The Age of Innocence was suggested by Jason, and I am glad he did. There will be SPOILERS.
I’d like to go ahead and split this post up into the two ladies of The Age of Innocence: Countess Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer) and May Welland (Winona Ryder). Both women are dressed up to the nines in 1870s fashion, crafted by costume designer Gabriella Pescucci.
As far as Countess Olenska goes, no other costume makes a bigger statement of how she is perceived in New York society than her red ball gown.
While the narrator announces that Olenska has arrived late to her own party, she is dressed in bright scarlet, where the other women are in duller hues. The only honest conversation she has is with Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis), who manages to see past the gossip to the real woman.
Now, in a completely shallow analysis, that gown is damn pretty. I love just everything that makes it, from the slight train, bustle, pleats, and gathers. The fact that the top is built so similarly to a corset emphasizes the difference between the busy skirt and the simplified bodice, but then BAM! there’s this bright, gathered bustle that carries the scarlet into the darker pattern in the skirt. The entire piece has these delicate pleats all over– I just love it! It’s too perfect, especially for this moment in the film.
I have to separate my choices for May into two different costumes, mainly because
I got them confused with each other they’re related. May’s engagement gown and her wedding gown.
I’m just going to go out on a limb here and say that its pretty easy to get the engagement gown/wedding gown confused in this situation. Both go through a minor alteration between when they’re first seen (a bunched shawl for the engagement, a similar lacy shift placed underneath for the wedding gown) and how I tend to remember them, which is sleeveless and designed more for social events, such as the picture on the left. They also have nearly the same bodice and neckline and are a creamy color.
The engagement gown necessarily takes on a lot of the “good” qualities that Archer sees in May that makes him want to marry her in the first place. Innocence, virginal, good. The flower decorations at the bodice highlight that, especially since they chose a pink rosette during that scene, which gets echoed into the intricate embroidery in the skirt.
Speaking of, that embroidery looks complicated, and I’m willing to bet it’s a beaded embroidery overskirt that hangs over the satin underskirt, which looks far too gathered to hold up any kind of intricate beading. It ends with a thick layer of thin pleats, a bit of a different style than Olenska’s gown.
The wedding gown scene is probably best associated with May telling Archer that Olenska is returning to Europe, rather than with the actual wedding scene. As I said earlier, its been altered to suit social nights and the narration explains that its a tradition in Old New York for the newly-married brides to wear their gowns for the first few years.
What I want to draw attention to is the blue piping they added around the neck and the lace draping off of it. The lace is the remainder of the wedding-day lace, and it changes the bodice a bit more from the design of the engagement gown. It softens up the hard edges of the bodice, which has a corset structure in the back, and balances the heavy skirt. Its the only remaining detail about the dress that would associate it with a wedding day.
Olenska decides to leave for Europe after finding out May’s suspicions that she’s pregnant, but that isn’t revealed to Archer (or the audience) until her farewell dinner, when May has to tell him in order to make him stay. However, this scene, where she tells him that Olenska is leaving has foreshadowing of the pregnancy in the dress– the blue piping for the future baby boy. Its a nice little retrospective touch, something I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t watched the movie already before looking at the costuming.
If you have a movie you want to see in the Costume Envy project, please leave suggestions in the comments!