Gorgeous Period Dress

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Hollywood and the king agree about looking good.

A film trope starting when colour was new and directors were eager to show off what it could do, and extending to the days when TV was widespread but mostly black and white, so big, colorful spectacles were a way of luring audiences back to the theaters. (However - as noted below in the entry mentioning the 1935 film Becky Sharp - this trope actually began to be used in films when Technicolor, a reliable - if at the time expensive - method of producing color film - came into use.) The trope consists of setting your story in Period Pieces, at a time and place in which the costumes were (or people think they were) very beautiful, and using lots of actors and extras in these beautiful costumes.

Items of Gorgeous Period Dress include:

  • Frock coats in bottle green, plum, royal blue and pearl grey for the gentlemen.
  • Ball scenes in which the ladies all wear different colored satin dresses.
  • Ladies' long, over-the-elbow gloves (often called "Opera Gloves") of kidskin, silk or satin. Note that the over-the-elbow white gloves that Deborah Kerr is wearing in the photo from "The King and I" on this page are inaccurate for the time period, the 1860's; women wore wrist-length gloves with formal dress at this time. Long gloves for evening wear, which had last been popular during the Regency period, didn't become common again until the late 1870's when they were popularized by, among others, the actress Sarah Bernhardt. This incorrect use of long gloves appears in some other films made between the 1930's and 1950's, usually in scenes where the actresses are wearing off-the-shoulder or short-sleeved gowns, so it's most likely the filmmakers were following the Rule of Glamorous in those instance, seeing that long gloves generally look dressier and more formal than short gloves.
  • Gentlemen's hats: Uncle Sam toppers, John Bull toppers, stovepipes, bicorns or tricorns, depending on the period.
  • Ladies' hats with a whole bird's worth of feathers per hat.
    • Ladies' hats with delicate veils (usually of net or lace) to cover the face, fully or partially, also fit this trope, especially in movies or shows set in the 1940's or 1950's.
  • Crinolines (from approximately the 1820's through the 1860's) or Bustles (from the 1870's to the 1890's). Related: hoop skirts (from the 1820's through the early 1870's).
  • Corsets
  • So-called "full-fashioned" ladies' stockings (stockings with seams up the back of the leg and "Cuban" or "French"-style reinforced heels); these were standard items of women's dress from the 1920's through the late 1950's, when seamless stockings were introduced.
  • Peasants in picturesque Alpine or Ruritanian national dress, with lederhosen or knee breeches and embroidered waistcoats for the men, and dirndls and kerchiefs for the women.
  • Elizabethan stuff (ruffs, jeweled doublets, slashed sleeves and knickerbockers).
  • Guards in uniforms that would make the Pope's Swiss Guards laugh.
  • Bright green tights on Robin Hood and his Merry Men. (You may have heard 'Lincoln Green' used to describe the colour the outlaws wore; in fact someone along the line misread this definition from 'Lincoln Graine, which is a type of very expensive and luxurious scarlet cloth. Will 'Scarlett', anyone? The entire Robin Hood story is really a heartwarming tale about the rise of the merchant classes!)
  • Knights with colourful banners, surcoats and caparisons.
  • Pretty much any Pimped-Out Dress
  • Royalty wearing their Requisite Royal Regalia and their glamorous clothes as everyday wear.
  • Dashing military types in full-on Bling of War.

Films featuring Gorgeous Period Dress seldom show the dirt and grime of everyday life in the old days, which meant odd situations in which impoverished serfs and peasants would be decked out in crisply laundered clothing. Of course, fantasies like Highlander and comedies like Blackadder or Monty Python and the Holy Grail had been subverting the trope for some time, but it wasn't really until Braveheart came along that the antiseptic look fell completely out of favor and most, if not all, movies began dousing the laity with a generous layer of filth.

It should be noted that this actually had its roots in theater, which seldom had reason to have plain or dirty clothes. Also keep in mind that this trope is not necessarily deceptive: there have always been those who delight in fancy clothing, and modern Western society is far from the first to promote daily bathing or liberal use of soap. The Romans bathed more than we do.

A Sub-Trope of Hollywood Costuming.

Compare with Ermine Cape Effect, Costume Porn, Impractically Fancy Outfit (and its Sub Tropes), Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty.

Contrast with The Dung Ages, where shows portray the past as uniformly filthy and bedraggled even when it's historically inaccurate. See also Awesome Anachronistic Apparel, where this trope is used in the present day.

