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Cinematic Costume Design Makes for Great Inspiration

This time of year always marks an interesting time for me; it’s time to start assembling my Mermaid Parade costume. I have marched in the parade a few years in a row now in Coney Island, New York and have made a different themed costume each time.

This year my cotume will be based on a character marooned on an island during the 18th century. While trying to explain the costume’s parts to a friend in my group, I used the movie Dangerous Liaisons as my inspirational reference.

For those of you who haven’t seen this movie from 1988, put it on your Netflix cue now. The costumes are absolutely astounding. James Acheson actually won the Oscar for Best Costumes for this film, and it was beyond well deserved.

I will always remember these opening credits and how they exemplified the character’s excess, boredom, and amazing fashion. Watch the clip above to see Glenn Close and John Malcovich getting dressed by their attendees and see all the amazing work that went into these incredible garments.

Dangerous Liaisons will always live on in my mind as one of my top 3 all-time favorite costume movies. What are your favorite film costumes?

P.S. And if anyone has any tips on how to create a caged crinoline like the one seen at 1:15 in the clip above, do share. Judy and I have been brainstorming everything from Japanese lanterns to plant potters.


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  1. Skymom | | #1

    I haven't seen that movie since it came out, but now I want to see it again! I never liked the book too much, and the film cast is just strange (kind of good strange, though, for such a group of amoral characters!), but the visuals are unparalleled. The men's costumes, for some reason, are more appealing to me than the women's. I love all those velvets and interesting passementerie and cuffs and so forth.

    "To Catch a Thief" has some great costumes--wardrobe, really-- worn by Grace Kelly. Quintessential 1950s gorgeousness! For a 1960s flavor, I love "Les Demoiselles de Rochefort" and "Les Parapluies de Cherbourg," both with Catherine Deneuve looking young and beautiful. Weird operettas, but very chic. "Imitation of Life" (1959--Lana Turner!) also had a terrific wardrobe.

    For fantasy-type costumes, I usually like Tim Burton's movies, including the latest "Alice in wonderland."

  2. FrockLove | | #2

    I love that movie, both for the story, the actors, and the amazing, breathtaking costumes. The rose red and black gown that Glenn Close wears in a few scenes is absolutely stunning! Succulent, actually. I drool over it every time I see it.
    My favorite costume movies area all period: Elizabeth, Dangerous Beauty (although they're not all historically accurate, they're beautiful and perfectly capture the fantasy world courtesans created for their clients), Dangerous Liaisons, the Emma Thompson/Kate Winlset Sense & Sensibility, 1995 BBC/A&E Pride & Prejudice, Ever After (although seriously not accurate to the film's setting--a mix of Italian and English styles from different periods in France?). The Lord of the Rings Trilogy costumes were also excellent.
    I don't think Japanese paper lanterns would be sturdy enough as paniers to support any kind of skirt you might be planning--but then again, since you're working on a mermaid costume, why would you need a skirt? Probably better to go with an 18th century pair of stays.

  3. immc | | #3

    For a cage crinoline, try Ageless Patterns website or Farthingales website. If all you're after is a temporary cage, you might also try a "shortcut" I read about on a Renaissance costuming website and use hula hoops instead of more expensive real wires. Might even be able to construct a cage using duct tape and hula hoops.

  4. veras | | #4

    Oh I *love* costume dramas just for the costumes and one of my favorites is Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola's version). I know, I know - they're totally an MTV version of Louis gowns and menswear but the colors are amazing, the embellishments gorgeous and the overall effect dazzling. The colors remind me of Parisian macarons! Check it out, for the SHOES if nothing else but I adored that movie.

  5. User avater
    Soli | | #5

    I know the woman who built the blue corset that Glenn Close is wearing in these scenes. She also made the big black hat that Glenn wears when she goes to call on Cecile's family, as well as Michelle Pfeiffer's corset in this film. I got depressed handling both the corsets, since they were both so teeny...

  6. Rabia | | #6

    I think those things were called "panniers", weren't they? "Crinolines" did not come into use until about the 1800s, when developments in steel permitted it to be made into thin flexible strips.(I was just reading about crinolines yesterday, in a story about Empress Eugenie, in Marian Fowler's GREAT book "The Way She Looks Tonight") You could probably make them out of basketmaking materials, or hardware cloth and coat hangers.

    And yes, I remember that movie. I thought Glenn Close and Uma Thurman were well cast in their roles, but Michelle Pfeiffer obviously had NO REAL IDEA how to wear those costumes; I recall a scene with her STRIDING along in the garden, her heavy skirts flailing and flopping about clumsily in every direction, while Glenn Close looked like she had been BORN to wear them!

  7. LaurelNord | | #7

    Ah, the aristocracy. They could'nt even dress themselves or do their own toilette. That said, absolutely entrancing to see these gowns all handsewn in that day and fitted to the original owner. If I was motivated I could make that bustle type underskirt. In upholstery there are 4' pieces of 1/2" cardboard strips used to attach material to the under side of a chair/couch that accept a staple to reinforce the attachment of the fabric to the frame. These pieces could be cut to a 4"length and put together with metal snaps. The short lengths would be strong enough to hold. In my humble opinion that would work along with some muslin.

  8. sewerinprogress | | #8

    Have you tried boning?

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