Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Oh, Costume Dramas, How I Love Thee

Most little girls love to play dress-up at some point during their youth, but they eventually grow out of it or at least exchange princess attire for name-brand style. And then there are those of us who still love the idea of playing dress-up or immersing ourselves in the world of costumes -- clothing that takes us to a different place and time. If I had gone another career path and possessed the talent for it, I think I would have loved to be a costume designer for movies. That's what inspired me to give my heroine that goal in my August young adult novel, Winter Longing.

My two favorite types of costumes are science fiction/fantasy and historical. I'll leave the former for a later post Nancy and I will be doing post-Dragon*Con in September. Today, I want to explore my love affair with historical costume and costume dramas. I grew up in the '70s and '80s, when the TV mini-series was a big deal -- stories like The Thorn Birds, Shogun, North and South (the American Civil War version based on the John Jakes novel). One of the earliest such mini-series I remember being enthralled by was Marco Polo, which came out in 1982, when I was 11 or 12, depending on the month it aired. It had costumes but also started the trend of me watching a TV show or movie based on some historical event or person and then wanting to know much more about it. I remember being so interested in Marco Polo and his travels that I read books about him after watching the mini-series. I even wrote a paper for school about him. Believe it or not, I still have that paper.

The Thorn Birds began my fascination with Australia, Shogun brought feudal Japan into my rural Kentucky living room, and North and South was filled with glorious costumes from my own country's worst days. Later came the classic Gone With the Wind, and Scarlett O'Hara and her many gorgeous dresses. Who could forget the white and green picnic dress? The red gown? The green dress made from the curtains?

When I first saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, love of a different era and costuming was born -- that of ancient China. The Chinese films are simply gorgeous, full of eye-popping color. My favorite is House of Flying Daggers, which included some stunning costumes worn by Ziya Zhang, pictured here.

I know many of my fellow Banditas are great fans of Regency England. True, the dramas such as the newest Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightly and Matthew MacFadyen are filled with gorgeous costuming that can spawn many a story idea. But the era of English history that fascinates me most is that of the Tudors. Numerous dramas about the Tudors have been feasts for the eyes and have led me to read more about this period of history that I knew so little about before. Hey, I can now name Henry VIII's six wives in order and what happened to them. (BTW, seriously, how odd is it that he had six wives and three were named Catherine? Confusing, much?) While once I would have had to go to the library to gather more information, now I watch an episode of The Tudors and then hop on the Internet to figure out the truth about people like Sir Thomas More, the Duke of Suffolk Charles Brandon and Henry's various wives.

First, I saw the wonderful portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I by Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth. She is a fabulous actress and made this impressive queen come to life.

Then there was The Other Boleyn Girl, first the movie starring Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn, and then the book by Philippa Gregory on which it was based. I enjoyed that book so much that I now have four more of Gregory's books on order. I plan to read The Constant Princess first, the story of Katherine of Aragon, Henry's first wife.

In recent weeks, I've been watching Showtime's The Tudors on DVD and via streaming video on Netflix. While the series is full of historical inaccuracies, the costuming is wonderful. Scores of beautiful dresses such as this rich red number worn by Natalie Dormer, who played Anne Boleyn (hmm, does one have to be named Natalie to play that ill-fated queen?)...

and this regal black ensemble worn by the wonderful actress Maria Doyle Kennedy, who played Katherine of Aragon...

And I simply love this headdress worn by Joss Stone, who plays Anne of Cleaves, Henry's fourth wife.

Are you a fan of costume dramas? If so, what are some of your favorites? If you were going to a costume party and could dress as any historical figure, who would it be?


limecello said...


limecello said...

Trish - that apple green dress Scarlet wears, (well Vivien Leigh) is one of my favorite costumes of all time. And... heh HoFD - I'm watching Red Cliff right now. It's quite O_o not so good on the costumes for girls - all ancient armor...
Anyway for HoFD I like the scene where Zhang Ziyi is introduced, because she's actually a trained dancer... which is how/why she got the part for CTHD because she could make the transition to martial arts.
I. LOVE. Costume dramas. I'd love something from 1850s America - as a rich woman though :P
Or... yes a ball gown, or some other period wear. Something elaborate and beautiful. But hopefully I wouldn't have to move much in it. And wherever it was would have air conditioning. :P

Anna Campbell said...


Wow, that red Anne Boleyn dress is AMAZING! I must say I love historical costume too. We used to get an annual every year when we were kids (I think this is a tradition from Britain). I always got ballet or ponies and my brother got the Treasure annual. Treasure was a kids' mag - fun stuff with some education thrown in. I remember drooling over a panorama of women in gorgeous historical costumes (which now I realize spanned the 15th to the 17th centuries, but who's counting) in one of the illustrations. The richness and the exotic style of those dresses stopped my breath. I loved dressing up when I was a young un - love that I grew up to continue my fascination with dressing up. Or undressing, snork!

