Due to factors ranging from budget to Artistic License, period costuming in shows and movies is just downright inaccurate half the time — and that's not even counting instances of Reality Is Unrealistic where there's a justification for the anachronistic elements. This extends well beyond clothing and accessories: period-accurate hair and makeup are even harder to find in Hollywood.
Sometimes costumes are accurate to one historical era or style, but not the particular one relevant to the story. Sometimes the costumes have more to do with the contemporary fashions of the production rather than those of the story's setting. Sometimes the costume designers will just decide to throw historical accuracy to the wind and go for creativity and visual impact instead — this often happens with Pimped-Out Dress scenes, especially if the historically accurate version wouldn't create the right impression on the audience.
This is actually Older Than Print. Up until the Enlightenment, most Western European visual artists had little to no idea what ancient Middle Eastern or Greco-Roman clothing looked like — and would likely have been deeply scandalized if they did — resulting in hundreds of Biblical or mythological characters in full medieval or Renaissance dress. In Shakespeare's time, theater troupes used the cast-offs of wealthy patrons as costume wardrobes, recycling outfits across many productions. Victorian reprints of Jane Austen's novels often had new illustrations depicting the characters in modest Victorian clothing rather than the comparatively skimpy light muslin dresses of the Regency era.
Often overlaps with Fashion Dissonance, Present-Day Past (when the sets, props, and costuming are not historical at all), Costume Porn, and Fashions Never Change. Some instances may be caused by Newer Than They Think on the costumers' part. Extreme cases can lead to WTH, Costuming Department?.
- In Asterix, the Gaulish women conform more to 1950s expectations of gender roles, with feminine bias-cut and fishtail skirts (with some teenage girl background characters wearing circle skirts), than to relatively unisex historical Gaulish dress, where the main difference between the genders was that women's tunics were a bit longer. One story hinges on a Straw Feminist liberating the village women by persuading them to wear trousers rather than skirts — historically, Armorican women and men both wore trousers under layers of tunics for maximum warmth and comfort in a cold, damp climate. This is lampshaded in a strip drawn by Uderzo for Elle magazine in which the narration describes historically accurate Gaulish fashion while Geriatrix's wife is posing about looking like a 1950s movie star. She even has a beehive hairstyle, while all the other Gaulish women have historically accurate (but timeless) long or plaited hair.
- Cacofonix's slowly evolving design caused him to end up with something of a 1970s retro-50s hairstyle around the time that this was happening in Real Life, but this is definitely intentional and based on his personality. Almost definitely unintentional is that the shoes worn by the Gauls would be more at home in the 11th Century.
- Used for deliberate stereotyping in other cases:
- Asterix's Britannic cousin Anticlimax wears baggy tweed trousers (as the historical Britons did) but his shoes have long ties that wrap tightly around his legs up to below the knee, giving his trousers the distinctive shape of plus-fours.
- A Turkish woman in Asterix and the Magic Carpet is dressed in a burqa, more than 700 years before Islam arrived in Anatolia.
Film - Animated
- Snow White is obviously set somewhere in the Middle Ages. But that doesn't explain why Snow has very 30's hair and makeup.
- Cinderella has a vague setting but the gowns and conveniences suggest the early 19th century. Cinderella has a 1950s hairstyle and an evening dress straight out of a Christian Dior collection.
- Tangled has a deliberate example. Mother Gothel wears a medieval dress while everyone else's look to be eighteenth century style. This is meant to imply that she's hundreds of years old.
- Disney's Sleeping Beauty has Aurora in a dress that fits perfectly into 1950s high fashion, but bears only a passing resemblance to anything actually worn in the 1300s.
- The Frozen series is supposedly set sometime in the early to mid 19th century, yet the skirts of both female leads' costumes don't even show a hint of crinoline. They either fall in tight folds that flounce nicely when moving, like Anna's ball gown, or straight down, like Elsa's coronation dress. A cut scene from an earlier draft of the first movie showed the sisters together in a dressing room where Anna tries on a tight laced corset (as fashion standards of the actual time period dictated), possibly lampshading the physical features both Elsa and Anna display. Arguably, the fact that both sisters were shut inside the castle for 13 years with minimal contact to the outside world (ostensibly to hide Elsa's powers) may somewhat explain where their clothing styles seem out of touch with everyone else.
- In Pocahontas John Smith's haircut screams "90's boyband", while the native ladies wore what were basically mini dresses with fringe. On the accurate side, Powhatan's cloak was based on something the historical figure actually owned.