Please note that Gorgeous Period Dress is not necessarily limited to eras before the 20th century. Movies and shows set in the Belle Epoque or Edwardian era (roughly 1900-1914), the Roaring Twenties, the Thirties, the Forties (especially the "New Look" period of the late 1940's and early 1950's when Christian Dior and other designers tossed aside the austerity of the World War Two years to bring sumptuousness and elegance back to women's couture), and even The Sixties, can and do use this trope.

Examples of Gorgeous Period Dress include:

Anime and Manga

  • Turn a Gundam featured various persons of nobility dressed this way, some dressed as such at all times, no matter how ridiculous it made them seem. To be fair, most main characters only wore special outfits for special occasions, particularly the main character, who wore a very special outfit as a disguise, but only to parties, since all the pilots dressed pretty much the same in their suits.
  • Most Shoujo Jidai Geki anime and manga indulge in this for pretty obvious reasons.
  • Frequently shows up in Code Geass despite not being a period piece.
    • In this case it's gorgeous Napoleonic dress and uniforms.
      • Or in Lelouch's case, extremely ridiculous-looking outfits.
        • Especially the purple Victorian style dress he wore in one of the picture dramas.
  • Beatrice's main outfit of a black and red dress is one of these.
  • The anime Black Butler definitely has this, considering it takes place in Victorian London. Pretty much ALL the wealthy characters have beautiful outfits, but Ciel in particular wears clothing that appears to not only be very fashionable during that time, but is probably made of the best fabrics available in order to show off his aristocratic status.
    • This troper happens to fancy the dress Ciel had to wear to Viscount Druitt's ball that came complete with frills, lace, ribbons, bows, gloves, and a very ornate hat that probably had half a garden's worth of pink roses on it.
  • Berserk contrasts the Gorgeous Period Dress of the Midland nobility with the down-and-dirty existence of practically everyone else.
  • A Bride's Story is this trope taken Up to Eleven and beyond, with highly-detailed drawings of beautiful clothing worn by almost everyone.
  • There's lots of these in Pandora Hearts.
  • Victorian Romance Emma.
  • Kunisaki Izumo no Jijou features lots of elaborate period dresses whenever the main characters are acting on stage in kabuki plays.

Comic Books

  • Often invoked by Sandman when stories are set in other eras. Death in particular dresses in some particularly extravagant period outfits.


