Original, Revival, or Costume?

'Superman Returns'

Superman Returns, Brandon Routh costume

You’d think it would be easy to recognize a true costume when you see one, like our famous friend here. However, in the world of historical dress/costuming it’s not so clear-cut. And when you’re in the process of learning the basics, it’s even more frustrating.

Sure, you can find just about anything online, but its mere presence is irrelevant to the accuracy of the information tacked onto it. When I make a mistake and mess up my knowledge base it’s my problem. When I pass that mistake along it becomes a problem for a lot of other people. And I don’t like that. So how on earth can one figure it out?

Sometimes you get lucky and the item at hand is so well known that it can’t be foisted off as anything other than a costume.

Rose's gown in 'Titanic'.

Rose’s gown in ‘Titanic’.

Other times it’s just so fanciful that it has to be from a film.

'Spartacus'

‘Spartacus’

And then there are times when the costume is so well done that only the fact of a color photograph gives it away…unless it’s on a mannequin. Then it gets a lot harder.

1912, Les Modes (Paris) Tailored suit for the afternoon by Linker & Co. & Kate Winslet as Rose in Titanic Costume design by Deborah L. Scott

1912, Les Modes (Paris) Tailored suit for the afternoon by Linker & Co. & Kate Winslet as Rose in Titanic Costume design by Deborah L. Scott

ca. 1810-1820, metmuseum.orgMy prior debacle was a great lesson. I’d found it on Pinterest (my new motto – viewer beware) labeled “ca. 1810-1820, metmuseum.org.” Unusual Regency-era gown? Nope – designed and created in 1967. A reader kindly pointed out my error and I deleted the image from my Pinterest Regency board. It’s still making the rounds as a Regency original, though. Now that I know a bit more about the clothing of that era it’s fairly easy to see that it’s not Regency. But as a relative newbie, I still get caught out.

I’ve even been fooled by undergarments, for heaven’s sake.

Petticoat for under Mina's Red Bustle Dress in Dracula

Petticoat for under Mina’s Red Bustle Dress in Dracula

Here are some of the “mistaken identities” making the rounds, with their incorrect identities included, in case they’re tempting you to err as I did.

This one is very popular…

'Regency-era gown'.

‘Regency-era gown’.

1910 Edwardian gown designed for Madame De Bittencourt for a fancy dress Regency ball

1910 Edwardian gown designed for Madame De Bittencourt for a fancy dress Regency ball

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Regency styles seem especially rife with confusion. An empire waist does not a Regency dress make. The early 1910’s saw a revival of Regency style and quite a few of them sneak through as originals to the untrained eye (including mine).

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This gown is not from 1870 – the first clue is its Natural Form – and not an extant Victorian garment. It’s the silk gown worn by “Countess Olenska” (Michelle Pfeiffer) in ‘The Age of Innocence’. 1993.

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"White off-the-shoulder evening gown - circa 1860s"

“White off-the-shoulder evening gown – circa 1860s”

Movie costume, 'Il Gattopardo'

Movie costume, ‘Il Gattopardo’

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Modern-made 1850s style purple silk dress - worn by Maggie Smith in 'Washington Square'.

Modern-made 1850s style purple silk dress – worn by Maggie Smith in ‘Washington Square’.

WASHINGTON SQUARE, Maggie Smith, Albert Finney, 1997, (c) Buena Vista

WASHINGTON SQUARE, Maggie Smith, Albert Finney, 1997, (c) Buena Vista

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This one is seen in a great many places as ‘Regency gown with open robe of warp printed silk. Late 1790s or early 1800s’. In actuality, it’s a costume from the film “Immortal Beloved” – a re-creation of a style from approx 1795 -1800. (source: Tirelli Costume.)

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Those are the ones I see the most often. But so many more await to trip the unsuspecting novice. Oh, dear. Hover over the image to see its real identity.

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And I must confess, every so often there is a film costume that manages to melt its way into my heart and I don’t care whether it’s absolutely, or even mildly, period-correct or not. I love it and I want one. (And Johnny Depp’s Ichabod Crane, too.)

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