- Titanic: The Legend Goes On: Molly the singer wears a strapless dress that would be far too risqué by 1912 standards.
Film - Live Action
- The page picture comes from The Court Jester, where the historical accuracy was spelled out in the credits to be set aside for humor and fun. This includes the Dior New Look dresses the noble and royal ladies wear.
- Gone with the Wind is a fairly good example of Shown Their Work in terms of costuming (especially by 1930s standards), but Vivien Leigh's makeup as Scarlett O'Hara is obviously mid-20th century with the thick cream foundation and high arched eyebrows.
- This picture◊ of Rose Hobart as Anne Neville (with Basil Rathbone as Richard III) in 1939's Tower of London. Mostly it's that Nice Hat. Heart shaped headresses are known as Mary Stuart caps for a reason and Mary wasn't even born until after Anne was dead and buried.
- Young Bess is mostly accurate with regards to the Tudor costumes. But the hairstyles worn by Bess, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Parr are far too short - at just past the shoulders rather than the Rapunzel Hair that would have been more accurate for the period.
- The movie adaption of Anne of the Thousand Days has Genevieve Bujold wearing French hoods as 60's era headbands. For the record a French hood is supposed to have a bag attached to the back to cover the hair, and they were kept on by ties that knotted under the chin. The knots are sometimes left out in paintings of the day.
- The Carry On periodic films had their fun with this trope. An obvious example is all of Charles Hawtrey's characters wearing the same Harry Potter-style spectacles.
- Pride and Prejudice (1940) dresses all the women in mid-19th century hoop skirts, instead of the shift dresses worn by Jane Austen forty years earlier. According to legend, the dresses were recycled from Gone with the Wind, the setting they're actually appropriate for. Word of God is that the setting was moved a few decades specifically so they could use more flamboyant costumes.
- 300 uses the clothing conventions of ancient Greek artwork rather than period-accurate fashions, as does the original graphic novel. This results in more nudity than even the Greeks would be quite comfortable with.
- In the 1947 film version of Good News (set in The Roaring '20s), the men's costumes are roughly period-appropriate, but the women's hair and clothes are contemporary.
- From Here to Eternity puts Alma and Karen in hairstyles that are more appropriate for the early 1950s than the film's 1941 setting.
- There was, at one point, an exhibit at the Los Angeles County Art Museum dedicated to Hollywood "historical" costuming, showing actual costumes from various productions. The three Cleopatra VII costumes (1917, Theda Bara◊; 1939, Claudette Colbert; and 1963, Elizabeth Taylor◊) were particularly fun to compare. Claudette Colbert's version is the least inaccurate.
- In Auntie Mame (at least the first film adaptation), many outfits don't even try to look like the 20s or 30s.
- The plot of the Doris Day film Tea for Two revolves around the stock market crash of 1929, but the fashions are vintage 1950. Made worse by the fact that the movie opens and closes years later with Doris's children going through a trunk of old clothing and laughing at their parents' Roaring Twenties outfits, which they never actually wore onscreen!
- Another Doris Day film, On Moonlight Bay, falls into this as well: it's set in the 1910s, but everything about the costuming suggests 1950s, particularly Marjorie's bangs.
- Pocketful Of Miracles
- Ralphie's mother in A Christmas Story sports a 70s style perm despite the story being set in the 40s. And that's even weirder when you remember that the movie was filmed in 1982, when the Farrah Fawcett cut was just beginning to fall out of style.
- Braveheart, mostly for the Scots. Specifically, they wear the belted plaid, a piece of clothing that would not develop until several centuries later, and in a manner which is entirely ahistorical — one historian described it as the equivalent of Cromwell's Roundheads wearing modern business suits with the jackets back-to-front.
- Every woman in The Ten Commandments has obviously 1950s hair and makeup.
- Similarly, despite the accurate period costumes, the women in Meet Me in St. Louis (made in 1944, set in 1904) have 1940s hairstyles, although at least many such styles like pompadours were inspired by turn-of-the-century Gibson Girl fashions. Rose and Esther also wear their hair down, when girls of their age would surely have worn it up.
- Pick a Dracula movie. Any Dracula movie.
- 1931's Dracula can mostly be excused from this: the whole story got a period update from The Gay '90s to the time the story was filmed, which today may seem odd but at the time was simply Pragmatic Adaptation along the lines of moving a story set in the 1960s to the 2010s. By this logic, Mina and Lucy's bobbed haircuts, heavy makeup and long narrow dresses make sense. What doesn't work, though, is Dracula's ancient "brides" having similarly sleek, short hair.
