The history of cinematography contains many movies dedicated not to some abstract time period but to certain historical epochs. Such flicks challenge their creators because it’s expected that they will be historically accurate, especially when it comes to costumes. If characters’ outfits end up having any small mistakes on them, viewers won’t be able to fully lose themselves in the atmosphere of the time, and they’ll likely leave negative feedback after watching the film.
We at dmfmemes looked through movies where the costumes weren’t only spectacular but also historically accurate. Also, we wondered what the designers were guided by when they first created the costumes through sketches.
The Oscar-winning costume designer, Alexandra Byrne, carefully studied archives, vintage patterns, and the fabrics of the Renaissance period to understand what colors, fabrics, and wardrobe items were popular in the 1800s.
Many people mistakenly assume that people used to wear gloomy and lackluster clothes during those times. But the rich fashionistas of that period did their best to show off their good taste and status through garments. They preferred rich fabrics and bright colors. That’s why Byrne decided to bust this widespread stereotype and showed a saturated candy palette in her costumes, from tender pinks to bright ocher colors.
Byrne also found inspiration in museum exhibits. For example, the pale-pink spencer that Emma was wearing was actually a part of the look that Regency-era fashionistas liked. Also, in the 1790s, men were the only ones who’d wear this short blazer, but later it quickly fell on female shoulders too. Spencers helped girls diversify the white dresses they grew tired of wearing, as they were extremely popular in the first quarter of the nineteenth century.
Several times, Emma and other female characters appeared wearing the then-popular chemisettes, which were thin blouses with many frills at the neck. During the daytime, girls would wear them over their dresses to cover the naked neck and neckline zone.
This airy dress is another example of how detailed the costumes were. At one of the social events in the film, Emma shines in an exact copy of a bright silk dress from the 1810s. The team of designers did their best to replicate the intricate ornament that decorates the bottom and the upper parts of the garment.
Little Women (2019)
In 2020, the movie won an Oscar for “Best Costumes.” And while Jacqueline Durran let some historical inaccuracies slide, there were some scenes with costumes that were painfully accurate for this epoch.
For example, at first, it might seem that Meg’s bright green scarf looks inappropriate because the girl wouldn’t have been able to afford such expensive clothes in saturated colors. But, in fact, in the 1850s, they started to produce synthetic dyes on an industrial scale. And colors such as royal blue, bright purple, and green, like what Meg is wearing, became available for simple people too.
Deborah Lynn Scott was the costume designer for this popular movie and got an Oscar for her perfect work. The director asked her to convey the epoch accurately, and with the tiniest details, because the plot was based on a famous historical event. The costume designer studied the time and read many books about etiquette in order to understand what outfits the representatives of elite society would appear in public with.
Thus, when we first see Rose on the screen, she appears in an after-lunch striped costume, which is almost an exact copy of the clothes from French fashion magazines of the year 1912. This type of outfit was the perfect choice for a woman who was traveling in the second half of her day.
Scott paid a lot of attention to the characters’ underwear as well. It’s well-known that women were not wearing bras in 1912, but they were expected to have a clearly defined silhouette in public. That’s why Kate Winslet’s character had to always wear corsets.
The Duchess (2008)
In 2009, the British costume designer, Michael O’Connor, was deservedly awarded an Oscar for his work. He created 30 costumes for Keira Knightley who played Georgiana Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire. At some point in time, this historical figure was the most fashionable in the circles of the English aristocracy.
The action of the movie touches on a rather vast time period, from 1714 to the middle of the 1800s. And the costumes in the flick visually reflect the evolution of fashion during this time. For example, the wedding dress the duchess wears was obviously inspired by the luxury French outfits of the end of the 1770s. Here, you can see that even the ruffles on the skirt match. Pay attention to the fact that the dresses have a similar panier (a framework made of whalebone that was worn underneath skirts to give the required silhouette and support the weight of the heavy clothing) as well.
Georgiana was the first woman who made a trendy accessory from an ostrich feather. The Duchess posed for the artist wearing a wide-brimmed hat with feathers. After that, this headdress became more in demand throughout England. Of course, the costume designer reflected this fact in Keira Knightley’s wardrobe as well.
The costumes are the undeniable star of this film adaptation. Designer Bina Daigeler went on a 3-week tour across China where she immersed herself in the history of the country and was inspired by the clothes of the Tang Dynasty (the seventh century to the tenth century). At those times, women were wearing dresses with elongated sleeves and a high waist. Also, the wardrobe of this period was distinguished by the brightness of colors: officials would wear purple, blue, and red uniforms; while other dresses would don up to 5 colors at once.
The costume that Mulan is wearing when she visits the matchmaker is perhaps the most memorable in the film. Daigeler brought the iconic look to live-action through a hanfu, a traditional Chinese dress. It is decorated with handmade embroidery, consisting of butterflies, magnolias, and dragons. It took almost 4 weeks to make it.
Do you like to watch historical movies and series? Which of them, in your opinion, have the most historically accurate costumes?