Just because it looks good, it doesn’t mean it’s right

My husband and I recently started watching the Starz quasi-historical drama DaVinci’s Demons. The series follows the young Leonardo DaVinci and his adventures in Renaissance Italy.  I say “quasi-historical” because the show is built more around drama than history, though DaVinci’s biography is certainly recognizable. The man who was ahead of his times in thought and action takes center stage. The artist, the maker, and the intellect are all in play. Add in the Vatican, the de’ Medici’s, corrupt officials, more than a few sex scenes, language you think wouldn’t be period but actually is, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a ride.

The show’s interpretation of history is intriguing, but not as interesting as one thing to which I geek out in period shows and movies: historical clothing. In a past life, I used to make and maintain theatre costumes. It started in college and led to a brief career at a few Shakespeare festivals. I know my way around costume history and can usually differentiate between various eras, visually anyway. I love the knowledge that I have, but it’s also very distracting, for it paints everything I watch, be it live theatre or a TV show. And in the case of DaVinci’s Demons, it is the clothing, not the story, to which I pay the most attention.
I’m sorry. You want me to do what with whom? (@ Associated Press)

And the clothing…oh those costumes.  They are fantastic (looking)! Italian Renaissance fashion circa 1480 was bright and gaudy. Not quite as elaborate as what was going on with the kings and queens of England, but rich and sumptuous nonetheless. And though the show mostly sticks close to accuracy, there are things, accessories, to my eyes, look decidedly modern. I also question some of the fabric choices considering what could have been afforded by whom at the time. But the costumes that are on display, from the women’s intricate gowns to the men’s long-toed shoes, are lovely to behold, and some of them evoke classic visions as seen in Renaissance portraits.


I have to dock the show major costume points for…how to put this?…the ease of undressing. I get it, it’s a show, we don’t have 30 minutes to watch two lovers get undressed. But for all the realism that the show expels, skimping on the intricate nature of clothing at the time just bothers me. For example, in one scene, a women, a not-quite-upper class mistress, (the woman pictured above) removes her entire “layered” dress as a single piece. No. She removes it by “unhooking” it from the front. No! She has nothing on underneath. NO! Okay, look, it’s clear why, but NOOO!! Reason #1: Even peasant clothing of the time consisted of a couple different layers. Any upper-class dress of the time would have at least several pieces: chemise (layer 1), kirtle or undergown (layer 2), and  long gown (layer 3) of a various shape. And they never would have been sewn together into a single garment. Reason #2: Some over gowns of the time, like the kind they depict in the show, achieved their close fit with buttons or lacing up the front or back. They would have been neither quick nor easy to undo. No hooks, no snaps, no velcro.  Reason #3: The first layer, the chemise, was necessary to protect the body.  Unless you were super-rich, you probably couldn’t afford the best-made clothing complete with soft, squishy linings. That woman’s dress would have been all rough seams and scratchy cloth inside, which would have left obvious marks and have been very uncomfortable to wear, even to a sexy tryst.
Him: This IS my happy face! Her: And it makes me wilt, honeybear. (© Fox UK)

Anyway. The point here is that I can’t sit through an episode of this show without being distracted by the costumes, the good ones and the bad ones. And the thing is, they don’t have to be bad. You hear me creators of DaVinci’s Demons? Sure, it’s great to spend money on building life-sized replicas of DaVinci’s amazing creations, but why not throw some of that cash to the seamstresses. Spend a little extra dough on adding a little more realism to the clothing. Okay, maybe you’ll have to do that fast-forward-undressing thing to squeeze in all those happy little sex scenes, but it’ll be worth it. I’ll let the notion of actual underwear slide since that wasn’t a thing back then, but no chemises or any layering?? C’mon. sometimes more is more, if you know what I mean.


Like what you’ve just read? Cary posts to Geek Force Network every Friday; and you can also find more words that she put together in paragraphs at Recollections of Play and United We Game.


2 thoughts on “Just because it looks good, it doesn’t mean it’s right”

  1. Interesting tidbit about your time working with costumes. That sounds like a fun job to have…if I actually knew how to sew.

    I’m in love with period films or shows as well, and I’m always in awe of the costumes worn. They are so pretty and romantic. That being said, I can imagine how hard it must be to avoid being nitpicky about something you have extensive knowledge in and try to enjoy what you’re watching. I don’t know anything about details like this, so my ignorance allows me to watch a film or show without thinking anything of it.

    1. And sometimes ignorance is bliss! It’s probably too late for me, but thankfully my eye really only turns on to period shows and such. And my husband, he knows a lot about DaVinci, so he can be very critical of the show’s portrayal of him. It’s a good thing we can both watch things like Iron Man and The Office without any worry!
      But no matter what, the things that we know color everything that we do and see. Guess that’s part of what makes life interesting!

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