Lily Absinthe Goes To The FIDM Museum, Part 3

Yesterday’s post was somewhat somber but that’s only because of the compelling subject matter of the Roots, one of the productions whose costumes are being displayed at the 10th Annual Art of Television Costume Design at the FIDM Museum, With that said, today’s post will be on a somewhat lighter note so please stick around. 🙂

Today’s post is more of a hodge-podge of commentary in that not everything at the exhibition was equally compelling to us (that’s just a nice way of saying that there was a lot of costumes we simply didn’t find interesting 🙂 ). To begin, we have some costumes from Mercy Streeta medical drama set during the Civil War :



Image result for mercy street

Mercy Street (2016)


And just because, here’s the dress with concept sketch and fabric swatch:

This is an interesting design although the fabric does appear to be somewhat late for the 1860s- perhaps more late 1870s or beyond. We like the fabric but it just doesn’t read “1860s.” However, the trim on the front of the bodice simply doesn’t make a lot of sense from an aesthetic perspective and especially when compared to originals from the 1860s (we’ll leave it to you to chase down specific examples 🙂 ).


While the above dresses appear fine from a “fit” perspective, this one simply does not reads well. While it may be just the display, the fit on the bodice looks unshaped and ill-fitting, certainly not the standard found in ballgowns of the 1860s. It’s simply too flat and could definitely use some darts. Also, this bodice style was considered more of a young girl’s. Ultimately, the costumes from Mercy Street were interesting but there was nothing really compelling and some of the style choices appeared to be questionable for the 1860s.

And finally we switch to complete fantasy with a few costumes from Game of Thrones:



Here’s a group shot that we borrowed since the exhibit hall was beginning to get crowded and we couldn’t get a clear shot of the group:

We have to honestly say that the Game of Thrones costumes on display were disappointing, especially when you see pictures of some of the others that have appeared on the show. This was definitely not their “A” game here…

Overall, the exhibit at the FIDM Museum was well done and especially for the Outlander and Roots costumes. Some of the selections for the other shows gave us the feeling that we were seeing the “second string” and were merely selected as placeholders. However, in spite of this we feel it’s definitely worthwhile viewing and that everyone will take away something positive. We hope you’ve enjoyed our somewhat biased review of the Art of Television Costume Design exhibit and look out for more of these reviews in the future. 🙂

Lily Absinthe Goes To The FIDM Museum, Part 2

In contrast to the romanticism and adventure of Outlander are the costumes from a more sober production, Roots. First produced in 1977 and remade in 2016, Roots broke new ground with its story of an African  man sold into slavery and shipped to America. It’s a tragic story and depicts a dark aspect of American history that has been downplayed for many years. It’s definitely a story that needs to be told and while the specific elements of the plot may be fictional, the institution of slavery is factual and needed (and still needs) to be told. Costume and fashion are often viewed as frivolous things bearing no impact on the “real world” but here that’s not the case and in fact, provoke discussion and consideration. With that said, let’s proceed…

  Roots remake

Today we continue with our visit to the “Art of Television Costume Design, 2015-2016” at the FIDM Museum last weekend and today we promise not to say anything more about Outlander. 🙂 In contrast to Outlander were costumes from the remake of the Roots miniseries. When it was first released in 1977, Roots was considered to be ground-breaking in that it dealt with slavery and its consequences.

Based on the book Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Hailey, the show starts in 1760s and follows the life of Kunta Kinte, a Mandinka from West Africa, who is captured by slavers, shipped across the Atlantic to Virginia, and sold to a plantation master (although the book was originally marketed as non-fiction, there were subsequent allegations of historical inaccuracy and plagiarism). The story is then continued down through several generations ending in 1865 (a subsequent miniseries called Roots: The Next Generations carries the story further into the 1960s). In 2016, a remake of the original 1977 series was released that fairly faithfully follows the story with some of the story elements updated and/or reworked. However, no matter what the provenance might be, Roots is a testament to a dark part of American history whose legacy still affects us today.

