Have you ever wondered about who creates all those wonderful (or sometimes horrible) period or period-inspired costumes for film and theater? I happened upon this post be Fashion-ready-to-Wear-You-Out (which was in turn borrowed from this post) on a British costume exhibit, Cut! Costume and the Cinema at the Glenbow Museum.

The costumes above are,  left to right:

Ever After – This Renaissance-themed gown made Angelica Huston’s evil stepmother an attractive adversary to Drew Barrymore’s updated Cinderella.  Designer: Jenny Beavan.

Sense and Sensibility – A simple day dress, made from cotton muslin instead of silk, highlights the reduced circumstances of Kate Winslet’s Marianne. Designers: John Bright and Jenny Beavan.

The Phantom of the Opera – Worn by Emmy Rossum, this ballgown was one of 300 costumes hand made to meet director Joel Schumacher’s high fashion standards. Designer: Alexandra Byrne.

The Duchess – A military-style day ensemble helped Keira Knightley channel 18th-century iconoclast Georgiana Cavendish and earned its designer the 2008 Oscar. Designer: Michael O’Connor.

Finding Neverland – Kate Winslet’s dressing gown, inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement, is one of exhibition co-curator Nancy Lawson’s favourite pieces. Designer: Alexandra Byrne.

The first two costumes were designed by British costume designer Jenny Beavan, who is worth looking into, should you feel the need to do a little costume research. She has worked on films such as the upcoming second Sherlock Holmes film in the most recent incarnation, The Remains of  the Day, Anna And the King (the Jody Foster version), The Black Dahlia, and A Room with a View, to name a view. She has done several Merchant Ivory films, you know, those “costume dramas,” not that I’m poo-poo’ing them in any way, mind you. I like a good costume drama, just so long as the script and acting are at the same level as the costume and sets!

Her dress, above, for EverAfter is really lovely. It evokes the lush wealth of the nobility (or in this case, the wealth that Angelica Huston’s character was trying to portray). Despite the flaws in the movie (some of the acting and costumes, parts of the script), I do love this movie. A big part of the appeal is the lush costumes that Angelica Huston wore, the beautiful white gown Drew Barrymore wore (and the wings, of course!) and even the lower middle class everyday wear for Drew’s character. Many detailed images of the winged dress, including the one below, can be found here.

A large part of accurate historical costuming is good fabric choice; some of the costumes in the film work well, with others the choices can be a little suspect. Many choices and considerations go into costume design and construction for any kind of production. Factors can be monetary, time, staff, setting, other practical factors, focus on lead characters, the choice to be historical, semi-historical, giving a nod to the flavor of the time, or even ignoring history all together (just look at A Knight’s Tale). I think it’s important to note that the film isn’t portraying historical events, though they do have some historical characters; it is a fairy tale.

While many do find a certain pleasure in creating garments that mimic their historical origins, the fabric and design choices should fit the situation. The Rogues love to work with linen, wool, silk, coutil, and plaids, but have used polyester taffeta, interesting poly based embroidered fabrics, faux suede, draperies and bed-sheets. It’s perfectly acceptable to use a synthetic fabric or modern sewing technique if the situation warrants, if the finished product will “pass” in its intended setting. If we were making accurate period garments, we’d be making our own thread, weaving and dying the fabric, as well as sewing everything by hand. We’d also only be making garments to portray only the upper classes and occasionally the trades, as these were the only people who could afford to have their portraits painted.

Now you must pardon me, I’m off to learn more about the last image in this post, the beautiful dressing gown from Finding Neverland.

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