46 thoughts on “SNARK WEEK: Top 5 Stupid Frock Flicks Tropes

  1. I feel in almost all 18th century films only the supporting characters and bad guys wear wigs, the leading man is allowed to have natural hair in order to relate to modern audiences. See: Amadeus, Poldark, Outlander, Casanova, La Revolution, The Great … I could go on. And in the Russian Ekaterina- it’s like they forgot about the men’s wigs altogether- brrr!

  2. I think the corset yanking and the “clothes as a prison” are some of the ones that annoy me the most, probably having to do with my overall irritation at when very modern feminist ideas are given to the female lead to make her seem #relatable and fun, instead of having her work within the norms and ideas of her time to accomplish her goals. I’m obsessed with this one historical fiction novel(a cool murder mystery) I read recently because for once it is about a woman actually excited for her royal marriage and to rule over a grand court….because that was her upbringing! She doesn’t spend half the book whining about how she wishes she were a man or a simple peasant girl.

    1. The middle class 1740s video on Prior Attire’s YouTube channel has a comment about how the stays and layers equal female oppression, in contrast to modern “enlightened” clothing. Cue costume geeks jumping in to point out decent bust support, size adjustable clothing and big ass pockets as shown in the video are pretty awesome.

    1. Well, I did once know a lady who trimmed the grass on her garden path with manicure scissors. It was the talk of the week in our village…..

    2. The main example I can think of isn’t a frock flick. It’s called Brokedown Palace, where prison inmates spent their days plucking grass on the same patch of ground.

  3. I swear I’ve seen the gardeners-with-scissors thing, too, but I can’t remember where.
    In the last of the original 7 Poldark books, The Angry Tide, there’s a scene at Trenwith where social-climbing George Warleggan is hosting a house party for important people. His wife Elizabeth steps outside for a quiet breath of fresh air, and it’s mentioned that, though the grass is damp with dew, her slippers are safe because the gardeners trimmed the lawn & brushed away the clippings earlier. I always picture men on their knees with scissors, painstakingly cutting the individual blades.
    Speaking of Poldark, in the books Demelza grows gracefully and realistically from a filthy urchin wearing her brother’s britches to beg, into a gentleman’s wife and the capable mistress of Nampara. She begins wearing stays, keeps her hair neatly trimmed and dressed, and is interested in fashion and looking her best. There’s a scene in one of the books where Ross comes home to find her working in her flower garden, and she’s wearing gloves and has her hair neatly under a proper cap.
    That’s why I don’t like the Poldark adaptations. The books are so rich and layered, with so much character development. The 70s tv series was mud & pigs & slutty Demelza, and the modern version is all about Aidan Turner’s chest.

    1. I hear you, but there’s no way that I’m going to complain about Aidan Turner’s chest.

  4. Love this post! Another example of the corset tightening trope is in Meet Me In St Louis with Judy Garland

  5. As far as I know, the “getting dressed montage” trope started with Dangerous Liasons. And it works well, in that film. And pretty much only in that film.

  6. SO TIRED of the filthy peasant trope — and the variation, that poor people only wear gray and brown. It’s almost as if colors didn’t exist unless you were rich in period film & TV!

  7. To be fair, the corset-yanking trope originated as a popular subject for caricatures in the 1770s (when the new fashionable shape did call for a small waist). The Duchess of Devonshire wrote a novel in which a character writes this in a letter to a friend:

    “My dear Louisa, you will laugh when I tell you, that poor Winifred, who was reduced to be my gentlewoman’s gentlewoman, broke two laces in endeavouring to draw my new French stays close. You know I am naturally small at bottom but now you might literally span me. You never saw such a doll. Then, they [the stays] are so intolerably wide across the breast, that my arms are absolutely sore with them; and my sides so pinched! – But it is the ‘ton’; and pride feels no pain.”

    http://www.james-gillray.org/pop/fashion.html

    https://artsandculture.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/asset/a-correct-view-of-the-new-machine-for-winding-up-the-ladies-mclean-thomas-maker/-wGv2UofhkM8bg?hl=en

    The problem is that the writers and directors have forgotten that these are caricatures, not reportage.

