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Countess of Castiglione costume reproduction
18th century, 19th century, events, Frock Flicks, projects, travel

Countess of Castiligione Fancy Dress

Nobody freak out, but I’m going to write a post. About a dress. That I made! I have wanted to make this particular costume for about 20 years, which is why I am blowing the dust off my keyboard and doing this. I’d like to share some of the making on social media, and I’d like to be able to share more than just photos. So, let’s see if I remember how to do this?

I’ve shared the story of the real-life Countess of Castiglione, Virginia Oldoïni (1837-99), as well as my own personal interest in her, in a review I wrote for Frock Flicks. As I wrote there:

The Countess of Castiglione was Italian; she was married off at age 17 to the count, who was 12 years older. She was renowned for her beauty, which helped take her life in a couple of interesting directions. She got involved in the movement for Italian unification, moving to Paris in 1855 (initially with her husband) to try to gain political support from Napoleon III. She ended up becoming Napoleon’s mistress, and her husband separated from her. She became famous for wearing amazingly gorgeous and inspired costumes to the fancy dress balls that were then popular, and collaborated with French photographers Mayer and Pierson to create these insanely cool, artistic photographs of herself that were meant to recreate important moments in her life, many of which focused on fancy dress costume. She returned to Italy for a few years, then moved back to Paris where she lived in seclusion until the 1890s, when she did another series of weirdly arty photographs.

I’ve been a fan for over 20 years, and I played the countess at the Dickens Fair, where I had to make an “everyday” (i.e. not fancy dress) day dress, which I posted a bit about. But the costume of hers that I have always been obsessed with is this 18th century fancy dress/masquerade costume from the mid-1860s:

Portrait of Countess Virginia Oldoini di Castiglione by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1863, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Portrait of Countess Virginia Oldoini di Castiglione by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1863, Metropolitan Museum of Art

There’s so much I love about this. First, the over-the-top take on 18th century, which is my first love. The lushness of All That Fabric. The INSANELY interesting, very 1860s but not in a butterchurn-y way hair. And the intense gaze — she looks like the best kind of evil sorceress.

I’ve thought before about making this costume for Costume College, because it’s not something you would wear to most occasions. But even Costume College didn’t seem big enough for such an amazing costume! Plus, it would be huge and annoying to dance in.

Well, I finally made it to Carnevale in Venice this past February (back when we were able to do such fabulous things! Remember that time?), and I knew I HAD to make this, finally. I mean, VENICE! Not only was the countess Italian, but Carnevale is about over-the-top, tweaked and twisted and arty costumes, not just showing up in your standard ballgown. And I was invited to an amazing party with the theme of “Royal Favorites,” i.e. dress as the favorite of a king/queen/emperor/etc., which is perfect for the countess. And so, it began.

First, the fabric. The countess was an early pioneer in photo alteration, and in fact she colorized many of her photos using different variations. Here’s some of the ideas she had for this dress (note: I am just now noticing the bows on the petticoat, only because she colored them here):

[Variations on the "Elvira" Dress] by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1861–67, Metropolitan Museum of Art

[Variations on the “Elvira” Dress] by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1861–67, Metropolitan Museum of Art

However, one of the things that has always drawn me to this photo is the acres of light colored fabric, so I knew I wanted to go with ivory or cream. I originally was looking for silk taffeta, but couldn’t find anything in the exact shade I wanted. Everything was too yellow-y. Then I found a silk gazar, which is basically lighter than taffeta but heavier than organza, on sale at my local fabric store (Stonemountain and Daughter) that was ivory but had a beautiful sheen and a slight peachy undertone to it, and I bought every scrap they had. I was thrilled with how beautiful the fabric was in the end, but this stuff WRINKLES LIKE NO TOMORROW. On the advice of friends, I (for the first time) pre-ironed everything before packing, and then carefully layered things with this dress the most protected. Yeah, that was a waste of time:

What the dress looked like after unpacking.

What the dress looked like after unpacking. Pre-ironing is bullshit!