  • Many Hammer Horror films.
    • The Curse of Frankenstein and The Man Who Could Cheat Death, starring legendary Hammer Horror redheaded beauty Hazel Court, are excellent examples.
  • The 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz. Baum's Munchkins only ever wore blue, but you wouldn't know it from watching the movie!
    • The ruby slippers were silver in the book. Both changes were evidently made to show off the (at the time, extremely impressive) Technicolor.
  • Gone with the Wind, also released in 1939.
  • Lots in the 1998 movie Ever After.
  • The 1935 film Becky Sharp, an adaptation of Thackeray's Vanity Fair and the first ever full-colour film, popularised this trope.
  • However, it can be dated back even further to 1920s silent films that use the rather odd-looking two-colour red and green Technicolor. One such film is Phantom of the Opera, which uses colourful costuming in a big ballroom scene.
    • Subverted in The Movie of The Musical which had all the costume ball dancers in black and white, rendering lyrics like "Splash of puce/Flash of red" completely moot. Actually, going by the "colorful" criteria, only the Diva wears anything wildly colorful and it's mostly pink anyway.
  • Many of the early Disney films, such as the ball in Cinderella.
  • The 1950s seems to be the peak period for widescreen epic films with eye-searing Technicolor. Examples from that decade are Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments, and, from the Napoleonic era, Desiree.
  • The early-1950's French movie L'Silence Est De Or (Man About Town), starring Maurice Chevalier, featured late-Victorian-era Gorgeous Period Dress designed by no less a luminary than Christian Dior himself (his New Look, in fact, was in no small part derived from the sumptuous elegance of late Victorian and Edwardian fashion).
    • Gigi, also starring Chevalier and Leslie Caron, is positively stuffed with Edwardian Gorgeous Period Dress.
  • The 1943 version of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, which manages to sidestep most of the iffy politics of Germany at the time.
  • Bizarrely combined with The Dung Ages in Flesh+Blood.
  • Can't forget Gladiator; Lucilla and Commodus's clothes (not to mention where they live) seem a bit too nice for The Dung Ages.
    • If anything, Commodus's clothing was too understated and rough. He should have looked like an overblown Louis XIV.
      • The Romans didn't live in The Dung Ages. Almost every character in Gladiator was underdressed and far too filthy to be realistic - even the slaves should have been spotlessly clean and neatly dressed.
      • Neither extreme is remotely realistic. Yes, the nobility had very good hygiene and fancy clothes in the period, but the common folk and the slaves were much less well off. When you work all day in the hot sun, you're going to look like it, and bathing every day was just too expensive for most outside the population centers where free public baths were open for all except slaves.
  • Sofia Coppola used this trope in 2006 for Marie Antoinette.
  • Countless Bollywood period movies fall into this. This is particularly true if said movies feature Ms. Aishwaya Rai. Every. [dead link] Single. Time.
    • Devdas and Jodhaa Akbar, especially. GUH.
  • Pretty much every Merchant Ivory film ever made.
  • One of the most famous William Shakespeare film adaptations, Henry V, directed by Kenneth Branagh, was famous for taking the story and laying on the mud and gore real thick on the period costuming to show medieval war in all its filthiness.
    • Laurence Olivier's version of Henry V is a straight-up example of this trope, though; it was the first color Shakespeare film, intended as a morale-booster during World War II, and the look is heavily modeled on fifteenth-century manuscripts.
    • Branagh's Hamlet, however, had everyone dressed in extremely elaborate and colourful 19th century military uniforms or billowy ballgowns. Most of it was a way to keep the audience's attention for the (endless, uncut!) 4 hour movie, but it also set up a sharp contrast with Hamlet, who spent most of the movie in a black outfit.
  • The first-class passengers' clothes in Titanic, contrasted with the third-class's filthier clothes and segregated areas on board the titular ship.
  • Snow White and The Three Stooges
  • Many a Jidai Geki film displays the Japanese equivalent (though there are usually some, especially townspeople, wearing everyday clothes as well).
  • The 1939 Warner Brothers film The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex revelled in the opportunity to show the splendid court dress of Elizabeth I. (Bette Davis) in Technicolor.
  • Moulin Rouge! tries its very best to make your eyes bleed with colour...especially during the Can Can scene in the beginning of the film.
  • The film version of Virginia Woolf's Orlando, starring Tilda Swinton in very pretty clothes.
  • Curse of the Golden Flower is this trope in spades. The colors practically strobe they're so brilliant and every character is burdened by layer upon layer of exquisite brocade.
  • Plunkett and Macleane for the most part averts this showing a more realistic and gritty costume approach especially with lower classes. However it plays it straight during one scene during a huge ballroom dance among the very rich, fitting the trope nicely. It's pretty much a costume designers wet dream.
  • The 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley is (sometimes) a subversion of this trope. In the big ballroom scene, Gorgeous Period Dress rules, but otherwise, the lead characters all dress relatively simply, if appropriately for reasonably well-to-do people (the Bennets) or wealthy (Darcy).
  • All film (as well as TV) versions of Anna Karenina make use of this trope.
  • Gone with the Wind is in some places a validation, in others an aversion of this trope; Scarlett dresses sumptuously in many scenes (the famous green dress she made from lace curtains, or the equally famous scarlet gown) but very much in a down-at-the-heels manner in the postwar scenes where she's struggling to save Tara.
  • The 2005 film version of Arsène Lupin with Kristin Scott-Thomas, seeing that it's about a gentleman thief who moves in Belle Epoque high society, uses this trope extensively.
  • The Martin Scorsese version of The Age of Innocence, starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder. In fact, virtually any movie or show based on a novel by Henry James or Edith Wharton (cf. The Portrait Of A Lady, The Europeans, The House of Mirth, The Buccaneers, Daisy Miller, etc.) is guaranteed to make ample use of this trope, seeing that both authors were writing about the upper classes of the late Victorian era.
  • The 1997 animated film Anastasia makes ample use of this trope.
  • My Fair Lady.
  • The Phantom of the Opera.
  • Elizabeth and the sequel Elizabeth The Golden Age.
  • Amadeus.
  • The Duellists.
  • The characters in the 1963 The Raven wear somewhat lavish garments that all seem to be from different periods and regions.
  • All over the place in the Renaissance setting of La Reine Margot.

