The Beguiled (2017), the American Civil War era-set film directed by Sofia Coppola (Marie Antoinette) and starring Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst, is all over the news right now, at least for historical films. The movie is an adaptation of a book and tells the story of an isolated group of women in a Southern boarding school who take in a wounded Union soldier … and then things get creepy.
First, there was a very good article over at Slate about how the lack of any African American characters is problematic. Given all of our recent discussion about the need for representation and inclusion of people of color in our view of history (specifically, movies and TV), I thought it was an important point to raise.
On to the costumes, which were designed by Stacey Battat, who has worked with director Coppola before, but whose only historical credit is the first episode of Z: The Beginning of Everything. She’s been doing a lot of press, so we can look at the costumes from the trailer in context with her vision.
Overall, the general idea created by Coppola and Battat was: “…very ethereal and diaphanous, with pastels and light pouring through moss trees and big windows” (The One Fashion Tip to Master From The Beguiled). Because of that, Battat says she disregarded the historical fact that most of the women would be wearing black (for mourning) or other dark colors, and went for gauzy pastels.
There was a lot of press about the fact that the characters are (gasp!) actually wearing corsets, which I won’t waste your time with (OF COURSE THEY’RE WEARING CORSETS, HOW MANY HISTORICAL MOVIES THESE DAYS OMIT THEM? Cue commentary about how they change how the actors move! They’re not really all that painful! Except maybe they are!).
“That changing of the silhouette is really important because it’s what makes it look old and or like a different time frame so, yes, the period undergarments are a huge part of creating that look of the costumes.” (The Civil War-Era Costumes of Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Beguiled’ Tell Their Own Story)
The other big tweak was the omission of hoopskirts, massively popular and pretty much de rigeur for this era:
“We chose to not have them be in hoop skirts for other reasons, too, and the main reason wasn’t because it’s more relatable. The main reason was because [Miss Martha, Edwina and the girls] were working and they no longer had anyone to impress. All of a sudden these women, who had spent their days learning French, being served dinner and getting dressed for lunch and whatnot, started having to tend to their own garden and get each other dressed in the morning, and do each other’s hair, so the hoop skirts seemed impractical for them. That’s mainly why we chose to not use the hoop skirts, but as an effect of not using them, it did look a little more relatable for us today, and I do think that’s a goal that’s not conscious” (The Civil War-Era Costumes of Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Beguiled’ Tell Their Own Story).
I feel like the two issues I have with this is that 1. I guess they spent a lot of time hemming all their skirts so they wouldn’t be too long? and 2. Given that everyone starts dressing up once the soldier turns up, I would think they would have busted out the hoops too.
Battat mentions in numerous articles that she studied extant garments and other resources at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and also drew inspiration from the paintings of French artist Ingres. Overall, taking into account the conscious decision to change the color palette and ditch the hoops, I think they did a great job with the daywear — the main thing I notice is a lack of headwear (bonnets) outside or (caps) in, but then it’s not like they’re going anywhere.
Looking at specific characters…
“Nicole Kidman’s character Miss Martha is the head of the household, so we wanted her to be dressed in a way that spoke to her being in charge… We gave her a high neckline, and the dress she wears in much of the film looks as though it’s made with a vest on top. It’s very masculine for that era.” (The One Fashion Tip to Master From The Beguiled)
“With Kirsten [Dunst, as Edwina], I wanted her to feel romantic, so I chose to use light fabrics that light would pass through, and her clothes felt billowy and diaphanous.” (The Civil War-Era Costumes of Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Beguiled’ Tell Their Own Story)
“Women would never have worn their hair down, either, not even for bed, but Fanning’s character, Alicia, has locks that are always loose. For several scenes, Battat also styled her buttons to be undone just so at the chest. ‘She’s a bit wilder than the rest,’ Battat says of Alicia.” (The One Fashion Tip to Master From The Beguiled)
What I didn’t love so much was the eveningwear:
“They did get dressed up when Colin came, and they wore more jewelry, just little bits because they didn’t have a lot.” (The Civil War-Era Costumes of Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Beguiled’ Tell Their Own Story)
Probably my favorite quote by Battat was: “I’m sure we are going to get abused by Civil War reenactors” (The One Fashion Tip to Master From The Beguiled)!
So hey, Civil War reenactors and people knowledgeable about 1860s fashion: what do you think of The Beguiled‘s costumes so far?