- The Hammer Horror series (and unrelated spiritual successors like The Fearless Vampire Killers) are all apparently set in Überwald circa 1965. Try finding one of these films where the women's hairstyles aren't some architectural combination of Gibson Girl poufs and 1960s half-updone bouffants and their dresses aren't some weird gestalt silhouette that only existed in sixties impressions of the nineteenth century.
- The Setting Update Dracula A.D. 1972 inverts this. Drac's latest victim drifts about in a very-chic-by-early-70s-standards combination fluffy bob/long-in-the-back haircut and a standard diaphanous pseudo-Victorian shift.
- Bram Stoker's Dracula is a weird case. Lucy and Mina wear painstakingly carefully designed late-Victorian gowns about 80% of the time, with appropriate hairstyles to match, even when the costumes are ugly by modern standards (Lucy's direly frumpy wedding dress◊ comes to mind). But when the Rule of Symbolism flies in, accuracy goes straight out the window, resulting in a few costumes that are just off the wall. Mina's decades-out-of-style bustle dress however is meant to show that she's a poor school mistress who can't afford the latest fashions.
- Mostly averted in Doctor Zhivago, but all the women have very 60s hair.
- In the Clash of the Titans remake, the Greek Gods have Medieval European suits of armor. Yes, from the High Middle Ages, and complete with armor plates. The Greek Goddesses and the civilians wear Hellenic period costumes, instead of the Mycenean or classical periods more appropriate to the subject matter, creating an overall Anachronism Stew.
- In Roger Ebert's review of Spartacus, the film, he criticizes the hair and makeup of the female characters (especially that of the rich, spoiled Roman women at the beginning of the film, who looked like they stepped out of a 1960's hair salon.)
- A Knight's Tale throws period accuracy out the window, as Jocelyn has many outfits and hairstyles that are modelled after punk rock. The entire film is an Anachronism Stew running on Rule of Funny.
- Parodied in Time Bandits. Our heroes discover that Robin Hood's Merry Men are disgusting, filthy dwellers of The Dung Ages. Then Robin himself emerges in a spotless lincoln green tunic and tights straight out of an old Errol Flynn movie.
- In Argo, the events of the film take place during 1980, but the characters wear tailored suits and fitted shirts that look very modern compared to the looser, boxier fit favored in the 80s. Even in moments when the film takes great pains to match the look and style of a 70s political thriller, some of the characters are dressed like they just walked in from a late-2010s runway show.
- Susannah York's makeup and short, tousled hairstyle in Battle of Britain are clearly products of 1969, when the film was made, rather than 1940, when it was set.
- In every film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, which is set in 1922, the fashions are almost always based on late 1920s hem lengths and waistlines, rather than the "streamlined Edwardian" gowns of the early 20s. Here is what women would have actually worn at Gatsby's mansion in 1922. The 2013 adaptation pushes this even further with modernized depictions of the 1920s and heavy Art Deco motifs. The men's fashions are fairly accurate apart from the exceptionally skinny trousers — The Great Gatsby Wears Prada, if you will.
- Jennifer Grey's permed hair in the 1963-set Dirty Dancing makes it hard for a new viewer to tell this ISN'T supposed to be the 80s.
- Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte features an opening that's supposedly in the 20s. But the hairstyles of the women at the party are all in the 1960s vintage - with not a single '20s Bob Haircut in sight.
- My Favorite Year: When clips of Alan Swann's films are shown, they are in typical Swashbuckler style, where the intent was to look bright and flashy rather than accurate historical costuming (and one clip is a straight-up Expy of The Adventures of Robin Hood). There's also the "Boss Hijack" costume with yard-wide shoulderpads, pinstripes, and an over-sized homburg hat, a comedic exaggeration of Boss Rojack's clothing.
- Vanity Fair: When Thackeray was drawing the illustrations to his own novel, set in the Jane Austen era, he appended a note to the text explicitly stating, "I have not the heart to disfigure my heroes and heroines by costumes so hideous," (!) and so clothed them in the fashions of the years of the novel's serial publication (1847-1848). Ironically, modern audiences generally find early Victorian fashion bizarre and unflattering compared to the much breezier styles of the Regency period.
- In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J. K. Rowling has "Nearly Headless Nick" wearing a ruff to hide the disjunction between his head and neck. Unfortunately, she states in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets that Nick was executed in 1492, a good fifty years before ruffs came into style. The film versions depict Nick in the high style of the 1590s, a good hundred years after his supposed death; blame that on the first book as well, where Nick claimed that he'd been dead for "nearly four hundred years".