Turning to the costumes themselves, we first see Kunta Kinte’s Mandinka outfit:


In comparison with the original 1977 version, it seems that more concerted effort was made to capture the distinct ethnic clothing worn by the peoples of Gambia rather than simply putting them in breech-cloths. It was a little disconcerting looking at these costumes the way they were staged for display so here are a few pictures from the production to give it life:

One of the more fascinating costumes was the coat worn by the character Fiddler, who acts as a mentor/father figure to Kunta when he first arrives in Virginia:


No, that’s not the picture pixilating- the coat is constructed of a brocade or lampas that has been severely distressed, reflecting Fiddler’s decline in the plantation hierarchy. We had to open and close our eyes several times- it was hard to focus on the material. Here are some more views:

Image result for roots costumes 2016

And the same coat in better days:

Image result for roots costumes 2016

And here we see a variety of the costumes. Slave clothing was either hand-me-downs from the master and his family or manufactured expressly for the slaves from cheap cloth of various types, typically osnaburg, fustian, linsey-woolsey, and cheap cotton. The indigo blue color and fabric of Kunta’s coat is very striking, especially combined with the traditional turban.

Image result for roots costume sketches 2016

And here are a few more of the costumes:



This one is interesting in that it’s clearly a hand-me-down from the master.


The distressing that was done on these dresses is amazing and is definitely a testament to the costumer’s art.

The costumes from the 2016 Roots were compelling and thought-provoking and we’re definitely going to view this show in the near future. Stay tuned for Part 3 of our trip to the FIDM Museum. 🙂

Lily Absinthe Goes To The FIDM Museum, Part 1

This didn’t start off as an almost-exclusive post about the costume of the TV series Outlander but here it is…basically, we attempted to view a special exhibit of Outlander that was being held elsewhere but due to some incredibly bad luck, we were unable to view the exhibit. Later, we had an opportunity to attend the 10th Annual “Art of Television Costume Design” at the FIDM Museum and what greets us at the door? Some of the wardrobe from Outlander! 🙂 While we don’t do much work in 18th Century fashion, it’s always been a fascinating period and some of the styles influenced styles in the 1870s and 1880s. We hope you enjoy this little excursion. 🙂


This past weekend, we decided to take a break and and take in the newly-opened “Art of Television Costume Design, 2015-2016” at the FIDM Museum in Los Angeles and we can say that it was definitely worth the time. As a general thing, we like the costume exhibits that are put on at the FIDM Museum because the location is convenient, parking is relatively easy to find, and the admission is free. Yes, free! 🙂

So where to start? Well, just to be completely honest, this review is somewhat selective in that while there were costumes from a variety of shows, there were only a few that piqued our interest. Also, there were a number of TV shows we’d never heard of before (we’re not avid TV-watchers) so it’s hard to comment on those.

To begin, the first set of costumes that caught our attention were a selection from the series Outlander. The series is initially set in 1743s, with some time travel back and forth between the 1940s and 1960, and follows the adventures of Claire Randall as she becomes enmeshed in the events leading up to the Jacobite rising of 1745 (aka The ’45). In Season 1 (2014-2015), the show focused on events in Scotland. However, in Season 2 (2015-2016), the action shifts to France when Claire, accompanied by her husband Jamie Fraser, travel to Paris in an attempt to derail Bonnie Prince Charlie’s attempt to gather support for his rebellion (which was end disastrously with the Battle of Culloden). The majority of the Outlander costumes are from Season 2.

To begin, here’s one of the dresses that Claire wears when she first arrives in France:


The dress consists of a medium brown bodice and overskirt and a gold/yellow underskirt. The floral designs appear to be embroidered but when viewed closely, it turns out that they are painted onto the fabric. The bodice is small and skirt silhouette is enhanced by the panniers- while not as extreme as some examples we’ve seen, they’re still evident and serve to spread the skirts out to the sides more than the front and back.


The gloves are especially striking in that they’re really bright yellow/gold gauntlets and the leather is heavier than one would expect. Perfect for riding but a bit too heavy for normal wear. You can also see the painted floral design.


Here’s a rear view of the dress that gives a good view of the floral design. The floral design is mostly in shades of red, ranging from a light pink/salmon to a deeper wine. One can also see yellow color pops.

