What is it like for the actors wearing their historical costumes?

That was an issue that we spent a lot of time on. In the 1860s, people always had their coats buttoned.  And they wore vests.  And no matter how hot it was, they had all these layers, which was torturous.  People would just be sweating up a storm.

I told the actors, look, you have to remember that these people in the 1860s, they were wearing outfits that you’re going to find uncomfortable and stiff.  That’s all they knew—they wore these outfits the way we wear our modern clothes.  So you have to make it work for you.  You have to get in these outfits, and keep them on as much as you can, so that you get more and more comfortable in them. It was important for the actors to feel these were not costumes but just clothes.

Louise Frogley, our costume designer, did an amazing job researching exactly how those costumes looked, and how they were worn. This was an independent film, and how she pulled those outfits together so quickly and beautifully was impressive.  She and her team are probably still recovering.

Robert Redford

About Robert Redford

Director Robert Redford offers his insight into the talent, themes, and making of The Conspirator, now in theaters (April 15).
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8 Responses to What is it like for the actors wearing their historical costumes?

  1. Laurie Verge says:

    Because our 20+ guides at Surratt House Museum (men and women – all volunteers) are in period costume every time they give tours, I am very critical of correct costuming in historical films. The designers in The Conspirator production have done an excellent job in recreating the right garb for the actors. It was a pleasure not to detect zippers and other inappropriate things for an 1865 costume rendition. Congratulations. Maybe the proper care and research was done because you were an independent company without a huge, run-of-the-mill wardrobe collection to depend on.

  2. Stephanie Grace Whitson says:

    I am a graduate student working on my masters degree in North American History. Our professor suggested we see this film because when it pertains to historical accuracy, “they got it right.” I’ve studied historical textiles for over a decade and it was wonderful to view a film that took the time to re-create women’s garments accurately. Now if only I could order a swatch book …

    • Alice Long, Ph.D. says:

      Hello, Stephanie.

      Glad to hear that you’re going forward with your history studies. I think you’ve found a niche. As for your question to Mr. Redford, have you spoken to any re-enactors?

      Dr. Alice Long

      • Maiane says:

        I’m a mother of a 4th yr film soochl student and have, consequently, immersed myself in the fascinating world of film production. As a non-industry just a fan of films’ person, I have grown to appreciate so much more the incredible detail, complexity and talents of people such as yourselves who give us/’the public’ a wonderful cinema experience. My thanks to the bloggers on this site for sharing their hard work, frustrations and just your efforts overall! From an appreciative fan of film

  3. Vickie Cook says:

    What I appreciated right from the start was the women did not have on any make-up ( at least not that I could tell). Gentlewomen of that era did not wear make-up and I thought that added to the authenticity.

  4. Kevin M. says:

    I was a background extra on this film. Spent all day for about 4 weeks in these clothes. Man they were hot. Thankfully the weather was nice and cool, but when we were in the courtroom under all those lights. WOW! Sweat show! And to Mr. Redford’s point about those people wearing these clothes like we wear our modern clothes, it was also funny to think that not everyone necessarily bathed as often as we do. Glad that us actors did! Otherwise that courtroom would have been rank! I didn’t find the clothes as uncomfortable so much as those shoes. Might as well tie a block of wood onto your foot. ouch!

  5. Wally Holderness says:

    I spent 11yrs as a re-enactor mostly with Sykes Regulars 4th US Infantry. We were a ” spit and polish” unit. The period clothing was truly outstanding, also thought I knew everything there was to know about the trial, I was wrong great research.

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