Film and Fashion – Ladies in Black

I rarely write about film costuming anymore, and here is a second review in as many days! Ladies in Black is wonderful. Wendy Cook did a fantastic job at recreating the sort of fashions worn in December 1959 in Sydney, Australia, which is the middle of summer down under. Floral print cotton dresses and dewy faces, that no amount of powder will conceal, captures the look and feel of a mid-summer heat wave. The smooth and perfectly coifed hair and make-up are also flawless recreations of the period.

The Ladies about which the film revolves arrive at work in their floral frocks at Goodes department store but change into their vendeuse blacks before serving customers. The workplace is an exquisite recreation of a period department store with plenty of period appropriate mannequins and draped window displays. Alongside Wendy Cooks’ fashions, the production design by Felicity Abbot is worthy of praise. Not only does Abbot capture the glamour of department store shopping, but also the home interiors of the various women, in all the dreary fussiness of middle class 1959 Australia. 

I can’t help but compare the movie to another one of my favourites Enchanted April because they are both feel good movies about life’s little problems – the insecurities and prejudices that fill our days. Some probably think the movie is too fluffy because nothing big happens, although there is a bit of a mystery in one of the women’s stories when her husband inexplicably disappears and then re-appears without good cause. Frankly, it was nice to see a movie that made me smile from beginning to end, and look good in the process!

The film was directed by Bruce Beresford, who is known for Breaker Morant, Paradise Road, Black Robe, and Driving Miss Daisy – all of which are great costume films. I know this film had a good run in Australia, but it only appeared up here briefly in the art and revue cinemas. I caught it last night on Cineplex online rental, but will be buying the DVD to add to the costume films in the FHM library.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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