Monday, December 31, 2012

Fashion in Film: Les Miserables

Hey there! I hope you had a great Christmas and are enjoying the last day of 2012.

Being the theatre nerd that I am, I've been anticipating the film version of "Les Miserables" for months now. I finally saw it the day after Christmas and fell in love with it. It was a beautiful adaptation of both the musical and the book. It had wonderful music, poignant emotions, and of course, brilliant costumes. I knew as soon as I left the theater that I wanted to discuss them, so here we go.

For those of you who don't want spoilers for a 27 year old musical or a 150 year old book, turn back now!

In this post I'm going to cover the three main female characters: Fantine, Cosette, and Eponine. I know, I know, that means no Helena Bonham Carter. But honestly, I don't think this will teach us anything about historical accuracy or character depth. Although I must admit that it is pretty fabulous.

Let's start with Fantine, shall we?

When we first meet Fantine, the year is 1821. The first outfit we see Fantine wearing is her factory uniform, a blue cap and smock.

Under her smock is a pink, empire waisted dress.

Though the empire waistline was declining in popularity by the 1820's (as seen on the dress on the far right), Fantine's dress is probably from an earlier year due to her poverty. I think the color contrast here is interesting. Fantine's pink really pops against the blue of every other factory worker. I think this was done intentionally to further set Fantine apart from her coworkers in this scene.

Another interesting thing to note as we continue looking at Fantine's costumes is that Anne Hathaway recently went completely vegan. That goes for her clothes as well. It's very interesting to see how the costume designer attempted to replicate period textiles without using any animal products. Most of her dresses look cotton to me, but I'm no textile whiz.

As you know, Fantine's fortunes soon take a turn for the worse, and she soon finds herself "at the bottom of the heap."
Sans hair, teeth, and dignity, Fantine appears to be wearing some sort of shift and corset combo. The fingerless gloves point to the ever present winter in the film, which had varying points of success at different parts of the movie. Here I think it works really well. This may be costume analysis overkill, but I think it's interesting how this dress is just a faded version of the same color palate we've seen her wear before: lots of pinks and purples, getting progressively more faded as her downward spiral continues. Here we see her color, or her vibrancy/hope/will to live/what have you almost completely faded away.

This next costume shows Fantine at rock bottom. It's obviously been a significant amount of time since her descent into prostitution (although evidently not enough time for her hair to grow back), because she's had a wardrobe change into this silky red number. Scarlet was (and still is, in some corners of the world) strongly associated with prostitution, so this color is appropriate for Fantine. The character might have even intentionally chose this color as an advertisement of her profession. One thing that I find interesting about this outfit is the shred of dingy, faded purple at her shoulder. I can't tell if this is what's left of her undergarments from before, but if it is, the symbolism is pretty strong. Fantine's wearing a color that's completely alien to her palate thus far, and only a shred of her own color remains. Again, costume analysis overkill, but the colors do subtly represent Fantine's situation (in my mind, at least).

The last costume we see Fantine wear is a lavender, just-a-little-lower-than-empire waisted dress with long sleeves.

Now, I'm reasonably certain that we've seen this dress on her before, but without another go at the film, I can't be 100% sure. We see glimpses of what appears to be the same dress in promotional images, but I think until I can confirm that it shows up earlier, I'll just treat it like her "ghost" dress.

As you can see, there's not a whole lot to the dress other than the fact that it's lavender. And given the color analysis I've done on past costumes, that's pretty significant. Another interesting point is that her hair is still short. I've seen many stage productions opt to restore Fantine's hair to her in her heavenly form, but it might be a deliberate choice here to keep the hair short. Maybe it's to say that Fantine's hardship shouldn't be ignored or undone. Or maybe it's just because Anne Hathaway actually cut her hair and couldn't magically have it back for this scene.

Let's move on to Eponine.

Eponine's first costume for the film consists of a brown skirt (probably with a petticoat or two underneath, given the volume), some sort of green top, and a green scarf/shawl tucked into a thick belt. Compared with the costume Samantha Barks wore when playing the role onstage (which is literally her "boy" outfit with some pants and without the coat), this costume is very feminine. I really appreciate that choice to show off Eponine's femininity, rather than make her a rough-and-tumble foil for Cosette. Yes, Eponine's very tough, but she's still a girl.

