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Period Movies, Help Photo Dating

San Diego's Costume Guild encourages us to think of a movie that reflects the costume we are currently wearing and tell people when we are asked because not everyone can relate to historical dates or Era's but they usually can relate to a period movie. We don't want to make people feel uneasy when they don't know. If you are trying to date a photograph, movies can help you place your photograph in the general decade, but that's all you can trust. You may want to watch a movie in slow motion, or constantly pause so you can take a good gander at the period clothing.  Especially the movies that brag about being period accurate in their costumes right down to real mustaches, grown just for the movie, and even when there is exacting attention to detail, often the makeup and the hair, or the hats, reflect the current fashion. Not all period movies are good to watch just for costumes, like Dances with wolves for instance.  Unless you interested in civil war uniforms and Indians, there's not much to see.  

There is a tid-bit from a about Hollywood and costumes, called History and Hollywood a book on costume design in film.

A bit about costume designers. I have learned from reading books and on the internet and costuming friends, that not all the costumes in the movies are period correct. Costume designers for the movie industry though are students of period correct costumes will deliberately create a costume that appears to be of a particular period knowing that it is not correct. Why? you ask. It is my understanding that the costume designer works very closely with the director of the movie to create a mood with the clothing for one. By altering the period correct costume by using colors that may not have been used in that decade or alter the shape or length of a garment to be more appealing to the current moving going generation or an fussy actor's physical appearance needing a bit of altering for their ego. Think about this. There are many examples of classic movies that came out in the 1930s then done over ten years later then another ten years and we usually like the new version. That's because, with each new version the costuming was better and so was the changes in the costume that looked more like the decade it was running in. Otherwise no one would like the movie with period correct clothes because we would find them unappealing to modern sensibilities. So to the general public it looks good but to the person who studies photographs and photo dating will agree that it's close but not usually accurate.  

If you like dressing in costumes, here's a quick story you can relate to.  I was dressed up one day in civil war clothes that I knew was not correct but looked close to the 1860s and was getting compliments left and right. Then this lady came up to me like she was in a hurry but had to stop and looked me up and down and as she walked around looking each detail she would make a comment like "lovely brooch and mitts" looking at my jacket "is that an antique piece...uhmm yes I thought so" "lovely out-fit my dear but the hats all wrong" and she walked away. Later I found out she was a costume designer and author on costumes. If you like dressing in costume and depending on how period correct you want to be, is a matter of preference, price and design skill.  If you just want to get close enough to get the general idea of the decade your trying to recapture, just as long as it's a believable silhouette and you don't look like a Halloween costume. The average person doesn't have the foggiest idea.   Those of you new to costuming will find this chart helpful. 


Those of you who know of Bat Masterson may want to go to the Ford County Historical Society site. (close window to return) and have a look at a fabulous photograph of the Peace Commission of Dodge City of the same time period.  See Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. They all wore very cool hats called bowlers or derby's. 







Movie Date Range Era Comments
Marie Antoinette 1755   Even though this period in not for dating photographs, you may still want to see it to get ideas from it.  I am thinking about the fact that Victorians did imitate these late fashions just like we repeat fashions from years past today.
Pride and Prejudice 1825-1850  Regency This era is before the camera, so you would see these costumes in tiny portraits that came in ornate little boxes (see History of Photograph). All of Jane Austin's movies are good sources of this period. Mostly Empire dresses and bonnets.
Gangs of New York  1860 Civil War

Early Victorian

If you like to dress down, watch this. Not too much by way of high society in this film.
Cold Mountain  1860   

Mid Victorian

For women's clothing mostly, watch Nicole Kidman's beautiful clothes morph into rags. Most people think of bonnets for this era but the diversity of hats in this film proves them wrong.. 
Tombstone 1881 late Victorian See polar opposites from dressy to casual. Ties, from bow ties to scarves and ascots. As collars go, from turndown wing tips to no collar, short jacket and long coats.  My point being that in the 1860s the clothes may be easier to pick out for lack of some of these items and likewise if you see a bow tie, don't insist it's of the 1860s. Excellent for Men's clothing
All About Julia 1890 Naughty Nineties  
Finding Neverland 1908 Turn of the Century Edwardian  
Beloved 1900-1915   Samples of clothes worn by  former slave folk.
The Color Purple 1909-1916   Mostly poor folk.
Titanic 1914 Edwardian Edwardian wealthy, first part of movie
Aviator 1920- 1940   Great! costuming because it take you through a few decades.  You get to watch the subtleties of change in hairstyles too.
The Great Gatsby 1920 The Roaring Twenties Flappers, make you think of the short dress with tiers or tassels but in this film the dresses were actually fairly long still.
A Beautiful Mind 1933 Great Depression Clothes were plain and money was better spent then on clothes.
Cinderella Man 1930s    
"I Love Lucy" re-runs 1950s    Great! to see circle skirts, two tone shoes and clothes.
All The Kings Men 1950   Mens' suits

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