- Ms Wiz: Parodied during a Time-Travel Episode. Ms Wiz poofs herself and two other girls into 1854 and dresses them in clothes from the wrong era.
Nabilla: People weren't wearing powdered wigs and huge silly skirts in 1854! We're at least a hundred years out of date."
- C. L. Moore's "No Woman Born": Happens In-Universe when the protagonists watch a stage show with "gorgeous pseudo-period costumes." The narration goes on to lampshade this trope.
Since the play concerned Mary of Scotland, the actors were dressed in something approximating Elizabethan garb, but as every era tends to translate costume into terms of the current fashions, the womens hair was dressed in a style that would have startled Elizabeth, and their footgear was entirely anachronistic.
- Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman was guilty of this, although you'd hardly notice compared to all the OTHER historical inaccuracies in the show.
- Debatable how accurate most of the costuming in Rome is, but the Egyptian costuming and sets were totally off. Egypt was a Hellenistic nation at the time, as was much of the Mediterranean after Alexander the Great's conquests. Therefore, the majority of the Egyptian people including the commoners would actually be wearing Greek clothing as one looked at most coins depicted the royals and the Faiyuum mummy portraits of non-aristocratic families. According to the director's commentary they were perfectly aware of the historical circumstances but chose to go for Rule of Cool, while at the same time trying hard to distance themselves from other well-known and stereotypical depictions of Egypt.
- The costuming in The Tudors won an Emmy, but if you value your sanity do not claim it's historically accurate on any Internet re-enactment board or discussion list. The costumes were intended to provoke in the modern viewer the same feelings of arousal and scandal that Tudor court fashion produced in its own day.
- On Charmed, there are occasionally scenes and episodes where the sisters travel to colonial Salem, or where people from that period come to the present. And there is a conspicuous amount of cleavage shown. Those puritans probably wouldn't have been exposing that much skin.
- Practically every male in Little House on the Prairie had a 1970s hairstyle - shaggy mops for boys, perms on adult men. Women and girls had timeless braids or buns that avoided anachronism.
- Some of Morgana's dresses on Merlin could be worn to a modern-day cocktail party without attracting much comment. Her costume emphasizes her magic and outsider status.
- A minor, intentional one in Spartacus: Blood and Sand. The Romans wear authentic legionary uniforms, but a version that would not be adopted until 70 years after Spartacus' death. The developers knew this but decided to go with the later but more iconic look to make it feel more Rome-ish. Considering the already highly stylized nature of the series this is probably a good thing. What's more is that there's a blend of aversions and straight examples such as Crixus and Sura sporting modern hairstyles, whereas Lucretia has period-accurate wigs.
- Every male on M*A*S*H had hair that was obviously 1970s street fashions, not 1950s military-issue.
- Every girl on Hogan's Heroes had extremely 60's/70's hair and make up.
- Same goes for much of the ladies' clothing in Upstairs Downstairs.
- Happy Days: When the series started out, the characters wore 1950s fashions and hairstyles, but by the fifth season (1977-1978), the cast looked like they were indeed from the 1970s but somehow got warped back to the 1950s. This trend continued into the 1980s, with the characters wearing hairstyles and clothing appropriate for the early MTV era rather than the early 1960s.
- Averted with Mad Men: the costume designer Janie Bryant worked very hard to get the clothes of the era just right for every character's taste, social class, sensibilities, age, and occupation — along with fitting them to recurring themes in an episode. She even insisted on period-accurate women's underwear to create the proper bodyshaping (those aren't spanx or elastic pantyhose, those are are actual girdles and bras constructed in the costume department).
- Boardwalk Empire begins in 1920 and proceeds roughly in real time, but right from the start cast members, especially women, are dressed in "Roaring Twenties" styles from six or seven years later. The effect is not unlike a JFK-era period piece costumed in hippie garb because "it's the 60s."
- Lampshaded in the Legends of Tomorrow episode "Camelot/3000", where the resident historian Nate dresses in peasant clothing appropriate to 6th century AD, while the other team members are "looking like a Renaissance Faire." They comment that he looks like a leper. Then they are ambushed by Knights of the Round Table (who are supposed to be a myth), wearing full plate armor (which shouldn't exist for many centuries), who find nothing wrong with the others' clothing, but they also assume that Nate is a leper. It's later revealed that all of Camelot is a time aberration, created by Stargirl in order to help her protect a piece of the Spear of Destiny.
- In Cimarron Strip, Dulcey's hair is more suitable for the 1960s than the 1870s.