One of the best things about the countess is the many, many photos she had taken of herself. And this particular costume is quite well documented, although given the quality of the early photos, there’s still some guesswork involved. But I managed to find a number of photos that gave me a lot of information.

The fact that some of the photos call it a “pleated peignoir” let me know that it’s a loose gown, kind of like a robe volante (the full, pleated, unfitted gown fashionable in the 1720s-30s):

La peignoir plisié by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1860s, Metropolitan Museum of Art

La peignoir plisié by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1860s, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Notice how there’s no fitting around the waist, and the pleated trim along the center fronts is unbroken from neckline to hem:

La peignoir plisié by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1860s, Metropolitan Museum of Art

La peignoir plisié by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1860s, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Here again you can see the unbroken line — the gown is clearly not stitched down to any lining in the torso:

La peignoir plisié by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1860s, Metropolitan Museum of Art

La peignoir plisié by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1860s, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Here’s a robe volante, for comparison:

Robe Volante, ca. 1730, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Robe Volante, ca. 1730, Metropolitan Museum of Art

I decided to change this. I’m a curvy girl, and while this dress is basically a giant merengue, I wanted SOME kind of fitting. So I ended up giving it a waist seam in front, more like the later robe à la française, although because I was working over a Victorian corset, I went full princess seams as they would have cut this in the 19th century.

I started with a fitted lining with bones at the seams, as I knew they would be needed to support the gown given the low neckline.  I ended up cutting away some of the V waistline when I realized that there didn’t appear to be a “stomacher” effect under the robe:

The lining. I long ago embraced the joy of straight-pinning closed front-opening bodices, so this didn't have any closures sewn to it! And I could hide the overlap under the trim.

The lining. I long ago embraced the joy of straight-pinning closed front-opening bodices, so this didn’t have any closures sewn to it! And I could hide the overlap under the trim.


Before trimming, it basically looked like a wedding dress. Apologies, my sewing room is SMALL and I had three projects going at once.

Before trimming, it basically looked like a wedding dress. Apologies, my sewing room is SMALL and I had three projects going at once.

The back was hard to figure out. Clearly there’s a VERY low neckline in back (the countess was particularly proud of her shoulders), a train, and the pleated trim goes all along the hem:

[Countess de Castiglione as Elvira at the Cheval Glass] by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1861-67, Metropolitan Museum of Art

[Countess de Castiglione as Elvira at the Cheval Glass] by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1861-67, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Well thankfully I found this amazingly sharp closeup, that told me SO MUCH about the back (as well as the trim and hair, but we’ll come back to those). The back is pleated somewhat like a robe volante, with stacked box pleats, although there’s no inverted pleat at the center back.

Pierre-Louis Pierson, The Countess of Castiglione, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Pierre-Louis Pierson, The Countess of Castiglione, Metropolitan Museum of Art

I did the same, although I skipped the train. I knew I would be wearing this at a crowded party, and I didn’t want to deal with having my (white!) hem stepped on all night. I did give myself a heart attack one evening when I walked by and thought, “Oh my god, I made the back pleats wrong! There’s supposed to be an inverted pleat in the CB!” Luckily I rechecked my sources and was relieved to discover I had done it right.

Pleating the back. I wanted to work on the straight of grain; the lower row of pins were to give me a sense of the actual neckline, although I think it was a scooch higher in the end.

Pleating the back. I wanted to work on the straight of grain; the lower row of pins were to give me a sense of the actual neckline, although I think it was a scooch higher in the end.

IMG_0991 IMG_0992

Here you can see that I made it somewhat like a française, adding pleats at the waistline side underneath the back pleats, which have many layers.

Here you can see that I made it somewhat like a française, adding pleats at the waistline side underneath the back pleats, which have many layers. The width of the pleats across the back is more like a volante, however.