That is, until she puts on a disguise and becomes a boy.

This is another great costume, especially when compared to stage versions of the same transformation, in which Eponine simply puts on a coat, some pants, and a hat (without even tucking her hair in) and magically becomes a boy. This is a much more believable getup (which may be why Marius doesn't recognize her immediately like he does in the show). I like that the scarf and belt she's wearing appear to be the same pieces from before. The transformation from feminine to masculine is much more distinct here than it has been on stage, and I think the designer pulled it off very well.

Last, but certainly not least, we have Cosette, who certainly brings it in the fashion department.

This first dress worn by Cosette could be a subtle homage to the traditional black and white dress worn by Cosette onstage. While it's the definition of 1830's fabulous with huge puffed sleeves and tons of girly accessories, it's also significantly simpler than most dresses of that opulent decade. Crazy prints with fussy ribbon trims were all but mandatory in the 1830's, but Cosette only wears one printed dress (maybe two?) over the course of the film, and it's a subtle print at that.

I think this shows how pure Cosette is, for lack of a better word. In the entire story, Cosette is the bright spot in a sea of darkness, untainted by the misery that surrounds her. And to some extent, her clothes are the same way. When the world around her is going absolutely crazy, Cosette stays simple, sweet, and pure.

Another great costume worn by Cosette is her wedding gown.

Well, the first thing I notice about Cosette's dress is that it's white, even though "Les Miserables" is a pre-Victorian story. As I've discussed before, this isn't a complete inaccuracy, and it shows the innocence and the purity of the character well. I'm very puzzled by the panel on the front of the dress. I don't remember it from seeing the film, and I certainly don't think the designer would do this, but in the lighting of this photograph, it looks sheer. I'm not entirely sure what it is in reality, but if there's something that does not show the innocence and purity of the character, that would be it. Another interesting thing here is that this is the only time we see Cosette with her hair up. I think this shows her coming of age in a way, her passage from childhood to womanhood.

Well, that wraps up my costume analysis of "Les Miserables." I really, really enjoyed the film, and I heartily recommend it whether you're a long time fan of the musical and/or book, or you're just looking for a way to spend three hours and shed several million tears.

Huge props to Paco Delgado, the costume designer for the film.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Who has two thumbs and missed her blog post last week? That would be this girl. But let's put aside my schedule issues for a moment so that I can wish you a Merry Christmas.

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a beautiful time with your family. As my Christmas gift to you, here's an incredible picture of 1880's ladies making a fabulous-looking snow lady.

Merry Christmas! :)

Monday, December 10, 2012


You should just expect posts to be late by now, honestly. ;)

I fully intended to do a Fashion in Film post today, I really did. Pinky swear. But I was doing some thinking last night, and today I'd like to present those thoughts to you in a rambling, formless post.

Life has been crazy recently, as I'm sure it has been for you as well. The normal cocktail of school, work, activities, and other commitments gets a deadly shot of Christmas stress this time of year. And it's a wonderful and exciting whirlwind. Recently I've had to take a step back and ask myself "Is this thing I'm doing necessary?" I can't tell if it's prioritizing or being an expert procrastinator, but because of some major changes in my life and schedule, I know that I have the time to run this blog and do it well.

So why am I not?

Well, the easy answer is that I'm a lazy, unorganized mess. But lately I've also felt a lack of gusto, passion, zeal for the topic on which I am blogging. I still enjoy fashion, history, and the combination thereof, but getting my excitement in front of your eyes stumps me to no end. That's the one hurdle of art, I guess. Getting what's in your brain down on paper or online or on your piano or on the side of your neighbor's house (not the side of your neighbor's house, that's vandalism, not art).

I've been asking myself the same question over and over recently: Why do I like historical fashion? And the answer that keeps coming up is silly and sentimental, but the best one I can think of: magic. It's incredibly magical to look into the world of the women who lived before us. What we wear says so much about us, and you can learn so much about the history of the world by what women wore. It's one woman's story, the world's story, and our story all rolled up into one beaded, midnight blue chiffon evening gown.

