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Crimson Peak: Dressing Edith Cushing. The Butterfly

"Beautiful things are fragile"
- Lucille Sharpe -

Opposite Lucille, stands our main character in the movie: Edith Cushing, a young and naive American with ambitions to become a writer. She meets and falls in love with a handsome and charming, but impoverished, English baronet: Sir Thomas Sharpe. They eventually marry and return to England, to the Sharpe's dilapidated mansion: Allerdale Hall. There they live with Thomas's sister: Lucille. The deadly apparitions that haunt the house will force Edith to slowly uncover the buried secrets of Crimson Peak. And so, Edith is to become a fragile butterfly caught in a moth's trap.


Edith has considerably more frocks and gowns than Lucille does. It's only logical. Edith is our protagonist and, as such, has a bigger emotional arc throughout the movie, and she undergoes bigger changes. These are, in part, expressed through the costumes she wears and how these change throughout the movie.

The first and foremost element that defines the character and differentiates her from Lucille is the fact that she IS dressed fittingly for the time period. She, unlike Lucille, dresses accordingly for the 1900's fashion.

As seen in the pictures above, the essential shape of the turn of the century fashion is radically different from that of late Victorian fashion worn by Lucille.

The turn of the century's fashion was more relaxed and much less repressing than that of the 1880's fashion. The beginnings of the suffragette movement are essentially linked to the time and irrevocably associated with its fashion. It's very important, then, to understand that and the connotations it has. She is dressed according to the image of a "modern women", a new type of female archetype born in the beginnings of the century.

Aside from that key choice, the costumes for Edith are basically divided (as the movie is) in two groups: the world of Boston, and the world of Allerdale, which are very easy to differentiate.


Edith belongs in the world of Boston. She belongs to the new bright and prosperous world; a world dominated by ochers, yellows and light. And Edith, being a part of it, also shares this brightness.

The modern gowns

This encapsulates a series of frocks worn by Edith in the first half of the movie, when we first meet the character. These frocks are: the one that she wears on her visit to the editor, the one she wears in her father's office and the one she wears at the dinner where she quarrels with Thomas.

These frocks are rougher; more masculine. The shapes and textures are taken directly from the Suffragette movement, which was gaining relevance at the time. The fabrics are less delicate than those of Lucille, and not constricting at all. She wears practical clothes favoring work clothes over pretty clothes. Shirts, ties and loose hairstyles are the order of the day.

Edith is an aspiring writer. She wants to be her own person and her ambitions in life align themselves with the women's right's program. It was only logical to choose this specific style for her.

Most of her clothes are flowing and relaxed, not constricting; allowing her freedom of movement (just as his father does; allowing her space to pursue the career she wants). It's a clear reflection of her free-spirit and willing heart.

She's dressed in warm colors: ochers and golds basically. Still, these are not pure golds or yellows. The design uses a very industrial shade of color, fitting for the forward-looking woman that she is.

The choice of color also has a more symbolic side: Edith is the embodiment of the wealth that will restore Thomas's dreams, and so she is always dressed in gold. Edith stands for fertility, growth and warmth, opposing the barren, dead and cold Lucille.

Kate Hawley's color palette for Edith

The waltz frock

This cream colored silk gown is worn by Edith during the waltz's iconic scene. And it's a gorgeous design that manages to fuse elegance and simplicity with luxury.

This is a dress designed for movement. It's designed to create a graceful image as Edith and Thomas waltz across the room.

It's also designed specifically to pose a contrast with Lucille. It's in this scene where the two women meet. Because of this, it's only fitting that, whilst Lucille is wearing a red silk dress, Edith is presented with a white silk dress. Blood and death versus innocence and goodness. Where Lucille's gown covers her completely and constricts her, Edith's is very revealing and allows her to breathe and move.

The design is also very clever, because it manages to be rich but simple at the same time. Edith would never wear anything to overly pompous, so it strikes a good balance.

It's also important to note the set of pearls she wears. These are put into the design to reinforce the idea of Edith's wealth.

The design of the gown also manages to easily and visually separate her from the rest of young girls at the ball. While the rest of women are wearing brightly colored dresses with huge flashy decorations, she remains dressed very simply.

To go with it, there's a gorgeous silk cape, which is sadly only used briefly.

The Picnic Party frock

This frock is the one she wears at the park with the Sharpe's after the waltz scene. It consists of a white flannel shirt with black sewn decorations at the front and cuffs, an ocher silk skirt, a wide black belt with a gold clasp and a yellow and black straw hat.

It's a very clever design, for it visually explains perfectly what's going on. It's still a very modern gown, but it's more intricate. For instance: the sewn patterns on the shirt are the first darker element she wears. It's only fitting that this appears for the first time as she's getting close to the Sharpe's: their dark side spreading like a web starting to stretch around her.

And have a look at the hat; the black ribbons on the straw look like the wings of a Butterfly. This is particularly relevant considering that this is the first real contact between Edith and Lucille. Because of this, the designer chose to visually underline the whole butterfly-moth visual symbolism.

