Why I Have a Soft Spot for Period Movies

6 Jan

by Thien-Kim Lam

Image via Warner Bros

Image via Warner Bros

I’m late to the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them party, but I finally saw the movie this week. Even though I was a huge Harry Potter fan, I couldn’t muster enthusiasm for Newt Scamander and his magical creatures. I’d grown to love Harry, Ron, and the sassy, brilliant Hermione. Since our only other family friendly movie option was Sing, the adults voted for Fantastic Beasts instead.

The movie was fun and the perfect post New Year’s day escape. The story was cute. I loved all the main characters. But I can’t stop thinking about the 1920s costumes.

For me, Colleen Atwood’s costumes were also stars of the movie.

Long before I sat down to write romance books, I professionally designed and constructed costumes for theatre productions. After doing that for so many years, I can tell when a designer takes extra care with her costume choices. Let me show you what I mean.

The Goldstein Sisters

Let’s talk about the two main female characters from the film. They were inherently more interesting and complex than Newt.

Image via Warner Bros

Image via Warner Bros

Tina Goldstein (played by Katherine Waterston) was demoted from her Auror position after her unauthorized used of magic. She’s desperate to reclaim her status within the Magical Congress. Tina is strong, serious, and very responsible. She wants to do what’s right.

Image via Warner Bros

Image via Warner Bros

Except for one scene, Tina almost always wears pants and sensible shoes, which are perfect for chasing down the bad guys. Even her night clothes belay her practicality, an adorable but comfortable wide leg jumper. Just because she’s practical doesn’t mean that she can’t embrace her femininity with her v-neck blouses or don a flapper style dress for undercover work. No matter what she’s wearing, it’s usually black or blue with a hint of white or light blue (even in the night club). She’s serious but knows how to have fun.

Image via Warner Bros

Image via Warner Bros

Her younger sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) doesn’t have a physically demanding job like Tina. She prefers dresses that hug and accentuate her body. She knows that men are distracted by her beauty and uses that to her advantage when she needs to. Don’t let her fool you. She may have a big heart and look innocent, but she’s very smart and has the power to read your mind.

Image via Warner Bros

Image via Warner Bros

Queenie exudes femininity. She wears more “luxurious” fabrics: satin, silk, velvet, and lace. Textures that are soft and feel good against the skin. Soothing, like her voice and personality. To further contrast from her sister, Queenie wears pink in almost every scene. Also, I want that pink coat!

A good costume designer is able to make these choices and integrate them into the director’s vision, while creating a cohesive look among all the characters. Don’t forget that this is also a period piece, so there’s an expectation that the costumes look like they’re from 1926. It’s not an easy task, but when you’re a mega-award winning designer like Colleen Atwood, it probably comes naturally.

Costumes are one the reasons I love reading historical romances. The big ball gowns (or modest muslin ones) can tell the reader so many things about the characters’ personality and social class. Little details that add up to build one complex heroine.

I adored both Tina and Queenie. And I want all of their clothes. Of, maybe not Tina’s scuffed brown shoes.

What’s your favorite period costume film?

Thien-Kim Lam cut her teeth on historical romances and they will always have a special place in her heart. She is the founder of Bawdy Bookworms, a subscription box that pairs sexy reads with bedroom toys and sensual products. Batteries included. Check her Pleasure Pairings guide with buzzy recommendations for the adventurous reader

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