So, it may take a few bumps in the road, several more posts may be late, I may disappear and reappear intermittently, and I may start some whiplash-inducing changes, but I'm going to do my best to continue delivering your daily dose of magic. Or weekly. Haven't figured that one out yet.

If you've been nice enough to stick with me through my incoherent drabble, have a clip of a scene from "The Hollow Crown: Henry V" in which Hal woos Catherine of Valois. Catherine's wearing a gorgeous 15th century gown, and there's the added bonus of Tom Hiddleston. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Game: Round Two

Good morning! I'm making an executive decision and moving my Fashion in Film posts to Monday. Thanks for bearing with me as I monkey around with the schedule and content. Just so I don't leave you in the lurch, let's play a game. No, not thermonuclear war. I was thinking more about The Game. Check out the rules if you don't know how the game works. Let's get started!

All of the images in this post are courtesy of, a very nifty historical fashion Tumblr.

This is raising a lot of question marks for me. It's 19th century, that's for sure, but I can't tell when exactly. The low bodice and the full skirt say 1850's to me, but the skirt isn't nearly humongous enough, and the details on the dress isn't anything like the mid century. If I were to take a shot in the dark, I'd say that this is a court dress, since those were notorious for not following the fashions of the day. The stately ribbon detail hints this as well. It's somewhere in the second half of the 19th century, but I can't say when for certain. I'm thinking it must be some time where a fitted, low-necked bodice was in style for evening wear, but a fuller skirt was just going out of style. An era that matches up with that is the late 1870's. I'm inclined to think that it was the later 1870's, since skirts were still rather full at the beginning of the decade. So, I'll call it 1878.

My guess: 1878
Actual date: 1867. Hey, not too bad for a total guess. Let's see if I can do better with this next one.

Well, this photo of the bodice already screams 1870's to me (what with the high collar, dark jewel tone fabric, and structured corset), but with the help of some handy additional images, we can see that this dress has a slight bustle, and a massive train that shows that this is no ordinary day dress. I honestly don't know what the crazy train is all about, but I do know that the bustle matched with the relative fullness of the skirt means we're dealing with the early 1870's. Perhaps early to mid-decade, since the bustle seems a bit lower than those at the beginning of the decade. I'll go with 1874.

My guess: 1874
Actual date: 1885. And hey, guess what? It's a court dress. I guess that explains the funky train, and the fact that I thought it was earlier.

Well, this fluffy white cloud definitely says mid-century. It's not the 1850's, since the skirt doesn't resemble a sphere. The volume seems to be drifting more towards the back of the skirt, so I think we're looking at the mid to late 1860's. The high-necked, long-sleeved nature of the bodice lends to that as well. I'll go with 1867.

My guess: 1867
Actual date: "1870's." Close enough? I'm dying for a win after two strikes. Well, let's try one more and see if I can make it.

Those sleeves definitely say 1890's.  The corset and the high neck say the same thing. Those sleeves aren't the size of young children, so I have to think that this is from the early decade. I'll say this is from 1893.

My guess: 1893
Actual date: 1885-89. At least it's within my five-year range for a correct guess. 

Well, the fun thing about writing this blog is that I always have things to learn. See you on Monday for the new installment of Fashion in Film!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fashion in Film: Sabrina

Well, this is very late, isn't it? I hope you're having a lovely week. I'm starting my Christmas preparations earlier than ever this year, so life has been a little nuts, but we keep calm and carry on. Anyway, enough chatting, on with the show.

The other day, I was feeling a little down, and so to cheer up, I compiled a mental list of my favorite romantic comedies. Of course, the movies that immediately came to mind were the Meg Ryan rom-coms of the 1990's. When I asked my much-classier mom, she replied with Sabrina. This opened the floodgates in my mind to an era where films were glamorous, gentlemen were dapper, ladies were classy, and fashion was fabulous.

Sabrina was made in 1954, and the wardrobe has 1950's written all over it. It's a little difficult to pin down one specific costume designer for this film, especially because there isn't one credited. And there isn't one credited because no costumes were actually designed for this film. According to this excellent costume analysis, Edith Head was originally supposed to design the costumes, but Audrey Hepburn asked to wear some actual Paris couture to fit Sabrina's story. She met with Balenciaga, who was too busy to see her, and in turn sent her to Givenchy. Givenchy was also too busy to design costumes, since he was working on a collection at the time. Audrey, being the amazing fashionista that she was, selected and styled her own outfits from Givenchy's line. In a manner of speaking, it really did take a village to get the costumes for the film together.

