The Witch, A Costume Review

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I went last night to my local World Of Cine to see The Witch, a film set in 17th Century New England about a family who set out to make a life outside of the local town on their own and eventually find that their faith isn’t enough to sustain them in the face of nature and poor harvests. The director Robert Eggars put in a considerable amount of research before filming to set the story, dialogue and the people directly in the period. It shows in spades in this atmospheric and spooky tale.

What struck me though were the costumes, designed by Linda Muir. Apart from some dodgy linen in the opening reel where the family part company with their local church, the clothes are pretty spot on and obviously hand made. I guess it was a luxury for the dressers, only having five principal actors who wear the same clothes throughout but the things worn by the two adults and the five children who make up the family were excellent, looked well worn and obviously personal to the characters. Linda also researched the period as intensively as the director, reading every one of Stuart Peachey’s new series of books as well as trawling the web for sources. You can read an interview here where she talks about the process. Note the part about the website that explains how to dress your hair with linen tapes. I think I might know which one that is.

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Special mention to Caleb’s coat in the picture at the top and William’s doublet. I loved that you could see the stitching on both garments, and the welted seams on the father’s (played with passion by Ralph “Finchy” Ineson) doublet are a feature that I will definitely copy sometime soon. Thomasin, the elder daughter wears a simple cloak out of doors that has clearly been pieced using authentic widths of fabric.

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Hats or coifs were worn throughout by the characters apart from a few notable exceptions, which is excellent as the lack of headgear a major bugbear of mine in period films. It is obvious that the advice on the reenactor’s website was followed in the dressing of the female character’s hair. The next picture shows clearly the handsewn doublet worn by the son Caleb. You can see the prick-stitching along the sleeve keeping the internal seam allowances down. I’m not 100% convinced by the sleeve caps which feature in all the clothes worn by the principals. I’ve not seen this style before, but it is plausible. His monmouth, or labourer’s cap is tucked in his belt.

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If I was being picky I would mention the buttons were generally a tad disappointing and that Thomasin should have worn a kerchief over her shoulders like her mother, but had this been the case I wouldn’t have been able to see the gusset on the shoulder of her smock (bad Black Phillip for calling it a shift) or the hand braided ties on the collar.

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It’s a good film with a great sense of the period.  Go and see it, the clothes are excellent and look hand made and well worn. What I would say is that if you are upset by animals copping it, even if they are acting it might not be the film for you.

The Witch: The Movie That Terrified Stephen King

Still from “The Witch” via Parts and Labor

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8 Comments to “The Witch, A Costume Review”

  1. I am glad to see that there is not much in the way of black in the collection as teh dye for it was unstable and inordinately expensive

  2. Shift is wrong, then? I’ve always called mine a shift, but only because that is what I was told it was in 1993! I see you have another article from 2014 about this subject, and say that the two terms are interchangeable until 1660, but perhaps views have moved on since then.

    • You can call it anything you like. In fact Mrs 1642 Tailor constantly brings me up on my narrow definitions of costume words. Earlier on in the century smock was by far the commoner term for a woman’s undergarment. During the 1640s as I said in the article the two words were virtually interchangeable and that lasted until around the 1660s. In New England in the early part of the century, I’m sure it would have been called a smock.

  3. There are at least 4 embroidered women’s jackets (Bath 1.03.136 and 1.03.137; Museum of London A21990 and 59.77a) with shoulder caps, but those are a linen base. 🙂

    • Hi Amy, I know, I saw the one in the MoL last month. It’s the way the caps sit up on the doublets and waistcoats that I’ve not seen before. It might just be because the seams aren’t pressed.

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