    1. It is interesting because a normal contemporary viewer might think that she (The character in the novel) is complaining about her stays,

      But I see it as someone who knows a bit of dress history, as more of that she was complaining more on the NEW FASHION than the stays themselves.

      (which some people even NOW do today).

  8. I swear I’ve seen the cutting the grass with scissors scene before too! I feel like it was in a modern piece though. I also seem to recall a character being so OCD there was a scene with them cutting the carpet with scissors. Another example of “trapped by her clothes/corset” is from Tuck Everlasting.

  9. Mary Sue. You know beautiful fill in the blank for hair colour having ….saves the universe.

    1. I recently watched the Handmaiden again, and there’s a corset yanking scene .. but apart from that, I really like this movie!

  10. things that drive me mad in tv and movies:
    bad bleach jobs with dark roots and eyebrows
    hair down and messy on adult women
    zippers
    floating ruffs
    boots instead of men
    Henry VIII as anything other than a red head
    modern feminism and thought given to ANYONE before 1970.
    modern social acts and thought given to historic characters and people.
    bad history.

    1. Dark eyebrows on blondes – ugh. I hate them so much.
      I agree with you about modern thought being applied to cultures that had no concept of it.

      1. SRSLY. I frequently comment on that! Yes, it occasionally happens in real life, but 99% of the time it means they’ve bleached their hair. (Side note, I stare at Danaerys’s eyebrows all the time on Game of Thrones).

  11. Weren’t there people cutting grass with scissors in the Versailles scene in Mel Brooks’ History of the World, Part 1? Also CGWS is a real modern thing. Search for that term and you’ll find videos on how to do it.

    Regarding ‘The Dung Ages”, when I first saw a photo from the soon to be released Christopher Columbus: The Discovery (1992), I thought that “That has to be the same designer as Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. Its all studded leather and mud.” Turns out I was right.

  12. The trope that gets me (or is it two tropes?) is the “no sleeves/bare shoulders because I’m poor” look. I mean, I like what they did with Constance’s character in The Musketeers, but her costuming was SO wrong!

  13. When I was a kid, I did help edge the lawn with shears (sorta scissors) specific to the task. And that was in the 1960s. But it was just edging. Could that be what’s going on?

  14. Costume-wise, the best thing about Robin Hood was the scene where he gets peeled out of the mail. Otherwise, the costumes are so-so. I liked the story and was amused at the number of non=English actors in this essentially English story: Robin, Marian, Max von Sydow as the father, William Hurt as William Marshall, and several other Canadian, American, Costa Rican actors. At least the French princess is played by a French actress.

  15. I have seen Lady Mcbeth and can confirm the scene you are referring to is exactly about a woman trapped in a (cage) crinoline and an awful marriage.

  16. The mud thing is annoying. Yes, some hygiene standards were different, waste treatment was different, and having the type of bath where you submersed yourself in water was typically reserved for bathhouses or the wealthy because it’s a lot of work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t grab a bucket of water and give yourself a sponge bath or change out your shift once it’s absorbed all your sweat for the day. People generally don’t enjoy being filthy and will find ways to clean themselves.

  17. I always felt that the opening dressing scenes of Dangerous Liasions were about the characters putting on their armor for battle.

  18. I finally realized, thanks to this fab article, that the corset-lacing trope was responsible for my mother-of-the-bride nerves. The maid of honor backed out at the last minute (smart!), and the matron of honor couldn’t show up early because she was breastfeeding, so I would have to lace my girl into this sleeveless gown that made her look like a 7-year-old masquerading as Lena Horne. And I stressed ALL NIGHT about getting the lacing right. (The act itself was really pretty simple; I had just watched too many traumatic corset-lacing scenes.)