"The gold is a very industrial color in the beginning. Kind of a more 
masculine suit that she wears as a modern Victorian 
woman — the beginning of the suffrage movement. 
It’s a dark tobacco color. Then as Thomas, this romanticized hero, 
is introduced into her life, colors start to change and shift."
- Kate Hawley, costume designer -


Allerdale is the world of the Sharpes. It's dark and cold, black and blue, barren and dead. So, as she gets deeper and deeper into their world, the colors on her also change, contaminated by this old, rotten world.

The Nupcial Coat

She wears this soft lavender coat decorated with violets and a maroon ribbon as she arrives for the first time to Allerdale. Under it, she wears a bright yellow frock, reminiscent of the ones she wore in Boston.

In this design, the first thing that can be noted is the change in coloration. She's wearing lavender and purple shades. This is is a conscious choice: in Victorian times, violets were a symbol of memorial and mourning. Violets were used as funeral flowers. Because of these, seeing as her father has recently been buried, it's only logical to dress her in the Victorian color of mourning.

Another distinct change is the heightening of artificiality, both in color and textures, as well as in the usage of flowers (which, if you look at her previous designs it isn't something that seems to fit her).

This is done to evidentiate the contrast between her old world and the new one she's stepping into. This heightened dramatism and artificiality will only become more obvious as the movie goes on.

"We found a beautiful antique Victorian bouquet of violets, 
which meant memoriam and death."
- Kate Hawley, costume designer -

The Nancy Drew Dress

This dress, worn by Edith during a series of scenes where she snoops around the house (hence the name of the dress), is a gorgeous bright yellow silk frock with a black velvet bow and ribbon.

With this design, the change from the Boston world becomes more obvious: the gold becomes richer, brighter, more "artificial" in a way that marks the fragility and delicacy of the character. It's a way of underlining the idea of beauty as a most fragile thing.

This artificial gold stands opposite to blue (a color associated with Lucille and the house) in the color chart, creating a pure opposite between the two women.

The design also introduces the element of pleating (very much lacking in the previous designs). The sleeves become bigger and the complements also gain weight (notice the velvet bow and it's overly long ribbon). The fabric becomes richer, and embroidered elements start to appear more prominently.

What this is doing is heightening the visual language. It's using the same elements in a more dramatic way to underline that she has, indeed, crossed a threshold from where there is no turning back. It's a step towards romanticizing Edith's character: the more she advances towards the hidden vowels of Allerdale, the more she steps away from the modern Edwardian woman she is, and the more she falls into the romanticized world of the Sharpe's.

The centric idea behind the design is fascinatingly simple: the idea of a small, delicate canary in a coal mine. This design manages to convey that visual image perfectly.

"It’s a complete contrast. [...] It’s all about opposites. [...] 
It’s the sun and the moon. It’s night and day. 
It’s summer and winter. It’s starvation and fertility"
- Kate Hawley, costume designer -

The Nightgown

The romanticization of Edith reaches it's limit with this particular design. She wears this in several scenes throughout the second half of the movie, but it's specially remarkable for its use in the climax of the movie. The design consists of a white, soft, pleated nightgown with huge sleeves and a high neck and a gold and green robe (which she doesn't always wear on screen).

Here the shapes become even bigger, and wilder. Even more dramatic. The sleeves are huge, and the robe even has a train. The fabric is heavier than in any design before and it's completely embroidered. This shows that she's finally fallen completely into the Sharpe's world. She can't go back.

When we reach this point in the story, Edith has lost her independence and her freewill almost completely. It's only logical then to leave her practically naked, wearing only a very light nightgown.

original design of the dress

The nightgown, just as the robe, has enormous sleeves and a very intricate pleaded neck. These elements help to create a fragile look for the character. Edith is in a very delicate state, very vulnerable to the world around her. This fragility was very important to convey visually for the story to work.

The final touch of the design is, funny enough, the lack of hairstyle. For the first time in the movie, Edith is shown with her hair loose: her golden locks cascading perfectly down her back. Underlining even more the idea that beauty is a fragile thing, a concept that clearly guided most of Edith's looks through the movie.

The fact that she is shown in such a romantic light once she casts away her "day clothes" serves as a beautiful visual metaphor for the character: a very modern woman with an essentially romantic heart which she hides away in her day to day life.

This look, according to the designer, was inspired by the Victorian portraits of women with long hair, a very widespread theme in Pre-Raphaelite art. From Millais to Waterhouse, women with long, wavy hair has been a recurrent ideal of beauty and innocence. This concept is reused here to fit Edith and the story.

"The Bridesmaid" by John Everett Millais
It's with this look that she confronts Lucille in the final act of the movie (let's not forget that this face off happens with Lucille also in a nightgown). It's only fitting that these two completely opposite characters finally face each other in the same naked state; showing themselves as they truly are. It's a visual way to portray their true natures crashing one against the other in their most vulnerable states.

"I wanted a way to express that and Guillermo’s idea that beauty is a 
fragile thing. I was looking for qualities that made the design and 
detail capture the spirit of what Guillermo wanted to have on screen."
- Kate Hawley, costume designer -

A butterfly

As in Lucille's case, the greatness of the designs lies in it's narrative capacity: its ability to speak about the character and to describe what's happening to that same character in relation to herself and to the world around her.


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