going into that post, and anyone doing that should be compensated for their labor.

        Acknowledging the limits of your expertise, and looking for people who have the knowledge you don’t, are both good things, and I commend you for both of them.

        Reply
        • Trystan L. Bass

          That’s exactly why we did not ask her. We’ve been supporters of her patreon for several years. But we don’t / can’t pay our guest writers or ourselves. So we’re not going out & asking folks who want to & deserve to be paid for their work to give us their work.

          100% of this post was asking if you dear reader want to volunteer yourself as an expert to write a guest post, please do.

          When commenters suggest various experts, I simply put it back on that commenter – do they know if that person wants to volunteer a guest post for us? Because we’re not going to volunteer other ppl’s free work for ourselves.

          Reply
  9. Maryanne (MrsC)

    I got nothing bu am here to say Yay for this! Vicarious Snarking is legitimate Snarking!

    Reply
  10. Gosia

    Girls, I think that, in case of “Gone with the Wind” you underestimate yourselves. For one, you are the best experts in Western movie costumes one can find in the Internet, For another, you treat the topic of race always very sensitively and considerately. I think that nobody could start railing on you, unless she or he would be out of mind. Besides, if you did a review of “Gone with the Wind”, it would be the best review of this movie :-).

    Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      I agree with Gosia. GWTW’s fashions range from 1861 to about 1873–yeah, bustles!–and some of the movie’s dresses and suits are pretty cool. (I also like the fact that Scarlett wears the same grubby, non-glam dress for a few days running during the siege of Atlanta.) Another interesting point is that since it was shot in the late ’30s, one gets the wide-hair and wide-shoulder silhouette that was becoming fashionable, especially in Scarlett’s outfits.

      O.T., sort of: In 2001 a writer named Alice Randall published an alternative GWTW called “The Wind Done Gone.” Fascinating idea and story lines (e.g., Mammy is reimagined as her smart and attractive younger self who manipulates the white bosses), but she had to change names and tone down the resemblance because of interference from Margaret Mitchell’s estate. What a movie that would make! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wind_Done_Gone

      Reply
        • M.E. Lawrence

          As I recall, it’s implied that she might have got rid of Gerald and Ellen’s baby boys in order to assert her own daughter’s rights. (Or something like that.)

          Reply
          • Roxana

            I don’t see at all how that would have worked. Sons or no sons Mammy’s daughter would still be ineligible to inherit anything of her father’s.

            Reply
      • Gosia

        M.E. Lawrence, thank you so much for the support of my suggestion :-). Let’s hope that together we can convince Trystan, Kendra and Sarah that they are the best critics to review “Gone with the Wind”. I can’t imagine anyone, who would do this better.

        Reply
    • Roxana

      GWTW in a rather nauseating romanticization of the old South and it’s peculiar institution. Personally I’ve never made it all the way throu either movie or book.

      Reply
      • Gosia

        The movie is almost political-correct compared with the book and when I read it, I had the impression that the views expressed in it are the views of Margaret Mitchell. I’m curious, if anyone else had that impression too.

        Reply
        • Joanne Renaud

          That was my impression as well. The book is nauseatingly racist, and the movie toned it down A LOT.

          Reply
        • Carrie

          Completely agree. The book was more blatantly racist to me I definitely think that Margaret Mitchell was raised on stories of the “Old South.” I could watch the film again, but definitely not read the book a second time.

          Reply
  11. SmallCatharine

    Sorry, I just know this because of a guided tour. But you could try contacting the authors of the blog at https://www.trc-leiden.nl/trc/index.php/en/blog.
    Dutch academics are required to do outreach to the general public if they are on government grant so they’ll want to know a bit about your readership to figure out if something like this could be a good fit.

    Reply
  12. Vanta

    about Kingdom of Heaven, the costumes of Sybilla are more 18-19-20e century traditional eastern costumes with a an “eastern-fantasy” twist than real crusadic arabic costumes

    Reply
      • Vanta

        Can I say that costumes are beautiful because they are worn by Eva Green ? ^^ (even with a trash bag, she would be marvelous^^)

