Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Costume Meltdown

Olivia and I spend a lot of time watching movies and TV together, and sometimes we get sucked in to some pretty ridiculous, trashy, stupid stuff. I'd say I'm embarrassed about it, but I'm not really. I mean, this summer I've basically told everyone who would listen that Magic Mike XXL is amazing and they should run out to the theater to see it right now.

Seriously you guys, it is so good

On the other end of the spectrum is the Hallmark channel show When Calls the Heart which we discovered on Netflix. It is cheesy, chaste, "heartwarming" television at its shlocky best. It takes place in 1910s Canada, and follows a rich young woman who comes to a small mining town to be a teacher. We decided to give it a try because the promo picture prominently featured this:

Hot Mountie? Sure. 

Once we finished Season 1 on Netflix, we discovered that Season 2 had just aired and it was super easy to hunt down on YouTube. Now the costumes in Season 1 had been questionable at times, but about what you would expect from a television cheesefest with a limited budget.

Sort of like a movie musical version of the 1910s

I'm not the kind of fashion historian who can't bear to watch inaccurate costumes. I reserve the right to make fun of them, but can also make allowances for limited funds and artistic interpretation. No costuming is ever going to be 100% accurate and I am capable of chilling out about it.

So believe me when I say that the costumes for this show have a full on historical accuracy meltdown in Season 2. Bizarrely, it appears to coincide with an increase in the show's budget. It is like half the accuracy for twice the money and a huge dose of WHO EVEN KNOWS.

First off, they just decide that all women wear their hair down all the time:

Sometimes with messy side ponytails:

A whole bunch of inexplicable coats show up:

Really? Blue fleece?!?

Then men all start dressing like they are models for L.L. Bean:

I mean, it's a good look, and technically jeans, henleys, and wool plaid shirts all existed in this time period. BUT NOT STYLED LIKE THIS AND WORN AROUND TOWN JUST HANGING OUT.

Most hilariously, Jack the mountie (why are hot historical cops always named Jack?) has this hipster shoulder bag and they DON'T EVEN BOTHER TO CUT OFF THE STRAP PADDING THINGY. 

If I just showed you this picture out of context, would you know this show is set 100 years ago?

But perhaps most ridiculous are all the "fancy" clothes we get when Elizabeth goes home to visit her family. Sometimes costumers do this thing where they fudge a little (or a lot) and try to pick psedo-period styles that align with contemporary aesthetics to appeal to the modern viewer. That's definitely what they were going for with the hair and the menswear, but the "rich lady" clothes look recent but outdated-- like mall prom dresses from 2000 with extra crap glued on. 

The 1910s were all about silver belts and plastic beaded trim, apparently.

Sort of hard to tell here, but this skirt has a high slit and a sheer black overlay. Why???

And SHRUGS! So many shrugs. 


The most horrendous looks appear when everyone is dressed up for the evening: 

They bought these dresses off the rack, right?
Maybe the brown one from the JC Penny Mother of the Bride Collection?
And the blue one from...some 1999?

And then I have literally no idea what is happening here:


  1. Oh thank god someone else noticed it! The costumes were meh in the first season and laughable in the second.

  2. THANK YOU. I could not believe the atrociousness of the costumes in season 2 and season 3. The show is pretty terrible in every way, but I never miss it because it provides such good snark opportunities. Oh, and I read an interview with the costume designer who stated that she's made the costumes this modern ON PURPOSE, so I guess we can't expect any improvements in the near future.

  3. I've watched this show for 9 minutes and I've already Google for comments on terrible costumes. For a while there I thought it was set in modern ultra conservative fantasyland where all women wear skirts and blazers but otherwise look completely modern. The pretty, young, sweet female mayor and the fiesty female outlaw in Calamity Jake's cast offs had me very confused.

  4. omg...i enjoyed season 1 and just had a glimpse of season 4...what. the. hell....did all the women just step out of a salon? just pair a blouse with a long skirt and - poof! - instant 1910...LOL

  5. Oh my gosh, you are SO right. I was just watching these episodes and I had to see if anyone but me really annoyed by the ridiculousness of the costuming and hair. How could Hallmark let this happen?!

    1. Me too! I just started watching this, what the heck is with these costumes?! It's so dumb I can't continue to watch.

  6. I literally cannot watch it! My brain is so confused! Sometimes it reads turn of the century, sometimes the 30s or 40s, sometimes the 80s. I mean sometimes in the high society scenes it looks like a scene out of Dynasty or Falcons Crest. And it's not just the costumes, its the behavior. Social behavior is so casual which was completely unacceptable for this time period. This is just weird!

  7. I was a big fan of the show in season 1, the plot was good, wardrobe was accurate and it seemed promising. Enter season 2, everything changed! I no longer watch it, it's so modern-looking now. I wanted to see women laced up in corsets, Gibson Girl hairdos, men with handle bar mustaches and celluloid collars.

  8. I wanna know where do the kids go??? They just dissapear and their parents are still on the show and vice versa. There is no continuity at alllll!!! The back stories of the characters change to meet the daily plot, it's almost as if there are different writers for each episode.

    I do love the show tho, not sure what that says about me but oh well. It does become comedic at times with all the inconsistencies and, at times, the script thats so bad the actors look like ametures trying to say their lines. But with all there is to poke fun at there is one thing that has annoyed me to near death that is the way Jack yells peoples names when he is looking for them, it is the most unnatural sound ever! I honestly believe the show took a turn for the better now that Jack and Abigail are gone.

  9. I am so happy to read this. They also seem to have moved to a studio and they have one lighting state which is 'bring me ALL the lights, I need it to look like a science lab in here people!'.

    And the lack of gloves and hats.

    And the sleeveless tops.


  10. I loved season one. Part of season two. Then all of a sudden James brolin mysteriously disappears in minutes. No explanation of how he went. And then the whole show went to crap. The acting and everything.
    And the costumes! So comforting to know you all as annoyed as I am!!

  11. THANK YOU! I had every one of those thoughts and couldn't take watching it anymore.

  12. Worst costume award goes to this absolute tragedy of a show.

  13. Doesn't anyone wear hats outside like they did 100 years ago?
    Check out photos from the period.

  14. Well, we have just finished season 1 and started season 2. And oh my God, my brain is sooo confused with all those hair styles and outfits. At first I was trying to make sense of it, but then I realized it had none... and to be honest, I think the "all lose, natural wave" hairstyles are even bigger disappointment for me, than the dresses. Elizabeth had some very lovely hairdos in the first season that suited her and the period so nicely. And the makeup was much better, as it was much less.