One of the toughest jobs on a film set has to be costume design. Not only does it demand a strict attention to detail, but in historical movies and other period pieces, the believability of the film rests on the characters’ dress accurately reflecting the time period.
Unsurprisingly, many movies contain costume errors, and we’ve gathered some of the most notable examples of those mistakes here. While some of these slip-ups are subtle, others are glaring and outrageous. None of these costumes should have made it on screen!
1. Braveheart: Though the kilt is associated with Scotland, it wasn’t actually worn in the 13th and 14th centuries when William Wallace fought against the British for Scottish independence. Of course, Mel Gibson didn’t let petty historical details get in the way of an epic action flick!
2. Captain America: The First Avenger: The earpiece worn by soldier Jim Morita, played by actor Kenneth Choi, is pretty clearly a 21st century model that wouldn’t have existed during WWII, but since most people aren’t going to see a comic book movie for historical accuracy, it’s not a huge deal.
3. The Doors: Jim Morrison was a famous rock star who died in the late 1970s, but throughout Oliver Stone’s 1991 film about the band, actor Val Kilmer wears a style of aviator sunglasses that wouldn’t be popular until the ’80s!
4. Gladiator: Although the film takes place over 1,500 years ago in ancient Rome, actor Russel Crowe’s Lycra shorts are clearly visible when he falls to the ground during a climactic fight scene in the Colosseum. Lycra wasn’t invented until 1958, but it’s probably for the best that Crowe wore the shorts!
5. Pirates of the Caribbean: Redcoat soldiers are emblematic of the British empire, but the style of uniform worn by the soldiers in this film wasn’t adopted until 1747, while the story actually takes place during the reign of George I, who ruled from 1714 to 1727.
6. Troy: Although the siege of Troy is considered a myth, the city actually did exist in the 10th century B.C. However, in the film Troy, Orlando Bloom’s character Paris is seen walking under a pink parasol, which is not only goofy, but inaccurate as the parasol wouldn’t be invented until the 5th century B.C. in Greece.
7. Elizabeth I: Helen Mirren’s character frequently wears a nuck ruff in this film, which is accurate in so far as they were fashionable in Tudor England. The problem is that they were worn with shirts that went all the way up the neck, while Mirren wears no such garment.
8. Pearl Harbor: It was actually scandalous for American women not to wear stockings in the 1940s, to the point where they would draw lines on their legs to create the illusion of a stocking during the nylon shortage in WWII. However, in this 2001 film, the women are frequently depicted bare-legged.
9. The Ten Commandments: Anne Baxter’s turn as Nefertiti in this Hollywood epic has become iconic, and her aqua-blue silk dress is no small part of it. The problem is that during the time in ancient Egypt depicted in the film, no known natural dye would have been able to produce that particular shade of blue.
10. Glory: Though the mistake is onscreen for so short a time that it’s easy to miss, during one scene in this Civil War film an arm briefly comes into frame, and on its wrist is a digital watch! Of course, such technology wouldn’t exist until over 100 years after the time in which the story takes place.
11. Pompeii: In this film, many of Emperor Nero’s top generals, including main character General Corvus, are seen wearing purple capes. While purple dye existed in ancient Rome, Nero actually made it a crime punishable by death for anyone but him to wear purple clothing!
12. Ben Hur: In one of the film’s most famous sequences, Sheik Ilderim pins a Star of David on Ben-Hur’s belt before his big chariot race. However, the earliest records associating the Star of David with Judaism date back the the 12th century A.D., making the symbol quite anachronistic in the context of the film.
13. Unforgiven: It’s a relatively minor error, but in this Clint Eastwood-directed western, Gene Hackman’s character Little Bill Daggert has belt-loops on his pants, even though they wouldn’t become common outside of sportswear until the 1920s.
14. King Arthur: Sure, King Arthur is just a myth, but this film is still a mishmash of errors and anachronisms. One obvious example is that while the film makes clear that it’s set in the 5th century A.D., the heavy plated armor worn by the knights wasn’t common until the late middle ages, and even then it was worn ceremonially rather than in battle.
15. D’Jango Unchanied: Though they look totally awesome, D’Jango’s gold-rimmed sunglasses are a little out of date. While sunglasses were around during the time in which the film is set, this particular style of black-shaded lenses are a 20th century invention. Tarantino and Jamie Foxx somehow get away with it, though!
16. The Last Samurai: In this movie, Tom Cruise wears traditional samurai armor, which doesn’t sound bad at all until you realize that the film is set in the late 1800s and that style of gear was last used in the 1600s. That said, the armor is still more believable than a lot of other things in the picture…
17. Saving Private Ryan: Only true military history buffs would notice this, but in this Steven Spielberg film, Matt Damon’s paratrooper character wears black jump boots, while in reality black boots weren’t available until the 1950s. To be historically accurate, he should have worn brown boots instead.
18. The King’s Speech: In a mistake that actually upset some Scottish citizens, Colin Firth’s character George VI wore a kilt in the Irish tartan style, while kilts actually worn by members of the British royal family are of the Scottish Balmoral design. It’s safe to say that nobody outside the United Kingdom had any idea about this one.
19. Quadrophenia: This 1979 film is about the early ’60s conflicts between two warring British subcultures: the mods and the rockers. While it makes sense that the rockers would wear Motörhead t-shirts, the band wouldn’t actually form until 1975, making the t-shirts a pretty big error.
20. American Hustle: In general, this 1970s period film does an excellent job at capturing the look and sounds of the era, but watch aficionados may notice one glaring error: Louis CK’s FBI detective character wears a gold Rolex watch, which, besides presumably being out of the detective’s price range, is actually a GMT Master II, a model introduced in 2010.
Count me impressed that some dedicated film viewers caught many of these tiny costume errors! Unless it’s something really glaring, I usually believe what I see on screen.
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