        Reply
        • Aleko

          Oh yes, they looked lovely. There were only two that just didn’t really work as costumes:
          – in the scene where she and Guy are announced and walk in to dinner together, she had obviously found it impossible to walk in her skirts and had resorted to taking the front panel and holding it out stiffly to one side, her arm almost horizontal. That looked terrible. Royalty, in any place or era, don’t resort to holding their clothes out of the way themselves: if for reasons of ceremony they wear outfits that are simply too long/heavy/elaborate to walk in, they have pages or eunuchs or ladies-in-waiting to manage them. That’s part of the point of 20-yard long trains, 8-inch-high chopines and the like: “conspicuous inconvenience”.
          – in the scene in the Director’s Cut where she (utterly unhistorically, BTW – Scott was falsifying real history as blatantly as Gibson and Wallace in Braveheart) euthanises her son (by pouring poison in his ear as he sleeps in an orchard, like Hamlet’s father, for God’s sake) she was given a tight-fitting lacy black number and a floral black lace veil which made her look exactly like a Tragic Widow in a late 19th-century French melodrama.

          Reply
          • Roxana

            From medieval illustrations you can see if a lady did find in necessary to hold up her skirt she cuddled the folds against her body rather than holding it out. Somebody should have just pinned up the skirt for that scene. And you’re dead right about the poisoning scene dress!

            Reply
  13. ConsiderTheBees (@Wildfyrewarning)

    I don’t have insight into how accurate the costumes in “Kingdom of Heaven” are, but I do remember it somewhat fondly as being one of the movies (alongside a couple movies about nuns) that made me realize that films could, in fact, put women in that kind of headwear and still have it work, they were just choosing not to and going with “you can’t see the actress’ face!” as an excuse.

    Reply
  14. Aleko

    One thing to bear in mind about Kingdom of Heaven is that Janty Yates was quite upfront that she had based the European costumes not on authentic medieval costumes but on 19th-century romantic medievalist artwork. Quite a smart move since that’s ultimately where all the illustrations in our childhood picture books came from so our eyes accept it, whereas genuine 12th-century costume (e.g. knights wearing stockings and suspender belts over baggy drawers like white pyjamas) is actually quite startling.

    Another thing is that Scott made this movie to push an anti-religious and basically anti-European agenda, and wanted to show all his ‘Good Europeans’ as being agnostic and wanting to be cosy with the Muslims (it’s noticeable that the genuine locals, who would mostly have been Christian too, are tidied right out of the picture) and so puts them in much more Eastern costumes than they would in fact have worn. Of course the Franks of the Middle East did adapt their clothing to the climate and the local availability of exotic goods – lots of silk and perfume, men wearing turbans, ladies going veiled in the street (which may have been as much to avoid a nasty suntan and a mouthful of dust as for modesty).

    And royalty and the upper nobility likely went for Byzantine styles in formal wear (as the Norman kings of Sicily did at the same period): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_II_of_Sicily#/media/File:Martorana_RogerII2008.jpg
    – the royal house of Jerusalem and the counts of Tripoli and Edessa, had married into Byzantine and Armenian royalty, and Balian of Ibelin himself was married to a Byzantine princess. There’s only a single brief nod to this fashion trend in the entire movie: at the coronation of her son, Sibylla wears a copy of the 1215 crown of Constance of Aragon as Holy Roman Empress, which is completely Byzantine in style and was almost certainly made in Constantinople:
    https://i.pinimg.com/564x/f4/ea/73/f4ea73daf94290153df3bd1a05629c6d.jpg
    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a2/Crown_of_Constance_of_Aragon_-_Cathedral_of_Palermo_-_Italy_2015.JPG/800px-Crown_of_Constance_of_Aragon_-_Cathedral_of_Palermo_-_Italy_2015.JPG

    Reply
  15. Addie

    I am 100% not an expert in Korean clothing history but I have done some research, and Mr. Sunshine is one of my favorite shows of all time. If I did do a guest post it’d be more as an introduction to Korean dress and how certain characters’ clothing fits in with their personal and political choices. For example, Kudo Hina and Gu Dong-mae are both Korean born, wear Japanese clothing regularly (or in Kudo Hina’s case, European, Japanese and sometimes even Qing-influenced styles) but speak to each other in Korean. The use of a binyeo (hairpin) as a weapon and a norigae (pendant) as a ransom are definitely worth talking about, as is the use of cross-dressing for Lady Ae-Sin when she’s in combat mode.
    As a rule, Mr. Sunshine isn’t always 100% accurate but you can tell they did a lot of research about the period. They step outside of an exact representation of the past but with the backing of a lot of reference knowledge. Like understanding how people combined fashion during this imperial era– combining a bowler hat, baji and jeogori, wearing a European-style gown made with Joseon silk, etc. I could not speak to absolute accuracy for the era, especially not for the Japanese and Qing-influenced costuming, but I could say a lot about what each costuming decision says about the characters. I’d probably have to limit it to the main 5 plus a few secondary characters because there are. so. many. characters in that show.

