Are you watching Sanditon? I am…sort of. It’s not capturing my whole attention, so I can’t seem to make myself watch it without a lot of fast forwarding to get screenshots for this post. The costumes are quite decent (of course I could nitpick, but I’m assuming most readers don’t care to have every tiny inaccuracy pointed out). So if you’re wondering what kind of a job they’re doing with them, here goes. I’ll start with the men.
The men’s clothes are decently tailored and generically fine for the early 1800s. If I had an eye finely-tuned to the nuances of tailoring–when the lapels moved a few inches lower, or the back seam of the coat curved a bit more or less or higher, or when the collar rose or fell…I’d probably be unhappy, but they are basically fine. Bonus, the breeches are mostly less baggy than they have been in a lot of earlier Austen adaptations.
Here’s Mr. Parker wearing a paisley waistcoat, which is a nod to Indian imported fabrics’ influence on fashion of the time (side note, Paisley is the town in Scotland where shawls were machine-woven to imitate the Indian ones; it’s only since then become our name for the design motif which is boteh or buta). Parker seems to wear the most flamboyant waistcoats of any of the men, which maybe is meant to signal his enthusiasm and flair? As usual with movies, the paisleys are the wrong scale and style for the period (don’t get me started on Marmee in Little Women–I refrained from discussing that in my Little Women posts). I know this is a bit nitpicky, but I’m here to tell you how the costumes relate to period accuracy, so here I am.
The c1800 waistcoat above is embroidered in silver, but it shows what the scale of the design should be. Also, the design virtually always (this is one of those times I’d normally say always, but there’s probably an exception out there) has borders around the edges and collar.
I am really annoyed by the boots. Maybe Mr. Parker has just come in from riding in this scene, but it’s the one full-length view I could find. The male characters seem to *always* wear boots. Regency-set adaptations never put men in what all the younger men should be wearing most of the time: pantaloons (snug) and trousers (slightly less so), not boots. Boots if you go riding, sometimes boots as morning dress, but NOT ALL THE DAMN TIME. Also, he should fire his bootmaker, because you could fit a small toddler between his leg and a cuff of one of those boots.
I’m not saying we should see the goofy-looking footie pyjamas, sorry, pantaloons with attached gaiters like those on the left here; but full-length leg coverings were common by now. Also please notice the boots: THEY FIT. As in: it would be hard to fit more than a finger between cuff and leg. This is why you have boot jacks. And valets.
The dresses are…fine. They’re standard-issue Austen-era high-waisted dresses, for the most part. I liked seeing Miss Lambe in a bib-front one in one scene.
Bib front dresses–a thoroughly modern term, we don’t know what they were called back then–are constructed with the front piece of the bodice sewn to the front flap of the skirt. You step into the dress, put your arms through the sleeves, the bodice lining has flaps to come over the bust, and then you pull up the front skirt flap, button the top corners of the bib front of the bodice, and use drawstrings to tie the skirt flap around your raised waist.
I liked this full view of the dresses and Miss Lambe’s yellow pelisse (coat). The pelisse’s graduated hem length is a very nice, unusual period touch that lifts this garment out of the generic regency style.
Here’s a bright yellow pelisse that does this a bit. And oh look, her companion is wearing TROUSERS with SHOES! no boots!
And the middle girl’s dress (sorry, I just can’t be bothered) combines three hem treatments from 1815-16: multiple decorative hem tucks (no they are not for growth, this period loved hem tucks), a colored band, and a deeply zig-zagged hem (called vandyked, after the painter Van Dyck whose portraits’ lace collars had similar edging; it’s part of the 1810s’ move from neoclassicism to other historical and “exotic” inspirations). You don’t usually see them combined this way, but it’s a really nice attention to period detail, so I’m cool with it.
Mrs. Parker has a nice dark dress seemingly made from a sari, which was a done thing back then although not as often as we see it done in the movies; but a good vintage sari will often have the right aesthetic for the early 1800s, which was using and copying many Indian textiles.
They’ve dressed Lady Denham in expensive but old-fashioned styles from the 18th century. It’s overdone in some scenes. Older women whose figures were not well suited to the radical new slim, high waist styles did hold on to 18th century stays (corsets), and seem to have worn the open robe over a petticoat (as above) long after the one-piece, same-fabric “round gown” mostly replaced it.
