One of the many delights of brilliant period dramas come from the costumes. They can simply be sumptuous, but the majority of the time costumes also send a message about the character’s state of mind, and of how they’re trying to portray themselves in their environment. The most iconic costumes are undoubtedly the gowns, and we’ve picked a top 10 from period dramas over the years. Check out the gallery and the descriptions below – do you agree with our choices?
1. Cecilia’s green dress in Atonement
This is my favourite costume from film ever, but don’t let my bias and love for Keira Knightley sway you. Simply look at the fabric and the risky cut, chosen to be sensual and vivid in a stuffy environment. I’m also a big fan of the original book and it couldn’t be closer to the description that the author Ian McEwen gives the dress – just read this:
‘Her latest and best piece […] was the figure-hugging dark green bias-cut backless evening gown. [..] As she pulled it on, she approved of the firm caress of the bias-cut through the silk of her petticoat, and she felt sleekly impregnable, slippery and secure; it was a mermaid who rose to meet her in her own full-length mirror.’
2. Lucille’s blood red gown in Crimson Peak
Guillermo del Toro’s American Gothic horror is rich in every respect. Most stunning is the villainous Lucille’s gowns, in dark jewel tones and ostentatious ruffles. This red dress is worn for a dance, and in-keeping with the incoming horrific events, it swirls like a pool of blood around her feet as she plays the piano.
3. Scarlett O’Hara’s ‘curtain dress’ in Gone With The Wind
This is easily one of the most iconic dresses in classic movie history. Stuck in the middle of the American Civil War, Scarlett O’Hara is adamant that her reduced living conditions will not have an effect on her clothes. In a spark of rebellion, she creates a rich gown that has a far more dramatic impact than her old Southern belle dresses – and it knocks her previous lover Rhett Butler for six.
4. Daisy’s purple dress in The Great Gatsby
Costume designer Catherine Martin won an Oscar in 2014 for her work on The Great Gatsby, and it’s not hard to see why. From Gatsby’s pink suit to detailed flapper dresses, the film’s visuals are greatly enhanced by the stunning clothes. However, a personal highlight is Daisy’s purple dress that she wears for her reunion with sweetheart Jay Gatsby. Created in soft lilac but with fun little frills, she fittingly conveys vulnerability with childishness.
5. Queen Elizabeth’s movie star dress in The Crown
The Crown is full of gorgeous outfits, with the massive Netflix budget showing clearly in the exceptional work of costume designer Michele Clapton. Many of the memorable gowns are worn by Princess Margaret, whilst Queen Elizabeth in the show takes a more sedate and business-like approach to her clothing. In one fantastic scene however, Elizabeth stops dressing for business and dons a gown that would put the movie stars of the 50s to shame. It’s difficult to get a good shot of the dress, but what you see is exceptional.
6. Elizabeth’s yellow power gown in Elizabeth: The Golden Age
In both the Elizabeth films, Cate Blanchett wears a fantastic number of dramatic dresses. Tying in with the title of the sequel, this golden gown is a statement amongst the dark halls and the sombre attire of her male advisors. It’s memorable for how it makes the queen stand out and rightly it became the iconic image of the movie.
7. Orlando’s Renaissance era dress in Orlando
If this was a competition for the most complex gown, this blue dress would be top of the list. It’s a Renaissance gown made with tremendous attention to detail, and it packs a dramatic punch as Orlando runs through a suffocating maze. It seems to drown her almost, pulling her back in the confines of femininity as she continues a journey that skips across both genders and time periods.
8. Anna’s fur-trimmed gown in Anna Karenina
Joe Wright knows how to create a gorgeous-looking film and Anna Karenina is probably his most visually stunning work. He paired up with costume designer Jacqueline Durran for their third feature together, and the dramatic environment of the Russian aristocracy allows for some fantastic costumes. A favourite is the travel dress that she wears when she first meets eyes with Count Vronsky, the rich furs perfectly framing Knightley’s face.
9. Gwendolyn’s archery dress in Daniel Deronda
The complex and spoilt Gwendolyn gets a whole host of gowns to look amazing in in Daniel Deronda. Her archery dress is the most defining of the series however, bold at a time when she’s looking for a suitable husband. She’s deliberately placed amongst sedate pastel gowns, standing out in scarlet and asserting her independent spirit early on.
10. Dido’s lilac gown in Belle
Belle is very carefully costumed in terms of its colour palette. From the very early stages, Dido wears pink whilst her cousin Elizabeth adopts blue as her flagship colour. As Dido experiences more of the difficult world around her and as she falls in love, her chosen colour changes to a subtle purple, recognising her own identity as more than just a counterpart to her outspoken cousin.
Which ones have we missed? Leave a comment and let us know!