Skip to main content

Macbeth and the Scottish problem

The Scottish Highlands were a very isolated territory for a very long time and, therefore, were considered the backwater of Europe. That's why there is so little documentary evidence regarding fashion in the medieval highlands.

Most of the pictorial representations of the time are done centuries later, so there's little reference or base with which to work. Even in later periods, documentation, especially for women's clothing, is sketchy at best.

So, how do you design the costumes for a movie set in the medieval Highlands?

That's the dilemma that Jacqueline Durran, the costume designer for Macbeth (2015, Justin Kurzel) had to face.


Macbeth comes out in cinemas this 25th of December, but I was lucky 
enough to watch it early (this past October) at the Sitges Film Festival.
Because it hasn't had a wide release yet, and I don't want to spoil the 
movie for anyone, in this article I won't focus as much on narrative
(as I usually do) and will solely deal with designs and influences.

CREATING THE LOOK

Durran is known for a loose treatment of historical fashion in his designs (she's also worked in 2005's Pride and Prejudice, 2007's Atonement and 2012's Anna Karenina) but, in this case, she was forced into that.

The movie never specifies when the story happens, but the setting indicates a very early medieval period; 10th century or early 11th century. So how do you dress "historical" characters in a time period and place where you have no record of how they dressed? Basically, invent and deduce.

To do that, you need to find something with which to start. In this case, with the cultures that integrated Scotland at the time.

The designs for Macbeth take inspiration from Scandinavian cultures (you have to take into account that Viking raids and invasions were regular around that period), from Celtic cultures, from English culture (the geographical contact is a key factor to take into account) and the Roman influence on it. All these influences were literally blended together and created something new and very fresh.


In this design are found most of the influences mentioned above: the face paint is taken from Celtic cultures, the leather jacket that serves as armor has Roman and English influences and the cloth band that marks his rank has Viking origins.

This could be done with every single one of Durran's designs, but because there are so many costumes and characters throughout the movie, I will be focussing solely on the coronation gown worn by Lady Macbeth (beautifully played by Marion Cotillard).

LADY MACBETH'S CORONATION GOWN


For me, this is the design that best encapsulates the look and feel of the designs in the movie. It's a gorgeous white wool dress with a small tail and a full-shouldered pauldron. it's decorated with hanging pearls and the look is finished off with a pearl-encrusted headband with a translucent veil that covers her face.


The first and most clear influence on the dress is the Viking influence. The body of the dress is clearly based on the 10th century (and prior) Viking dress known as hangerock. It's also called a Viking apron. This is a reconstruction of a hangerock.

DISCLAIMER: This picture is owned
by https://hantverkat.wordpress.com/

As you can see, the shape is pretty similar, and so is the strand of pearls held up by brooches. And both Durran's design and the Viking apron use wool, which makes sense considering that both the Highlands and Norway share a considerable cold climate. 

There are several differences, though. Mainly; it's not an overdress (which the hangerock is); it's a full dress, and so it has sleeves. The other main structural difference is the fact that the coronation dress has a tail. This, I guess, is more for dramatic reasons than anything else.

The other most significant change lies in the color scheme. The design uses white, while the traditional Scandinavian dress almost always used more vibrant colors: greens, dark mauves, browns... This color change is more of a symbolic choice than a historic influence. At the time people dyed their clothes to show their wealth, because the process was extremely expensive, so a queen wouldn't be using a white dress. In my opinion, this color choice is meant to create a contrast between how she really is and how she wishes to be seen.


The design relies heavily on the use of pearls. As seen in the picture above, she doesn't only wear them on her chest, she also wears her at her hands and on her headdress. This element of the design is taken from Byzantine culture.

Empress Theodora

But what has Byzantium to do with Scotland? Well, England was occupied for a long time by Rome, and some of their fashion took hold there, the same fashion that would later be used in Constantinople (Byzantium). Some of this must-have seeped into Scottish fashion at some point by sheer geographical contact.


The similarity between the two headdresses is easy to spot. The dangling strands of pearls framing the face and the pearl headband are definitely inspired by Byzantine fashion. And the full shouldered pauldron seems to be taken from Byzantine fashion as well.

The main difference lies in the face veil. Most of European medieval cultures did not use veils to cover their faces. Veils were used, but to cover the head, not the face.

Philippa of Lancaster
(14th century)
Margaret of Provence
 (13th century)

This was the usual way veils were worn; either to cover the back of the head or around the face to cover the neck and ears. I've been unable to find any documented evidence of any European medieval fashion that used face veils.

The image that this veil conjured in my mind was not medieval, but English romanticism.