In the beginning of the film, Sabrina wears simple, childlike outfits.

As we can see here, Sabrina is wearing a printed dress with a long sleeved, high-necked black top underneath. Her hair is worn in a ponytail with a bow on top. Obviously, this costume is meant to give off a shy, youthful vibe. The thing that interests and slightly confuses me about this costume is that though it's intended to be dowdy and young, it still really fits and flatters Hepburn's figure. This is typical of Sabrina's pre-Paris outfits: they're sweet, demure, and young, and yet she still manages to look amazing in them. Maybe this is to show how Sabrina is ready to grow up. Maybe it's just because Audrey Hepburn would look good in a brown paper bag.

After a life-changing trip to Paris, Sabrina returns to her childhood home with a new outlook on life and a new style.

Sabrina's sleek peplum suit, black heels, and white hat are super sophisticated. Not to mention the iconic Audrey Hepburn pixie cut. This is where the fun really starts with the costumes. We get a taste of everything, from the full-skirted "New Look" dresses of the early 1950's to the polished straight lines of what we'll see later in the decade. But of course, the Sabrina outfit that takes the case is the gorgeous black and white ballgown. You know the one I'm talking about.

This dress seems to encompass everything that was great about 1950's evening wear. We've got a strapless neckline, amazing embroidery, and a beautiful full skirt. The skirt is what's really interesting about this ensemble, it appears to be a straight ankle-length skirt with a removable, fuller skirt at the back. The high-low effect that this brings is what makes this dress special.

Among all of the beautiful, put together outfits, there's one that particularly stands out, and that's the casual outfit Sabrina wears while boating with Linus.

This is the polar opposite of every post-Paris outfit Sabrina's worn. The plaid shirt, white shorts, and bare feet are a far cry from her put-together suits and ballgowns. There are still some hints of style to it, though, like the shirt being tied to be more tailored, her amazing hair, and some pretty fantastic earrings.

Another pretty famous costume from this film is the little black dress worn in some promotional images and near the end of the movie. Sabrina pairs it with a fun sparkly hat and black gloves.

This dress was reproduced and emulated by many designers in the 1950's, as well as by modern Hollywood enthusiasts. It's so simple and classic, and the hat adds a little bit of whimsy. I think it shows Sabrina's maturity mixed with her still-present spirit.

That wraps up Fashion in Film for this week. Before I wander off into the sunset, I've got a question I want to run by you. I've been thinking of moving my blog series updates to Monday. I'm so busy during the week these days that giving myself some time over the weekend to work might boost my productivity. Let me know, times are a'changing!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fashion in Film: Pride and Prejudice

I'm sure you're familiar with the story of Pride and Prejudice. Even if you've never read it or seen an adaptation, the story is a huge part of our culture. It's the ultimate classic novel, and by extension, the ultimate costume drama.

When I say "the ultimate costume drama," I'm of course referring to the 1995 adaptation, in all its five-hour, Colin Firth-y glory. My mom was the one who got me started on this adaptation when I was just a wee child. I've since seen it upwards of twenty times. Not to toot my own horn, but I can also quote pretty much every scene word-for-word. It's the film that got me started on Jane Austen, and it's been a big part of my life for a long time. It's our feel-good movie. Whenever we're having a bad day, we pop in the disc and watch an hour of it here or there. It doesn't even matter whether we watch it in order or not. We're sucked into the beautiful story every time.

So, without further adieu, let's take a look at the costumes worn by that singular, indefatigable, beloved Austen heroine, Elizabeth Bennet.

If you're a fan of reading IMDb trivia pages like I am, you'll know that the BBC loves to reuse costumes. The page for pretty much every British period drama has a piece of trivia that reads like this:

The green striped gown with velvet Spencer jacket Anna Chancellor (Caroline Bingley) wears at Netherfield Hall is the same costume worn by Julia Davis (Elizabeth Elliot) at Kellynch Hall in PersuasionVicki Pepperdine (Ann Dobbin) in the park scenes in Vanity Fair, and an extra at the London party where Annabella Milbanke meets Byron in Byron. The Spencer also appears, without the striped gown, in Little Dorrit, worn by Emma Pierson as Fanny Dorrit. 

