Costume Stuff #8 War and Peace (2016)

Now that the BBC's War and Peace has come to it's conclusion (Endeavour's finished too - what are we supposed to do with our Sunday nights?) I thought I'd have a look back at some of the beautiful costumes that made this adaptation so lovely to look at. With a screenplay by Andrew Davies - best known for 'sexing up' Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice 1995, Northanger Abbey 2007, Sense and Sensibility 2008) and costume design by Edward K. Gibbon, there's been criticism of historical inaccuracies and plunging necklines - but the clothes were gorgeous anyway. Being so familiar with period dramas set in Regency England, Russia made a nice change of scene and allowed for some new colours, styles - and furry hats!

"This black-eyed, wide mouthed girl, not pretty but full of life, with childish bare shoulders...thin bare arms, little legs in lace frilled drawers and feet in low slippers - was just at that charming age where a girl is no longer a child, though the child is not yet a young woman."

The heroine of Tolstoy's War and Peace is Natasha Rostova (Lily James) who is thirteen when the novel begins. In the series they started her off at about fifteen, so her early outfits were less childish than in the description above. Yet her dresses are simpler and more girlish than in later episodes and she doesn't need to wear gloves for formal occasions.

As the story progresses she wears some lovely things, including some bold colours. I couldn't find a picture, but one of my favourite ensembles was a deep blue dress with a yellow shawl. I also love her red dress (you don't see a lot of red in Jane Austen) and her pearl pink opera dress.

In the ball scenes she wears a white gown. All of the women are dressed in white for the assembly at the palace - filmed on location in St. Petersburg. There are some beautiful locations in this production, but this ballroom (the same room many of us know best in cartoon form, because of Anastasia) really is stunning.

Because we're in Russia, a lot of the styles feel alien in comparison with the fashions of Regency England - and there's so much fur! It's a lot colder there, obviously, but some of the warm clothing is actually the most elaborate. Natasha has some great coats and hats. My favourites are her long, light blue coat worn with fur hat, and her white cloak with the fur lined hood (below.)

These turban-like head-dresses also crop up here and there, although more in casual or religious settings. They're another reminder that we're viewing a totally different culture.

Natasha's cousin and 'poor relation' Sonya, is usually dressed more simply, but this could be more to do with her personality than with her lower station. The Rostovs are kind and include her as part of the family, so she is well dressed, usually in warm colours such as yellow or red.

Prince Andrei's sister Marya is richer than the Rostovs, but dresses in an even simpler style. She's a devout young woman, so likes to dress modestly - usually with a blouse beneath a sleeveless dress, or in a gown with a high neck. She wears her hair in a simple plaited style and always wears a cross on a chain.

On the other end of the clothes spectrum to Marya, is Helene Kuragin. Helene is Prince Vasili's beautiful but manipulative daughter. She dresses to impress, with lots of Greek and Roman influences, low necklines, elaborate headdresses and some gorgeous dressing gowns.

"With a slight rustle of her white dress trimmed with moss and ivy, with a gleam of white shoulders, glossy hair and sparkling diamonds, she passed between the men who made way for her, not looking at any but smiling at all, as if graciously allowing each the privilege of admiring her beautiful figure and shapely shoulders, back and bosom - which in the fashion of those days was very much exposed."

A wedding gives us another chance to notice the differences in culture and clothing, as Helene walks down the aisle in an elaborate beaded headdress and lacy veil. 

Most of the clothing criticism was directed at Helene, but some also fell on Gillian Anderson's character, Anna Pavlovna. The majority of the older women in War and Peace were dressed more traditionally, but Gillian always looked very glamorous (in fairness, we only ever saw her in large party situations). I think she still looks regency era, but maybe that's just me. I love the lilac.  I also thought the outfits worn by Natasha's mother were very pretty too, in a less showy way.

Men's costumes are never as interesting to talk about, but the War and Peace guys have a bit more variety in their wardrobes than in a lot of period dramas. Below is Eliya, Natasha's father, in one of his trademark robes and a velvet hat. Although this is lounge-wear really, the older men (apart from the soldiers) tend to dress in this style rather than the waist-coat and breeches combo favoured by the young men (such as Anatole Kuragin, also below.)

One of the novel's heroes, Pierre, begins the story as the illegitimate favourite son of Count Bezukhov - so he's wealthy enough, but not considered high class. He moves in fashionable circles and so dresses in the styles of the time. After a change of fortune his attire becomes a little fancier, but then he tries to begin living less selfishly and so gets a bit scruffier instead.

"One of the next arrivals was a stout, heavily built young man, with close-cropped hair, spectacles, the light coloured breeches fashionable at the time, a very high ruffle and a brown dress coat... Anna Pavlovna greeted him with the nod she accorded to the lowest hierarchy in her drawing-room."

Pierre's friend Prince Andrei is a bit more 'traditional hero' and his clothes reflect this.  Bold colours are not only for the women either - I love this yellow waistcoat with the green striped back.

And of course, for the outdoor clothes, the men are not excluded from the fur trimming trend - plus, I want Pierre's leather gloves!

Poor Pierre is on a loser though, as what we're all really waiting to see is the dress uniforms. As we know, a period drama man looks nothing without regimentals - and the Russians wear them with style.

Oh, and here's Dolokov in a turban. They never really explained why he came to the opera dressed like that. But hey, he can pull it off.

War and Peace was a stunning bit of TV, and although I had a few issues with it, the costumes never failed to impress. I'm hoping to follow this up with a review at some point, once I've finished the book (so maybe... a few months from now? haha - although it has been good so far!) but I hope my googled pictures gave you a taster.  If they weren't enough, here's the trailer!

Warnings and stuff:  If you're planning to watch War & Peace, just to note it was shown after the watershed. Series includes some scenes that viewers might find distressing, also some 'scenes of a sexual nature' and a couple of moments of random nudity.


  1. So much pretty!! I haven't watched War and Peace yet but I love costume dramas, emphasis on the "costume" hehe.
    My favorite is Helen's lacy veil and headdress. So beautiful. And the guys look awesome in those regimentals. Love it when they rock the side-cape. :D

    1. haha, the side-capes are great :) And I did love Helen's wedding outfit too :)

  2. Wow, that looks so sumptuous! I do want to see this, probably when my library gets it on DVD.

    1. It was definitely sumptuous! Haha, there was good and bad to it, but I do think it's worth a watch :)

  3. Despite the bad (and likely historical inaccuracies), I adored this miniseries! It was gorgeous. :)

    1. me too, one of my favourites recently! Thanks for the comment :)


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