I debated on titling this post “Top Five Frock Flicks Set Between 1490-1520” because the inclusion of Ever After (1998) made that problematic since it is technically set in France, and I know how much our readers LOVE calling us out on technicalities. But then, I realized that the costume designs for Ever After are mostly based on the classic “Italian Renaissance” silhouette (with the odd German design thrown in here and there), since French costume from the 1490s bore little resemblance to the designs in the film.
I think it’s pretty clear that Jenny Beavan was drawing inspiration for the film from Italy rather than France. I rest my case.
Now that we’ve got the technicalities out of the way, let’s enjoy the pretty costumes!
Ever After (1998)
Anyway, I love this film! It was the first time I had seen high-waisted dresses on a young woman that resembled my own figure at the time (as in Drew Barrymore has boobs and isn’t just a fence post of a girl-child that would look good in anything), and I realized this style could actually look flattering! There are so many gorgeous gowns in this film, I have a hard time picking my favorite, but these three are certainly my top choices.
I just reviewed this film, and it’s what got me thinking about writing this post! The costume designer Mitchell Travers really nailed the look of late 15th-century Italy, even though the dialog is very modern.
Romeo and Juliet (1968)
I am almost contractually obligated to include Zefferrelli’s iconic take on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in this list, but really … the costumes are amazing. Designed by Danilo Donati, who won an Oscar for Best Costume for his work on this film, they look like they were pulled from an Italian fresco.
The Borgias (2011-13)
THIS SHOW IS JUST PURE ITALIAN RENAISSANCE EYE CANDY AND I WANT EVERYTHING THAT HOLLIDAY GRAINGER WEARS IN IT. THE END.
Taming of the Shrew (1967)
Ok, so this one is set a bit later than the others, but I needed to include it because it is SUCH a great example of an era of Italian Renaissance costuming that is rarely done on film. The 1520s and 1530s got a bit weird with big sleeves, big hats, big skirts … just big everything, and it’s not something most actresses could pull off without getting drowned in yards of velvet. Elizabeth Taylor, however, is not “most actresses,” and despite being a busty petite woman, she wears the hell out of every single opulent costume, with gowns specifically designed for her by Irene Sharaff, while Danilo Donati was the overall costumer for the film.
So, that’s my list! What’s it missing? Tell me in the comments!
I will die salty about how the Borgias was cancelled.
You concentrated on Liz’s costumes in “Shrew” which were designed by Irene Sharaff, I think. They are not as good as everybody else’s, which are Danilo Donati designs and amazing. Liz’s are OK.
I think Il mestiere delle armi (The Profession of Arms) (2001) merits a mention. It’s one of the most faithful recreations of real events of the time. It is just outside of your cutoff – 1526. It’s a beautifully shot mood piece that’s a coda to the age of chivalry.
I’m not terribly well versed on Renaissance clothing so I couldn’t comment on the particulars. So maybe that wouldn’t hold up? I wouldn’t know. I can say the armour is bloody fantastic. And the director chose actors whose faces are straight out of a Renaissance painting:
An overlooked film but gets a lot of love among some online historical communities, and rightfully so.
It is available on Kanopy, an excellent free streaming service available through public libraries
I think you have covered the Era with the best costumes of the cinema.
Gimme everything in Ever After! Especially the blue dress she wears to the Monastery!
All of the costumes in these specific pics and from what I remember of these movies are BEAUTIFUL!! When I saw Liz Taylor in the red dress from Shrew, my first thought was, “Queen of Hearts.” I don’t know about accuracy or the exact year, but I thought the costumes in Dangerous Beauty were beautiful.
Me too! I LOVE Dangerous Beauty, the stars, the music, and the courtesan costumes. I think that The Frock Flix Goddesses do not approve of Dangerous Beauty…too inauthentic? But I don’t care even. I still love it.
Watching Romeo and Juliet is like taking a stroll through the Uffizi museum in Florence…pure timeless beauty all around you.
My gods, Elizabeth Taylor was so beautiful it makes my eyes water.
Taylor’s corseting is so wrong it’s painful – they were clearly emphasizing her bustline, because that ain’t a 1520’s corset.
That’s probably why Irene Sharaff was brought on board to do Liz’s costumes– Sharaff was old-school Hollywood, knew how to work with her figure, and would put her on best display.
(Since Taylor was an uncredited producer on the film, she could make that demand.)
Plus, Sharaff had done the costumes for three of Taylor’s four latest films– CLEOPATRA, THE SANDPIPER, and WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF (Pierre Cardin did the costumes for THE V.I.P.S)– and had won Oscars for the first and last of them.
I have to go with the two Danilo Donati films as my favorites in this, with an edge to ROMEO AND JULIET.
Oh, I need to see that version of The Taming of the Shrew!
The main problem with The Borgia’s costumes is that most of Lucrezia’s wardrobe draws very heavily on the 1530-40 trends more than it does on the 1490s trends. Beautiful costumes they are, but not accurate whatsoever and more fitting for a show set 50 years later than “the Borgias”