Fashion is for the Real Characters, not Royals

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Dressing the stars will always be paramount to costume designers. But in the background the real sense of time and place are captured by the hundreds of minor characters and extras who form the setting of every production.

“My work is much more character than fashion,” said Madeline Fontaine on dressing Versailles – ironically a drama centered almost entirely on the French court. “Fashion was very present in Versailles, but in this show its role is to serve the characters – and not only the royal family.”

Fontaine focused on some of the grittier elements of the period that she used to ensure an authentic feel, even if specific garments were borrowed from other decades. “The way we dress the lesser characters gives depth to the story,” she told The Huffington Post. “It shows the social conditions and gives a context of who everyone was. The position of all the people is important to tell the story. Wealthy people would change clothes several times a day, which reminded everyone else they could afford this extravagance and also served the practical purpose of keeping things a little, well, fresher. There was very little water at Versailles. One of the reasons for changing so often is that it gave people a chance to dry off. They also used a lot of perfume.”

“Inhabiting” Clothes

Jane Petrie of The Crown explained her process of researching social history through surviving material culture. She said she avoided the idea of perfect, curated wardrobes and looked at how dress was worn everyday – something The Costume Rag highlights in the secrets of authentic costume.

“What I really look for is people wearing their clothes and being themselves, and not doing this sort of period thing of, ‘Their gloves match their shoes and their handbag, and everybody has to wear a hat, and everything’s neat,” she told Deadline. “I want to find how people really wore it, and how relaxed they were, and how they inhabit their clothes. If somebody’s wearing something and I believe it, that’s my first base.”

Costume Designer Camille Jumelle always carries simple rubber bands and safety pins for quickly adjusting things like shirt length. “If extras don’t look right, they can make or break your film. The one extra that you don’t take care of, he’s the one that somehow is going to get pulled on set and get a walk-by or more camera time than you ever planned,” she said.

Header Image: Versailles