Here’s the finished dress, before trimming and sleeves:


Next up was to start the trim. First, that clear back shot was a life saver in that I could really figure out what was going on with the trim:

The pleated ruches are trimmed with a dark AND light lace along the edges. Each box pleat is sewn down with a pearl at top and bottom. Along the neckline, there's a row of beading lace with a dark ribbon, then three rows of lace forming a tucker.

The pleated ruches are trimmed with a dark AND light lace along the edges. Each box pleat is sewn down with a pearl at top and bottom. Along the neckline, there’s a row of beading lace with a dark ribbon, then three rows of lace forming a tucker.

I bought SO MANY TRIMS, Y’ALL. I could NOT decide what color/effect I wanted. I couldn’t find anything with the two-tone effect that I liked. I really wanted a dark silver, but worried that wouldn’t go with my peachy-undertoned ivory, so bought a couple different gold and copper trims, and then a couple different silver. I finally decided to go with the silver, since that’s how I pictured the dress in my mind, and found a tiny silver braid on Etsy that worked, as well as pearls and vintage lace:

And I hand hemmed/attached the lace, as well as the trim itself, because I'm crazy like that.

And I hand hemmed/attached the lace, as well as the trim itself, because I’m crazy like that.

Then, I trimmed:

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I had to use EVERY SCRAP to eke out enough fabric. This was one of the back hem ruches, so hopefully it doesn’t show given the placement and the pleating:

Screen Shot 2020-10-03 at 1.04.12 PM

The sleeves took some definite parsing. From the photo above, I could see that there were pleats at the armhole in back, towards the interior. Looking at this faint photo, I decided that the sleeve was trimmed on the INSIDE, and then flipped back on itself:

L'Agrèable by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1860s, Metropolitan Museum of Art

L’Agrèable by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1860s, Metropolitan Museum of Art

What I see.

What I see.

I patterned them as HA-UGE versions of pagoda sleeves, which is what I think they are, and tacked the interior back on itself:



The petticoat is actually three-row tiers of lace, with what I think is flat ribbon in between. I’m not sure how I missed those ribbon bows, except that this was the photo I spent a lot of time peering at, and you can’t see them here:

The wrinkles are what give it away.

I found some various antique laces for the neckline and skirt, but I didn’t have enough of the skirt stuff. I ended up buying some flat nylon lace and was pleasantly shocked to find you CAN tea-dye nylon lace! It looked great after I’d done that. I didn’t have enough yardage to make the three-row tiers, so I went with two, using silk satin ribbon for the join.

IMG_1136 Screen Shot 2020-10-03 at 1.04.06 PM

The fan she carries in this photo survives at the Met! Which is SO cool. I had plans to try to make my own — I found lace appliques in similar shapes, and took the leaves off of an antique fan — but I ran out of time. In the end, it probably would have looked janky (I keep picturing a hot-glue nightmare), so it’s probably for the best — but I may try someday!

Fan, ca. 1858, possibly Spanish, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Fan, ca. 1858, possibly Spanish, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Of course, I HAD to have that hair. The real countess had blonde hair (which you can see in the colorized photo above), and she was also so into the 18th century that she was known for powdering her hair. I couldn’t pull off blonde, but I could do powdered… but I’ve always seen these photos in sepia in my mind, and dark hair just felt right. Once again, THANK YOU whoever took that back detailed shot, because I don’t know if I ever would have figured out the back otherwise. Here’s my working image board:


And my result. It was a little too wide at the sides, but I played with pinning it and wasn’t sure, so I ended up going with it. I wish my back twist was a little smoother, and may try to comb that out and retwist it at some point:



Because my BFF Trystan is the best, she helped me take some carefully posed photos in our palazzo before the event. I really wanted to try to recreate the original photograph as much as possible. Unfortunately my version of bitchface mostly looks like “sad dog” (I have a natural downturn to my mouth – resting bitchface!) and the smiley photos ended up much better.

