Top 10 Most Historically Accurate Costumes in Movies

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Top 10 Most Historically Accurate Costumes in Movies

VOICE OVER: Emily - WatchMojo WRITTEN BY: Savannah Sher
The most historically accurate costume in movies should be studied in fashion school. For this list, we'll be looking at our favorite period films and examining how the costume designers nailed the outfits. Our countdown includes “Little Women,” “Atonement,” “Jackie,” and more!
Transcript
Raise your hand if you only watch historical dramas for the clothes. Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Most Historically Accurate Costumes in Movies.

For this list, we’ll be looking at our favorite period films and examining how the costume designers nailed the outfits. Note that most, if any, movie will likely be 100% historically accurate when it comes to period clothing style, considering that information from the past may be incomplete and/or that filmmakers are trying to appeal to modern audiences. So instead, we’ll be focusing on what is accurate about the costumes in question.

#10: “Little Women” (2019)


The only Academy Award that this movie won was for Best Costume Design, and while we would have liked to see it earn more recognition, we can’t deny that Jacqueline Durran deserved it. The story made famous by Louisa May Alcott is set in the 1860s, and while director Greta Gerwig modernized some aspects of the tale, the costumes are fitting for the era - and Durran made sure to look at “period-accurate paintings” so they would be. One liberty that Gerwig and Durran agreed on was that they didn’t want the actresses to wear the restrictive underthings that were popular in the era, so they skipped some of the bodices and hoops, which gives the final looks a more carefree vibe.

#9: “Macbeth” (2015)


Speaking of Jacqueline Durran, she was also the woman behind the costumes of another 2010s period film: 2015’s “Macbeth”. William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy was first performed in the early 1600s, but it was actually set in Scotland in the 11th century. Considering the time period, finding accurate sources on clothing were likely difficult to source. To find inspiration for the costumes in the film, Durran used a book called the “Tilke,” which is a folk costume throughout the ages type of encyclopedia Because of the remote setting, she kept things simple, yet still striking.

#8: “Elizabeth” (1998)


The 1998 film “Elizabeth” received plenty of criticism for the liberties it took with history in order to make the story work. There have even been critiques that the costumes don’t closely reflect what the queen would have worn at the time. But there’s at least one scene where the what the character wears is flawlessly accurate. In the section where Elizabeth is crowned, the filmmakers used a copy of Elizabeth I’s actual coronation portrait and based Cate Blanchett’s outfit on it. While “Elizabeth” didn’t win an Oscar for costume design, the 2007 follow up, “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”, did take home the statue.

#7: “Atonement” (2007)


Jacqueline Durran appears on our list again for her work on the 2007 film “Atonement”. While there are many gorgeous period costumes worn in the movie, the one you certainly remember is the stunning green gown that Keira Knightley’s character wears in what is perhaps the most critical scene. The dress is slinky and nearly backless, and to settle on the design Durran studied fashion tomes from the 1920s and ‘30s for inspiration. She acknowledges that Knightley was a little more “naked” than a woman would have typically been in the era, but that backless dresses were in fact very much in style.

#6: “Jackie” (2016)


Many period films are working with general eras for inspiration, but in the case of 2016’s “Jackie”, the costume designer had exact historical references and knew that the audience would be looking for discrepancies. Designer Madeline Fontaine said that for the key scene where JFK is assassinated, Jackie Kennedy wore a pink suit that viewers would surely be familiar with, so they made a copy that was as close as possible to the original. They needed to get the shade of pink to look perfectly accurate and tried several different ones to be sure it appeared right on camera.

#5: “Barry Lyndon” (1975)


Considering the lush 18th century setting, Stanley Kubrick’s historical drama is rife with over the top costumes. The movie is based on the book “The Luck of Barry Lyndon” by William Makepeace Thackeray and tells a story of artful social climbing. While many of the costumes (and hairstyles!) in the film may seem too extreme to be accurate, in fact they are close approximations of what people wore at the time. It’s no surprise that Milena Canonero and Ulla-Britt Söderlund took home the Costume Design Academy Award that year!

#4: “Memoirs of a Geisha” (2005)


For the 2005 film “Memoirs of a Geisha”, audiences were transported to Japan in the early 20th century, an experience that was helped by the costuming of Colleen Atwood, who was rewarded with an Oscar for her work on the movie. She acknowledged that the movie is not a documentary, and therefore some liberties were taken in order to craft a more modern silhouette for the geishas. But Atwood took inspiration from museum exhibits and books as well as consulting experts on kimonos for the designs. The obis used in the film were so heavy and tight fitting that they had to limit the bathroom breaks that the actresses were able to take during shooting!

#3: “Anna Karenina” (2012)


Jacqueline Durran was at it again in 2012’s version of “Anna Karenina” and took home both the Academy Award and British Academy Film Award for her work. Both Durran and the film’s director, Joe Wright, make some occasional choices to stray from accurate historical pieces. Durran said of Wright that he, “likes stylized pieces and he likes them to be accessible to the modern eye.” They wanted to pair the aesthetic of the 1950s with the setting of the 1870s, and to do so Durran meticulously studied paintings and photos from the period in order to achieve the desired effect.

#2: “The Great Gatsby” (2013)


Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel “The Great Gatsby” was of course going to be an over the top visual extravaganza, helped in part by his wife and frequent collaborator Catherine Martin who designed both the costumes and sets. The setting of the roaring ‘20s was rife with opportunity for sumptuous dresses and flashing jewels, and Martin took full advantage, working with Miuccia Prada and using many vintage pieces. They pulled looks and trends from both the ‘20s and ‘30s that were seen on the runways at the time. Some criticized the decision to not flatten the women’s chests as they did at the time, as well the fact that not all the styles were popular in 1922 specifically.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

“Jane Eyre” (2011)

“Phantom Thread” (2017)

“In the Mood for Love” (2000)

“Les Misérables” (2012)

#1: “Marie Antoinette” (2006)


In many ways, screenwriter and director Sofia Coppola didn’t intend to make a historically accurate version of Marie Antoinette’s life for her 2006 film. She hired an American actress (Kirsten Dunst) to play the title role and didn’t even have her change her accent for the part. But one place in which the film strived to reflect the truth of the past was in the costumes. Thanks to a relatively large budget (at least for what kind of film it was), costume designer Milena Canonero was able to produce lovely gowns that were clearly based on portraits painted of Marie Antoinette during her life. While some inaccuracies based on narrative purposes are present, the results are nonetheless colourful and evocative of French royalty in the 1700s.
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