When I was doing a WCW on Tamzin Merchant, I stumbled down the rabbit hole of Salem (2014-17) costumes again. Because, as disappointing as the show was in terms of convoluted, unconvincing plot, the costumes were freaking GORGEOUS. The hair did not measure up at all, but the gowns were stunning riffs on late 17th-century fashion layered with oodles of gothic witchy wonderfulness.
Costume designer Jospeh A. Porro used all kinds of strange and symbolic materials to create these costumes, from black patent leather and vinyl to human hair and beetle wings. Porro told FIDM in an interview:
“When you’re doing fantasy, you have to know what is correct. Then you make compromises based on your budget. Because this is about witches and fantasy, I’m going to bend the rules, using fabrics that weren’t available in the 17th century.”
He added details to costumes such as Victorian mourning jewelry, silver jewelry from the 1930s and 1940s, a thousand carats of amethysts, and sterling silver bugs, often from his own collection. But I really love how he combined new embroidery (usually custom-made in India) with vintage laces and fabrics to build depth into these outfits.
What makes this good costume design IMO is there’s an internal consistency and logic to Porro’s work on this series. The characters wear things that make sense for who they are and what they do — these are witches, often wealthy characters, gaining profit from their deadly dealings, so they wear dark, rich, elaborate clothes. These women are full of secrets, and their costumes are layered and complex. The costumes follow a basic historical silhouette, and the deviations are purposeful to emphasize the character’s weird, magical qualities. If you’re gonna break the rules, do it on purpose and with style!
Now, indulge an ElderGoth here with a few pretty dresses!
Do you love a good gothic historical gown too?