I always say this—and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you do, too—but I should have been born in another era!
Growing up, I was never hooked on books like the ones in the Sweet Valley High or The Baby-sitters Club series. Instead, I pored over Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, and Elizabeth Gaskell—even if I had to keep a massive dictionary by my side to look up the words I didn’t know (and there were plenty).
I was just as obsessed as the next girl was with Freddie Prinze Jr., but all my squealing over him in She’s All That was child’s play. The real swooning happened when I first saw Christian Bale in Little Women. (To this day, I’m a staunch supporter of the Jo-and-Laurie love team, Amy be damned.)
I even remember this one time in high school when Book Month was upon us, and our teachers got it in their heads to make us dress up as literary characters. I came as Anna Karenina—all gussied up in a frilly dress, shawl, gloves, and ankle boots. Next to preppy Nancy Drews and draped Grecian goddesses, I stuck out like a sore thumb. No one could relate—until, finally, I tacked on a name tag as my last resort.
I don’t know when it started, really, but as far back as I can remember, I’ve had a passion for period pieces—certainly the ones I could read, but especially the ones I could watch.
This genre isn’t for everyone, though. I could wax poetic all day, but most of the guys I know find period dramas slow-paced and boring. Some of my girl friends aren’t into it, either—they’d probably take Ian Somerhalder in The Vampire Diaries over Colin Firth in Pride & Prejudice any day. Some days I would, too, but whenever I think of Mr. Darcy in his dripping-wet shirt I have to rethink my answer.
Nevertheless, if fate is determined to make you a “period person,” you will find it neither slow nor tedious. Once you’ve had your first taste, if it’s meant to be, you’ll be captivated for life. And here’s why:
First, the leading men. They’re strong and silent, chivalrous, frequently misunderstood but eventually enlightened, and nine times out of ten, they speak with a British accent. Swoon! Some are wealthy eccentrics, others are penniless charmers, but in one way or another, they are all gentlemen.
Second, the language. It’s poetry, really—and not the kind that makes you squirm. I am by no means a mushy person—when couples baby-talk over the phone, my ears bleed—but I could listen to eloquent Victorian dialogue for days on end.
Third, and best of all, the costumes. You must imagine me saying this breathlessly, because that’s exactly how I feel when I see an exquisite dress or piece of jewelry. I love good styling in any film or series, but period costumes are a particular treat because there is so much attention to detail. The cut of a coat, the angle of a hat, the soft, delicate wave in a hairstyle—these all have to be done just right for the costume to achieve authenticity. And it’s a beautiful thing to behold, because fashion back then was decadent on a daily basis. Feathers, pearls, beadwork, silk, satin, lace—the works! If any of you have been watching Downton Abbey, or have at least seen Atonement or Marie Antoinette, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. (If you don’t, and are curious, let me know: I’ll be glad to share my recommendations!)
I have always found that the best inspiration comes from the late and great, whether a single fashion icon or an iconic fashion era. Something old always adds character to something new, because, like every period piece, it has a wonderful story to tell.
Lucky for me, 2012 is shaping up to be quite promising in terms of costume dramas. The gallery below is dedicated to five movies and series I’m itching to lay eyes on—certainly for the stories, but just as much for the finery. There’s nothing like early 20th century style to get a period fan palpitating—except, perhaps, 19th century style!
(Flashbox photo from Downton Abbey courtesy of ITV)
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