Wedding Tips

How accurate are the costumes in TV period dramas?

There are two types of period drama watchers: the pedant and the swooner. Do you know what kind of person to wear a cheap wedding dresses  au is more appropriate?

The pedant can’t look at an historically inspired costume without scrutinising its every detail, their remarks – “would that type of embroidery really have been used in 1683?” or, “I’ve never seen that kind of trimming on an 1812 pelisse!” – at the ready.

Swooners, on the other hand, are generally unperturbed by accuracy. They’re happy to bask in the beauty and escapism that costumes can provide, so long as the illusion isn’t shattered. Pedants can bask, too, but only when safe in knowing they’re witnessing historical accuracy.

Whatever your view, period drama costumes are sometimes accurate and comparable to the “real thing”, but sometimes forged. So to better assess this spectrum of authenticity, let’s examine two popular period shows, Outlander and The Crown.

Outlandish design

Outlander is the time-travelling tale that follows Claire Randall, a married combat nurse living in the 1940s who is mysteriously transported back to 1740s Scotland. There she falls for Highland warrior Jamie Fraser.

Of the series’ countless design choices and costumes one particular dress of Claire’s – a brown, silk floral number – could, apart from its pannier skirt, have walked straight out of a 1950s fashion magazine.

Its bright and bold floral print, and elegant fitted bodice, champion 20th-century designers Dior and Balenciaga. In this sense, the dress is certainly not something you’d ever see in the 18th century, let alone in the French court – where a section of Outlander’s story takes place. But its similarity to 1950s couture plays an important role: it represents the opulence that Claire is denied in her wartime existence.

This hinting at a post-war future, which the audience knows is around the corner, reflects the show’s designer Terry Dresbach’s intention for the dress: Claire is a “modern” woman who is unafraid to stand out and make her opinions known.

Perhaps the strongest historical parallel is between Claire’s wedding dress and the robe de cour or “grand habit”. This was a dress worn exclusively at court in the 1700s with its stiff-boned bodice that laced up the back (an unusual feature at the time), a skirt with separate train, and lace sleeves. It also featured a very low décolletage, worn off the shoulders in the manner of late 17th century gowns – all of which describes Claire’s wedding dress pretty closely.

Claire (Caitriona Balfe) in her wedding dress alongside Jamie (Sam Heughan); Court dress, 1750. Starz Entertainment, imdb; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The robe de cour was a symbol of luxury and status so it’s easy to see why Dresbach was drawn to the design. She teamed this with modern embroidery choices, seen especially in the metallic leaves floating down the front of Claire’s skirt, and a more rounded shape than seen on an original wide and flat 18th-century hoop skirt – at its most extreme, this would barely be wider than the wearer’s body when viewed in profile, but could extend out several feet at either side of the waist.

A final mention goes to Claire’s risqué red French court number. Seeing the open bodice – daring even by modern standards – conjures strong parallels to Anna Therbusch’s 1776 portrait of the Countess von Lichtenau.

Claire in the red dress; Anna Dorothea Therbusch, Wilhelmine Encke, Countess Lichtenau 1776. Starz Entertainment, imdb; Web Gallery of Art, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Crowning glory

In charting the life and reign of Elizabeth II, from her marriage in November 1947 until the present day, The Crown, rather, is often praised for its historical accuracy.
The series had a myriad of sources for inspiration to model its costumes on: photographic evidence; authentic garments surviving from the era; and special access to both Elizabeth’s wedding and coronation dresses, as provided by her favoured designer, Norman Hartnell.

Game of Thrones costume designer Michele Clapton and her team had the painstaking task of recreating the wedding gown using original Vogue patterns from Clapton’s own collection.

The richness of the source material was a great bonus for Clapton to, in her words, “make it right”. The resulting dress is remarkably close to the original.

Claire Foy (Elizabeth II) and Jared Harris (King George VI) in The Crown. Left Bank Pictures, imdb

The importance of being accurate

However impressive, these feats lead us to consider why strict historical accuracy matters so much in some productions, when others can teeter between mere inspiration and recreation.

Where Outlander played with cross-century shapes, patterns and embellishments, The Crown was allowed no such artistic license – perhaps because it centres on the life of a real woman, where precision can be scrutinised.