Velied Vestal Virgin by Raffaelle Monti (1847)

This is an iconic statue of the 19th century that depicts a highly romanticized take on the Greek vestals. To me, the use of the veil, the texture and the feel is pretty similar to the one in Durran's design.

Monti's statue

Durran's design

The way it obscures the face, but at the same time creates an effect of delicacy and beauty is quite unique.

But why would you throw such an influence into the mix when all the others are very much historic? The reasoning is more symbolic and narrative than historical. Lady Macbeth veils the truth of their crime behind a facade of wholesomeness and dignity in order to be crowned. A visual way of showing this is by literally having her wear a veil that obscures her face on her coronation.

The last element of the design is the make up itself; a very soft blue band painted across the eyes. This, though it feels as very modern makeup, is directly inspired by Celtic makeup.


Blue make-up was commonly used by many Celtic cultures, and so the usage here is only logical; medieval Scotland, especially the highlands, was built on this myriad of Celtic cultures.

Keira Knightley as a Celt in King Arthur

The blue face paintings are a constant in Celtic representation in movies, but Macbeth's take is more a nod to it than a through and through representation.

All of these influences and inspirations are blended to create a stunning result; a mix of cultures and histories as well as an incredible aesthetic vision. It's impossible to say if it's accurate (even though it's probably not) but, the thing is, you could dress Lady Macbeth in anything and it would be impossible to say if it was historically accurate.


Out, damned spot! Out, I say! One–two— 
why then ’tis time to do't. Hell is murky. Fie, my lord, fie! 
A soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, 
when none can call our power to account? Yet who would 
have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?
Lady Macbeth, Act 5 Scene 1

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

If you enjoyed this article and would like to support the blog, 
consider buying me a Coffee? 💛💛

If you want more content like this, subscribe! Or come say hi on FacebookTumblrTwitterInstagram and help us grow!

DISCLAIMER: I claim no credit for images featured on this site unless noted. Visual content is copyrighted to its respective owners, and inclusion here is under fair use for criticism, comment, and news reporting purposes. If you own the rights to content here and wish it removed, please contact me.

Comments

  1. The viking costume is made by this Swedish blogger: https://hantverkat.wordpress.com/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! It's already been added to the disclaimer of the pictures

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Burning Question: What's wrong with Belle's gown?

Since the first promotional pictures of Disney's new Live-Action remake of Beauty and the Beast hit the internet, there has been a lot of discussion around Belle's iconic ball gown. And, even months after its release in cinemas, there still continues to be a lot of buzz around it. Why? Mainly, because a lot of people feel that it is just doesn't look that good. The thing is, Belle's animated yellow ball gown is, at this point, an iconic staple of animated cinema. Everybody knows it and everybody loves it. And, as a result, everybody can see the new one and say "this is not the costume I know". Therefore, everyone can compare it down to the smallest detail and see that it just doesn't quite look right. Today, my goal will be to try and dissect the design in order to answer the burning question everyone has been asking themselves: what's so wrong with the "new" dress? Or, to put it bluntly, why is it so incredibly underwhelming?

Disney's Cinderella(s) and the evolution of the "princess" aesthetics

Every girl, at some point in life, has wanted to be a princess. It has become undeniable that the concept of the "princess" is, for better or worst, inseparable from girlhood. We live in a "princesses" obsessed era, and we have for a long time now. And a lot has been said about it, with loud people yelling over the internet about the positive and negative aspects of it. So it was about time for me to join the yelling contest, I guess. If I'm going to talk about princesses, the logical place to go is to the Global Mogul Conglomerate that has led the trend and, in many ways, defined it: Disney. They have, undeniably, redefined the fairytale and have turned the term "princess" into a best selling Licensed Entertainment Character Merchandise. The thing is, even though princesses have been part of the fairy tale canon for a very long time, they didn't become the central figure until Walt Disney placed them there. In the tales that the G

Historic Accuracy in Costume Design: The 16th century

I've never been a purist with historical accuracy as long as the changes made have real reasoning behind (generally a narrative or symbolic one). I will always think that La reine Margot (1994) costume design is one of the most gorgeous and smart designs ever, even if said designs' main premise is to purposely bend the period in regards to costume. But there are certain things that bother me in regards to historical accuracy in costume which I realized when I found myself constantly irritated while watching The other Boleyn Girl (2008). This led me to post a question: when is it right to bend history? why is it interesting sometimes? whilst other times it's simply horrendous? To me, when these changes are made for the narrative's sake, I'm usually on board (like the 2012's "Anna Karenina" designs, which mixed the 1870's fashion with 1950's fashion in order to enhance the sense of theatricality and falsehood in Imperial Russia). But wh

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. PART II: THE BUTTERFLY 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 mo