  19. Another film that begins with a meaningful (double) dressing scene is 1991’s Black Robe where it alternates between the French Champlain and the Algonquin Chomina as they put on their respective finery in order to impress the other when they meet.

      1. Be warned that it is bleak, depressing, and quite likely upsetting. Howsomever, it is very well done. It presents two cultures alien to each other and both alien to the modern viewer.

  20. My favorite, hilariously bad, horse riding moment is from The Other Boleyn Girl. Natalie Portman’s Boleyn is asked about how she will stay on the horse by herself and she states that she will do as he does, “with my thighs.” This leads to her out riding the guys and causing an accident that gets Henry hurt. I laughed so damn hard at this scene, for so many reasons.
    As for actually cute scenes, I still enjoy the horse riding scene with Mr. Tilney and Catherine in Northanger Abbey.

  21. Dirty cities I can accept, but not dirty people. We have evidence of people cleaning their bodies all the way back to Ye Ancient Times. There’s no reason to think that we ever stopped doing that, even if methods varied by climate and culture.

    One thing that I miss in all of these movies is imperfect people. Where are the crooked teeth? The pox scars? The blisters, pustules, and non-comedic warts? Why no horrific infections leading to amputations? That’s the realism I want, because I think skipping it gives too rosy a picture of life before the germ theory of disease.

  22. I literally used to know someone who cut his grass with scissors. When I was a kid we lived next door to an elderly unmarried brother and sister pair and he used to do exactly that. He was one of those pathological tightwads who never spent a cent if he could help it and refused to do as little buy a diabetic chocolate bar for his sister despite the fact that she was the one who kept the house and did all the cooking and cleaning and only had a small pension of her own to live on. Then he died and we all found out he had hundreds of thousands in savings he never spent. Fortunately his entire estate went to his sister who sensibly spent it on herself rather than the nieces ans nephews who showed up out of nowhere suddenly remembering how much they liked her.

  23. In addition to what you mentioned in the blog, I’m annoyed by: bad teeth on the villains and contemporary haircuts on the men.

  24. Any time directors or screenwriters impose modern day values on historical characters, it annoys me. Corsets are unimaginably torturous to modern women who live in yoga pants, and actresses who need to wear them are understandably uncomfortable. But historically, women started wearing them young enough that they grew used to them, and their bodies became shaped accordingly. It was probably not comfortable to over-tighten them for “special events”, but wearing a corset was also not the prison modern women imagine it to be.

  25. Don’t they use the “spunky girl riding a horse” trope in Far From the Madding Crowd? She’s rebellious because she rides astride?

    Jamaica Inn sucked so you are missing nothing by not watching it. The actor who played her evil uncle is the same dude who mumbled his way through The Borgias as the assassin, rendering more than half his dialogue totally unintelligible.

  26. The only one of these I hadn’t encountered is the grass cutting. I can see how these happen, as it’s challenging to get into how things would’ve been viewed in a previous time, and these sorts of things work as useful (often visual) shorthand for modern audiences. But it does get super annoying. Especially with corsets–oh no, bust support, how awful? And I’m guessing the rate of women using “waist training” (basically neo-corsetry) is at least a bit higher in hollywood/movie circles than elsewhere.

  27. I suspect the horse riding trope started with the “spunky” gal riding astride instead of sidesaddle, something that wouldn’t have been done if for no other reason than her clothes would have had to be hiked up to her thighs. Depending on the period, her corset might have restricted her thighs from spreading wide enough, too. So she’s not wearing underwear and the whole town can see halfway up her thighs. Who knows what that kind of close contact might be doing to her virginity or fertility—gasp!

    It seem like now the trope has expanded so much it doesn’t matter whether she’s astride, sidesaddle, or just carriage driving herself. She probably lost all her hairpins while living the fast life, too.

    (I won’t even get into the training and muscle toning required for cantering and galloping (the two fastest gaits), trick riding, and jumping.)

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