Countess of CastiglioneCountess of Castiglione2Countess of Castiglione3

And, I had a FAAAAABULOUS time:

(C) Alain Trinckvel

(C) Alain Trinckvel

(C) Christine Yoo Millar

(C) Christine Yoo Millar

Countess of Castiglione costume reproduction

16th century, 17th century, 18th century, 18th century court dress, 18th century wigs, 19th century

Speaking of Auctions – Some Nice Portraits

Speaking of auctions, as I did in my last post, reminded me that I occasionally like to troll through auction sites for images. It’s a great way to find new-to-you portraits and sculpture, and sometimes even extant clothing.

Here’s a few things that I’ve found lately that I liked — almost all 18th century, of course! Because that’s how I roll.

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 10.02.14 AM

A MATCHING stomacher under a Venetian ladder-laced gown! Attributed to Domenico Robusti, called Domenico Tintoretto | PORTRAIT OF A LADY, THREE-QUARTER-LENGTH SEATED, HOLDING A LUTE | Sotheby’s

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17th century, 18th century, 19th century, 20th century, books, shopping


When it comes to costume/fashion history books, I am a sucker. Even though I work in a university library, I still need to own ALL THE BOOKS! With that in mind, here are some recently published and forthcoming books that I am excited about. (It feels like it’s been a while since there’s been a decent number of costume books to be excited about, so, yay!)

Fashion Prints in the Age of Louis XIV: Intepreting the Art of Elegance — I literally just purchased this one, and I can’t wait until it shows up. I’ve only dabbled in 17th century costume, but it forms a basis of the ongoing research I’ve been doing on Turkish influence on 18th century fashion, so I’m looking forward to both reading their analysis and hopefully seeing some fashion prints that are new to me. It was just published at the beginning of this month. From the book’s description,

“Between 1678 and 1710, Parisian presses printed hundreds of images of elegantly attired men and women dressed in the latest mode, and posed to display every detail of their clothing and accessories. Long used to illustrate dress of the period, these fashion prints have been taken at face value and used uncritically. Drawing on perspectives from art history, costume history, French literature, museum conservation and theatrical costuming, the essays in this volume explore what the prints represent and what they reveal about fashion and culture in the seventeenth century. With more than one hundred illustrations, Fashion Prints in the Age of Louis XIV constitutes not only an innovative analysis of fashion engravings, but also one of the most comprehensive collections of seventeenth-century fashion images available in print.”

Style and Satire: Fashion in Print 1777-1927 is from the Victoria & Albert Museum, which is all I need to know. Plus, as well know, satires and caricatures can be such great sources for fashion history — see, for example, my article on 18th century rumps! Also just released.

“From the sky-high coiffures of Marie Antoinette to Victorian hoop skirts, from the sheer gowns of Pride and Prejudice era to the flat-chested 1920s flapper, Style and Satire tells the story of European fashion and its most extreme trends through lavish fashion plates and the glorious satirical prints they inspired. Beautifully printed, hand-colored fashion plates first appeared in magazines and for sale individually in the late 18th century. At the same time (and often by the same artists), satirical prints gloried in the absurdities of fashion, presenting an alternative, often humorously exaggerated, vision of the fash­ionable ideal. Both forms were a product of the same print market, and both documented modern life. Lavishly illustrated, Style and Satire presents a witty and original history of fashion trends.”

Gilded New York: Design, Fashion, and Society — I’m going to NYC in late October, and this is one of the exhibitions I’m really excited to see. I went through a phase of reading about all of the Gilded Age heiresses who went to England (like Consuelo Vanderbilt), so I’ve got a soft spot for the whole late 19th century New York high society thang. I’ll definitely report on the exhibit once I’ve seen it!

“The Gilded Years of the late nineteenth century were a vital and glamorous era in New York City as families of great fortune sought to demonstrate their new position by building vast Fifth Avenue mansions filled with precious objects and important painting collections and hosting elaborate fetes and balls. This is the moment of Mrs. Astor’s “Four Hundred,” the rise of the Vanderbilts and Morgans, Maison Worth, Tiffany & Co., Duveen, and Allard. Concurrently these families became New York’s first cultural philanthropists, supporting the fledgling Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Opera, among many institutions founded during this period. A collaboration with the Museum of the City of New York, Gilded New York examines the social and cultural history of these years, focusing on interior design and decorative arts, fashion and jewelry, and the publications that were the progenitors of today’s shelter magazines.”

