Costumes so hideous
This probably doesn't come as a surprise to anyone, but I love historical clothing. I'll admit to a soft spot for Georgian fashion (powder and patch!), but I really, really adore Regency-era stuff too.
Guess who hated Regency fashion? Thackeray. His novel Vanity Fair takes place over about ten or fifteen years (not sure exactly) surrounding the Battle of Waterloo. The 2004 movie with Reese Witherspoon had FABULOUS costumes--Jonathan Rhys Meyers' haircut in that movie is one of the most adorable things I've ever seen.
I can't vouch for their 100% historical accuracy (Isobel, what did you think?) but they had the right look, at least. But when Thackeray drew his illustrations, he used contemporary (late 1840s) clothing.
|Image scanned by Gerald Ajam for the Victorian Web.|
Not to mention all his completely anachronistic references to Becky Sharp's beautiful bare shoulders in the text! Here's his explanation:
"It was the author's intention, faithful to history, to depict all the characters of this tale in their proper costume, as they wore them at the commencement of this century. But when I remember the appearance of people in those days, and that an officer and lady were actually habited like this--
I have not the heart to disfigure my heroes and heroines by costumes so hideous; and have, on the contrary, engaged a model of rank dressed according to the present fashion."
I have always found this absolutely hilarious, because to me, 1840s clothes are SO much less attractive. Susanna Fraser brought this painting to my attention, as well:
|Henry Nelson O'Neil, "Before Waterloo," courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.|
The Wikipedia summary of the above painting suggests a reason for the change that isn't merely aesthetic:
This is an "anti-Regency" picture, since the artist seems to be intentionally avoiding depicting women's fashion styles that would be accurate to the year 1815. Instead, the women's clothing shown seems to be based on elements of 1830's and early 1860's fashions, and shows no particular resemblance to the actual styles of 1815 (except perhaps in having a slightly highish waistline). In those mid-Victorian days, before the rise of Kate Greenaway and the "Artistic Dress movement," it seems likely that some sober-minded people would have felt slightly uncomfortable to be reminded that their mothers or grandmothers had once promenaded about in Directoire/Empire/Regency fashions (which could be considered indecent according to Victorian norms).But remember how, until a few years ago, everyone was so hideously embarrassed by the eighties? It was impossible to look at eighties fashion and find it even remotely attractive. And now you see modernized, sexy depictions of eighties fashion all the time, and the nineties seem hideously embarrasing (oh dear God, the shoulderpads! the HAIR! Why?????).
(They're still megababes, though.) And in fact, the Wikipedia article then links to a cartoon that seems to support this simpler analysis:
When I was in elementary school in the early 1990s, there was NOTHING more horrifying than bellbottoms. I remember watching some kind of educational film made in the seventies when I was about ten, and every time a pair of bellbottoms came on screen the entire class would start laughing. Then flared jeans and peasant blouses came back in style, and "That 70s Show" took 70s fashion and made it look pretty adorable, and by now pictures of the 70s don't seem particularly appalling.
Is there a ten-to-twenty-year rotation on this stuff? Was Regency fashion Thackeray's equivalent of the eighties? Or was he just a prude?
And how can the same outfit seem so great at the time, so awful a few years later, and kind of cute and nostalgic after a couple of decades?