Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Oh no! The Period Drama I'm Watching Has Inaccurate Costuming!

If you're like me, one of the first things I notice in a period drama is the costuming. I love looking at the costumes and, since I like studying historical fashion, I try to pick out the era in which the story is taking place just by looking at the clothing.

But then it happens: you're watching a period drama and the clothing does not match up to the time period! Oh no!

Don't worry just yet -- there may be a chance that the period drama that you are viewing might not be as inaccurate as it seems. There are a couple of ways that characters can get away with using older fashions than the period the film is taking place. Note: These are just my observations and assumptions. I may have also read a little about this topic and can't place the exact source.

1. The character is an older/elderly character
The younger characters will want the latest fashions: they've never seen anything like it before -- they love the latest fashions -- they need them! However, if a character is older, chances are they like the fashions that they have and will therefore wear them instead of the current fashions.


Mrs. Jennings (Sense and Sensibility) 
Time Period of Story: 1795 - 1820
Time Period of Fashion: 1780-1790s
I hesitated putting up Mrs. Jennings since she is a rich character (see #2), and does go out into society (see #4), which would make it seem like she would have the latest fashions, but you could make an argument that her dresses/hairstyle may be accurate. It's possible that she liked the Georgian Fashions of her youth better than the Regency Fashions and decided to stick to the Georgian Fashions. Although, they do make an attempt to give her a Regency waistline on her dress, the lace along the neckline looks Georgian, but her hair is definitely Georgian.

2. The character is poor
Obviously, if a character does not have a lot of money, money will mostly go to the absolute necessities and not on the latest fashions. Chances are, they clothes that the poorer characters would wear would most likely be hand-me-downs.

Fanny Dorrit (Little Dorrit - 2008)
Time Period of Story: 1826
Time Period of Fashion: 1805 - 1820
Here, I'm mostly talking about Fanny during the first half of Little Dorrit. Fanny would possibly have gotten some hand-me-downs from the Regency Era that was once her mother's, and since the Dorrits were poor, she probably could not get newer clothes on her own. Little Dorrit takes place in about 1826; the Regency Era ended in 1820: from 1820 to 1830 the waistlines of the dresses began to descend until they hit the natural waist where they would remain for quite some time.

3. The character does not go out into society
There are a couple of characters in period dramas that never leave their house. Since they don't leave their homes, they don't need to get the latest fashions since no one (or few) will see them. They also may not be physically able to go to a store to look at the latest fashions and buy them.

Mrs. Clennam (Little Dorrit - 2008) 
Time Period of Story: 1826
Time Period of Fashion: 1795 - 1820


Miss Havisham (Great Expectations - 1999)
Time Period of Story: 1850s?
Time Period of Fashion: 1795 - 1820, possibly 1805 - 1820

Both characters are confined to the house they live in, but for different reasons. Mrs. Clennam cannot leave her house because she is an invalid and bound to a wheelchair. Miss Havisham's reason is that she had her heart broken on her wedding day and imposes solitude on herself. While Mrs. Clennam's confinement is physical and Miss Havisham's is emotional, either way both do not get out into society and therefore both do not really need newer clothes. You could also say that they're both older characters which could also be why they have older clothes (see #2).

4. The character does not live in/near town
If you're nearest to the big cities, you usually get your hands on the latest fashions right away. But out in the country and in a time when communication was much slower than it is today, it may take a little while for the latest fashions to appear. Unfortunately, I can't come up with a really good example of this, but it was something that occurred to me as a possibility of a character not having period clothing.

Hopefully, this will clear up some costuming issues you might have. Again, this is based on my observations and a little bit of what I've read. If you have any comments or corrections to this, please leave them.

 God Bless,
 God Bless, Miss Elizabeth Bennet

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