The House of Worth: Portrait of an Archive — I’d love to hear from anyone who has purchased this one. It sounds amazing — images from the House of Worth archive at the V&A, with details about designs and fabrics. However, I see in the reviews that most of the images are in black & white, which doesn’t sound as exciting. Has anyone seen this? What did you think?

“Legendary British-born designer Charles Frederick Worth (1825–1895), with enormous talent for design and promotion, built his fashion house into an empire during the last quarter of the 19th century—the first busi­ness of its kind with global reach. His company, through his heirs, endured until 1952, when his great-grandson retired. Profusely illustrated, this astonishing book explores Worth’s success in the realm of haute couture after 1890. Hundreds of photographs selected from the V&A’s unique archive of more than 7,000 official house records capture the Worth style and offer valuable insights into the daily routine at Maison Worth in Paris. Images and text tell the intriguing story of these creations, providing historical context and describing Worth’s inter­national clientele of elegant women of wealth and power.”

Glasgow Museums: Seventeenth-Century Costumes has been on my wishlist for a while now, and at $22 I really should just buy it, because, 17th century! I am super excited that it sounds like they’re planning to publish more books about their costume collection. One reviewer clarifies that the book features mostly “Waistcoats, coifs, bags, hats, gloves” with a focus on “surface embellishments.”

“Rich silks embellished with needlework were used to create expensive, high quality garments, affordable only for the wealthy. Yet their very exclusivity, has meant that few items have lasted through the centuries, many having fallen victim to reuse and re-cycling as other garments and household items. Several rare and beautiful pieces do however survive in Glasgow Museums’ collections. This book is the first in the series of publications about Glasgow Museums’ European Costume collection. Designed to appeal to costume and embroidery enthusiasts and social historians alike, it features new photography and the fruits of recent research, revealing the intricate details of exquisite embroidery.”

The Impossible Wardrobe: Highlights from Three Centuries of French Fashion at the Galliera Museum. The Musee Galliera has a huge, amazing costume collection on the level of the V&A. However, they don’t show a permanent collection; they only do special exhibitions. So I’m really excited to see what gets featured in this book. I saw the Modes en Miroir exhibit (which was about 18th century fashion in France and the Netherlands), and it was really amazing. So I have high hopes! Note that this doesn’t come out until January 2015.

Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette — Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell has published a number of scholarly articles on 18th century dress that are seriously fabulous, plus she’s contributed to a number of books and exhibitions (including LACMA’s Fashioning Fashion). Plus, most of my academic research is in late 18th century French fashion. So, I am THRILLED that she is coming out with this book. THRILLED. And I’m not happy about having to wait until April 2015 for it to come out!

“This engrossing book chronicles one of the most exciting, controversial, and extravagant periods in the history of fashion: the reign of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette in 18th-century France. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell offers a carefully researched glimpse into the turbulent era’s sophisticated and largely female-dominated fashion industry, which produced courtly finery as well as promoted a thriving secondhand clothing market outside the royal circle. She discusses in depth the exceptionally imaginative and uninhibited styles of the period immediately before the French Revolution, and also explores fashion’s surprising influence on the course of the Revolution itself. The absorbing narrative demonstrates fashion’s crucial role as a visible and versatile medium for social commentary, and shows the glittering surface of 18th-century high society as well as its seedy underbelly. Fashion Victims presents a compelling anthology of trends, manners, and personalities from the era, accompanied by gorgeous fashion plates, portraits, and photographs of rare surviving garments. Drawing upon documentary evidence, previously unpublished archival sources, and new information about aristocrats, politicians, and celebrities, this book is an unmatched study of French fashion in the late 18th century, providing astonishing insight, a gripping story, and stylish inspiration.”