 This means that several of the costume pieces in Pride and Prejudice weren't built specifically for the production. The real design of the costume lies in how the designer selects, matches, and styles the various pieces. Let's take a look.

The first time we meet Lizzy is when she's on a walk near her home. She's wearing a simple day dress, a structured spencer jacket, and a bonnet. This scene and her outfit set the tone for her character- she's outdoorsy, adventurous, and free-spirited, but still sensible and put-together. Lizzy's costumes, unlike those worn by the ladies around her, aren't fussy in the least. This sets her apart from the other women and shows her independent nature. We'll see several variations on the dress, spencer, and bonnet combo as the story progresses.

I especially love this pelisse.
Elizabeth's day dresses are equally simple. They're usually white or have some sort of subtle pattern (as seen in the image above), and they show her no-nonsense personality well. Check out the image below and compare Lizzy with the rest of her sisters. She's the only one who isn't wearing a pattern, and her dress is a demure cream color.

One of Elizabeth's more elaborate day dresses is also my favorite. The coral dress she wears at Netherfield is one of my favorite Regency costumes of all time. The cheery color compliments her well, and it's very vibrant compared to the rest of her relatively tame wardrobe.

Of course, no analysis of Elizabeth's costumes would be complete without the iconic white ballgown that she wears at the Netherfield ball.

This is pretty much your textbook Regency era ballgown. White was a popular color for young women because it looked great in candlelight. The short sleeves and gloves line up with both the fashion and the etiquette of the time. The one thing that makes this outfit stand out is her floral ribbon crown. Yet again, we see something that's beautiful in its simplicity, and some very smart fashion choices on Lizzy's part.

To round it all out, we have the final scene of the mammoth drama, in which Lizzy and Darcy get married.

It looks like Lizzy's wearing a long-sleeved white gown with pleating and buttons on the bodice, and some sort of white pelisse on top. Elizabeth and Jane are both wearing white, which I've touched on before, and it's interesting to see how both of their wedding gowns express their personalities. Elizabeth's is simple and structured, while Jane's has demure lace accents and a more feminine cut.

That wraps up this week's Fashion in Film post! It's been so fun to write about one of my family's favorite films, especially on the day before Thanksgiving. I hope you have a lovely holiday, and I'll see you next week. God bless.

Bonus Round: Check out this amazing analysis of different adaptations of the Netherfield ball. It has some great info on Regency era fashion and ballroom etiquette.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Titanic: The Musical

Ever since I did a costume analysis of Julian Fellowes' Titanic miniseries, I've had a spot of Titanic fever. I don't know what it is, but something about the tragedy is at once haunting and fascinating. Maybe it's the thousands of emotional stories that came from that one night. Maybe it's the comparison in classes; the decadence with which some lived and the poverty of others. Maybe it's the clothes. You know I'm a sucker for the clothes.

Whatever the reason, I was very excited when I discovered that there's actually a musical that tells the story of passengers aboard the doomed ship. I poked around on YouTube, hoping to find some clips of the show, and happened across this full video of the 2006 Australian production. I watched five minutes of it here and there and managed to get through the whole thing. Several hours and buckets of tears later, I'm ready to tell you all about it.

This review is spoiler-free.

The first thing you need to know about this show is that it isn't an adaptation of James Cameron's Titanic film. In fact, as I found out as I researched it, the show premiered in 1997, a few months before the film did (and picked up five Tonys, I might add). In plot, it more closely resembles the Julian Fellowes series, in that it follows the stories of several different characters through strung-together vignettes. Characters from all social classes are represented, from the American millionares and British aristocracy in first class to the Irish immigrants and coal-covered stokers in steerage. All of the characters in the show are based off of real people to some extent, with ship designer Thomas Andrews, owner J. Bruce Ismay, and captain Edward Smith all playing pivotal roles in the plot. Some characters, like spunky Irish lass Kate McGowan, are compilations of multiple passengers' stories.

