The White Queen debuted August 9th in the US on Starz. Immediately, as a garment-centric kind of girl, I was wowed by the extravagant apparel the show exhibits. For a cosplayer like me, it’s a dream come true to have such a wide array of ideas and inspirations for future costumes . I couldn’t help but draw parallels between this sweeping historical drama and others that have dominated our imaginations, Showtime’s The Tudors and HBO’s Game of Thrones. While all three are atmospheric and majestic, the approaches taken in their costuming are actually quite different despite drawing inspiration from the same slice of history.
The White Queen
I have to admit, historical accuracy doesn’t mean much to me when watching TV shows. The White Queen’s writer, Emma Frost, says all of the looks are period-accurate, straight out of the Iron Age, and I believe her. But, as they have done with many period dramas, some critics have taken to the Twittersphere to challenge the accuracy. There’s been a lot of talk about zippers recently, saying how they can’t possibly be period-accurate when they are undone so quickly during the love scenes. But the show creators maintain that they made sure that the methods were true to the period of the 15th century, down to the eyes and hooks, and the quick removal of clothing is all due to editing.
What I’m more interested in is that every gown is hand-made and exquisitely fitted. The costumes support a surprisingly soothing 15th century backdrop, with gorgeous pastels and striking blues and golds. Against actress Rebecca Ferguson’s flawless pale skin and cunning blue eyes, the rich textures pop and frame the historical drama in lush fabrics. Costume designer Nic Ede recalls elegant simplicity for many of his creations, but increases the complexity (oh-my-goodness brocade!) for Elizabeth’s clothing as queen. I, personally, would like to see a hennin or two (the pointy princess hats with the veils attached). I know that if anyone can make them stylish again, it’s the The White Queen team.
The Tudors, taking place a mere half-century after the ongoings of The White Queen, utilizes many of the same silhouettes and fabrics. The general color scheme of the show is much warmer than that of The White Queen- and the bodices are tighter. Joan Bergin, costume designer of the show, indicated a fondness for delicate adornments on the necks and in the hair of the string of lovers and wives Henry VIII woos. This emphasized the beauty of the romanticized court of Henry VIII, the silks and textures as intricate as the politics on the screen.
Game of Thrones
Because of its purely fictional source, Game of Thrones is liberated from any concerns of historical accuracy facing The White Queen or The Tudors. As such, it has freedom to play with outlandish ornaments and designs. Whimsical embellishments abound. Designer Michelle Carragher is credited with the extraordinarily detailed embroidery on characters, depicting in lavish detail the animal guardians of each house. An inventive mix between medieval gowns and Eastern wraps, each costume reflects the distinct culture it hails from in the invented world.
George R. R. Martin’s spectacular tale, on which the show is based, was inspired by the Wars of the Roses that directly precede the events of The White Queen. But the differences in the clothing choices are staggering. Compared to the elaborate designs donned by Cercei and Sansa in Game of Thrones, Elizabeth of The White Queen has refreshingly simple and soothing wardrobe choices. Compared to The White Queen, the rougher materials of the show harken to coarser medieval inspirations and also the classical fantasy elements Martin wove into the story.
The unifying thing between these shows? A blessed lack of codpieces (they just didn’t cycle back into fashion the same way floral patterns did, you know?) Also unifying them is an attention to detail and a feeling of sumptuousness that must have been challenging and enjoyable for the costumers to play with. The extraordinary pieces worn by each cast member draws us into these worlds of beauty and politics. While The Tudors concluded years ago, you can see its influence in current period pieces. As for the future, I look forward to seeing what new creations Ede and Carragher have in store for us. Be sure to tune in to The White Queen through October to see more of Ede’s work.
Marie Sumner is a costume consultant and cosplayer. Her passions include Renaissance fairs and comic conventions, both of which she has attended in full costume.
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