In the picture above, her waist is at least somewhat raised to a mid-1790s level. The 1807 edition of a comic poem The Bath Guide (below) depicts a woman wearing a round gown with a moderately raised waistline, but with a very 18th century looking bodice (and 1770s hair). Was this reporting fact, or was it an exaggeration to make a point about the older generation? I suspect there were some who dressed this way, so Lady D’s higher-waist gowns make some sense.
However, Lady Denham’s dresses are sometimes a full 30 to 50 years out of date, which is ridiculous. Her brown dress (below) has a stomacher (triangular panel in front, separate from the bodice which comes around only to about where the nipple is) which went out of style about 1770–its ribbons date it to the 1750s or 60s–and a natural waist level; the trim also dates to the 1760s or 70s. It’s one thing to be a little conservative because you’re the older generation. It’s another to be 40 years out of date.
Compare her ruched (gathered) ruffle which undulates down the edge of the bodice and skirt, to this dress dated about 1760 in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection:
The ribbon bows on her stomacher are something we see in the 1750s and 1760s. Here’s Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV’s mistress painted in 1756 by Francois Boucher:
Charlotte’s clothes are nice–many of them are reused from earlier movies (this is done all the time; recycledmoviecostumes.com will show you all the movies where they’ve been spotted–I warn you, it’s a fabulous time-sucking rabbit hole!).
The blue spencer has also been worn in five productions between Persuasion and Sanditon; they are listed and pictured here: http://recycledmoviecostumes.com/regencyromantic024.html
This dress I did not recognize from Emma until I saw it on recycledmoviecostumes. It’s a really nice Regency dress: the cut, the weight and drape of the cotton, and best (and hardest and most elusive) of all, the PRINT are all perfect.
I’ve made a Postscript blog post on Sanditon showing more examples of reused costumes which I spotted, or found on the recycled site, if you’re interested.
Overall Charlotte seems to have rather too many spencers and pelisses, but maybe we are supposed to think her father has sent her some money for new clothes now that she’s been in Sanditon over a month? Or has Mrs. Parker given her some hand-me-downs?
In the last episode–four?–she was wearing a sort of jumper outfit (again, not a period term) of a white blouse under a sleeveless dress.
Austen adaptations LOVE jumpers. They look so nice and modern and “relatable.”
There are certainly period examples of this in fashion plates and in the sketchbook of Diana Sperling, a girl of Austen’s class and era, whose delightful watercolors of Regency-era life are collected in the book Mrs. Hurst Dancing. They were not nearly as prevalent as the movies suggest, but it’s an understandable choice.
My big, huge, enormous problem with Charlotte’s look–and it colors my feelings for the entire production–is her wretched, awful, non-period, horribly modern, ghastly, stupid HAIR. NOBODY wore her hair down around her shoulders like this. Maybe the very poorest, and mentally depraved. But there is NO good reason they should let the heroine look like this.
The Frock Flicks blog (I will never achieve their volume of posts on vast quantities of costume movies and telly adaptations, or their brilliant level of snark, so I recommend them to you if you want commentary on many, many other productions) calls this widespread tendency to leave period hair down “the great hairpin shortage,” but the real excuse is lazy pandering to audiences whom the director doesn’t trust to accept period styles. They think they have to make characters look “relatable” and not too “different.” Seems to me we all had no problem getting mentally and emotionally invested in all those earlier costume dramas, including the 1990s and 2000s Austen adaptations, where everyone’s hair was up properly.
I do not accept this pathetic excuse. Hair and makeup are always where period accuracy stumbles, because it’s impossible to get 100% into the past–the aesthetics of the period of production will sneak in somehow. Check out one of the many 1970s Austen adaptations, who did a decent job with costumes but couldn’t resist putting some 70s pouf in the hair.
But just leaving hair down is beyond the pale. It kicks me right straight out of Sanditon, whatever Andrew Davies is doing with making up a plot. I hope Miss Lambe gets to marry her hottie honey, but aside from that I really can’t be arsed to watch it closely enough to learn who everyone is and what they’re up to.