A look into Star Wars: Padme's Dresses. Annex B

Love her or hate her, Padme and her costumes can never be far from our minds. They are too iconic, and probably one of the few memorable aspects of the prequels, so it's really fun to talk about them. And so, I've decided to continue what I started and focus on the costumes I left behind from Episode II . So let's dive back into it! A BRIEF REMINDER What are the Annexes? Well, the Annexes focus on all the costumes that were "left behind" in my selection of Padme Costumes for the A look into Star Wars: Padme's Dresses series. Here, I point out influences, likes, and dislikes, and anything that might feel relevant whilst digging into the gigantic wardrobe of this Galactic Queen. With this out of the way, let's go! ANNEX B: THE ATTACK OF THE CLONES Episode II: The Attack of the Clones brings the character and her designs to a completely different level; she is not a queen anymore, which unfortunately means that she no longer has amazingly weird an

Crimson Peak: Dressing Lady Lucille Sharpe. The Moth

"At home, we have only black moths. Formidable creatures, to be sure, but they lack beauty. They thrive on the dark and the cold." - Lucille Sharpe - CRIMSON PEAK is Guillermo del Toro's new film. Released this past October, the movie is written by del Toro himself and Mathew Robbins (who has also collaborated with the likes of Spielberg and Lucas throughout his career). The movie aims to be a gothic romance movie through and through, and it stars Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain. The story goes as follows: Edith Cushing, a young budding American author, 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. In the movie

Moulin Rouge and the art of Kitsch

The spring of 2001 saw the release of Moulin Rouge! unexpectedly shake the movie industry and the box office simultaneously. Despite the many awards, including 8 nominations at the Academy Awards, and the impressive box office numbers, the movie quickly became very polarizing for audiences. Love and hate seemed to be the only two possible reactions to the movie itself. But that should not come as a surprise. The film was directed by Baz Luhrman, who has consistently been, throughout his career, one of the most polarizing filmmakers of his generation. I still have to meet anyone who simply doesn't mind his movies (which include Romeo+Juliet , Australia and The Great Gatsby ); it's either absolute love or absolute loathing. There is no middle ground with him. And that's mainly because he himself doesn't compromise when it comes to his style, which is so characteristic at this point (fast and frantic editing, vivid use of flashy colors and sparkle and stories a

Marie Antoinette: Working with an historical basis

A couple of months ago, I talked extensively about the narrative aspect of the designs for 2006's  Marie Antoinette (see here ). But that's only one half of the story. This movie is, after all, a period piece, so let's have a look at how they translated that period into the costumes. MARIE ANTOINETTE : WORKING WITH AN HISTORICAL BASIS Period accurate pieces are actually the hardest to get by; that is because clothing in past centuries was way more complex and expensive than our 21st century standards. Because of this, most costume designers end up being constricted by their allotted budgets and have to make compromises with accuracy. This was not the case with this movie. Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette had a rather large budget, which allowed renowned designer Milena Canonero the freedom to create period-accurate pieces (the inaccuracies were only added for narrative purposes, not budget constrictions). Because of this, Canonero decided to work off

The Costume Vault Anniversary!

Good day, beautiful readers!! First of all, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone! Today is a very special day for me, here at The Costume Vault . It's our anniversary!!! We're celebrating our third anniversary! Though to be honest, I didn't actually start this project seriously until last year... So, I'm a three-year-old, with the experience of a one-year-old...? Oh, who cares. Today, three years ago, I published our first article ever. So, today is a day of celebration. This project started out of a deep love for movies and costuming and a need to share that. And also boredom... I had quite the free time back then, to be honest. But the project took off, and now I continue even when I don't have as much free time. But it's worth it because I get to share my love for movies and costuming with you. To this day, I've written sixty articles, most of which I am quite proud of indeed. And what's even better, you seem to enjoy reading

The Dressmaker. Part I: A glamorous outsider

2015's The Dressmaker is the wet dream of any costume lover in all of its 120 minutes of runtime. The Aussie film directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse is the adaptation of the Rosalie Ham's homonymous novel. After quite an impressive run in the Festival Circuit (it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival) and garnishing numerous nominations and wins worldwide, it finally got a theatrical release, becoming a box office success and the 11th highest-grossing film of all time in its home country. So there certainly was a lot of hype around it when I finally got to see it and had a lot of expectations to live up to. ABOUT THE MOVIE So, is the movie actually that good? ... Sort of? Well, it's complicated. That's my official review tagline: it's complicated . The thing is; the movie has a ton of problems of all sorts. A lot of it doesn't work, but what does work, works really well. Let's start with the negatives. First of all, the movie is a t