Neo-Victorian Movie Fashions: Part Two


Helena Bonham Carter is the Corset Cosplay Queen, as she has played many characters in historical movies that have required her to wear the most gorgeous costumes. The 2013 ‘The Lone Ranger’ movie was set in 1869, and so Red Harrington  – the character played by Helena Bonham Carter – wears Victorian-era inspired costumes. Red has red hair and wears red clothing; in Australia, we would have nicknamed her ‘Blue’.

lone ranger helena bonhamcarter costume by Penny Rose.jpg

Red Harrington’s costumes were designed by Penny Rose.

Red went through a series of costume changes. Rather than try to break down the accuracy of every costumes, I have chosen two main outfits to discuss. Oh, and we will also discuss the major Steampunk prop of her costumes: the prosthetic leg that was also a gun. This was actually to the most Steampunk gadget in the movie.


Neo-Victorian Costume Number One.

As previously mentioned, the movie is set in 1869. Crinolines were the dress-shape of the fashionistas of that era …and Red’s costume is certainly the right shape.


Red Silk walking dress of the late 1860s. The silhouette is very like that of Helena Bonham Carter’s costumes.

Red’s crinoline is also in the right colour range for the era, and ruffles were a popular way of decorating the skirts of a crinoline. There had been a time when a hoop skirt would be absolutely enormous, but in the late 1860s the worst of these excesses were in the past. In the next few years, crinolines would be replaced by the bustle. Red does not appear to be wearing a hoop, and she should be. (However, she is also well away from the centres of fashion and may have resorted to petticoats instead.)


Note how quickly the crinoline was replaced by the bustle. Ruffles never went out of fashion. This dress was the height of fashion in 1871.


1860 photograph of a woman wearing a crinoline, an overcoat, a muff, and a hat. The style of Red’s hat, shrug, and dress silhouette is closer in fashion to 1871 than to 1860.

The little lace jacket that is part of the movie costume appears to be a boudoir jacket being worn as day wear. Above are a range of jackets:

  • a boudoir jacket circa 1860;
  • 1861 lace jacket over a mourning dress;
  • A mantle/caplet from 1888.

As you can see, the boudoir jacket is lacy like the little jacket that is part of Red’s outfit, but the cut of the jacket is more like a modern shrug or a caplet.

Red’s buttoned shoes are spot on for the era.

Helena Bonham Carter plays Red Harrington in The Lone Ranger.jpg

This second outfit also sports a strange little caplet trimmed with lace, over a dress with at least three visible layers. As you can see, this dress does loosely resemble a high fashion gown from 1870, from the House of Worth in France. The Costume is a mishmash of fabrics and colours compared to the Worth dress, but that can be put down to Red’s flashy tastes. The parasol is spot on for the era.


1870 House of Worth gown.

The closest equivalent period garment with dramatic sleeves I could find was this tartan dress below. However, those style of sleeves turn up again and again in the Victorian era.


Royal Stuart Tartan Dress circa late 1860s


Red Harrington’s prosthetic leg with hidden shotgun.

It was this clever gadget leg that inspired me to look harder at Helena Bonham Carter’s costumes in ‘The Lone Ranger’. For me, it is the gadgets that really make the Steampunk Aesthetic. As a cosplayer, I would wear a ‘tattooed’white stocking and a modified shoe to mimic this prosthetic leg.


The problem for costumers is that people forget that the Victorian era was lo-o-on-ng. Fashions changed. It is hard to put together an authentic historical outfit, particularly when the accuracy of the outfit hardly matters in a fantasy Western/Steampunk movie. I think Penny Rose did a great job of using Red’s outfits to give the audience a deeper insight into her character. That is inspirational work.


Filed under Cosplay, Fashion, Movie Costumes, Neo-Victorian Retrofuturism, Steampunk, Steampunk Aesthetic, Steampunk Cosplay, Uncategorized, Victorian-era Fashion

4 responses to “Neo-Victorian Movie Fashions: Part Two

  1. Veeery interesting. (I didn’t know of this movie)
    Very detailed too. Good observations.
    And huzzah that they really got this one right! movie-makers are such slobs, sometimes, with these deets.

    • The movie was awful. However, HBC was a ray of great acting and great costumes in a movie that couldn’t decide what genre it wanted to be. The prosthetic leg/gun was sheer genius.

      These costume breakdowns are a great way to make sure I stick to the ‘right’ details for my era. I want my characters to wear outfits that are not too out of alignment with my chosen era (just with lots more gadgets).

      What I really dislike is when a costume is Victorian-like, when it is set in a distinct historical era. Like putting puffed sleeves (late 19th century fashions), bustles, or lace tea dresses (Edwardian era) in settings that should have tight sleeves and crinolines. I don’t so much mind seeing 1840 fashions in the 1870s, if everyone is wearing the same style. It’s when you see a hodgepodge of different eras all at once, you know that the costumer has done no research at all.

      • Mmmm… Yup; if the movie has the intention of being historically accurate, then it dances la hodgepodge, agreed: Fail!

        But I’m a great fan of le mash-up (‘cross-over’, gender-swap or whatever). Love to see familiar details or tropes dropped into, or popping out of an unexpected place, genre or era. As long as the book /movie/game has already declared itself a work of fantasy or fiction, and/or is being undertaken in the spirit of fun.

        As an ill-informed Aspie, I’ve forever pecking holes in other people’s works (particularly graphic art) for their technical inaccuracies or downright failures regarding the laws of physics (especially airships!).

        Gosh it would be so much easier being a total ignoramus and enjoy movies without any critical thinking faculties, eh?

      • Sometimes, I have to force the voices of my internal editors down, just so as to watch and enjoy a movie. And sometimes, they win out anyway.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s