23 thoughts on “Top 5 Costume Inaccuracies – and Accuracies – in War & Peace

  1. Ugh, re the whole “No stays” thing and Lilly James’ reasoning for not wearing one: SHE WAS IN P&P& ZOMBIES–set in the same period and in which all (or most of) the women in the film–INCLUDING James–obviously WORE STAYS. I just….*bangs keyboard*

  2. I think the thing that bothered me the most (other than whatever was going on with Anna Pavlovna Scherer and Helene) is that they couldn’t bother to fix the fit of Marya’s clothes. Maybe this was intentional to make her look dumpy? It wasn’t just her though. Often the bust line was wonky on the other women as well.

  3. Thank you for your most scholarly article. Would love something like this at CostumeCon.
    I also believe Ms James was parroting someone, maybe Mr Gibbon. But it makes her, a very intelligent woman, appear and sound bimbo.
    I hated the inaccuracies especially in the choice of fabric and cut, no undergarment support, aka corsets, and the fringe on Natasha. Looked like a 1960s hippie.
    What I did love were the ‘chicken hats, men’s uniforms and scenery.

  4. Ignoring the terrible costuming choices, is it worth watching? I haven’t read the book or seen any other adaptations so I’m really unfamiliar with the story. Does it suck you in and make you excited for the next episode?

    1. I hadn’t read the book or seen any other adaptations but each week I was excited to watch the next episode.

    2. Tough call for me! It was certainly better acted than the 2007 version (although 2007’s Andrei was WAY HOTTER, but then I love dark-haired men). It’s certainly no Pride and Prejudice! I guess I’d give it a B for drawing-me-in?

  5. Despite the military costumes being good in general, someone pointed out that an anti-France/Nappie character was wearing a Nappie-bestowed medal/award, something the character would never, ever, ever do. It was a small blunder full of epic fail, like depicting Prince Charles with a Nazi armband or something. Not gonna happen.

    1. Yeah I read about that and laughed, but I’ll say that it was a minor character and a minor costume element. It’s not like Prince Charles was wearing a full Nazi uniform.

  6. I just feel sorry for Gillian Anderson. Her clothes are awful, and the hair and makeup is doing her no favors.
    Also I think “There were only 6 episodes is not a viable excuse. The Masterpiece Pride and Prejudice was also a miniseries and had decent Regency costumes.

  7. Thank you so much for all of these recaps. I surprised myself with my annoyance about the costumes; I was so infuriated that I decided to read War and Peace instead of muttering my way through the rest of the BBC series. Finding your site made me so happy because you shared my pain! (You were much funnier and more knowledgeable about it too.) Keep up the great work/snark!

  8. I’m glad I’m not the only one who decided to read the book after seeing the series. It also meant I could snort meaningfully when I got to the bit where Pierre falls for Helene over the creak of her corsets.

  9. Very much enjoyed this – learning so much from you. Can I ask – how did you manage to search Electronic Swatches by date AND colour? I can only get either/or.

  10. I’ve just discovered this website and the article so am late to comment, but if anyone is still reading….

    I so agree with the judgement about the inaccuracies in the costumes. What annoys me is that even though it was deliberately done to illustrate character, etc. that could have been achieved with use of accurate costuming and hair. Not doing that just shows that the costume designer considered himself to be above his subject matter, a bit of a cheek when your subject matter is Tolstoy!

    The BBC dramatised War and Peace way back in 1972, with Anthony Hopkins as Pierre, and the costuming in that version was much better and more accurate. The actess playing Helene knocks Tuppence Middleton into a cocked hat for portraying sexiness in an 18th century way. In fact her costumes were so revealing that I’m not sure they could be used in a modern-day costume drama.

    One other thing that gets on my nerves with many costume dramas now is… eyebrows! So many female characters are 18th or 19th century from the neck down, but their eyebrows are resolutely 21st century. Our modern day eyebrows out of the brow salon are very definitely of our time, and they just look wrong when coupled with a crinoline or a high-waisted grecian dress. This irritates me so much that I can’t watch many series that I would otherwise enjoy. War and Peace was not too bad for this, although I think Gillian Anderson was a bit too 21st century in the eyebrow department.