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Lime, Red Cliff is on my Netflix queue. I see the theatrical version will be streaming soon, but I think I want to watch the two-part longer version.

Ziyi is a wonderful dancer, not to mention a very beautiful woman.

Yeah, air conditioning would be a must in some of those costumes. When women wore all those layers and corsets -- no wonder they were swooning all the time.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Anna, isn't that red dress amazing? The costumes in The Tudors are beautiful. I wonder if their cost is why they only do 8-10 episodes per season.

Helen said...

Well done lime he may be a bit hyped from all of the Tim Tams yesterday and the beer LOL


Those dresses are beautiful and I can truly see why they needed maids to help them dress just as well I suppose that clothing has changed because we would have to be able to afford maids to help us dress and the cost of those dresses would be way out of my buget LOL.

I loved a lot of those minis series that were so popular back in the 70's and 80's and watched all of them but these days I don't watch much TV at all too many great books to read.

Have Fun

Jane said...

Hi Trish,
I love the first Elizabeth movie. It's definitely one of the best and one of my favorites. North and South the English miniseries and The Remains of the Day are also on my list.

Anna Sugden said...

Great post, Trish. I love costume dramas. We're lucky over here that the BBC do such a wonderful job and we have so many available to us. I've been enjoying Cranford - which was re-run here - though I've noticed a tendency for people to die off when things get too cosy!

I must admit, though, if I was wearing a dress to a party, my history would only go back as far as the 20's, 30's or 40's! I love all the clothes from that era. And the shoes *happy sigh*

As beautiful as Victorian dresses are, I'd rather be more comfortable *g*. I'd probably wear Rosemary Clooney's evening dress from White Christmas.

Does that Julia Roberts vintage gown from the Oscars count as historical - loved it!

Enid Wilson said...

I love Regency romance but the Tudor costumes you have here look much nicer than the Regency ones. The texture, colour of the last one are amazing.

Bargain with the Devil

MJFredrick said...

I'm with you on wanting to learn more after I see one of these movies or shows. A couple of DECADES ago, there was a miniseries called YOUNG CATHERINE, about Catherine the Great. After that, I read everything I could find on her (some things I wish I didn't know, because she was portrayed romantically in the miniseries.) Now it's the Tudors. I find myself most intrigued by Henry Cavill--I mean, the church history. I have some Phillippa Gregory books on hold at the library right now.

Deb said...

I agree with Anna S. Rosemary Clooney's dresses in "White Christmas" were beautiful and loved the Mrs. Claus dress in the finale.

So, I am going to have to go with '40s and '50s dresses. They were elegant and classically fitted. I love looking at pictures of my mother from the '50s because her Sunday/good dresses were beautiful.

"Centennial" and "How The West Was Won" miniseries were really good, but the costumes weren't spectacular or memorable. I guess you don't see many flashy colors out on the trail, huh?

Oh, and for fun, who could resist a Carmen Miranda fruit basket hat? LOL (I watched a lot of '40s and '50s movies when I was a kid.)

Theresa N. said...

I love costumes! When I was growing up I watched the Academy Awards just to see the costumes, back then dancers would dress in the costumes of the films nominated and do a performance. It was great and you really got to appreciate the work that went into the costumes. I pretty much lost interest in the Academy Awards shows after they took it out. I think now all they do is show ahead shot of the actors in the movie and tell the designers name, or have they stopped that too?
Theresa N

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Helen, so right about needing maids to dress. I can't imagine.

Jane, I really enjoyed the English North and South miniseries too, though I only saw it a couple of years ago. I really loved the music in it too, though I wasn't able to find a released soundtrack for it.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Anna S., I loved the fashions from the '40s -- the clothing, the shoes, the hairstyles. And I liked the Big Band music of the era.

Enid, they were pretty elaborate. No wonder the royals spent fortunes on their clothes. Though I haven't included any of the men's costumes, they were fairly ornate too -- at least for men's clothes.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

MJ, I somehow totally missed the Young Catherine miniseries. I'll have to look that up, see if it's Netflix-able.

I'm with you that the church history of the Tudor era is fascinating, if brutal and often deadly. The thing that has struck me while watching The Tudors was how incredibly dangerous it was to be in Henry VIII's orbit.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Deb, the costumes of the Wild West might not have been spectacular, but it's one of my absolute favorite parts of history. I'm a great fan of westerns and love traveling in the West. It is amazing to me that people took off in wagons for parts largely unknown, knowing they could die along the way and that they would probably never see the family they left behind again.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Theresa N., yeah, the costumes part of the Academy Awards almost seems an afterthought now. I wonder if this was one of the ways they cut back on the length of the program. I know it often goes unbearably long, and the producers are constantly trying to trim it. Sad though.