Vanessa Kirby (Princess Margaret) and Ben Miles (Peter Townsend) in The Crown; Princess Margeret’s costuming is comparative to modern couture: Sarah Jessica Parker at the 81st Academy Awards, 2009. Left Bank Pictures, imdb; Lester Cohen, Wire Image

Outlander adapted historical styles to suit a contemporary aesthetic and audience expectations, and despite Clapton’s dislike for the puffed sleeves on Elizabeth’s wedding gown – and her strong temptation to change them – she resisted. This also works to highlight the glamour of Princess Margaret, which was fresh and real in the aftermath of the second world war. Her costuming might in fact appear no less than ordinary to a contemporary audience.
By comparison, it is worth pointing out some historical dramas that choose an approach somewhere between these two. The BBC’s 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, for example, employed designer Dinah Collin, whose meticulous research was coupled with a wish for actors to view their clothes as clothes, not costumes. This mindset is evident in the way they wear them with ownership: they wear the clothes, not the other way around.

There were certainly some missteps, such as a few too many low dress necklines during the day, but it’s evidently hard to get away with no contemporary concessions. And, as Collin remarked in The Making of Pride and Prejudice:

We aren’t making a museum piece … we wanted to ensure the clothes would look attractive to a modern audience.

Modern elements are imperceptible now, so whatever the designer’s intentions, we will inevitably look back on period films and television shows and say “that looks so 2017”. With the benefit of hindsight and passing trends they will be glaringly obvious in ten or 20 years, however “true” and “accurate” the costumes are.

The very concept of historical accuracy may well be something perennially out of our reach, but perhaps that’s something we pedants should strive to let go of – even just a little.

Wedding Tips

The wedding dress: from Queen Victoria to the heights of fashion

     Pale grey slashed chiffon dress designed by Gareth Pugh, veil by Stephen Jones.

Do you know what the Queen Victoria wears a beach wedding guest dresses?Queen Victoria, writing in her journal on the day of her wedding to Prince Albert, noted:

Slept well & breakfasted at 1⁄2p. 9, before which Mama came, bringing me a nosegay of orange flowers … Had my hair dressed & the wreath of orange flowers put on my head … I wore a white satin dress, with a deep flounce of Honiton lace, an imitation of an old design. My jewels were my Turkish diamond necklace & earrings & dear Albert’s beautiful sapphire brooch.

Her dress, with its soft glowing satin and heavy silk lace, was to become the template for decades and perhaps even centuries of future brides. Its combination of sculpted bodice and full skirt, contrasted with glittering jewellery, floral headband and sheer veil was to inspire first the aristocracy, and then gradually a wider swathe of the general public to associate white with the bridal gown.

In many ways, Victoria’s became the quintessential wedding dress. It meant a switch from wearing whatever your most fashionable or “Sunday Best” outfit, to procuring a design that was special for this one day alone. It also meant that wedding dresses started to tend to be outside fashion.

Although there are trends in particular styles, many elements remain unchanged. This is an outfit that has increasingly been mythologised and marketed as extraordinary and spectacular, beyond the realms of the everyday.

The V&A’s new exhibition, Wedding Dresses, 1775-2014 recently opened. Seeing so many together, bridging three centuries, what is striking is the way dresses became less connected with contemporary fashions during the 1930s. They began to evolve their own romantic style. Although all are dateable and connect to prevailing styles, there is a sense in the later dresses that they tend to hark back to a glamorised version of evening or ball gowns from previous eras.

As with their 2012 show Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950, the V&A’s most recent exhibition draws principally upon its collections to document a type of dress that can seem anachronistic.

It does so despite its hold on the popular imagination and, in the case of wedding dresses, its significance within many women’s lives. That the Casual wedding dresses Australia has become so crucial a part of the tradition and ceremony of marriage is a testament to good marketing on the part of the wedding industry, and to the notions of fantasy, romance and perfected femininity that are attached to its pale layers.

Wedding Dresses. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The wide historical period covered by the current exhibition enables visitors to understand the ways this tradition has gained popularity and meaning. The impact of wider social, cultural and economic events are also hinted to. It also, perhaps most importantly, demonstrates the meaning of the dress to individuals, the role it has played in the story of their life and memories passed on through the generations.