    1. I don’t know about the eyebrow thing. I’ve been accused of shaping my eyebrows since early childhood, and I’ve never touched them!

      My entire Eastern European (mostly Ukrainian) family has eyebrows that look “salon-sculpted” to many, and this IS set in Eastern Europe…

  11. EXCELLENT article–just the kind of movie-design-breakdown I’ve been looking for! And kudos to you for going deeper by pointing out the highlights as well as the lowlights.

  12. What a brilliant site! I had started to wonder if I was the only person in the world who could get put off an adapation by appalling costuming. I thought the men’s clothes in this where on the whole great and the male actors very well cast. The women… meh. My girlfriends have banned me from watching period dramas with them after my shrieking “Time machine… time machine…” at Helene and crying over Marya. Re the backless dresses though… Tolstoy does describe someone, I’m sure it’s Helene, wearing a low backed dress. I’m guessing they were in fashion when he was writing so possibly the costume designer took it from that. I’ve come across a lot of people who were really surprised to learn W&P wasn’t written at the time it’s set. Anyway, keep posting, this site is too good!

  13. I know I’m a bit late to the party here but this has confirmed all my gut feelings about the costumes. I don’t know how any seamstress or seamster could stand to see their work so badly fitted to the actors. Also, as beautiful as Prince Andrei’s white ballroom suit was his epulettes looked terrible. Did they really sag off the shoulders like that? Also I hated that you could see the red lining it made it look pink. Could someone tell me if interlining was used during this period. Many thanks.

  14. Ah, Andrei’s white and silver ‘Prince Charming’ fantasy uniform, which bears no relationship whatsoever to any uniform ever worn in the Imperial Russian Army. (I love that the costume designer actually calls the character ‘Prince Sanjay’ – it does look very Bollywood.)

    It infuriated me every time I saw it in the trailers and promo material – ‘NO, NO, THAT’S IDIOTIC!’

    It baffled me during the first couple of episodes, when Andrei and every other soldier character was wearing pretty passable uniforms. You could pick holes to be sure, and the fit not always great, but on the whole, not bad. So, I kept saying, ‘If they could get it this reasonably right, why that monstrosity?’

    But actually after seeing the ball scene – which is the only time Norton wears this fantasy costume – I think I get it. I think it really is meant to be literally a ‘Prince Charming’ outfit, because what Natasha is seeing is certainly not the real Andrei – who with all his virtues is also ambitious, egotistic, a bit priggish, still under Daddy’s thumb, and has all the emotional insight of a flatfish – but her romantic hero, her handsome prince.

    What still does make me giggle every time I see that big promo picture, however, is that they obviously didn’t get a sword-belt made for it, given that it was only going to be worn without a sword. But on the day the publicist or whoever must have said “But Andrei has to look BUTCH and MANLY! He needs to wear macho boots, not silk stockings and pumps! And he needs a SWORD to clutch* the hilt of!” . So they got him a sword, and rootled round and found a thick, clumsy, dirty leather sword-belt, and they didn’t even bother to fasten it snugly so it would sit neatly round his waist without sagging, or even paint the bits that showed with tennis-shoe white – they just slung it saggily round him, still grimy.

    *Period deportment note: in RL it would actually have been a HUGE faux pas for an officer of the period (or indeed at any time that officers wore swords) to clutch at the hilt of his sword. He was used to wearing it so he didn’t need to hold it to keep it out of the way; he only did so when he meant to draw and use it (or at least was tempted to do so). I think the reason you see officers in BBC productions doing this so often is that whereas the authentic sword-belt of the period allowed the sword to hang vertically down the left thigh, nicely out of the way, a whole string of Jane Austen and Vanity Fair productions have hired cross-belts and swords from suppliers whose belts were modelled on the redcoat bayonet-belt of the period, like this, http://www.re-enactmentsupplies.co.uk/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=218, which was designed to leave the bayonet hanging at a slant. But while a 17-inch bayonet hanging behind you at a slant is no great inconvenience, a 32-inch sword certainly is! So the actors constantly had to clutch their hilts to stop their swords banging into the scenery; directors and actors got used to seeing them do it; and it has become something they feel is period-correct (and MANLY!) to do, even when they aren’t worried about clouting something.

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