How They Dressed Authentically in Suffragette

The fight for women’s equality in early 20th century Britain offered a different kind of costume design aesthetic in Oscar contender Suffragette. Looking to ordinary people for inspiration, designer Jane Petrie conveyed dressing for survival and empowerment in the gritty drama of factory worker-turned activist Maud (Carey Mulligan).

“I wanted to find early images of clothes in motion, relaxed, real people going about their daily business,” recalled Petrie (Moon, 28 Weeks Later). “No gloves, open jackets, not following the rules of a period costume drama, basically. It was important to me to get away from anything theatrical or contrived so I wanted as many images as I could find of ordinary daily life. Edward Linley Sambourne’s photographs were taken secretly so the women weren’t aware of the camera. They weren’t necessarily working class but they were very real. I also looked at early documentaries, particularly Peek Frean and Co. Biscuit Works.  Real people striding out with purpose, laughing, relaxed and working class. This was a key reference.”

The clothing was nearly all 100 years old and, thanks to a vibrant secondhand market, Petrie successfully translated the worn-out tiredness of what the factory workers wore. “That’s something which is hard to achieve by theatrical techniques such as aging and breaking down of fabrics and newly made garments,” she added.

In terms of protagonist Maud, however, the wardrobe helps convey the arc of her journey, beginning with what she wears in the factory, “dressing for survival,” and then how her wardrobe changes when she joins the suffragette movement led by the real-life Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep). It’s important to note both the kinds of clothes Maud wears as well as how they fit her. It’s as though a weight has been lifted through her activist awakening.

“Instinct for the script and experience is the way I trust myself to tell a story,” Petrie explained. “I just did what felt right then looked at the plan and there was a story already there in the clothes and the colors. By doing the deepest, most thorough research and a focused prep, in my experience, produces the right results without needing to consciously analyze ideas as much as you might think.”

Read the rest at TOH/Indiewire.

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Clips, Costume, Crafts, Movies, Oscar, Tech, Trailers

Add a Comment