Finally, here’s a better view of the underskirt:


And just because we can, we were able to locate the concept sketch online (we LOVE the internet 🙂  ):

Outlander Costume Sketch1

And finally, were are a few pictures of the dress in “action”:



Next, we turn to what is probably the most iconic of Claire’s dresses for Season 2, the Dior “New Look”/Bar Suit-inspired dress:


This is more of a mash-up of 18th Century and 1940s styles than anything that’s spot-on correct for the 1740s but it works (we’re talking about a television production here, not a documentary 🙂  ). We like the design and it seems to work. 🙂

And because we couldn’t resist, here’s the concept sketch:

Outlander Costume Sketch2

And here are some shots of the dress “in action”:


And just to be complete, here are a few pictures of the actual Dior “Bar Suit” or “New Look” dress (note that this dress was produced in both lapel and shawl collar versions):

Dior New Look 1947

Dior Bar Suit 1947

Live Model

Dior Bar Suit1

Dior “Bar” Suit, 1947; V&A Museum (T.376&A-1960)

There are those who have pointed out that Claire first makes her journey back to the 1740s in 1946, one year before Dior released this design and that somehow it’s wrong. Well, as the costume designer Terry Dresbach explains, she was originally inspired by 18th Century riding habits such as these:

Image 75

Image 76

Image 73

Ms. Dresbach notes that Dior looked backwards to the 18th Century and stripped the riding habit down its basic lines and that Claire would have been inspired to do the same:

It seemed logical to me that Claire would do in the 18th century the same thing that Christian Dior had done in the 20th century. He stripped the traditional 18th century riding habit of all of the embellishments and details and decorations all the bows the bells and whistles. He took it back to its basic Silhouette and that became the Bar Suit. I decided to have Claire look at the riding suit and do the same. She never saw the actual Bar suit obviously, but her reaction to the original riding suit of the 18th century, could plausibly be very similar to Dior’s, a man of her time. It was a suit after all, something she would have seen as the most familiar garment in the 18th century. It was a garment designed for a practical function, and Claire is a practical woman.

So we just put Claire in a recreation of the Bar Suit.

The reasoning behind the dress as detailed above is fascinating and we find little to disagree with- it’s effective and it works. 🙂

But it’s not all about the women…here’s one of Jamie Fraser’s many outfits from the show:


This outfit is also a bit a historical but it captures the essence of the Jamie Fraser character. The coat is made of leather (it looks heavy) and while it incorporates 18th Century details, is has an almost steampunk/biker look. What’s interesting are the bound buttonholes which match the coat leather- our theory is that they’re not even leather.

Here’s a rear view:


And now for something very different is a sleeved waistcoat that is worn by the apothecary Master Raymond, a strange somewhat otherworldly character that Claire deals with at several points in Season 2:


This is an incredible work of art that’s easy to miss when actually watching the show. The waistcoat is embroidered with all manner of supernatural designs inspired by alchemy and early medicine. The fabrics are fairly simple: linen for the sleeves and either linen or a brushed denim for the body. For some excellent close-up pictures and an explanation of the various designs by Terry Dresbach, the costume designer, go HERE.

We hope that you’ve enjoyed Part 1 of our excursion and stay tuned for Part 2. 🙂

Costuming & Historical Movies

Today we’re going out on a limb on this one but we feel that it needs to be discussed: over the years, we have often been approached about making garments for film and TV projects and while we readily accept this work, we have also found that creating a garment (or garments) that are within budget, accomplishes the production design or vision, and look good on film can be challenging. So here we go…

One of the guilty pleasures of working with historical fashion is seeing how it’s portrayed in film and television. Almost nothing gives greater pleasure than watching a period piece made by Merchant-Ivory with its lush production values and excellent wardrobing and it’s a real treat to see a particular era in history portrayed correctly. Unfortunately this is a somewhat rare experience and often what passes for “historical costuming” is akin to nails being dragged across a chalkboard.

Now, before we go any further, we just want to clarify that having worked a little in the film business ourselves, we understand the enormous challenges that costume designers undergo in trying to wardrobe a production under often less-than-ideal circumstances. We understand that costuming exists to help propel the story and that liberties can be take at times towards this end BUT at the same time, it does not excuse poor or non-existent research, ignorance, or just sheer laziness.

This is admittedly a subjective thing and what we would consider to be substandard in a certain film or television show might be given a pass by someone else. However, we firmly believe that if one is attempting to draw the viewer into a story set in a specific time and place in the past, it is incumbent on the costume designer to make an effort to support this.

Now, just to put a bit of a scientific spin on this, let’s consider some of the key factors that can make or break the effectiveness of the costuming in a period production. Below is a basic list of what we consider to be some critical areas when we look at a film or television show:

    • Is the basic silhouette appropriate for the period?
    • Is the style appropriate for the period?
    • Are the materials used appropriate for the period?
    • Is the actor’s grooming and makeup appropriate for the period?

