28 thoughts on “Top 5 Black & White Costumes in Historical Films

  1. I have a VERY soft spot for Madeline Kahn’s 1950s little black dress and coat ensemble in “Clue” – just for the AMAZING, old-school diva entrance she makes when she arrives at the mansion and proceeds to take off her coat, and suddenly there’s this POW of gorgeous white satin lining all sweeping out.

    Okay, so she’s in all-black for the rest of the film, but it’s such a Moment and such an Entrance.

    1. “Mrs White looking all pale and tragic…” Absolutely for the her entry! As for the rest of the movie, she is wearing white pearl jewelry, and she’s got the red pops from her make-up, too.

  2. My favorite the Edith Head dress that Grace Kelly wears in Rear Window. That dress started my life long love of movie costumes and historical costuming.

  3. I’ve just been listening to your Downton recaps, so I have to add that, while not interesting from a costuming perspective, Lady Mary looked devastatingly chic in her black and white riding habit.

    And of course there’s Cruella DeVille.

  4. Has “The Draughtsman’s Contract” gotten on your radar? This frontage-laden film had me riveted back in 1982. Little did I dream I’d wind up with people who could dress like this in real life! From the stills, the costumes were more all-white juxtaposed with all-black.

  5. I’m shocked that you did not include the travel dress that Rose wears during the boarding scene of Titanic. The movie is schlocky but the costumes are a visual feast.

  6. So Tristan doesn’t like it, but the Cecil Beaton white evening gown with black birds on the shoulders that Leslie Caron wears in Gigi. Swoony.

  7. There was a fabulous version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, filmed in 1987 and starring Eric Idle, which was entirely costumed in monochrome, and set in the 1920s. The costuming has always stuck with me as an example of how much impact a black and white palette can have! https://youtu.be/8SkOWxcbzn0

    1. Love that production! And Katisha arrives wearing a leather flight helmet having evidently flown in to Titipu.

  8. To be honest I was actually rather disappointed with Eliza’s Ascot dress, because I thought the dresses on some of the extras looked so much better. That might be because I’m kind of allergic to the mermaid cut (that’s what it’s called, right?) especially on a white dress, because it reminds me of a mermaid wedding dress, of which there are far too many in the world, I think (sorry if you like that cut).

    Also, isn’t that Ascot scene just an ah-mazing scene? So much fabulous detail on all the extras, I love it!

    1. I agree. Especially this one at 3:27. Even Prof Higgins, “confirmed bachelor,” can’t resist a second look!

      1. I simply love that scene, I have trouble deciding what my favorite dress is. And the clip is fun since a young Jeremy Brent is in it (aka Sherlock Holmes), and Audrey is simply charming. But the best is a bit later when she is cheering her horse to cross the finish line first!

  9. Gorgeous. My personal fav is Katrina’s — I gasped when I saw it on screen, and was annoyed that it only turned up right at the end. Still. DROOL.

    Anna Karenina had gorgeous costumes, that’s for sure…

  10. I am so glad that you gave a nod to _Out of Africa_ and Karen’s suit. While it isn’t quite right for 1913 (the ‘Russian note’ in the hat is right, but I can’t find any documentation for the standing collar before 1914), I love the outfit so much that I can overlook a slightly anachronistic element.

    (I also have a soft spot for the whole movie. Yes, it spawned the beige, brown, and — don’t forget — olive green safari-wear look, but it was also the first time in my life that there were entire lines of clothing on the market that wouldn’t clash with my red hair. I was in heaven!)

    1. Karen does snarl, “It’s ivory” when her husband to be questions whether she would wear white to her wedding. Remember he’s her friend, not her lover.

  11. Judging by the way the bodice overlay bunches around Katrina’s upper body and the pattern of stripes in the back continue uninterrupted for a way too wide stretch for an anglaise en fourreau, I would actually put money on the Sleepy Hollow gown being a polonaise.

    (Or at least polonaise-inspired – you never know what non-period trick costumers pull that end up making an 18th century gown a 20th century film costume.)

  12. I’m intrigued by the idea of the Sleepy Hollow gown being polonaise – it’s not something I was as familiar with when I first put together a study page on the costume. And now that I’m familiar, I’m sort of fascinated by them.

    I do think I see a waist seam though – and the skirts pleated into it. They did a good job with the stripe matching – which is possible (I did mine that way).

    See this one: http://costumersguide.com/sleepy/bw19.jpg (you may have to copy/paste the link into a browser because of the hot-linking disabling on my site, but copy/paste works).

    Also: http://costumersguide.com/sleepy/bwcap14.jpg

    I wish I had higher res of the back. Also, where did you find that image of it on the dress form – that one is new to me! :D Love this gown, one of my favs to be sure.

    The Out of Africa gown is off-white – I saw it at exhibit and it was fabulous. The detail on the hat is amazing. One of my friends got high res pics of it here: http://www.costumersguide.com/fashioninfilm6.shtml

    1. Hmmm! They COULD be hiding pleats under the stripes, however! That new photo of the SH gown on the dressform was posted on FB — it’s what inspired me to write this post!

  13. Lizzy’s black and white striped bustle gown in “The Buccaneers.” Maybe it can’t make the cut because that was a mini-series and not a film?

  14. Dearest Kendra, I am glad you like black and white costumes like me. Another film that should be included is The Cat’s Meow with Kristen Dunst. It’s chock full of simply gorgeous and smart uses of black and white costuming from the 1920s. Joanna Lumley’s ensemble as the guest gather aboard the yacht is to die for!

    In fact, when searching the interweb for photos, I ran across this little tid bit on the IMDbTV site “The costuming and sets were designed with as little color as possible to give the illusion of a black and white film. This was to make up for the fact that the film wasn’t allowed to be filmed in black and white as originally planned.”


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