The Beguiled (2017): Costume Review

By Nandini Khetan | Aug 18, 2020

Set in the American Civil War, The Beguiled (2017) revolves around the life of women in a Southern boarding school as they provide refuge and tend to the wounds of a Union Soldier found in the woods. As captivating as the tale sounds the visual depiction is equally beguiling (as the name goes) from the decaying vintage residence to the ethereal yet effortless costumes which present a contemporary take on the women Civil War outfits from the 1860’s. Costume Designer Stacey Battat refashioned the dark and dull mourning color palette from that era to a fresh and lively off-whites and pastels in the movie giving each character a distinct print and texture. Although fashion was of least concern to the women living on their own learning french, mending clothes, plucking mushrooms and humming to their beats while repeating outfits to portray their meager condition the sudden arrival of a male figure in the mysterious mansion changed the air between the women who started ornamenting for the foreign refugee in lace and ribbon trimmings.

Stacey also worked on redefining silhouettes of the 1860’s, an era when women adorned tight-fitted corsets to hoop skirts. Instead she gave the cast billowy fabrics to move around freely during their chores with a pinner apron over their full-long flowy skirts and a Garibaldi blouse (a shared look among the women) matching each character’s traits to their wardrobes. As the head of the house, Miss Martha’s (played by Nicole Kidman) stern and authoritative persona donned shades of ivory buttoned straight collar Civil War dresses with geometric prints accessorizing in a straw-ribbon hat, granny boots & a brooch while her upper silhouette seemed like a man’s vest (which is symbolic of that time frame) indicating she is in charge and her curls tied up in a loose back-bun.

Actress Nicole Kidman as Miss Martha in the movie

The most transformed style after the soldier’s arrival was that of Edwina (played by Kirsten Dunst). Her character glorified as she fell for him from solid white Garibaldi blouses, to a variation of polka dot mesh blouses. Stacey worked with ultra-fine fabrics to give Edwina’s outfits a romantic touch in lace trim collar with a ribbon, to boning blouses,small floral prints all with light hues her hair in a beauteous braided neat bun complementing her appearance.

Actress Kirsten Dunst as Edwina in the movie

While the young Alicia’s (played by Elle Fanning) flirtatious character defined her closet well from lilac to margarine yellow in a variation of Lolita blouses & ruffles being her second skin. From yoke ruffled blouses to ruffle tiered skirts in candy stripes and small floral prints, Alicia’s long open tresses and flushed cheeks worked like a charm in defining her persona.

Actress Elle Fanning as Alicia in the movie

Even the younger girls seemed to enjoy the new company, moving around in pretty outfits from plaid, gingham, and floral adorning peter-pan collars & soft hues. Each character’s distinct wardrobe choices described them and their shared love for an evening gown that they donned at the dinner table for the soldier (twice) unified them as the neckline dropped off-the-shoulder in a Bertha neckline with a folded band of fabric with small flowers & ribbons or lace trimming and different sleeves, from bell to puff or trumpet, each in their core color palette impressing the refugee.

Young Girls of the boarding school in the movie
A still from the movie

As the movie neared its climax, we are given a glimpse of the Victorian nightgown which is indicative of that period. We witnessed the vivid portrayal of the 1860’s through costumes as the tale took over, leaving us beguiled.


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