So you probably now thinking, just what do you mean? Well, let’s start with silhouette. By silhouette, we mean that basic outline of the garment. For example, if we have a production depicting a middle class woman of c. 1885, we’re going to be looking for a bustle, and in particular a “shelf” bustle. Conversely, if we are depicting a middle class woman c. 1897, we’re going to be looking for an A-line skirt and a bodice with some large leg-of-mutton sleeves.

One example where the costume’s dating is contrary to the declared date of the story can be found in the 1992 movie Dracula. The story is allegedly set in 1897 yet the dresses that that Mina wears read c. 1885:


One of Mina’s Day Dresses- Note the train.


Rendering of the same day dress.

Day Dress_Mina_Dracula_1

Day Dress- Rear View.

From the above pictures, this dress reads mid-1880s. Perhaps the bustling is a bit muted but it’s still pretty obvious and it’s definitely NOT 1897. While this is certainly not a deal-breaker in the major scheme of things, it’s still irritating.

Next, is the particular style appropriate for the period or more precisely, the particular time and place that is supposedly being depicted in the movie? This is a pretty broad question and volumes of ink (or electrons these days) has been spilt over this one. However, for our purposes, just about any Western made during the 1950s and early 1960s will do- here’s one example worn by the character “Laura” from the 1957 movie Gunfight at the OK Corral:

Rhonda Fleming_Yellow Dress1

Rhonda Fleming as Laura, Wyatt Earp’s love interest

Rhonda Fleming_Yellow Dress3

Costume rendering of the Laura dress.

Laura is supposed to be a “lady gambler” who Wyatt Earp first meets up with in Dodge City. Historically, Wyatt was in Dodge City during the years 1876 – 1879 so a correct dress for Laura would be something involving a bustled dress- probably an evening dress or perhaps a ball gown. So what do we have here? The 1950s version of an evening dress with off-the-shoulder sleeves and a weak attempt at some skirt draping and underneath it, she’s certainly not wearing a corset appropriate to the 1870s.

Correct materials go hand-in-hand with style and even if a style might be correct, it might be made of material(s) that are not appropriate for the period. The classic offender is using polyester or some other cheap synthetic as a substitute for period fabrics and this is really evident with dresses that are supposed to be made from silk. One example of this can be found in the poly-acetate dresses found in the TV miniseries North and South:

Not only are these a travesty in terms of materials, for the most part they bear a faint resemblance to anything remotely having an 1860s style or even silhouette- at best, they’re 1980s era prom dresses and we’ll leave it at that.

Finally, we get to the actor’s grooming- does it support the period being portrayed? This is probably one of the most problematic areas. Below is just one example of Kevin Costner from Dances With Wolves:

What is it? The closest thing we can think of is an overgrown mullet… Just to add to this, the pictures above from North and South are a great example of incorrect hair styles. While they have nothing to do with the historical 1860s, they are a reflection of the 1980s when the series was created, thus proving once again the old adage that film and TV costumes say more about the era in which the production was made than the historical period being portrayed.

And while we’re at it, just one last note: one of the worst offenders are war movies, mostly modern, where the main character does not have a haircut that is appropriate to the military organization of a particular historical period. Often times, the reason for the lapse in authenticity is as simple as the actor refusing to get a proper military haircut (yes, it does happen and if they’re a big enough star, the hair stays on).

Well, we hope you’ve enjoyed this short excursion through the world of costuming for film and TV and while it’s by no means exhaustive, we hope we’ve distilled things down to their basic elements. What we find so amazing is that a good part of the time, it costs as just as much to do something right as to do it wrong and while we appreciate that productions do labor under various constraints, it does show just how short of mark things can fall at times.

P.S. For a detailed view of costuming for film and TV, we highly recommend Frock Flicks.



Dressing The Lawman

Recently someone asked me the question: “What did lawmen wear in the Old West?” The easy answer is: “the same clothes that everyone else wore.” OK, I’ll admit that that answer is a bit snarky and it is a legitimate question. Our perceptions of what lawmen wore have been to a great degree shaped by what we’ve seen in film and television with all its inherent inaccuracies.


