Top Five Times the Extras Were Better Dressed Than the Principles

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Often, we snark the extras in historical costume movies and TV shows because they’re obviously wearing rental costumes that don’t fit and look randomly modern. But here and there, frock flicks turn up where the principle characters have weaksauce costumes, and it’s the extras who are wearing the historically accurate outfits.

 

Becoming Jane (2007)

The dancers at the ball who all manage to be in early 1790s while the rest of the cast waffles between 1770 and 1820 and WTFrock.

This one in particular.

I always have to preface any snarky mention of Becoming Jane with the fact that I actually adore this film. It’s one of my “comfort food” flicks, something I go to when I need both a good cry and an uplifting story about sisters doing it for themselves. But the costumes for the principle cast never quite gelled, wandering all over the damn place in terms of decade, meanwhile some of the background actors had the 1790s look down pat.

 

Dangerous Beauty (1998)

The secondary characters vs. the whooores

OK, pretty much all of Dangerous Beauty‘s costumes can be summed up in two categories:

  1. Slutty pretty
  2. Prudish pretty

The first category is 100% Not Historical At All. Like, if you thumbed through Vecellio while drunk and then started cutting away random parts of the costume until you had some funky hangover-inspired pseudo-Venetian dresses.

It is pretty, I’ll give you that.

The second category, however, is definitely based on some understanding of the 16th-century Italian silhouette, but these gowns start to look virtually historically accurate when compared to the stuff the courtesans are all wearing.

Ok, so she’d have had a ruff… But close enough.

 

Mad Love (2001)

The ladies in waiting vs. Queen Juana the Mad

The only appropriately-dressed-for-the-1490s characters in the entire film were these three ladies in waiting.

juana la loca (2001)

Niña, Pinta, and Santa Ma — Oh wait. Wrong movie.

The rest of the costumes on the main characters fluctuated between 100 years too early and 100 years too late.

I was also pinching myself to see if I was really seeing this.


Emperor (2018?)

Contractually Obligated Leather Pants and Plucky Tomboy Heroine meet the reenactors

Is this movie EVER going to come out? Has it been released and then quietly dragged off into a back alley and shot or something? I mean, I’ve been waiting for over a goddamn year for this dreck to hit the theatres and it’s total radio silence. Maybe they’re on to me. Maybe they know I just want to watch it to snark the Contractually Obligated Leather Pants, even if My Boyfriend Adrien Brody is wearing them.

Especially since My Boyfriend Adrien Brody is wearing them.

Anyway, the background cast in this film looks like it was made up of reenactors. The costumes are really beautiful, just from what I can see in the handful of photos floating around out there.

Edit: Apparently, the reason Emperor hasn’t been released is because the producer was arrested for fraud. I guess that’s as good an excuse as any…

 

The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)

Elizabeth Boleyn’s outfit vs. the crazy-ass shit everyone else was wearing

The 1% of good costumes.

I remember when Kendra, Trystan, and I saw this in the theatre before we podcasted about it, and I remember thinking “WOAH. AN ACTUAL GABLE HOOD THAT DOESN’T LOOK RIDICULOUSLY HUGE.” Mama Boleyn was bringing the Tudor realness here.

And then there was the other 99%.

 

What historical costume movies and TV shows can you think of have better costumes on the extras?

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

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Sarah discovered her dual passion for history and costume right around the age of twelve. Dragged kicking and screaming to her first Renaissance Faire at Black Point, she was convinced she was going to hate it, but to her surprise, she fell head over heels in love with the world of reenactment and dress up immediately. Her undergraduate degree is in Clothing & Textile Design, and she has a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture. When she’s not hauling crap to SCA events and ren faires, Sarah enjoys reading true crime books, writing fiction, and sewing historical clothing from the Middle Ages through the 20th-century. One of these days, she might even start updating her old costuming blog again.

