It’s a universally accepted truth: one of the best parts of period drama is the costuming. And while Rachael News Miss Scarlet and the Duke had almost anything we could ask for for mystery, tension, romance, humor, her costumes were definitely part of the show.
I mean they had pockets.
The show’s costume designer, Leonie Prendergast, has a rich CV. In addition to his work on Miss Scarlet and the Duke, she has also worked on shows as diverse as Moone Boy, Ripper Street, and Turning, as well as the 2020s fantasy horror film, Gretel and Hansel. Her costumes are always detailed, and never disappoint anything we particularly noted in the anachronistic Miss Scarlet and the Duke.
Naturally, we couldn’t resist taking this opportunity to learn more about how meticulous and intelligent Prendergast is in her work. And there’s no better way to do it than to dive into Eliza Scarlets’ iconic blue dress.
Let’s start with the most obvious element of the costume: the color. Sky blue with navy piping was a great color selection for actress Kate Phillips, but it also fitted in with the fashion of the time. Sky blues were seen as the perfect contrast to orange blonde undertones. The colors are also a subtle nod to the inner state of Elizas; blue is the color of coolness and calm, dignity and poise, while navy symbolizes sadness and mystery. With the death of his father in the first episode and his growing confidence as an inspector, these colors speak as much of Elizas’ past as of his future. In one interview with MASTERPIECE , Prendergast also said the blue was meant to mimic a police uniform, attaching to the adage that one should dress for the job you want.
The cut of the dress is what is called a walking costume, although the walking suits often have shorter skirts than those seen on Eliza. But for the most part, the silhouette of her dress matches the fashion of the time: a long frame bodice, tight sleeves, and a high neck. However, it was in the details of the play that Prendergast was able to play a bit.
Eliza Scarlet is ahead of her time and her done, which is what we remember throughout the series. But it’s not just her actions and her voice that tell us how forward-thinking Eliza is; her wardrobe tells us that too. As the series takes place in 1882, the Miss Scarlets dress contains a number of elements that won’t appear until the next decade or so, including masculine details, asymmetry and, yes, the aforementioned pockets.
The late 1890s saw masculine details spill over into women’s fashion, an event customers attribute to the sport’s growing popularity. We see this feature most strongly in Elizas ascot and the high collar of the shirt she wears under her bodice. His hat, while falling into this category, is also anachronistic in its own way. While women of the time preferred the style of men’s hats, they were almost exclusively smaller in size and heavily decorated. Elizabeth’s hat avoids any decoration and is an almost complete indicator of her attitude and background as a daughter raised by her father. Plus, the hat appears to be a modified fedora, mimicking the look the 1940s gumshoes were most used to seeing in the mystery series.
Another element that indicates how she would like to be seen is the Elizas bodice. While asymmetry was often seen in Victorian fashion, most often in the form of fishtail skirts, the long side tail of her bodice was largely unheard of. This detail indicates Elizas’ nature to stand out from the crowd, as Prendergast puts it.
And finally the pockets! While pockets, in one form or another, are part of women’s fashion from the 17the century, the Victorian era saw them primarily as an accessory for children or working-class women. Prendergast first had the idea of equipping Eliza with pockets to allow her to hide her accessories or the tools of her trade. But they’re also perfectly linked to Elizas’ close relationship with Ivy, his housekeeper. Ivy may be a working class woman, but she is Elizas’ mother figure; Add to that the fact that Eliza really wants to make a career for herself and the pockets of her dress are getting significantly less anachronistic.
The iconic blue walking suit that Eliza wears throughout the runway is just one of the many gorgeous outfits that Prendergast has created. Each offers their own unique clue as to how Eliza presents herself to the world, how she feels and what she hopes for. It’s up to us, through the smart presentation of Predergasts, to learn how to put these clues together.
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