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