Wyatt Earp Movie1

When considering the question of fashion and lawman, one’s head is filled with images from such iconic movies as Tombstone or from television shows such as Gunsmoke. In reality, “lawmen” in the American West during the late 19th Century took several forms to include town and county sheriffs/marshals, state rangers such as the Texas or Arizona Rangers, and federal marshals. Also, there could be a variety of semi-private “lawmen” such as Pinkerton detectives (who often functioned as a law unto themselves).

TEXAS RANGERS — (Standing from left) Jim King, Bass Outlaw, Riley Boston, Charley Fusselman, Tink Durbin, Ernest Rogers, Charles Barton and Walter Jones. (Seated, from left) Bob Bell, Cal Aten, Captain Frank Jones, J. Walter Durbin, Jim Robinson and Frank L. Schmid. – Courtesy Texas Ranger Research Center; Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum —:

Texas Rangers, c. 1888

This photograph was made in about 1880, and shows three agents from the Pinkerton Detective Agency. The man in the middle is William Pinkerton, son of the group's founder, Allan Pinkerton. Allan Pinkerton was a personal friend of Abraham Lincoln, and provided protection for the president while he was in office.:

Pinkerton Detectives c. 1880. The man sitting in the middle is purported to be Allan Pinkerton, the company’s founder.

Also, it must be noted that for many jurisdictions throughout the American West, the position of “Sheriff” at the country or municipal level was typically an elected one with all its inherent flaws and they had a variety of job duties of which apprehending criminals was only a part. Other duties could include serving warrants and summonses, supervising executions, jailing prisoners, investigating crimes, collecting stray dogs, and collecting taxes. Collecting taxes was one of the most important parts of the job since it was taxes that paid for the sheriff’s deputies and the costs of running the government.

While the popular conception of the Old West lawman is that one of a steely-eyed gunfighter staring down one or several desperados, all intent on murder and mayhem. The reality was that it more about dealing with drunks and generally keeping public order, specially in the newly-formed cow towns such as Wichita and Dodge City.

That said, let’s move to the clothes- here are just a few pictures of real Western lawmen:

John Slaughter, Sheriff of Cochise County, Arizona 1887 – 1890

Bass Reeves Lawman the Original Lone Ranger ✔️:

Bass Reeves, Deputy US Marshal, 1876 – 1907

Old West lawman | old-west-lawman_edward-johnson.jpg:

Henry Andrew "Heck" Thomas born January 3, 1850 was an lawman on the American frontier most notably Oklahoma. He was appointed US Deputy Marshal out of Fort Smith, Arkansas working under Judge Isaac Parker.:

Looking at the above pictures, it’s easy to discern that their clothing pretty much mirrored what was generally worn. For the most part, it mostly consisted of trousers, shirt, vest, and a sack coat. In warmer weather, a jacket was not worn and sometimes just the shirt was worn. Allowing for the “dressing up for the camera” effect, it’s still obvious from the more informal portraits that it wasn’t an affected style. In many instances, there was little difference between what a lawman wore and what others wore except for the badge and perhaps more guns.

Lawmen as seen on film.

For anyone desiring to recreate the look of a Western lawman, probably one of the best places to start is with either a sack suit or for something more “out on the trail,” a pair of trousers, shirt, and vest but that’s only a suggestion. There are a lot of original pictures that one can use to base their research on and they can adjust their look depending on what sort of an impression. One thing I do want to note is that except during times when lawmen were in active pursuit of a criminal or otherwise expecting trouble, they were not walking arsenals with multiple pistols and a rifle or shotgun. In town, lawmen frequently simply carried a small caliber pistol in a trouser or coat pocket (often reinforced because of the weapon’s weight).

And another…

Finally, it should be noted that as an elected public official, a county or town sheriff or marshal was expected to project an image of respectability (although the definition of “respectable” could be somewhat elastic) and as such, they tended to dress the part. For many, the position was viewed as more of a means to a political career than anything else and they acted accordingly. One good example of this was with Johnny Behan, the Sheriff of Cochise County. For the most part, he was more concerned with collecting taxes and keeping up appearances; for the actual work of enforcing the law, deputies were hired. Pictures of Behan show him dressed in a sack suit, looking like any middle class small town businessman (which he basically was). Like today, image and respectability were important during the Victorian Era and dressing correctly played a key role.

Johnny Behan, c. 1871

Reality is often pretty dull when compared to what is portrayed in film and television and that especially applied to the lawman of the American West and we hope that you have found this post to be informative. 🙂