Live-Action TV

  • The color seasons (all but the first season) of The Wild Wild West.
  • The HBO series Rome also combines this with The Dung Ages. The patrician dinner party will be wall-to-wall jeweled dresses and lavishly decorated togas, but if you're a member of the lower classes, prepare for burlap tunics and a generous layer of filth.
    • This was historically accurate, if the filth of the poor was a bit over-exaggerated. The Romans believed in daily bathing and clean clothes. Slaves weren't expected to have expensive clothes but house slaves were expected to keep themselves clean, if only so that they wouldn't stink up the house. The average modern would be more comfortable in Caesar's Rome than in Regency England.
  • Murdoch Mysteries is very clean for 1895 Toronto. While many of the characters are middle- or upper-class, they still really shouldn't be that pristine.
  • Often seen in British historical dramas, such The Pallaisers, Upstairs, Downstairs, and Bleak House. The latter two series use the Gorgeous Period Dress of the upper-class viewpoint characters as contrast to the dress of the servants and lower-class viewpoint characters.
    • The miniseries Elizabeth R is one of the most spectacular examples. According to the DVD commentary, virtually the entire budget went on the queen's dresses (which explains why the sets are just one step above canvas backdrops).
    • The various BBC miniseries of Jane Austen novels, e.g., "Pride and Prejudice", "Emma", and "Mansfield Park".
      • Which presents an interesting contrast with most recent U.S. movies adapting Austen (excepting the Gwyneth Paltrow Emma), which often slightly subvert this trope in the interest of realism (see above entry on 2005's Pride and Prejudice.)
  • Babylon 5‍'‍s Centauri are Gorgeous Period Dress In Space!
  • Mad Men engages in this at the most recent time when it might be applicable: the early Sixties (really an extension of The Fifties). All manner of high-fashion dresses (usually traditionalist, at times frighteningly avant-garde) for the women and impeccable tuxedos for the men appear at high-class functions, and sharp suits for both sexes at work combine with that era's hairstyles (if your hair doesn't have chemicals in it, you're living in the past!) for a picture of '60s New York that makes it clear exactly what 40–50 years can do to a country. Alas, all of it reeks of cigarette smoke (which, admittedly, is Truth in Television).
    • See also the 2003 (or thereabouts) French TV miniseries of Dangerous Liaisons starring Catherine Deneuve and Leelee Sobieski, updating the story to the late 1950's/early 1960's. Deneuve in particular is wearing haute couture which is that period's very definition of Gorgeous Period Dress.
  • An unusual example can be seen in the Doctor Who episode "The Girl in the Fireplace"- gorgeous period dresses on gorgeous period robots.
    • Period pieces in Doctor Who tend to fall under this as it's what The BBC does best.
  • The 2003 Italian TV miniseries Soraya, starring Anna Valle and based on the ill-fated romance and marriage of Soraya Esfandiary-Bakhtiari and the Shah of Iran, positively drips this trope. Valle and the other leading actresses are dressed in stunning 1950's haute-couture dresses and gowns by Dior and other leading couturiers of the era.
  • The 1998 HBO TV-movie Cafe Society uses this trope extensively to show the actresses in opulent evening dresses appropriate to the time period (the early 1950's) throughout about two-thirds of the film.
  • The Vampire Diaries - in the flashbacks to the Civil War era.
  • Given that most Korean historical dramas take place near or around the royal court, this is hardly missed.


  • This is a good example of Gorgeous Period Dress on the nineteenth-century stage, describing what some of the extras were wearing in a production of Richard III.
  • Cirque Du Soleil's Corteo involves a turn-of-the-20th-century European circus, so it invokes this trope.
  • Pick a Kabuki number, any one of them.

Video Games

  • Played with in Castlevania: Curse of Darkness. The character Saint Germain has Gorgeous Period Dress that's used specifically to make him seem even more bizarre and out-of-place. Not only is it an anachronistic example of it—being of an 1800s gentleman style in a game set in the late 1400s—but no-one else in the game uses it fully. Only one other character has an even borderline case, and hers is far more muted and "realistic". Other characters tend towards relatively realistic attire or Impossibly Cool Clothes.
  • In Guild Wars, Gorgeous Period Dress is the visual hallmark of the Mesmer class, as opposed to Stripperific Elementalists, heavily armored warriors, rangers in sensible leather, and so on and so forth.
  • Primal: Jen loses her vambrace and must attend a masked ball in a Gorgeous Period Dress and hair. She then vamps the key out of Count Raum.

Web Comic

Western Animation

  • Upon entering the Diamond Castle, Liana and Alexa's peasant dresses are instantly transformed into Gorgeous Princess Dresses.
  • The An American Tail series, taking place during the 1880's, features these with the more wealthy female characters.