Early on in the exhibition’s planning, curator Edwina Ehrman encouraged people to send in pictures of their families’ weddings. This produced a fascinating glimpse into the ways styles changed over the decades, as well as the ways wedding groups have been photographed. The exhibition has since travelled internationally, drawing large crowds, before its return to London.

The Museum acquired its first piece of wedding dress in 1900, although this was from a groom, rather than a bride. It was a late 17th century suit, reputedly worn by Sir Thomas Isham for his 1681 wedding. Interestingly, it was part of a group of garments acquired together as good examples of fashionable dress of the period, rather than for its association with weddings. Since then, a multitude of examples has been donated and purchased.

Antique lace tiara by Philip Tracey London. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The exhibition focuses on grander examples, from lush 18th century gowns to Victorian dresses trimmed with layers of silk lace flounces. Also on show are gowns by leading designers, such as Vivienne Westwood, whose historically influenced styles make her a favourite choice for brides. Her work is represented by the vivid deep purple gown loaned by Dita Von Teese, which she wore for her 2005 wedding to Marilyn Manson.

The dress is a perfect example of the lush, 19th century silhouettes still favoured by many brides. They look back to the styles of earlier designers also represented here, such as Charles Frederick Worth. It also suggests the glamour associated with celebrity weddings, and the prolific press coverage which serves to popularise wedding trends still further.

When moving through the Fashion Gallery and up the staircase to the mezzanine where the more recent examples are shown, one gets a real sense of quite how central and almost sacred this one style is. But whether that’s a win for fashion, the romantic soul, or just the wedding industry, is another question.


Wedding Tips

Your own wedding plan is success?

Looking to be your own wedding planner? You’re not alone! Many brides, whether it be for budget reasons or just their natural love of DIY, decide to plan their weddings — and they totally kill it as their own coordinators! But, as any experienced bride-to-be and professional planner will tell you, it’s a whole lot of work. With endless amounts of decisions, looming deadlines, budgets to manage, and miles-long to-do lists to tend to, planning your own wedding is no simple feat. So where should you begin if you’re the planner, the executor, and the bride? Right here.

Write out your goals

For me, this was not so much what I wanted to accomplish, but more so how I wanted to feel and what was most important to me. I’m in the process of doing this for every part of the wedding. Doing this has not only helped calm my anxieties surrounding these various events, but it has also made decision making easier by allocating purpose to each choice we make. For example, my goal for the rehearsal dinner is for everyone to get together in a casual setting to feel more comfortable and bond before the main event. Keeping this in mind has helped guide our decisions of where to have it, who to invite, what food to have, etc. Writing out your goals for everything helps you keep the focus on the big picture when you find yourself getting overwhelmed with the little details.

Start With a Budget

Before you can dive into any of the nitty-gritty details, it’s important to carve out how much this wedding is going to cost you. Plan out the maximum amount you’re able to spend on all the wedding vendors, details and decorations. Be sure to set a budget early on and stick to it throughout the wedding planning process.

Don’t Make Any Quick Decisions

After you’re engaged, you’ll be filled with urges to book everything as soon as possible. But remember, there’s no rush. Spend quality time getting to know vendors before signing on the dotted line. When it comes to selecting your date, pick a date that gives you enough time to save up some money and also plan the wedding of your dreams.

Find and book a reception site, and set a date.

The popular venues (country clubs, ballrooms and hotels, for example) might already be booked for Saturday night, but call them anyway to try for a Friday or even Sunday afternoon or evening. Also, think outside the typical wedding venue and consider nearby restaurants with event spaces or large rooms that can be sectioned off.

Find a wedding dress.

There won’t be time for fittings and custom orders, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have any options. Bridal salons host sample sales all the time where, if you’re lucky, you could take a designer gown home with you the same day as your purchase. Or check out any number of popular ready-to-wear stores that are now carrying wedding-worthy white dresses.

Make the Wedding Adventure Fun

Enjoy the time you’re spending planning your wedding and make it fun along the way. Weddings are a giant celebration of love and when you plan your special day on your own, you truly are planning the wedding of your dreams.

See? We told you it was possible. Happy planning!