Mo H said...

I loved all the miniseries mentioned. Did anyone see the American North and South miniseries? The costuming was pretty good in that. I loved the costuming in Titanic and My Fair Lady. What era was that? Edwardian?

MsHellion said...

Wild fan of costume dramas. *LOL* Although one of my favorite costume dramas was Pearl Harbor--because I love the outfits from the 40s...everything looks so suave. *sighs* But I'll watch just about any costume drama. *LOL* (I love Braveheart! *sighs*)

If I could dress as anyone, either the princess from Braveheart OR someone from the Georgian era, maybe The Duchess (the movie Keira Knightley was in). I love those dresses from that era. I also love the dresses from the 1950s too.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Mo, I watched the American version of North and South. Ah, early Patrick Swayze. And the costumes weren't bad either. :)

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

MsHellion, I agree about the costuming in Pearl Harbor. There was just something about that era -- maybe sort of an end of an era. Things have just changed so much and so rapidly since then.

Funny you should mention the costumes from The Duchesse. I had one of those ready to include in this, but I didn't because I was already pretty full of photos.

And who doesn't love a man in a kilt? :)

Janga said...

I'm a big fan of costume dramas too. Even though I hated the movie Vanity Fair, I thought the costumes made it worth watching. Just gorgeous!

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Janga, I've not seen Vanity Fair. Another costume drama I've not seen is Marie Antoinette with Kirsten Dunst. I also have several BBC productions on my queue.

TerriOsburn said...

I have to agree with Hellie on the clothing from the 40s. I love that period. Love the dresses Rachel McAdams wears in The Notebook. And the shoes. Shoes were perfection in the 40s.

If you haven't seen The Young Victoria, I can't recommend it highly enough. Wonderful romance, sweeping history and politics and all dressed up in incredible gowns.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Hey Trish! Fun post! Lime, he's flirting with you and Helen. He's a rascal, that Golden Rooster!

Love me some costume dramas. Sherlock Holmes. All the ones you mentioned. The Last Samurai. Anything about the Tudors or the French Aristocracy. Just LOVE them. :>

MJ, weren't the costumes in Young Catherine fabulous?

Loved Shakespeare in Love too, for the costumes. And the silly cinderella remake Drew Barrymore was in...can't remember the name of it...

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Terri, as a matter of fact, The Young Victoria is on my queue as well. I've heard so many wonderful things about it.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Jeanne, the Drew Barrymore movie was Ever After. All those things you mentioned were awesome in the costuming.

Regina Merrick said...

Like many of you, I love the 40's and 50's era. The first mini-series that I really "got into" was "The Winds of War," a WWII epic based on the book by the same name. Beautiful costumes.

Still, you can't beat Scarlet in that dress she wore to the picnic, OR the red dress she wore to Ashley's birthday party!

MsHellion said...

I love men in kilts...though ironically, the kilt isn't what they wore during the Braveheart era. That was a little later, from what I understand. And there was the blue paint issue. I always find that amusing. Not that it harms my enjoyment of watching Mel Gibson striding around in a kilt, but History by Hollywood is always amusing.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Hellie and TerriO, I adore the 40's costumes. Loved Evita for the costuming too. Winds of War is faboo.

I didn't think much of the costuming in Pearl Harbor. It just wasn't "catching" enough.

Anyone see the runs of Operation Petticoat over Memorial Day? Mostly uniforms, but some of the costuming there was fun. Besides, what's not to love about Cary Grant, and a pink sub?

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Ohhh, Hellie. Don't get me started on Men In Kilts.

Loooooove me some Men in Kilts. YUM.

One note of warning, however....if you google that phrase you can get some really...ahem...explicit material.


Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Hey, Regina. Would you believe that I actually haven't seen The Winds of War? I need to remedy that.

MsHellion, so true about the historical inaccuracies. There's even an entire section on The Tudors Wiki about these: http://tudorswiki.sho.com/page/Historical+INACCURACIES+of+the+Tudors

Pat Cochran said...

I agree with all on the lush beauty
of costumes in the historical dramas
over the years. Yet as I view them,
all I can think of is the most
necessary air conditioning I would
have needed! And the teams needed
to dress each person, and the hair
dressers!. You had to have special
hair styles to match the costumes!

Pat Cochran

Anna Sugden said...

Jeanne - I'm with you - LOVE Operation Petticoat! Actually, love anything with Cary Grant in it. I'm not a fan of 60's fashion, but in Charade, Audrey Hepburn makes it look good. Oh, and there's Cary Grant again *g*.

Nancy said...

Trish, I love costume dramas. The story doesn't even have to be all that good if the costumes are. Especially if swordplay is also involved, as it often is with period pieces.

The last period film I saw was Sherlock Holmes--not so great from a costuming perspective, though, as it was mainly Holmes and Watson running around London.