One of the very first things that made an impression on me as I watched was the set. It's beautiful in its simplicity; for the majority of the show, we have nothing but a starry backdrop and a suspended walkway to show the chilly nights on deck. A few other set pieces fly in and out to show the docks, the first class dining room, and other scenes on the ship. Another interesting feature is the time and date that's occasionally projected onto the set to keep the audience updated on the timeline of the show. An eerie, but captivating effect takes place after the ship hits the iceberg at the end of the first act (spoiler!). The entire set is put on a tilt, which gets steeper as the story progresses and the Titanic sinks deeper into the water.

Unfortunately, not many photos of the set are available online. Here's a shot of a dock scene.

I feel like I should pause a moment and tell you a bit about the costumes. It's only fair, considering the fact that this is mainly a costume blog. The costumes were historically accurate and fit the characters who wore them, but they were also very unobtrusive to the story, which I appreciated. From what I've seen, a lot of other productions go a little crazy with the costumes (the costumes for the American characters get especially wacky. Thanks, guys), which really feels unfitting for such a somber story. However, this production did have a little fun with their millinery, but honestly, would it be a 1910's costume drama without it? The lower class ladies wore shirtwaists, plain skirts, and jackets. Upper class ladies had glittering gowns and tailored traveling suits.

One of the very few photos that shows the costumes in detail. It still isn't great, but at least the lighting is pretty.
The score is yet another high point of this show. It's beautifully written, and wonderfully performed by the cast I watched. There isn't a bad voice in the cast (and that's coming from me as a picky theatre-goer/YouTube-watcher), and the musicians in the pit handle the soaring orchestration perfectly. With such talented singers and musicians, every single number in the musical is a showstopper. That might be one of my only complaints about the show. Since every number is so emotional, the story does tend to get heavy at times, with no moments of levity (with the exception of some funny lines of dialogue and the song "The Latest Rag" which incorporates period-accurate ragtime music and a lively dance sequence) to break up the drama.  "Still" is a particularly moving duet about the lasting love between real-life couple Isidor and Ida Straus, who were married for more than forty years and refused to be separated during the disaster.

As I mentioned before, this cast is absolutely superb, and not just musically. There are some beautifully acted scenes, particularly in the captain's bridge, where a few men are completely aware of the fact that they are responsible for thousands of lives. I didn't realize until after I finished watching the video that this production was Australian. Although some of their Irish and American accents could use a little work (particularly second class American Alice Beane, whose over-energetic fawning over the first class passengers becomes a little grating on the ears), their British accents are superb. An honorable mention goes to the actor playing crew member Mr. Murdoch, who has a flawless Scottish brogue (or at least it sounds flawless to these American ears).

When I did my costume analysis for the Julian Fellowes series, I talked about how the most riveting part of the story was finding out who lives and who dies. The same holds true for this show. Some of the 30+ characters are more lovable than others, but all of them are interesting, and the show does a good job of balancing the multiple plotlines to give each one the development it needs. The only thing that bothered me about the script was the oft-repeated line "it's a new world out there." At least five different characters who have no relation to one another say this in several independent cases. We get it. The Titanic was a huge step forward in technological progress.

One of my favorite characters was the relatively small role of Harold Bride, the radioman on the Titanic. His song "The Night Was Alive," wasn't my favorite in the show (mainly because it was layered with "The Proposal," and Harold singing about his love for his job while another man was singing about his love for his sweetheart was downright awkward), but the beautiful lyrics and occasional verse sung in Morse code were really interesting.

There are so many more lovely moments in this show that I'd love to tell you about, but I really shouldn't. You just have to experience it for yourself. Titanic: The Musical is so emotional, and the story is so gripping. The events of that fateful night are told in a respectful, historically accurate, and creative way. It's a dream come true for history nerds. Watch it on YouTube here.

And now for some legal stuff.
I don't own Titanic: the Musical. If I did, I would bribe the producers to cast me in the show, after which I would run around in a giant, feather-and-flower-covered hat. I'm also not making any profit from this blog post. If you have any reason to believe that the YouTube video I've promoted on this blog posted by the user MusicalFrance is pirated or illegal in any way, let me know, and I'll remove the content.

See you tomorrow for Fashion in Film!