Frock Flicks note: This is a guest post by our friend Loren Dearborn, who blogs at The Costumer’s Closet. She was kind enough to share her photos and notes from the annual FIDM TV costume exhibit.
Every year, the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) Museum in Los Angeles, California, has two exhibits that I try not to miss: the Emmy nominees for best costume in television and the Academy Award nominees for best costume in film. In fall 2018, I managed to catch the exhibit of TV costumes just before it closed and thought you might like to hear about it.
Outlander (2014-), Starz, Costumer Designer: Terry Dresbach
At first glance I thought Claire’s outfit seemed subpar. I mean, what’s with the princess seams on an 18th-century waistcoat?! But if you know that this outfit is one that Claire made in 1968 to travel back in time to the 18th century, it is actually rather clever. The elements of modernity, like the princess seams and top stitching, indicate to the viewer that this is something Claire whipped up with her trusty Singer. Apparently, there are all sorts of hidden pockets inside the riding habit jacket too, earning it the nickname the “bat suit.”
I was a wee bit less impressed with Jamie’s outfit. His black linen coat, breeches, and waistcoat looked right but were very plain (I would have preferred a kilt!). And his boots looked a bit more fantasy than what I’ve seen in terms of men’s boots in the 18th century. Unfortunately I only took a close up of the suit, but you can see some good details of the boots and all of the other Outlander costumes on display in this blog post on Outlandercast.
I was rather taken with Outlander’s 1960s costumes though! The more conservative cut and soft lines of Claire’s blouse and skirt work for the period but also help the character seem more sympathetic to viewers who might be Team Frank.
I thought her white mod dress was adorable and an indication that she’s a pretty fashionable mom who’s still got it going on.
And Frank’s velvet suit and turtleneck looked great and oddly familiar … 1967 Leonard Nimoy anyone?
Godless (2017), Netflix, Costume Designer: Betsy Heimann
Godless, like Outlander, is a fictional story with a period setting, in this case 1884 Colorado, but unlike Outlander, the costumes were kind of disappointing. The banded-collar shirts are all well and good, but what is going on with that collar on the grey coat?
And I really didn’t like this bodice. I get it, frontier land, roughing it, but we could have gotten the idea without making the bodice points look so very bad. Maybe there is a plot point here? I’ll admit I haven’t actually seen the show, but this just looked sloppy to me, sorry Godless!
The Alienist (2018), TNT, Costume Designer: Michael Kaplan
I was really excited to see the costumes from The Alienist. While I haven’t caught the show yet, there have been a lot of promo pics floating around the web that intrigued me. Kaplan has said he really wanted it to read as 1890s and not have modern elements thrown in, and in terms of what was on display, I’d say he mostly succeeded.
The “alienist” of the title, Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, is a respected doctor and it shows. His suit is rich, well-tailored, and traditional … and to my mind a wee bit boring. Perfect for his character, just not super exciting.
On the other hand, I loved the more dandyish look of the costume for the reporter John Moore. While I don’t really know how common a whole suit of figured velvet might have been for a gentleman of the 1890s (a cursory search didn’t pull up any examples), velvet waistcoats were definitely a thing amongst the more flashy sort of gent and this fabric choice fits his character.
But enough about the men! Sara’s dark red/black changeable floral brocade gown was my favorite of The Alienist costumes. The contrasting buttons and piping really enhanced the reddish tints in the brocade. I appreciated the simple the cut of the gown and felt it really showcased the fabric. The brocade actually reminded me of this silk brocade in a gown at the San Diego History Center.
I also liked Sara’s striped walking suit. While I would have expected there to be a little more of a true leg-o-mutton sleeve for 1896, stripes were definitely popular in womenswear of the 1890s.
I wasn’t as happy with Sara’s dinner dress though. The changeable emerald fabric was gorgeous, but the cut of the bodice didn’t look quite right. The gown has some beautiful pleating at the back, and I thought it was a striking dress, just not very 1896.
The exhibit costumes that most impressed me were those from The Crown and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. They were all so well-made, they looked like real clothes and not costumes.
The Crown (2016-), Netflix, Costume Designer: Jane Petrie
They were impeccably tailored, the fabric choices were excellent, and it was obvious that Petrie had really done her research for the show. Many of the costumes are beautifully crafted replicas of what was actually worn by the Queen and the court in the early ’60s.
For example, here is Princess Margaret’s wedding dress and the Queen’s suit from the exhibit:
And a photo of both of them from Princess Margaret’s actual wedding:
Reportedly the actress playing Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) is considerably taller than the real Princess Margaret so reproducing this look also involved scaling the gown to her proportions while still managing to achieve the look of the real gown.
While the wrap wasn’t on display, you can see that Jackie Kennedy’s yellow gown is equally true to life. I loved the yellow and black color combination and how sleek and modern this looked compared to the slightly more stuffy look of the Queen.
I didn’t find any photos of Princess Margaret wearing a suit like this, but the cut looks correct for the era and the flashier fabric seemed right for Margaret’s more free-spirited personality.
I haven’t gotten around to watching The Crown yet, but after seeing these costumes, I’ve decided I need to make it a priority. If you’d like to see more of The Crown’s costumes and their real life counterparts check out this Buzzfeed article.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (2017-), Netflix, Costume Designer: Donna Zakowska
Mrs. Maisel is set in 1958 New York and Midge Maisel, the title character, is a bit of a clotheshorse, which makes this show a real treat for those of us who love historic fashion.
Midge’s little black dress, in the center, is simple and chic and reminded me of Audrey Hepburn’s black Givenchy dress in the 1954 movie Sabrina.
When Midge gets a job at a department store makeup counter, she has to find suitable things to wear from her existing wardrobe as a well-to-do housewife. This green suit and polka-dot tie is exactly the sort of thing one would expect to find on a saleslady of the time.
I liked that Midge’s wardrobe includes both sheath dresses and the more full-skirted silhouettes of the era. The stripes on the collar and cuffs of this blue dress give it a jaunty air that really fits her character.
Even Midge’s bedraggled baby blue nightgown and pink coat look perfect for the period. Nylon was widely used for nightgowns and peignoirs in the 1950s, and pinks and pastels were very popular.
At first glance, Susie’s costume stands out as looking very modern, but I think it’s actually perfect for the Greenwich Village/Beatnick type of character that Susie is. Check out this photo of beat poet David Meltzer and his wife Tina from 1957. I think Susie would fit in just fine.
You can see many more of the costumes from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and hear designer Donna Zakowska’s reasoning behind each character’s looks here.
While this exhibit has come and gone, if you are in the Los Angeles area, check out the FIDM Gallery website to see what new exhibits will be on display. The exhibit of Oscar-nominated movie costumes will be coming along soon!