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 Period Film Depictions of Costume & Fashion History 1

Some Famous Costume Based

 Films & Movies

By Pauline Weston Thomas for


Film Costume - Fashion History


Costume in Films

Many people first discover historical costume through the clothes of female characters they see in films, plays and TV dramas.  Some may discover historical costume or cutting edge fashion through a museum visit or by seeing a film such as the one on this page by Artsview film of the V & A Dress Collection .  The Artsview costume film analyses the work of all those behind the scenes who bring the V&A dress collection to the public and who also work to preserve and develop it for future generations.

Being able to see authentic antique/vintage costume in museums is a privilege.  But costumes in films can also be a source of pleasure for many who simply like looking at nice clothes whether period or contemporary fashion.

Museum costumes have always been regarded as a great resource for inspiration by fashion designers past and present.  Modern contemporary films and dramas also add an additional resource for the fashion designer of today and tomorrow.  Sometimes you might read in an interview how a famous designer may have found themselves watching an old movie and were suddenly seized with creative inspiration to recapture elements of old design ideas and suddenly were basing a whole collection around a theme.  Films such as the 1950's set How to Marry a Millionaire (contemporary high class fashion in its day), the 1920's set The Great Gatsby and Dr. Zhivago influenced quite a few designers in this way. 

Modern day films with costume include The Aviator and the Phantom of the Opera and each is reviewed for their costume on these web page links.

Some great films for costume and fashion fans

How to Marry a Millionaire 


The Great Gatsby


Dr. Zhivago


The first ever historic costume I can recall, was the picture of the street scene with Regency characters on a circular tin of Quality Street chocolates and toffees.  I used to be fascinated by the dashing men in a hussar jackets and plumed hats alongside the ladies with their bonnets and lovely Regency and later Romantic and Victorian era dresses.  Books like Little Women that showed fashion plates enthralled me.

Regency, Romantic and Victorian Era Inspired Films

Vanity Fair


Jane Austen’s Books


Little Women


You reader might recall something similar in your childhood such as costumes on the back of playing cards or a tray decorated with a full skirted lady with decorated hair Cinderella type character or a pop up book of princess characters or dress up paper dolls or even a ceramic lady in dancing dress 18th century clothes.   All these things, kindle an early interest in costume.

Comparing panier basket skirts and crinoline skirts.

Here are some paper doll costumes from famous movies in this link on costume books . Such fascination when we are children with seemingly ordinary things can give us lifelong hobbies and interests. You can read more about paniers or crinolines in the section in the fashion history sections of fashion-era.

Dangerous Liaisons


The King and I


Costume Set Films or Dramas

Over the years I have come to love many films with a period costume or a fashion angle.   Some are not always accurate, but I still love them.  These shown here on these two pages are some of my personal favourite period films with costume or fashion elements.  Many of the dramas are also available in book format.

At an early age, I loved historical costume productions on TV, especially serializations of the Dickens and Austen novels, in particular the early Victorian 'David Copperfield' and the regency Pride and Prejudice spring to mind.  How can anyone forget Irene's famous black lace dress in the original black and white version of The Forsyth Saga with eras as diverse as late Victorian, Edwardian and Twenties fashions or of the mid Victorian crinoline and bustle costumes in the colour productions of the Onedin Line and the Pallisers. 

Many other plays and serials caught my attention with time spans as wide as the early C19th set War and Peace, to settings as far back as the decline of the Roman empire in 'I Claudius'.  All costumed and all very different.  costume1


Costume sagas, including Forsyte Saga, Onedin Line, The Pallisers and Bridehead Revisited

Forsyte Sage 


The Onedin Line


 The Pallisers

 Brideshead Revisited

Costume history has been a real passion of mine since I saw The National Museum of Wales exhibition of costumes made for the BBC production The Six Wives of Henry VIII which starred Keith Michell.  This series made in 1971 was shown in the early 1970s and close ups of the costumes were a clever simulation of texture and contrast which implied sumptuous jewellery and ornamentation, that a king and his court might have displayed on their raiment.  That exhibition made me want to understand how to produce costumes and to understand how they were constructed from a shape and contouring point of view.  What goes on inside a costume is often as important as what goes on outside and ultimately helps achieve the outline silhouette of the day.

Other Tudor inspired pieces were a 6 part BBC series called Elizabeth R with Glenda Jackson starring and a movie with Richard Burton called Anne of the Thousand Days.  Each was magnificent in terms of costume and drama.  Did the costume make the drama or the drama improve the costume?

Not only did I enjoy TV costume dramas, but also movies and film productions.   In particular old black and white movies with lavish sets such as those of Citizen Kane and Jezebel which showed extravagant dress, all helped make me more keen to learn more about dress past and present and it's relationship to society.  War often featured as the main reason for a story and War and Peace and Gone with the Wind are reliant on war to hold the story for much of the time.

On the next web page are some more films with great costume or fashion.

Costume Productions with War as a Theme

War & Peace


Vanity Fair  

Gone With The Wind 



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About looks at women's costume and fashion history and analyses the mood of an era.  Changes in technology, leisure, work, cultural and moral values. Homelife and politics also contribute to lifestyle trends, which in turn influence the clothes we wear.  These are the changes that make any era of society special in relation to the study of the costume of a period.Fashion History can take no responsibility for any information on the site which may cause you error, loss or costs incurred from use of the information and links either directly or indirectly.  This site is owned, designed, written and developed by author: Pauline Thomas and Guy Thomas. This site is designed to be viewed in 1024 X 768 or higher.

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 30 June 2005