Thread By Thread: Costumes on Screen

Recreation Dress Replication

Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on their Wedding Day in The Young Victoria.

I have finally returned after a long(ish) absence and am ready to titillate you all on the subject of historical costumes!  Every costumer at heart loves a good period costume, and by reflection so does the Academy based on the number of Oscars doled out to Designers for their work on period films. Walter Plunkett, costume designer for notable period films such as Gone With The Wind and Little Women, once stated his preference for period films over modern as ‘no one will question you’. While this may be true, period films are by no means easier, even when creating a reproduction of an outfit worn in real life.  The sheer number of layers in addition to the complexity of simply dressing in the past can prove a challenge to costumers and the actors who have to wear them.  Let’s take a look then at some of film’s best recreation of real period clothing.

My Week With Marilyn

Marilyn Monroe arrives in England with her new husband Arthur Miller.

Williams as Monroe in the film, re creating the same arrival.

The film has the curious conundrum of re-creating some of Marilyn Monroe’s personal outfits in addition to her costume for The Prince and The Showgirl.  For the majority of the costumes worn by Williams in the film, costume design Jill Taylor did not make replicas of Monroe’s but rather drew upon pictures of Monroe and created a wardrobe based on similar pieces.  Monroe’s costumes for The Prince and The Showgirl and for her famous arrival in England were however replicated for the film.  The process of replicating the costumes began with finding shape wear to fit beneath the costumes for Michelle Williams to wear. More petite and less curvaceous than Monroe, Williams wore a padded cone bra, in addition to a shaper which padded her hips and buttocks to give her that famous hourglass shape.  Taylor describes how detailed the reproduction  costumes were “[I] watched archival newsreel footage to study how Monroe’s sunglasses sat on her face. ‘We were mad!’ she says, of creating the custom piece. ‘It was just millimeter measurements. We looked at where the sunglasses ended on Marilyn’s face and made sure that’s where they ended on Michelle’s face.’”  For her arrival in England Monroe wore a White Coat over her shoulders with a knee length three quarter sleeve  light blue silk dress beneath, paired with a pair of white heels and black frame sunglasses.  Taylor also recreated Arthur Miller and Sir Laurence Olivier’s suits in addition to Lady Olivier’s (otherwise known as Vivian Leigh) brown wool suit with a pleated skirt, gold brooch and matching hat and handbag.  The re-creations are spot on and help the already famous actors capture the essence of their equally famous characters.

The Millers and The Olivers pose for a photo at the Airport upon Monroe’s arrival in England for filming. Vivien Leigh reportedly refused to ever have her picture taken next to Monroe again, believing her beauty to be faded next to Monroe’s.

The couples in costume, replicated down to every last detail for the film.

Taylor’s sketch of Monroe’s costume from The Prince and The Showgirl.

A still of Monroe in costume

Williams playing the same scene.

The replication of Monroe’s costume from the Prince and The Showgirl proved more difficult for Taylor. The dress was originally created by Beatrice Dawson for The Prince and The Showgirl, which takes place in the Edwardian era.  Monroe reportedly had problems wearing the costume as she was known for spilling food on it, so much so that Dawson eventually replaced the gown and remade double of it in two parts in case she spilled food again.  Taylor remade the intricate costume bead by bead and choose to create it in one piece. The dress had to last for 11 days of filming and when the metal zipper broke, there was no time replaces it because of the tight that filming schedule and the fact that the dress would have to be mostly disassembled to replace it. Actress Michelle Williams was subsequently stitched in for the remaining days of filming.  Taylor also maintained Dawson’s worry of food being spilled. “Every time Michelle went outside or ate something, [Costume Assistant] Vicki ran after her to throw a wrap over her. The last day was the worst day of all. I couldn’t even go on set; I was so neurotic about that dress. I thought: We’ve worked with this dress for 10 days and, Sod’s law, something will happen to it on the last day. Thank God it didn’t.”  The elaborate embroidered blue silk wrap that Monroe wore in the film was also recreated stitch by stitch. The costume looks as good on Williams as it did on Monroe, both take the viewers’ breath away.

Monroe in her baby blue cape for The Prince and The Showgirl

Williams in the reproduction playing the famous episode on set in which Monroe couldn’t remember her line because she didn’t feel the situation believable for her character.

The original cape worn by Monroe, a ruffled silk cape with embroidered flowers and contrasting pink silk ruffles to complement Monroe’s skin tone.

The original costume worn by Monroe; a silk Edwardian gown with a sheer organza over lay that is beaded and gathered slightly at the sides beneath the bust.


A photo from the film of Wallis and Edward in their formal attire, she loved beautiful dresses as she thought herself plain and in need of decoration to distract from her lack of looks.

The Duchess of Windsor shortly after her marriage and Edward’s abdication. The portrait is very flattering and makes Wallis seem as if she belongs in the royal circle naturally.

The unique cross bracelet that was a gift from Edward to Wallis, each cross was engraved with a date significant to the couple, a replica was created then destroyed for the film.

