15th century, costume in cinema

The White Queen – can we talk?

Have you seen the new BBC/Starz TV miniseries “The White Queen“?  If so, can we talk — about how bad the costumes and hair are?

This is an adaptation of some of Philippa Gregory’s books, and I’m sure they are just the most historically accurate things out there (I got halfway through the first book and then, as usual, got irritated with Gregory’s writing and lack of historical knowledge).  And yes, it’s yet another “We’re not trying to be slavishly historically accurate!” in terms of design/costumes/whatnot.  Fine.  Yawn.

First, let’s look at a few images of some of our key female characters:

Elizabeth Woodville via Wikimedia Commons

Elizabeth Woodville via Wikimedia Commons

Anne Neville via Wikimedia Commons

Margaret of Anjou via Wikimedia Commons

Now, let’s talk about the series costumes & hair:

Many of the female characters (here, Anne Neville -- also Elizabeth Woodville does this too) wear elaborate braids that look like they've been slept in for three weeks. Sadly I can't find a good picture -- this is the closest -- but they're frizzy with hair sticking out everywhere. Huh?

Jacquetta (Elizabeth Woodville's mom) has some pretty cool hair though!

Some of the dresses are reasonably pretty and elegant, like this one on Elizabeth Woodville (who is a dead ringer for a young Trinny of Trinny & Susannah).

But then Elizabeth Woodville will spend multiple episodes in something really boring like this. Okay yes, you're showing her in her relaxed clothes, but still -- YAWN.

Isabelle Neville's (left) wardrobe was clearly raided from some high school theater department.

Margaret Beaufort wears a lot of simple, high necked clothes -- okay, makes sense for someone who is really pious. But they're all suspiciously Star Trek in their cut. And one of the few times she wore something with a lower neck, I swear I saw a bra strap.

I don't know what Margaret of Anjou is wearing here, but I know I hate it.

And on a side note, I know next to nothing about medieval armor, but all of the leads wander around with this one shoulder in armor, one not thing going on. It doesn't seem very functional to me.


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  • Reply Lindsay T October 7, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    I’ve basically given up on any historical/period piece that isn’t produced by the BBC. I mean, they get things wrong sometimes, but at least they *try*.

    • Reply kendra October 7, 2013 at 6:21 pm

      But that’s the problem — this IS a BBC production!

    • Reply NANCY A BROERTJES October 19, 2017 at 10:10 am

      I’m sorry but historically accurate costumes are one of my pet peeves. During the time period of these pieces, women simply did NOT appear outside of their bedchamber with their hair not covered in a headdress of one kind or another. Both Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth were very much associated with the English Gable hoods….long version.

  • Reply Andrew October 7, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    Well I read in an interview that the higher-ups specifically told the designer NO WIMPLES, because, you know, that’s just too weird for your average view or whatever the fuck.

  • Reply Andrew October 7, 2013 at 7:57 pm


  • Reply Isis October 8, 2013 at 2:55 am

    To my surprise I actually enjoyed the series. There were, of course, liberties, but I found most to have some anchor in reality or long-standing rumours, like Jaquettas and Elizabeth being witches or one of the princes being switched. I can see the inclusion of such things as it makes for a good story. Much better handled than The Tudos in that department! I also liked that most of the carachters were allowed to have both good and bad sides to them.

    But the clothes and the hair? Argh! I found them both annoying and distracting! Just about the only thing I liked were the subtle padding of one of Richard’s shoulders. I’m not an expert of armour either, but I have a feeling that there is some support for the swords-arm to have more mobiility.

  • Reply Patience October 8, 2013 at 9:49 am

    Margaret d’Anjou’s costume looks Victorian. I really want to see this though.

    • Reply kendra October 8, 2013 at 10:01 am

      You should! I’m not saying it wasn’t mostly entertaining… plus hate-watching costumes is always entertaining!

  • Reply Saraquill October 8, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    Why didn’t they replicate Elizabeth Woodville’s hat? It’s so fantastic.

  • Reply athene October 10, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    Yet again, a shocking lack of hats and gloves.

  • Reply Diana October 13, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    Something I’ve noticed in historical dramas , the costumes and hairstyles most likely to be accurate to source are the ones for characters who are specifically meant to be ugly. Instead of trying for the beauty of the day we get modern high fashion models for the leads, it’s too irritating to watch.

  • Reply Corsetière October 17, 2013 at 9:30 am

    There was a really amusing website that tracked the recycling of generic “period” wardrobe across many different TV series (of very separate historic periods) such as The Tudors. It was quite funny to see the same gown used in a Victorian or Edwardian series and then quite illogically recycled for a show about the Tudor period next. I wish I could remember the site! I suspect a few of these piece have made their way into The White Queen. ;)

  • Reply Melissa October 21, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    I so desperately wanted to see this series rock the henins. We really don’t get that many opportunities to see great medieval costumes on film. Jacquetta wears a henin to her daughter’s coronation, but most of the time the costumers couldn’t be bothered with correct head attire. There were so many styles of headgear that could have been beautifully showcased and just weren’t. What a missed opportunity. The gowns with princess seams and obvious zipper closures in the back drove me insane. Great series…but I definitely ranted a lot about the costumes and hair.

  • Reply Heidi L. October 30, 2013 at 2:31 pm


    The armor looks(maybe?)more like jousting armor as that tends to be more asymetrical than regular fighting-on-the-ground armor…I could be wrong.

    Heidi L.

  • Reply addy November 3, 2013 at 5:56 am

    @corsetiere: was that the site: recycled movie costumes (http://www.recycledmoviecostumes.com/)?

  • Reply anonymous November 16, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    Try not to slag the costumers too hard, guys. Yeah, this one wasn’t brilliant but its no worse than several others that have been released recently.
    Do you have any idea how difficult it is trying to design something, especially something medieval, when you’re being told left right and centre what you can and can’t put the actors in, by people who don’t have the slightest clue what period clothes actually look like? Designers have way less power than you think, unless you’re Sandy Powell or something and unfortunately the guys holding the reins like to have the actors looking ‘nice’ and ‘relatable’ to a modern audience rather than accurate.
    I know for a fact that not only did this particular production have a ridiculously low costume budget (as per usual), but the powers that be made some excellent decisions such as insisting all principle characters were banned from not just wimples, as another commenter pointed out, but all headwear full stop. Among other head-bashingly irritating ‘requests’!

    And they may have had princess seams, but none of the dresses had zips in them at least!! I promise :)

    • Reply kendra November 16, 2013 at 8:13 pm

      I think (hope!) we all know it’s not necessarily all up to the costume designer. Producers, directors, etc play a huge role in setting guidelines and looks, and nixing/approving things. So I’m not picking on the designer per de, just whoever made some of these decisions!

      And yay for no zippers! :)

  • Reply Cassandra May 10, 2020 at 11:26 am

    What was not mentioned was Lady Anne’s hideous green dress with the dyed fur she wore for YEARS! She’s a royal duchess at Middleman in that same ugly dress looking like she’s about to diaper the baby.
    Also note Anne is frequently filmed in some kind of greenish light make her look sallow, while Isabel is whited out to make her look like Snow White.

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