    Reply
    • Addie

      Actually, now that I’m looking, you might want to reach out to the person behind The Talking Cupboard, username Muchadoaboutlove. They did a post on various garments and their history and usage in the late Joseon dynasty/early colonial period as seen in Mr. Sunshine, filled out better than I possibly could: https://thetalkingcupboard.com/2018/09/16/shining-hanbok-under-the-sun/
      I stand by that I could talk at length about what each clothing choice says about each character, and how various styles from Japan, Joseon and Western cultures visually blend in the series.

      Reply
    • Aleko

      Having learnt to ride sidesaddle myself for 18th-century living history, I can’t help but check out any lady’s saddle I see in a historical flick.

      I can’t say I blame any production where they have just used a modern sidesaddle, because authentic period sidesaddles, let alone sideways saddles – essentially a chair, with a footrest from the 14th century onwards, fixed facing sideways on the horse’s back – are (a) a big extra expense to have made to order, and (b) a LOT less safe: the rider has less grip and less control of the horse, and the saddle is more likely to slip. Two very good reasons to not use them! (Though with a little care it should be possible to drape the costume to cover the anachronistic features of a modern saddle.)

      But often they use sidesaddles when they don’t need to, and even when they actively shouldn’t, e.g. Cate Blanchett in the 2010 Robin Hood. Catherine de’ Medici is credited with inventing prototype of the sidesaddle as we now understand it, with a stirrup for the left foot and two horns to rest the right thigh in; this enabled a lady to face forwards (with a bit of spinal twist), take the reins in both hands, and have at least some grip on something in order to stay on. Before the 16th century, a lady (and only ladies got to ride at all in Western Europe; it was a class thing) only had the options of:
      – sitting sideways in a chair and let the horse be led along by an an attendant on foot, which was only practicable at a walking pace and even then not comfortable at all (or safe, either, unless the horse was unnaturally placid – if the horse was suddenly spooked and jerked the reins out of the attendant’s hand, the lady was quite helpless);
      – riding pillion sideways behind a man, which at least gave him the job of controlling the horse and you his waist to hang on to;
      – riding astride. This was the only practical and remotely comfortable way of riding long distances or at speed. We know that Chaucer’s Wife of Bath was riding astride from Southwark to Canterbury, and it’s not plausible to think that Eleanor of Aquitaine, for example, who fairly tore around Europe and the Middle East whenever she wasn’t imprisoned by her husband, rode any other way.

      Reply
      • Aleko

        Self-correction: rode any other way on her travels, and at any other time when she would have wanted to go faster than a walk. There’s a marvellous 12th-century fresco in the Chapel of St Radegonde in Chinon that’s thought to show Henry II and his family out hawking. The central crowned figure is generally said to be Eleanor, but it may be Henry’s eldest son who he crowned in his own lifetime, Henry ‘the Young King’. But the bareheaded figure just in front is certainly a young woman, possibly Henry’s daughter Joan.

        https://www.worldhistory.org/image/11547/royal-hunt-fresco-chapelle-sainte-radegonde/

        On ceremonial occasions, processions and such, Eleanor may very likely have ridden sideways: I didn’t mean to imply that she didn’t.

        Reply
      • Damnitz

        How many original side saddles do you know? I remember more then a decade ago a former friend of us. She was happy to see an original one in an excibition about hunting in the 17th and 18th century in a museum in Berlin. I suggest that reconstructions of side saddles are difficult to make if you rely on original examples? I remember some discussions even about the saddles of cavalry from the 18th century period.

        Reply
        • Aleko

          Oh, absolutely you would have to work mostly by guess from the very few originals plus contemporary illustrations, and the available information is so thin that it’s impossible to say exactly how a saddle would have been made in any given place and year (the more so as innovations might take a long time to spread, and a well-maintained saddle can stay in use for generations).

          But there are certain features whose invention we can date. A problem with the sidesaddle had always been its tendency to slip sideways at speed (due to the difficulty of centring one’s weight) unless the horse was girthed so tightly that it might faint! – till somewhen in the 1820s someone thought of adding the “balance strap”, a kind of extra girth which runs diagonally from the back of the saddle on each side to the main girth on each side. This made riding at speed much safer.

