by Charlie Martin October 23, 2020
Charlie gets in the Halloween spirit with Netflix's new 1940s horror series Ratched (Whilst the series is quite gory, this blog is not).
Last Halloween I discussed the dark history of glamour and how you could create enchanting looks with our little black dresses. This year however, we're all more likely to be home watching Netflix than attending any fancy dress parties!
So... Ratched is the origin story of one of literature and cinema's most reviled villains: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest's Nurse Ratched. I imagine that those of you who haven't seen the Netflix series are still aware of the gorgeous costumes but are maybe put off by the gory trailers.
It is very gory. It is also very triggering. For the most part I will keep this article to "how to get Ratched inspired looks by Revival Retro" and "insight into the history and symbolism of the costumes" but I think it would be wrong of me not to consider what this show is really about: society's relationship with mental health, its treatment of women within that society and in particular the persecution of queer women.
This show after all is a horror story. And while we all love 1940s inspired fashion we doubt that we'd enjoy actually living in that era. I think of our team and customers as a diverse group who are particularly vocal about women's independence and LGBTQ+ rights. Experimenting in retro fashion today can allow us to play with femininity and masculinity but to do so in the past was taboo.
However it is this particular taboo that the costumes in Ratched play on well. Take one of my favourite - and possibly the most innocent - characters, Gwendolyn Briggs, played by Cynthia Nixon.
Firstly, are those our Own Range Kensington trousers in plum? I jumped out my seat when I saw this shot and texted Lottie immediately! Whether or not they are, I think both our team and theirs had the same inspiration. Icons like Katherine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich had been wearing trousers throughout the 1940s and their powerful personalities became synonymous with their style. Although I think it would be fair (and less sexist) to say they would look powerful no matter what they wore.
In 1938 a female school teacher was put in prison for 5 days for wearing trousers to court and even into the 1940s women could still be fined for wearing trousers that fastened in the front as it suggested they were cross dressing. Women choosing to wear clothes that were considered masculine therefore faced assumptions about their sexuality and stigma.
There's a nod to the duality of Gwendolyn's life by the fact that she tends to wear trousers in the company of her gay husband Trevor and Mildred Ratched but skirts with her boorish boss.
That said, all of the women's skirt suits in this series follow a strong 1940s silhouette. Suits of this era were evolving from the classic men's style so still held on to broad shoulders and lapels. But as you'll have noticed in Ratched and from our Own Range capsule wardrobe, this was balanced out by a nipped in waist to show off extreme curves.
My next favourite character is the sublime Sharon Stone as Lenore Osgood. She is full of luxurious 1940s glam although her homeware throws up a lot of questions about appropriation, which is another important discussion in the retro world.
She wears her status and power on her sleeve, or more specifically, in her elegant jumpsuits. You may have noticed that we share her penchant for this particular 1940s trend...
Everyone who has tried on our Mayfair jumpsuit has loved how exciting and sophisticated it was. Power suits are for the '80s but jumpsuits are for timeless superhero level confidence.
This gorgeous dress is one of the many pieces that feature in the show's green theme. It is after all the colour of money, greed and jealousy. Even the monkey pops up in it! I knew Elise's outfit was missing something...
Unfortunately I couldn't find a decent picture of Mildred's million dollar deal dress in emerald green. Its flattened collar and strong shade reminded me so much our Own Range Cambridge dress.
Mustard also features regularly in the show's colour palette. I'm not as sure what the symbolism is here other than it being unusual and bold, much like the leading ladies who adorn themselves in these colours.
We also have a few mustard numbers in our boutique. It certainly packs a punch.
Overall, I enjoyed the series and was particularly thrilled to see parallels between the costumes and our recent collections. However I do feel it was more grisly than it needed to be. I'd have thought an origin story would build up to her going on a murderous rampage, not start with one!
Horror films have played a large part in the stigmatisation of mental health. We're shown murderous psychos and demonic institutions with one often justifying the other. There is little in between and that can often lead us to worry where we would fall.
Unfortunately I don't feel Ratched moves us much further along. And maybe it's unfair of me to expect it to. If you take this series as a film noir horror romp then you'll have a lot of fun.
There are glimmers of hope and interest. Charlotte, played by powerhouse Sophie Okonedo, overcomes severe trauma through non-invasive therapy, which is thwarted by Ratched's messy web. Through her we also see a glimpse of the racist attacks allowed to be carried out unchecked and their lasting damage.
I'm glad that they at least let Okonedo tell Charlotte's story in a dramatic monologue rather than turn it into what would have been a distressing flashback. Likewise the use of puppets to tell Mildred's past prevented gratuitous triggers. There is some sensitivity in this series as well as terror.
As I've already mentioned, there are a number of issues the show touches upon that can be uncomfortable for those in love with lost eras. Most prominently, it explores the hypocrisy and ridiculousness of regarding lesbianism as a mental illness and the double lives people in the LGBTQ+ community were forced to lead.
It reminded me more than ever of a saying we often use in Revival Retro: "vintage style, not vintage values".
I've always loved Halloween and I'm sure I won't be the only one sad to close the door on tricker treaters and spend yet another night with little to celebrate. This has been a hard year and as we go into winter I worry about my own mental health as well as others'. At least a show like this can remind us that we have progressed somewhat.
With that in mind I would like to encourage you to keep talking and finding joy in the little things we still have. In short, I'd like to wish you a happy Halloween.
Images via Movie Stills DB and Revival Retro
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