16th century, 18th century, 19th century, 20th century, costume in cinema, Uncategorized

Early Cinematic Inspiration

The conversation on my movie review of Amadeus sparked an interesting discussion about early inspirations for costuming, and Lylassandra said, “I would LOVE a blog post about which movies (and other experiences) first inspired your love of costuming.” I think the “other experiences” is worth chatting about, but that’s enough to be another post… but sure, I’d love to yammer about early costume movies!

Of course, the first thing I did was go through my movie reviews and some online lists of costume movies to try to remember which ones had an impact on me. I’ll confess right here that I was born in 1974, so I was probably too young to see Amadeus or Dangerous Liaisons when they first came out.

The first thing that came to mind was all of the not-quite-there inspirations, so the beginning of this post might seem a little flimsy, but then I’ll get to the knocked-me-over ones at the end, so stick with it!

For sure, Gone With the Wind was an early one. I remember my mother buying me a VHS boxed set, and I definitely watched it a number of times. I remember LOVING the huge crinoline skirts, but being frustrated by all the short sleeves and weirdly 1890s elements in what should have been the bustle years. And I was too young to think Rhett Butler was terribly attractive (he just seemed kind of greasy), and I thought Ashley was super annoying. So it was always a less than satisfying watch! I will say that I hadn’t watched this for years, when about a year ago our local art deco movie theater showed it. I went to see it and apparently I am now the right age to appreciate Rhett Butler, because HOT DAMN! I was swooning!

I’m sure I didn’t see My Brilliant Career (1979) when it first came out, since I would have been about 5, but I must have seen it when I was relatively young because it is one that has always stuck with me… probably more so for the extremely literate and fascinating main character, but also for her ugly duckling-ness. I remember being fascinated that she COULD go a different route… This is a movie I think too few people have seen. If you at all like strong heroines and complex stories, WATCH THIS.

I definitely watched and rewatched Far and Away (1992) a number of times, mostly because it was a historical romance. I always thought it was cheesy, and I’ve always been irritated by Tom Cruise and loved Nicole Kidman. The costume era wasn’t one that really thrilled me, but again, romance! History! Costumes! Hey, I was just graduating high school…

Other ones I specifically remember are:

  • Orlando (1992) — I think the artiness of it confused me, but I loved the huge white 18th century dress:

  • Age of Innocence (1993) was visually and costume-wise stunning, although the overwhelming theme of restraint made it less-than-perfect to me. I do remember thinking that I could NEVER make a costume as fabulous and complex as the bustle gowns worn in the ball scene.

  • Interview With a Vampire (1994) had some great elements but Tom Cruise was a big wet blanket on the whole thing, and there weren’t enough (grown up) female characters featured for me. I did love Madeleine’s dress:

  • Queen Margot (1994) got a little too rambly and depressing in the second half, and I had done enough renfaire to know that all the slutty no-chemise/partlets and open bodices weren’t correct… but I’ve always loved her redheaded lady-in-waiting’s look (okay, mostly the hair):

  • I definitely remember seeing Little Women (1994) in the theater and loving it — I’ve loved the book since I was a kid, and reread it multiple times — but it’s not really a shiny movie. The highlights were Meg March’s dressed up ballgown, and adult Amy’s bustle dresses:

  • Portrait of a Lady (1996) blew me away costume-wise, but again, a depressing story that I probably wasn’t old enough to really appreciate. I would very much like to take a walk in the rain in a bustle gown along with Isabel Archer and Madame Merle.

So what DID do it for me? What imprinted fundamentally on my consciousness? Hands down, it has to be Merchant/Ivory.