          And while before 1830 the saddle had only two horns, in which the right thigh rested. (When a lady rider before that date was depicted from her right, as here, https://a.1stdibscdn.com/british-school–paintings-the-rider-fine-portrait-lady-side-saddle-oil-painting-equestrian-themed-for-sale/a_5093/1541532662057/mobilejpegupload_8727402755E246DD949A18FFD495C9E1_master.jpg?width=768 you can see the right-hand horn curving against her leg,) The left leg was only supported by the stirrup, so there was very little the legs could do to grip. Mostly the rider just had to stay balanced, and If she dared jump an obstacle at all she just had to hang on to the pommel with one hand and the cantle with the other, and hope for the best. In 1830 Jules Pellier (probably) in France added a third horn on the left that curved down over the left thigh. This meant that the rider could actually grip the saddle by clenching her thighs together; this made her seat so much more secure that leaping one’s horse over obstacles became a not-crazily-dangerous activity. For this reason this new feature was named the “leaping head”. Its adoption was such a no-brainer that within only a few years new saddles were routinely being made with one, and many owners of existing ones had them fitted. It took a few decades for everyone to realise that the right-hand horn was now redundant, but by the 1870s most if not all new saddles were made without them.

          So if you see a sidesaddle in a historical flick set before 1830 that has these two features it is definitely anachronistic. As I say, it’s a very pardonable anachronism, and depending on the costume worn it may also be possible to cover them up.

          Reply
      • Roxana

        Yeah those chair saddles look precarious as heck. I bet medieval ladies hated them. They seem to have been mostly used in processions and the like. When the lady was dressed to the nines and didn’t want to disarrange her clothes.
        Henry VIII gave Anne Boleyn a pillion saddle, almost certainly to allow them to snuggle cosily on horseback. Their daughter Elizabeth had a reputation as a skilled and daring rider. It’s not said but I bet she rode astride.

        Reply
        • Anna

          Isn’t this why medieval women tended to ride mules rather than horses in fancy processionals? I remember reading that Catherine of Aragon rode a mule in her wedding to Prince Arthur, and figuring that it was probably because a mule was less likely to rear/spook

          Reply
  16. Anna

    Life-long horseback rider here. I have 0 knowledge of historically accurate tack, but there are a couple of FrockFlick horse tropes that drive me nuts: 1) Actors who obviously can’t ride 2) Unnecessarily putting two people on one horse (90% of horses would buck you off if you tried it) 3) Needing the sound of a whinny every time there’s a horse on screen (looking at you, Bridgerton) 4) Women with bare legs (or skirts hiked up around waists with nothing on underneath) riding with regular saddles. DO NONE OF YOU UNDERSTAND CHAFING??

    Reply
    • Aleko

      I’ve always been puzzled by medieval knightly leg-wear. Who the heck, given that the main occupation of their life is fighting on horseback, chooses to do that wearing stockings and a suspender belt over long baggy pyjama-like drawers? It’s not as though they didn’t encounter trouser-wearing warriors in the Middle East.

      Reply
  17. Chiara

    Ha! As a horse nerd, I often also wonder about tack and breed choices (though I am also sometimes annoyed by people who make claims like there were only ponies until very recently, etc.) but what bothers me most in period drama is violent riding as a means of expression. Bad riding where you can see that the actor doesn’t have much riding experience is fine, but occasionally one really sees actors just being really brutal on their horse to express their character’s anger, and that’s just horrible. That aside, modern or badly fitting tack in period drama is very annoying, and would be so easy to get right. Although it has its challenges: when Robert Hardy (who was an excellent rider) played Robert Dudley in Elizabeth R, his (own) horse hated the wooden Elizabethan saddle, and he fell of and had a very painful and embarrassing accident with the pommel…

    Reply
    • Anna

      On tack and breed choices: YES, especially on the breeds! Thinking in particular about the random paint horse in the hunt scene in season 1 of Downton Abbey, and about the Gilded Age–I call shenanigans on Mrs. Russel’s carriage being pulled by Fjord ponies!

      On bad riding: yes, absolutely, sawing on your horse’s bit to express “feelings” is The Worst, but every time I see a character who supposedly grew up in a saddle flapping their elbows all over the place, my brain hurts. I would not let my seven-year-old students get away with that nonsense.

      Also omg painful accidents with a pommel! Ow…

      Reply

Feel the love

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.