How The Crown’s Jane Petrie Researches Period Fashion

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As wardrobe mistress and later as a costume assistant Jane Petrie was involved with the eponymous Tudor queen of both Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Now she has taken over from Emmy-winning costumer Michele Clapton for Elizabeth II in The Crown’s second season.

Nevertheless with such a background Petrie was well-experienced in recreating period-authentic looks. “I start just [with] broad research—social history, history. What are the main events that are happening around the time?” she told Deadline. “I watch a lot of documentaries, and in the case of The Crown—because it’s a period that has been documented on film—I watched lots of film footage. So much research has been edited before we even see it, so if you’re watching a documentary, it’s been selected.”

How People Inhabit Their Clothes

Petrie’s role takes on an intensive role 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,” Petrie says. “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.”

We Don’t Shoot Chronologically

Her attitude to such details is profound and results in “a lot of swatching, and a lot of searching.” She also said that fitting such precision into hectic filming schedules can be challenging. “When you make a film you don’t shoot chronologically. We might have 200 extras working in one day who have to be in 1956 and 1962 and so to keep an eye on that in the passage of time for the principle actors is big,” she said.

“The hardest part of that—when you really pull it down to the nuts and bolts—is finding the quality of suiting for the menswear,” she reflects. “The rules that we have now that we make suits from are so very different. [They’re] so lightweight and soft compared to those heavy, dense wools that they used to use. Even if you can go to a shop and buy something, it’s unlikely it’s going to go in that condition onto camera. It often needs to be dyed, slightly broken down, given a little bit of a history, a bit of wear and tear.”

Started by Selling hats in Camden

Naturally such expertise is the result of years of experience and devotion to fashion history. That said Petrie told London College of Fashion’s Frances Corner that she she didn’t even know that the job existed until she was 21. “I left school when I was 16 to do a portfolio course for art college, but I ended up just doing course after course, not really knowing what to do with them. I knew I wanted to do fashion, but I just wasn’t sure what I could do. I had moved down to London and was selling hats in Camden, things like that. I’d had an interest in period clothing all my life and I’d always done projects about it at school. If I was given the opportunity to choose a subject it would always be the history of clothing,” she said.