I saw Jefferson in Paris (1995) IN Paris, on my very first trip to France. I had been studying abroad in Scotland for a semester, and afterwards I did a whirlwind two weeks in Western Europe with a college friend. We arrived in Paris and relatively early on, wandered down the Champs-Elysees and saw posters for a costume movie, and I was sold. I remember LOVING everything about the French characters, but of course, the film tries (with only limited success) to explore some darker elements, and that limited success dampened things for me a bit. But dear god, the lushness of the costumes — not just great dresses, but great wigs! Hats (shout out to Mela Hoyt-Heydon, who I think made them)! Accessories! Amazing locations! It was an era I didn’t really know or have much chance to encounter, but probably my love of the 18th century dates from this movie. If only the movie had been focused on Maria Cosway, I think I’d die and go to heaven. Greta Scaachi is an amazing actress, and those shots of her in the Opera scene — just, whoa. (That’s a real fantasy of mine, going to the opera in 18th century costume, but of course I’d want everyone to be in 18th century costume!). I also think (looks-wise) that their casting of Marie-Antoinette is probably as close to the real thing as we’ll ever get. And I modeled my first Lumieres character on the small character of Adrienne de Lafayette (bottom picture).

But more than anything, I think Howards End (1992) and, even more, A Room With a View (1985), were the early epitomes of Amazing Costume Movies. Particularly Room — I wanted (and still want) to dive into that world and just stay there. No matter that it’s not really a costume era that makes my toes curl, but it has Travel! Romance! Humor! Tweedy English locations! “Old world” Italian locations! Stiff upper lips! Intimate family scenes! I love so much about both movies as movies — interesting stories, complex characters, etc. But the costumes in particular were SO well done. They weren’t just gorgeous, they were gorgeous AND lived in. I felt like these were real people living real lives in real clothes, they hadn’t just grabbed something off the theater costume shop rack and put it on. The hair. The accessories. The underpinnings. The hats. The veils. I think it’s the casual day wear that gets me even more than the fancy evening stuff. I love seeing Charlotte walking in her suit. Lucy playing badminton in her blouse and skirt. Mom cutting the roses in the wind and being irritated by Charlotte. Cecil reading terrible fiction (is he not the epitome of PONCY?) while Lucy tries to ignore George. Charlotte and Eleanor sitting in the poppies, while Charlotte hints at some past amours in exotic Shropshire. Eleanor striding about Florence, taking no guff. Every time I go to Florence, I have to go to the various piazzas where they shot, especially the fountain where they tried to revive the dead guy.

And now I can’t remember who it was, but I do recall bonding with someone when we agreed that we’d both tried to get our hair to look like the Italian girl who gets kicked out of the carriage:

Howards End is also up there, although not quite as high (no Italy, no happy romantic ending). I adore the country locations in particular — the bluebells, the Howards End house itself. All the same things about the costuming grabs me — how detailed and ornate and yet lived in it all feels. This is an era that I do like more than the pouter pigeon, and Margaret’s engagement party and lunch suit in particular are the ones I love. Again, just a world I would love to dive into.

It’s funny, because Edwardian never was and (probably) never will be a key costume era for me. But seeing these worlds come to life so vividly, and seeing historical costumes that were really clothes, just blew me away.

So, what about you? What were the formative costume movies for you?

18th century, 19th century, costume in cinema

Speaking of Costume Movies…

Have you seen the trailers for three exciting costume movies that are coming soon?

The Invisible Woman trailer — Charles Dickens’s (Ralph Fiennes) relationship with his mistress (Felicity Jones).  Altho I find mid-Victorian a total snooze, the costumes look very accurate.  Costumes designed by Michael O’Connor.  Coming to the UK in February 2014, US will probably be sometime after that.

Maleficent teaser trailer (only a teaser, but it looks great!) — the story of Sleeping Beauty told from the evil fairy’s perspective, starring Angelina Jolie. Costumes by Anna B. Sheppard.  Will be released in May 2014.

Belle trailer — the one I’m most excited about!  Based on a true story, about a mixed race girl who grows up with an aristocratic English family in the 18th c.  Costumes by Anushia Nieradzik.  Also coming in May 2014.

Wondering what other costume movies are in production/coming soon?  Check out my Upcoming Movies page.