Fall TV Costume Hilarity: Reign

There are period pieces on network TV now! Gone are the Downtons of yore, where Angels costume warehouse was only a delivery range away. In Vancouver, anything goes. (I’m assuming they’re both shot in Vancouver, as with every single other TV show ever.) And we get to enjoy them all, together.

Yesterday, we talked about Dracula, a late-Victorian TV show that was trying and failing. Today, we talk about REIGN, which has decided not to even try!

When you’re done laughing, let’s get started.

REIGN ostensibly follows the travails of Mary, Queen of Scots, during her time as Queen Regent to Francis II of France. Given that she was just a kiddo when they hauled her over there, and assuming this is during their courtship prior to the marriage, this puts things at aboooout 1557, though I’d honestly give a network more than a decade of leeway in either direction; the Tudor sleeves are instantly recognizable as pre-Elizabethan Tudor, but if they wanted to skip it and go the Cate Blanchett route with moderately-accurate daily costumes and the occasional portrait recreation when you want to stun, we’d still be golden.

First, some portraits of Mary, Queen of Scots around the time covered by the TV series, decent interpretations of any of which would have been perfectly acceptable for network TV interpretation of Mary and her ladies:

(Left, around 1555; Middle, around 1558; around 1565.)

And now, some costumes worn by REIGN’s Mary and her ladies:

Well, we were never going to get gable hoods, but apparently even updos are out of the question. But otherwise, this is perfectly fine! It wouldn’t be okay in a feature film, and I’d probably have some questions about that red dress even if this was a BBC production, but for low budget network TV, we’re looking good!

How are her attendants?

…oh. That’s an actual still from the show and not rehearsal footage with clothes they brought themselves? That’s. Huh. Let’s keep going. Do things improve?

(I’m literally laughing just uploading these. I cannot WAIT for tonight.)

So! On the left, we have Anna Popplewell in a ballgown from the 1840s, On the right, we have a dress that wants to start a fight with me, because if we’re just going to pretend no historical things ever, don’t you dare show me a front-lacing waist cincher on the outside of a dress. You and I know better, dress; don’t pander to me.

And how is Megan Follows, who I cannot wait to see as Catherine de Medici?


But maybe this is just supporting-character syndrome. You run out of money all the time on these shows. You scrimp. Maybe so long as Mary is vaguely historically accurate, it’ll be fine!


There’s nothing to be said about her getup. Let’s look at Francis; having lucked out by being a guy, he gets a free pass on the silhouette of his vaguely-doublet doublet. He doesn’t get a free pass for the fabric, which for the future king of France would have been so studded with gems and gold-embroidered that it would take two people to help him slap it on, and which even for TV would require some brocade or silk or velvet to be all right. (The Borgias managed it; I know you can, too, show.) And technically, he also shouldn’t get a free pass on those pants, particularly the BELT LOOPS, but it takes somebody like Christopher Eccleston to make breeches and hosen look badass, so it was probably for the best that we opted for pants.

Quick, general reference for some possible doublet silhouettes of this era, or slightly later (slightly earlier was The Tudors, so we’re all up to date on what TV makes that look like, and also apparently I am never over Christopher Eccleston because I mentioned him in that rundown too and regret nothing):

And here is the fancy outerwear of our male leads, with their actual historical counterparts:

(At right, court coat from c. 1798.)

(At right, British ambassador, 1907.)

Excellent work, everyone. History’s comin’ alive!

But really, to get the full gonzo effect of what the CW plans to do to fill their frames this fall, you need to check out this still during a formal ball, which I stared at for more than a minute trying to figure out what was going on:

MAJESTIC, isn’t it? Let’s look again.

So, the white circles (black on the legend) are dresses we’re not even going to talk about, because why would you. The blue is good work! Nice pulls, everyone, proceed.

I honestly don’t know what to tell you about green, pink, and yellow. In Me vs. This Show, This Show might just have won.

We’ll find out tonight, though! Oh, will we EVER.

  • Celia

    Maybe they had too many extras for the dance, and had to go borrow costumes from Dracula? And TVD? (Note: Not really TVD, as there’s not a single Antebellum dress in that picture, which we know would be impossible if TVD was involved.)

    • glvalentine

      Oh, they borrowed costumes. They borrowed them ALL.

  • Madame Hardy

    God bless. I was seething on my LJ about this. As I said to a friend, to think that I shout “Where is your HAT, dammit!” at BBC historical productions. This…. it’s like they raided the used-prom-dress section at the thrift store.

    • glvalentine

      The actual show knows they’re wrong and just themes them. The French court is 18th-century, Catherine’s attendants are Regency! Good work, everybody!

  • Spikewriter

    Have you seen the article on Fashionista with the costume designer? Favorite quote:

    “I knew from the beginning that I’d have an easy time weaving in contemporary accessories. It’s funny how tiaras and hair pieces are everywhere right now, and it’s incredibly helpful. We’ve also used quite a bit of Free People for the girls’ everyday looks. They have such a strong and cohesive story with their bohemian romantic look, it’s really worked in our favor. On the pilot we used an incredible Basil Soda gown and we’ve continued using a couple gowns of theirs on Mary. I’ve rented a couple McQueen gowns as well. We shop quite a bit of vintage here in Toronto, but I’m also constantly scouring the web. Net-a-Porter, The Outnet, and BHLDN are my go-tos.”

    Why do I have a feeling we may see some “As seen on CW’s Reign” ads for prom dresses?

    • glvalentine

      “We’ve also used quite a bit of Free People for the girls’ everyday looks.”


      (It’s almost amazing in how little it cares. Almost.)

    • arjumand

      “I knew from the beginning that I’d have an easy time weaving in contemporary accessories.”
      WHAT. WHAT. WHAT. Why would she have an easy time weaving in contemporary anything? I just can’t. Vintage. How the hell does vintage translate into pre-Elizabethan? I can’t even laugh about this, because I teach (local equivalent) junior high Shakespeare, and every frickin October I have to drum it into 14 year-olds’ heads how different things were approx 400 frickin’ years ago, with an obligatory nod to Mary Queen of Scots and her, um, special relationship with QE1, and then the CW has to sabotage me with Court Ladies running around in Bohemian outfits with hair flying in breeze. Why, CW? Why? I love Supernatural and Arrow and Nikita, why hast thou forsaken me?

  • Elizabeth Taz Scism

    sigh….this makes me sad, I was hoping for another really good medieval period tv show…but nope. I don’t think I could watch this….

Recent Work

The Workings Of Nature: Naturalist Writing And Making Sense Of The World, NPR.org

Review: The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition, NPR.org

TV: The Other Side: Barb and the Women of Stranger Things, Vox

TV Recaps: UnREAL recaps, NYT

Review: Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud, NPR.org

Genevieve on Tumblr

2016 Appearances

Often updated. Please check back!

Emerald City Comicon, April 7-10, 2016

Kent State Wonder Woman Symposium, September 23-24, 2016

NYCC, October 5-9, 2016