Gosford Park was nice and had Clive Owen in a supporting role. I'll never get tired of Errol Flynn's Robin Hood with Olivia de Havilland in those gorgeous gowns.

The story in First Knight struck me as lame, with Arthur making a couple of really stupid tactical choices, (I really do like Arthur, as a rule, and Sean Connery, as a rule, but I had real issues I won't rant about now but the look of the whole film, including costumes, was fabulous.

Yep, costumes are one of the great joys of DragonCon. I always love that (and many of them are medieval). Maybe you and I will actually see each other for more than two minutes in passing and five outside a panel this year!

Joan said...

I'm in agreement with TerriO...The Young Victoria is NOT to be missed!

The costuming in that movie in particular stood out as a wonderful compliment to the story. I believe the designer won an Oscar for it.

I love '50's and early '60's dresses. My ideal is a boat collar top with sleeveless or 3/4 length sleeves fitted to the waist then a rounded skirt that comes to the knees. In midnight blue.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

LOL on the Googling of "Men in Kilts", Jeanne.

Pat, can you imagine how long it must have taken a lady, or a queen, to get ready for some big event?

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Anna S., Audrey Hepburn could have made a trash bag look stylish.

Nancy, we'll probably have to use GPS to find each other at DragonCon. :)

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Joan, I can so see you in the dress you describe.

Alas, I don't think anyone in the future is going to look back at the '80s and go, "Oh, parachute pants and leg warmers. Those was gorgeous fashions." Snort.

Beth said...

Trish, those pictures are gorgeous! I haven't seen any costume dramas lately although I keep telling myself I should watch The Tudors :-)

Fun post!

Regina Merrick said...

Trish, "The Winds of War" was followed by "War and Remembrance," which was also a Herman Wouk novel. Both of them thousand-pagers. Both miniseries were great, but the last one they swapped Ali McGraw for Jane Seymour. I understood why, but it was rather jarring. Hope you can find it! It's a good watch, from what I remember.

Nancy said...

Oh, totally forgot the prompts. I actually did go to a costume party once as a pseudo Joan of Arc. No armor--made do with a fleur de lys surcoat and a rapier, definitely out of period, but the closest I could do. Now that we have the boy and his varied arsenal of toy weaponry, I could scrounge up a fairly decent wooden broadsword.

I can't rent costumes--I'm too tall. All the gorgeous dresses hit me above the ankle.

But if I could go as anyone, guaranteed a costume to fit, it'd either be Joan in true period costume, down to the armor and the broadsword, or Maid Marian. With longbow. *g*

Or maybe Eleanor of Aquitaine. With dagger.

I once had a bridesmaid dress that had 8 yards of fabric in the skirt alone. Wearing it felt fabulously feminine, but walking up and down stairs in it was a challenge. I wore a hoop skirt once in jr. high and found it incredibly annoying. So no GWTW for me and probably no Tudors, gorgeous as those costumes are.

My wedding gown had a train, which spent most of the reception over my arm. So no trains, gorgeous as they are. Even H.M. the Queen takes hers off as soon as she's done mucking around with Parliament.

MJFredrick said...

Trish, I don't see Young Catherine on Netflix :( Julia Ormond played her.

Jeanne, yes, LOVED the costumes in that movie. Hard to believe they put that much into a miniseries.

LOVED Winds of War--rewatched recently on DVD. My SIL recently turned 40 and she was going to have a '40s themed party. That would have been cool.

MJFredrick said...

Oh, and Mad Men--I love the clothes in that, too.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Beth, The Tudors is entertaining and fast-paced. Henry goes through six wives in 38 episodes. :)

Regina, I remember those Wouk-based miniseries being advertised with dramatic commercials prior to their airing.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Nancy, I bet you'd make a fierce Joan of Arc. All those choices sound great.

MJ, is Mad Men set in the '60s? I know that show gets a lot of praise, but I have no desire to watch it for some reason.

MJFredrick said...

Yup, the early 60s. It is a bit of a downer, though.

dingdang said...

Some of the more popular timepieces in the Breitling Watch series include the Navitimer Heratige, Navitimer World, Navitimer Chronometric and the Navitimer Montbrillant. The basic Navitimer Watches features a self-winding chronograph that is enclosed in a steel case. Breitling Avenger face consists of black dials with silver sub-dials and a tang-type buckle clasp for the leather strap.
While there are several color options, depending on the model, the basic colors for Navitimer World timepiece are steel, red/gold, and steel/gold.
The hermes handbag Birkin, was named for Jane Birkin who co-designed the bag with replica Hermes handbags company president Jean-Louis Dumas. Both handbags are distinguished for its luxurious and classic design. They are considered as the brand's consistent top seller and most demand design. Bags from the current discount Hermes handbags also has a modern.