I am currently in pre-production for The ballad of Mary Whyddon with Chagford Filmmaking Group. This is a 1640s tale and really quite darkly beautiful. Based in and around Chagford, near Dartmoor in the UK, it is a true story of a bride who gets shot on her wedding day.
Call me crazy, and many do!, but I love the imagery of blood on the bodice of a wedding dress.
The time period is proving irksome to research and design for. Because they are not London hoi polloi not a lot of extant clothing remains- they were the original recycle and re-users our ancestors and almost everything was cut up and remade into something else, or to reflect newer fashions. However; the characters are a well to do family with maids so I do not need the illustrations and paintings of peasants we still have.
What I have decided to do is research the time period, and it is a beautiful era for Women, and the two decades before it. Reference is made to some of the characters visiting London so they would have been aware of current fashion but maybe a few years behind. I shall then use influences from the earlier decades and simplify the details of the current decade-1640- to achieve my look.
This is a recognized way of designing for the middle classes and one of the best interpretations of this in recent years has been 2005’s Pride and Prejudice, on some of these beautifully constructed and researched costumes you can see alteration lines where the characters would have remade something to suit a newer fashion.
I have all walks of the social strata to design for, the Mother is clearly head of the family now the father is dead and wears widows weeds, the daughter is nature loving and beautiful and wants to live free. There are caring brothers, cousins who are Cambridge scholars and Parsons, a dashing love interest, buxom ladies, maids and an old crone so I have my work cut out!
Most excitingly there is a 1640’s wedding dress to be designed and made, which for me is like being given a beautiful present! So much of what I do is alterations, managing and designing and making costumes which although lovely are more every day. I am truly excited and not a little nervous about this challenge, and have far too many ideas already!
So, my inspiration. Following on are a few pictures which should give a flavour of where I am heading with designing this film.
This painting shows how the sleeve would develop into the wide sleeve of the 1650s, she is wearing an open high-necked chemise, red sleeves tied on with ribbon points and a broad brimmed hat with plumes from 1625. A shawl is around her shoulders also.
Probably the look I am going to reference the most. This is the formal English court costume of 1632. This is a gown with short open sleeves over a matching bodice with virago sleeves and a simple petticoat. Simplified into a bodice and skirt, with the sleeves either tied on or slashed I think this will be ideal for the 1640s middle class. Decoration in the form of lace and ribbons could also be added. I just love the tabs over a high waist, and decoration that could happen on the sleeves with a low-ish neckline and collar the simplified version of this could be beautiful.
From 1613 and 1638 two black gowns with bodice and petticoat the second worn with an open-necked chemise with a broad, starched lace collar, gray satin sleeves tied with rose-coloured ribbons, and a broad-brimmed black hat cocked up on one side and decorated with a hatband and plumes. Probably a little low cut for our country lasses, and I am sure they would not have worn the collar up. The first, with a higher neckline is excellent inspiration for our Mother.
From the 1640s, what I like about this picture is it give an indication of what a small boy might wear and supports my simplifying argument. Although this high collar would probably look good for the Mother character I will be designing necklines in between this and the lower ones of the period.
Here the mother wears a bright blue bodice and petticoat with yellow ribbons and a lace-trimmed kerchief pinned at her neck. Her daughters wear gold-coloured bodices and petticoats, 1640, and are excellent inspiration for the bridesmaids.
1644, and an excellent inspiration for our maids!
c.1640 etching showing a French woman bookseller (stall at left), the stall in the middle is selling fans and at the right lace. This etching is a nice example of Mens clothing at this time, and is also a good indicator of the collar style for Women which- because The Ballad of Mary Whyddon doesn’t need to be drastically historically accurate- I intend to mix up a little.
Men swung wildly from be-ribboned to quite somber in this period. This is from 1630 and the short waisted doublet is slashed across the back (I’m a big fan of slashing!) Points have elaborate ribbon rosettes (note matching points at hem of breeches), which probably wont be used for my characters.
Despite being very satin clad and fancy these 1638 men are the blueprint for my male characters. Re-worked in wool and more hard wearing fabrics they will look very good. The slashing decoration I would like to use, and I love love love the half cape hung cross ways across the body. Knee breeches, stockings and more durable travelling boots will complete the costume I think.
Removing the satin sash, this is a good example from 1639 of my characters. I think that in both cases the slightly more outlandish elements might be used for the wedding scene where satin and embroidered gloves, lace collars and cravats and a more decorated doublet would probably be called for.
A 1629 gentleman, here because of his great coat, sleeve and collar detailing.
From 1641, this is very much my silhouette. Beautiful start of an idea for the wedding dress also.
A 1/4 scale reproduction of a 17th Century wedding dress showing those beautiful tabs.
Great slashing detail on a silk bodice from the 1630s. This voluminous sleeve and narrow high waisted look is stunning, and very cost effective as we can use skirts which are hired and just make the bodice. In some cases we will just need to add sleeve and detailing to blend the hired costumes with the new.
Dutch villagers, 1673. Although late in the decade their costume will not have changed for several decades, and will be very similar to that of English villagers. Mainly I love the hats and caps.
Finally a few examples of fabric, colour and pattern from this period. Quite a few of the paintings above are very plain and I wanted to show just how many beautiful and rich colours this decade and century had access to, and what patterns they used.
Late 17th Century, a nice example of the wild and wonderful pattern going on in this century.
1620s, jacket. Another example of the naturalistic embroidery going on in this century.
1600-1625, Jacket. I adore the pattern and colour on display here, and intend to lean quite heavily on this piece to design Mary, our heroine.
1660-1670, Stays and Busk. A simply stunning colour- at least someones underwear was stunningly colourful!
1625-1630, Doublet. Greens and browns would have been some of the more accessible colours, along with blues and yellows.
1610-1620, Jacket. Although faded this blue is stunning.