The costumes of Far from the madding crowd

Lovely costumes, a romantic story, the beautiful British countryside: those are the perfect elements for an unforgettable movie to watch during your lazy summer days.

My new post is dedicated to FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD.

For those who haven’t heard about it yet, it’s based on the literary classic of the same name by Thomas Hardy. It’s the story of Bathsheba Everdene (played by Carey Mulligan), a fiercely independent and spirited young woman who inherits her uncle’s farm. Financially autonomous, a rarity in Victorian times, beautiful and headstrong, she attracts three very different but determined suitors: Gabriel Oak, a sheep farmer, captivated by her willfulness; Frank Troy, a handsome and reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood, a prosperous and mature bachelor.

This timeless story of Bathsheba’s choices and passions, trying to maintain her own independence, avoiding marriage, explores the nature of relationships and love – as well as the human ability to overcome hardship through resilience and perseverance. The pastoral beauty and sly humor that characterize Bathsheba has kept Hardy’s novel one of the most popular of all time.

The novel is now a great movie to watch, not only for the story itself, but also for the marvelous photography and the adorable costumes, created by Janet Patterson.

The movie’s director, Thomas Vinterberg, wanted to avoid the crinolines and bustles associated with Victoriana, so he moved the story’s action to 1880, when fashion suddenly turned to a sleeker, more modern silhouette, one more befitting a woman who rides, climbs ladders and jumps into the sheep dip.

Janet Patterson also played up the film’s hues.

As assistant costume designer Francoise Fourcade explains:

“Thomas had this vision of an old fashioned epic, shot in Technicolor with lots of colors and lots of vibrant life. He didn’t want to do another brown, muddy, Victorian film!

So we did a lot of research and found that many original items from the time are in fact, in surprisingly vivid colors, like really, really electric blue and bright purples.

In our subconscious we think of these dull, grey charcoal colors for the 19th century, but there were actually lots of very, very strong colors.”

Of course, at the heart of the costuming work is Bathsheba.

By 1880 women’s silhouette changed radically.

The dress used to wrap the body, from neck to knees, in the tighter way possible. The volume was set on the back of the skirt, with a special crinoline, called pouf or cul de Paris, placed at the end of the back, giving the body an unnatural posture. Tailors used to decorate the back of the skirt with an abundance of pleats and draped fabrics, which ended in a tiny train.

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Bathsheba‘s costumes depicted all of this characteristic, never forgetting the sobriety of her origins and the importance of her role as a mistress.

Her wardrobe has been divided into two categories:

- The princesse, a dress with a small train, worn for parties, which has a huge neckline and short sleeves, in order to make her able to wear long gloves. Sequins, feathers, laces and embroidery are the perfect decorations for this kind of dress.

The same dress comes in silk or cotton, decorated by stripes, polka-dots or tiny graphic checks, for formal meetings as a mistress. The silhouette is slim and elongated even more by the train.  Also smaller, neater, forward perching hats were high fashion as the century came to close. Unlike bonnets, such hats were kept in place by a ribbon passed under the hair at the back.

Women took great pride and pleasure in their millinery in the last 25 years of the nineteenth century and hats were by far the most tasteful items of their wardrobes.  Bathsheba’s character is equally seduced by these wonderful creation and wear beautiful hats, which complete the outfits.

 

- The tailleur, a dress composed by a jacket and a skirt, was created in England by men’s tailors. It was often worn in the morning, and chosen by active women, as it has been chosen for the protagonist of the movie. The jacket is tight and its cut severe, the skirt is really simple, with an A-line.

The accessories are stolen from men’s wardrobe: a vest, a tie and a straw hat. Women at this time adopted the men’s straw boater especially for the gentle ladylike sports of the period and for country wear.

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Bathsheba’s wardrobe has alsobeen developed following the stories and the events in her life.

The costume designer identified three distinct phases: her impoverished phase when she’s a simple farm worker; her life as a businesswoman trying to be taken seriously after she inherits the farm; and her more mature phase when she becomes a married woman only to nearly lose her identity and joyfulness.

Throughout, she wears her leather jacket while riding.

Says Fourcade:

“Janet really wanted her in Jodhpur trousers and a leather jacket right from the opening of the film, so the feeling is that this is not your average Victorian woman, this is someone really radical, a free thinker. That leather jacket follows her through the whole of the film. It’s like her armour. If I could keep just one image of Carey in FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD with me, it would be of her leather riding jacket.”

 

Not only Bathsheba, but also her three suitors are important in terms of costume and they evolved throughout the story.

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Gabriel is a farmer. The wardrobe is very simple and modest. He moves from landowner to a ragged itinerant worker back to affluence again;

Boldwood’s heavy suits and beard reveal his disinterest in appearances. He followed literally the aesthetics of 1880 fashion, without any particular personal touch.

On the contrary, Tom is a fashionable man of leisure, evolving his costumes from the red uniform of the Dragoon Guards to a more sophisticated outfit.

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By 1880, men’s wardrobe was stable and far from radical changes.

For the day and formal meetings, men used to wear the famous cutaway, cut-up from the bottom.  It came in tweed or serge and was combined with a vest (very fashionable in white) and narrow grey trousers, with tiny white stripes. The tie and the vest were the only elements, which could have a touch of personal taste. The shirt came in linen, with a high collar and starched cuffs. They used to wear a double breasted ulster to protect themselves from rain and cold.

Boldwood character reflects these fashion habits and he chooses dull colors: black, grey, brown or blue were the dominant shades. Tom instead chooses bold colors and short jackets, adding his personal fashionable touch to ties and vests.

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Talking about men’s hats, wigs and powder had disappeared by the beginning of the century and men soon began to have their hair cut. The bowler and the boater hats were the dominant styles for male, other than working men, who wore the cloth pad. The young Victorian men used to wear boater, introduced for gentle sports on summer days, but quickly became extremely popular with everyone. Boaters were made in white or speckled straw, with a ribbon band and possibly a hat-guard, costing an extra shilling.

A forerunner of the shapes of hats to come had been the 1822 stovepipe style, invented by John Heatherington, a London haberdasher, in the late eighteenth century, but non generally adopted until the nineteenth. By 1870 the crown of the hat was resized, giving much credit to sobriety, which was indeed the leading characteristic of men’s wardrobe.

 

My Final Thoughts

I enjoyed so much writing this article, because I’ve always been fascinated by costume design and the role played by clothes and fashion accessories in a movie.

Below you’ll find the link to watch the movie yourself and now that you have this insider’s knowledge, keep your eyes wide open to spot the different peculiarites of the costumes chosen for each charachter in different moments of their life and of the movie.

Enjoy watching!

Watch it now on Digital HD. On Blu-Ray and DVD August 4th. US: http://bit.ly/MaddingBluray

 

About the costume designer

Janet Patterson received an Academy Award nomination, a BAFTA Award and an Australian Film Institute Award for her work on Jane Campion’s THE PIANO (1993). A native of Sydney, Australia, Patterson also has collaborated with Campion as a production and costume designer on BRIGHT STAR, HOLLY SMOKE and PORTRAIT OF A LADY, in which she received an Academy Award nomination for costume design and won the LA Film Critics Award for production design. Patterson has also worked with Gillian Armstrong designing the costumes for OSCAR AND LUCINDA and designing both production and costumes on THE LAST DAYS OF CHEZ NOUS. Other film credits include designing the costumes for P.J. Hogan’s PETER PAN, designing the production for Robert Marchand’s “Come in Spinner,” Ian Barry’s “The Body Surfer,” Neil Armfield’s “Edens Lost” and both the production and costumes for Geoffrey Nottage’s “The Lizard King.”

 

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