It’s Oscar Night, and while I can only feign interest in most of it, one category that I get very excited for is Best Costume Design which often gives much deserved attention to period styling. I am embarrassed to admit that I haven’t seen any of the films nominated this year, but I’m quietly rooting for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, on the top of my to-see list because it takes place in the 1930’s, my favorite era. (Also, here it might be worth noting– toot toot– that I recently had the opportunity to *touch* a pair of authentic period pants worn by Brad Pitt in last year’s The Assassination of Jesse James— I don’t care who wore them, they were incredible, circa 1880’s.)
Last year’s winner, Atonement, was a total feat of the imagination. Magic! I think I’ve rarely been witness to such beauty on screen or in life, lending itself so visually to desperate tragedy and romance. While the costumes were very much designed with high regard for authenticity to the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, many contain whimsical elements of anachronistic fantasy, which I am sure were carefully considered and happened to work extraordinarily well for the film as it was told from a point of flash-back, from a lady with an overwrought memory subject to fantasia and meshing decades. Photographs of some of the costumes can be viewed here.
The costumes in Atonement took me so deep into this time period that I felt especially inspired to find easy ways to add stylistic elements of this era to my daily life. Here’s a photo of the character Briony in her World War II nurse’s cape, and below, a picture of my matching cape. My inclination is that the incredibly visual criss-cross of Briony’s cape was a costuming choice by the designer, Jacqueline Durran, as I’ve never seen a nurse’s cape with this added element. Could use a historian’s input here… perhaps they did exist for British nurses.
Briony’s cape also displays a very lovely and photogenic pointed collar, which also may have been styled specifically for the film.
The red felt-lined, navy blue wool nurse’s cape with stand-up collar and two to three button styling was first introduced to the military during World War I by the American Red Cross and used through World War II.
This poster was created for a Japanese POW camp… somehow I doubt nurses in a POW camp would be wearing their whites and capes, but makes for an interesting visual…
Aside from the simplistic and utilitarian design choices that make vintage military so exceptional and timeless, I love it because it was built to last. You can still get your fix and wear the hell out of it, which I do. Meanwhile, the cherished silk-chiffon bias cut dresses sit in the closet…