Madonna’s film about the love affair between Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII received a lot of award season buzz and for good reason. Following last year’s smash The King’s Speech which, tells the story of Edward’s brother’s ascension following his abdication, W.E. tells the story form Wallis and Edward’s perspective with the help of a fan from the modern times. The subject is intriguing and the task of recreating a wardrobe for the infamous divorcee fell to Madonna’s long time collaborator Arianne Phillips. Phillips is well known for her connection in the fashion world, something which came in handy for the film as Wallis was a couture client. Like Taylor with My Week With Marilyn, Phillips only recreated a few of Wallis’ outfits and relied on archival photographs and footage for the rest of her wardrobe. Phillips was very adamant however about recreating the Duchess’( as Wallis would later be known) jewelry, including a cross bracelet which plays a large role in the film. Jewelers Cartier and Van Cleef & Arples (who created a piece for Wallis to wear for The King’s Speech) recreated the jewelry specifically for the film. Sadly all the jewelry re creations for the film had to be destroyed because the original pieces were privately owned and therefore couldn’t be replicated for any reason other than the film’s use. Fashion houses such as Dior and Schiaparelli recreated some of the Duchess dresses for the film, otherwise they were created by Phillip’s team. One of the film’s notable recreation was of a Schiaparelli black evening gown that included a white art deco trim around the neck and mid section of the dress.  The original gave the public the impression of sophistication and beauty to the slandered Duchess, in the film it has the same effect.  The other notable recreation was actually of an outfit worn on vacation with Prince Edward. Even when in relaxation mode Wallis was fashionable the cotton blouse with large fabric covered buttons paired with a lightweight tea length wool button front skirt and the obligatory large white sunhat. The outfit in the film is not a perfect recreation but rather captures the essence of the outfit and serves and accurate enough interpretation. There are more recreations in the film and some lovely new dresses that evoke the Duchesses style, that make for a lovely film for any costumer’s enjoyment.

Wallis and Edward on vacation in 1934 her casual style exudes confidence and creates clean classic lines.

A still form the film, re creating the same vacation, including her beloved dog Slipper

The Young Victoria

Emily Blunt as Queen Victoria in her procession robe to her coronation, hidden in this shot by a guards hat is Queen Victoria’s great-great-great-great granddaughter Princess Beatrice as a Lady’s Maid.

A portrait of Queen Victoria in her coronation robes

A picture of the real robes worn by Queen Victoria

This elaborate costume drama won costume designer Sandy Powell her third Oscar, and rightly so. The gowns Emily Blunt as Queen Victoria dons are a delight. Two of the film’s most notable gowns are actually re creations of real dresses worn by Queen Victoria. Powell was thankfully able to study the Queen’s actual wardrobe at Kensington Palace and the Victoria &Albert Museum in London. The Queen herself also described her clothing in many of her diary entries.  The most difficult replication was of Victoria’s Coronation Robes, made of red velvet and trimmed with Ermine and gold embroidery and measuring around 15 ft long.

A still from the film of Victoria in her gold coronation robe and the crown jewels

A picture of the robe used for the film on display, the detail required to recreate the robe is noticeably immense.

A portrait of Queen Victoria during her Coronation ceremony wearing the gold robe, her mother looks on from the right.

Atop her red velvet robe Victoria wore a gold robe with embroidered floral and gold fringe trim complete with its own long train. Due to time and budget constraints thread by thread replication wasn’t able to happen so for the voluminous robes, different fabrics were used and dyed to match and false stones used.  Powell also took some short cuts such as hand painting and printing the embroidery on. The audience is left none the wiser for it and the robe still serves as a magnificent piece of clothing, much less a costume.

A photo from the film of Queen Victoria’s Wedding Gown with a recreated St George’s Chain and Sapphire brooch and diamond necklace and earrings.

A portrait of Queen Victoria in her Wedding gown, the sleeves and neckline of the dress are noticeably different. On her actual wedding day Queen Victoria carried Myrtle and wore Orange Blossoms in her hair. Since then all British Royal weddings have had the bride carry a sprig of Myrtle for luck from the same bush as hers.

A picture of Queen Victoria’s actual wedding dress, the lace has since been removed to be used for other purposes and cannot be found.

Queen Victoria loved her wedding so much, she posed for portraits in it with Albert 30 years after their marriage. The dress has been noticeable altered t fit the changing fashion. The sleeves and neckline match the portrait seen above and the train is different along with the number of silk flowers and her hairstyle.

The other delicately reproduced costume for the film was Victoria’s Wedding Dress. Victoria married as a Queen and her dress match her sophisticated regal status. In the film the dress was constructed form an ivory silk satin with a antique lace overlay complete with silk flowers and a silk lace veil in addition the reproduced jewelry. Victoria helped set the trend of brides wearing white with her dress, representing her virgin status and more importantly her dress was made from British lace, a dying art by this point due to the advances in textile production machinery making handmade lace an unnecessary art, the very cloth on her back represented the glory of her domain.

This entry was published on March 31, 2012 at 11:48 pm. It’s filed under Entertainment and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

4 thoughts on “Recreation Dress Replication

  1. This is a lovely post but the final picture caption is inaccurate. That is actually a photograph of Victoria in the court dress she wore to a drawing room held at Buckingham Palace on May 11, 1854. It’s not her wedding dress, and I don’t believe that Winterhalter portrait of her is showing her wedding dress either, considering it was painted two years after she was married.

    Oh, and I believe her wedding lace cannot be found because she was buried with it.

    • You are correct on the final picture, it is not Victoria in her wedding dress but rather a dress made from the same lace, Honiton Lace; that is lace from the same region not the literal same lace. Victoria and Albert did then recreate some poses from their wedding. I mistook the pictures to have actually been her Wedding attire restyled, thanks for catching my mistake! As to the further whereabouts of the lace, Victoria apparently had the lace from her gown removed and incorporated into her mourning attire, it’s even rumored that the gown she wore to Albert’s funeral included her newly dyed lace. Another rumor is that the lace was made into Christening outfits for her children but this could also be mistaken as Honiton lace might have been used. Her wedding veil was kept in tact though and was even worn by her youngest daughter Princess Beatrice of Battenberg at her wedding (whom current Princess Beatrice of York, 5th in line for the throne, is named after). Victoria was later buried in her wedding veil. Thank you so much for sharing you knowledge with me!

  2. hilary donaldson on said:

    i believe victorias wedding lace was buried with her

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