17 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    I’m too waiting for Emperor but also Matilda based on the Prima ballerina assoluta Mathilde Kschessinkaya affair with several Romanov Grand Dukes and Tsarevitch Nicky.
    And does Dr Quinn count. The native Americans were dressed better than the Townie’s.

    Reply
  2. LydiaR

    I confess I adore Dangerous Beauty, but not for the courtesans’ costumes. I love most of the rest of the womens’ costumes, and the men are pretty smokin’. I mostly watch it because it’s so full of pretty.

    Reply
  3. Terry Dresbach

    You get why this is, right? CD’s have total freedom with extras. Once you get to doing the principals, the “is history sexy?” issue raises its ugly head.
    The committees assemble, and history loses. Except on the extras. Often it is where we get to do our best work.

    Reply
  4. Theve

    Funny, I’m the girl extra on the right in the picture of the set of Emperor. Every extra wore spectacular costumes and we’re all very disappointed the film will probably never be released. But we do have some great set pics… We were not allowed to post them anywhere publicly.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      Ha! I knew that one of these days someone from the film would appear here! I’m curious… were you all reenactors? Because those costumes are pretty spot-on for that period and locale.

      Reply
      • Terry Dresbach

        Most shows will not allow extras to bring their own clothing, as we then have no control over the costumes for reshoots etc.
        The Costume Department is usually more than capable of doing things the right way, if the process is not interfered with from above, and they are given the time and resources to do the job properly.

        Reply
      • Theve

        No, just extras and some stuntmen. Costumer Francesca Sartori checked every extra very meticulously. I was on set for 3 days in the streets of Ghent and two in the Gravensteen castle. Before we were allowed on set, she always had to give her final approval and there was a costume fitting before shooting.

        Reply
  5. Elizabeth

    I love Becoming Jane! I acknowledge that the costumes are a mashup of eras, but since the 1785-1825 period is one of my favorites in fashion history, I’m okay with it.

    Reply
  6. Lady Hermina De Pagan

    Unless my eyes are playing tricks on me, the three extras in Mad Love are wearing Majestic Velvets 5 piece renaissance costume in navy blue. I actually own that gown.
    I know that the people who own Armstreet Armour and several of their gowns were used in the Russell Crowe Robin Hood.

    Reply
  7. An enthusiast

    Seeing the comment about the gable hood in The Other Boleyn Girl is honestly me.
    I feel that it’s actually had the best made gable hoods on screen, and even showed those weird hybrid Gable-French hoods that were curved but still angular, like what you see in the portrait of Thomas More’s family.

    Reply
  8. Terry Towels

    I saw those two dresses from ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ years ago during a tour of Hampton Court. I figured at the time they were promoting the (terrible) movie. The dresses weren’t anything special in the real (looked like they were made of rayon and synthetic velvet). I remember thinking how tiny and small those two actresses were– child-sized dresses.

    Reply
  9. Alba

    Maybe I am wrong… But the costumes in Mad Love are actually the best thing of the movie, and, to my understandment, quite accurate both for the Extras and the Main Characters. The thing is, Spanish Fashion, though out history, has always adored doing its own thing and has rarely matched English or French Fashion up until the 18th-19th century.

    Reply
  10. Jamie

    Becoming Jane: We get it–Jane’s ahead of her time. I actually like her costumes–haven’t seen the movie, just stills–but it’s so annoying; she sticks out like a sore thumb.
    Dangerous Beauty: Such a guilty pleasure for me.Even before I got interested in costume design, I knew something was off about Veronica’s dresses–I think it was the cut-out shoulders.

    Reply
  11. Kate

    Not so much the extras, but in the 2005 P&P with Keira Knightley, it often seems like her lesser sisters have better costumes than she does. It’s another where the costumes seem to be all over the place, time wise, with certain characters having really high waistlines, and others skewing towards the 1790s. And with Keira, it seems like they found out she didn’t have large breasts and just sort of “gave up”, costume wise, instead of trying to find costumes that would be both somewhat accurate and flattering to a woman with a flatter chest.

    Reply

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