- While the Vikings ditched the typical horned helmet that were often depicted, the majority of the characters wore leather and bundle of chainmail. Actual Norse people wore animal skins, wool, and linen with colors that were bright.
- Reign embraces this to the extreme, with sixteenth-century ladies wearing strapless dresses and other very modern looking sartorial confections.
- In Data East's Time Machine, the four passengers from The '50s, The '60s, The '70s, and The '80s are each dressed in iconic outfits for their respective eras.
- In theater more than a century or so older, there wasn't even an effort to be accurate in the costuming. You would see Cleopatra in petticoats and an ermine cape and Mark Anthony in a doublet and tights.
- Christine's frizzy '80s Hair in the original production of◊ The Phantom of the Opera (though, that could be an homage to the 1925 silent film◊ too, which would not necessarily still be this, as Mary Philbin's hair was naturally that wavy and was up for most of the film), although the visual designer of the original production stated it was supposed to be styled after the hairstyles seen in pre-Raphaelite paintings◊. Over the years, this has evolved into much tidier◊ ringlets.
- Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is generally pretty good about having correct period clothing. Well, except when it comes to underwear◊.
- Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is set in the 1960s and mostly accurate, particularly with EVA's distinctively 60s hair and makeup, and Para-Medic's various outfits being period accurate. However, there is no way Naked Snake would be able to get away with wearing his hair like that in 1964. This was an intentional decision by the creators to make him look more like Solid Snake.
- Even taking into account the fact that she is a duchess, a high-ranking member of a secret order and on the titular world-controlling Council, Emily Hillsborrow from The Council could never get away with wearing her outfit back in 1793, especially as a woman. As well as exposed shoulders (scandalous!) and a corset that barely holds her breasts in place which is also open down the middle, her dress is also completely backless. Even prostitutes in that time period dressed more modestly.
- One of the most persistant anarchoism is the failure to properly represent period clothing by class, social status, age and circumstances. You might have noticed that people wear different clothes according to the occassion and also elderly often wear different style of clothes from the young as do the poor from the rich? Well, so did people in older times. Now, not all tropes are bad. Clothing has become a lot cheaper in modern times, there remains a notable difference between rich and poor, but nowhere near as stark as before. In addition our era is a lot less formal in everyday settings than earlier ones, as evidenced by the fact that both the tuxedo and the business suit, which screams formal today, were introduced as less formal alternatives to full tails and closed collar tunics. However, even people in earlier eras would not wear super formal clothes to what were casual functions.
- Because the King Arthur legend kept getting more and more embellished all through the Middle Ages and up to the present day, adaptations almost always depict the characters wearing properly impressive medieval armor and clothing that would not have existed in the 6th century. Most do restrict themselves to chain mail rather than plate, but some — notably Excalibur — go for shiny full plate by way of Rule of Cool (after all, it's not as if historical accuracy is really an issue in most King Arthur stories).
- Many depictions of Roman soldiers actually have them looking similar to Greek hoplites. The most popular Hollywood article is the Attic helmet, whereas Roman legionaries mostly used the Gallic helmet. Also, the primary weapon of legionaries was the sword; the commonly depicted javelin/spear was a sidearm. Compare this◊ to this◊.
- More technically, Roman Legionnaires are usually portrayed in their iconic Lorica segmentata◊, when for most of their history they used either the Lorica hamata◊ (mail) of the Republican period, or the Lorica squamata◊ (scale armour) of the Late Imperial period. Additionally, they are usually depicted wearing the tunic typical of Mediterranean climates, while those in Northern provinces such as Britain and the German border often adopted barbarian trousers◊, as did the formations in the deserts provinces of the East. This is largely because the Roman golden age, the "Pax Romana" took place when this was standard equipment, but it becomes a blatant case of artistic license when it is used in stories set in the time of Julius Caesar and Augustus, the armour having not been introduced until 9BC, thirty-five years after Caesar's death. Well, thats the earliest record of it. Its possible that it did exist in Ceasers era.
- "Arabian Nights" Days nearly always features a mishmash of Middle Eastern clothing, not all of which would have actually been worn at the same time in the same place. Of course, there's very little information available of what people in ancient and medieval Arabia would really have been wearing (for Westerners, for some strange reason, the locals seem to know), but there are definitely clothes that can be pointed to as anachronisms. There is no room for accuracy in Instant Ali Baba Kits.
- Many films of A Christmas Carol inaccurately depict period clothing during flashbacks of Scrooges past, which would logically be set in the late 18th/early 19th century, but the people are dressed 1840's style.