The British series “The Frankenstein Chronicles” shows the life of people from different social classes in London, the beginning of the 19th century. Stylish costumes of its characters display British fashion trends of the period. The costume designers of this movie did a great job in creating and altering (for instance, aging garments to make them show signs of wear) the outfits. This serial is a very good example of using historically accurate stage costumes in modern TV shows.
“The Frankenstein Chronicles” is a procedural investigation into the supernatural. And while shot in Belfast, the story is set in pre-industrialized 1827 London, just before the founding of the Metropolitan Police Service in 1829. The costumes are designed by Irish costume designer Susan Scott.
“The Frankenstein Chronicles” protagonist is Inspector John Marlott, a Thames River Police officer, investigating a mysterious child murder. Marlott is played by British actor Sean Bean.
As the River Police were full-time salaried officers, they weren't issued uniforms until the Thames River Police were eventually absorbed by the Metropolitan Police in the 19th century. Previous to this, they were only issued great coats, like we see in this scene.
During this era, society was broken up into class systems. Although professor Catherine Hughes states that the number of people who counted as middle class, began to swell and then became defined by their jobs rather than their family background.
Marlott's clothes reflect his station as a middle-class man. He is always well-dressed with good classic pieces and warm tones, and not as on-trend as we see in the other upper-class characters. In this image, he's wearing a shirt with a stand-up collar, flat-front trousers, a waistcoat (which is a type of vest), and a simple cravat. His vest is high-waisted and squared-off at the bottom, which is more in keeping with Regency fashions from the previous decade.
Here's the ensemble topped with a coat. This coat features M-notched lapels, which was a fashion style particular to the early 1800s.
There is some tailoring through the back, with a center-back seam and side-back seams and two-piece set-in sleeves. The sleeves have no gathering. Again, this was just starting to come into fashion.
Marlott wears riding boots, a commonly worn type of footwear for men during the day. On the right, is a pair of leather riding boots from 1815 from the Kyoto Costume Institute's collection.
Here's another look for Marlott. The fact that he owns more than one suit and one that is almost in new condition, shows that he has some means, despite living a rather modest life. This stiffened stand-up collar and the wide lapels of his coat were in fashion during the Regency period. The brown tweed waistcoat is double-breasted and also has wide lapels. And he's wearing a felt bowler hat with a grosgrain ribbon band.
Here's yet another overcoat with M-notched lapels. This coat has sleeves that have a slight gather at the shoulder. And the headdress looks like a felt telescope hat.
Here are two examples of early 19th-century overcoats. On the left, is an example of an 1820s men’s overcoat after conservation by the Scottish Conservation Studio; on the right, is an 1830s great coat from the John Bright collection.
And just to let you know, the great coat is cut like a frock coat, with a flared skirt seamed at the waist.
Created for television, writer Benjamin Ross incorporated real-life British characters into the fictional telling of “The Frankenstein Chronicles”, the story intertwining them throughout Marlott’s investigation.
“The Frankenstein Chronicles” is a reimagining of Mary Shelley's 1818 novel that she wrote at the young age of 20. And the show also includes her husband, the romantic poet Percy Shelley.
Mary Shelley was a well-educated woman, coming from educated middle-class parents. As an accomplished editor, writer, and novelist, she also had her own income, so her position in the society would have been near the top and her clothes show this.
In this picture, Mary is wearing a “pelisse”, which is an early 19th-century women's outer garment.
Here's an example of two English pelisse coats from the V&A in London. On the left, is a pelisse coat and collar made from brown silk taffeta from about 1818; on the right, is a silk pelisse that's lined with silk satin and cotton, and it's made circa 1820.
Here, Mary is wearing a daydress with a sleeveless spencer cut with the same fabric as the cuffs.
A spencer was a short overjacket, usually worn outdoors as an outer garment.
Here's an example of a French women's cotton plain-weave spencer jacket circa 1815 from the LACMA.
This is the same dress, except that Mary has replaced the spencer with this fringed kerchief of sorts.
This dress is from an earlier time period and we know this because of the empire waistline of Mary's dress, which is much higher and the bodice shorter.
Here are two dresses from early 1800, separated by a little more than a decade. On the left, is a pretty cotton & silk dress from 1810, and they say, the style persisted until the 1820s, when the waist slowly lowered and the skirts became more bell-shaped. So you can see by the ivory silk damask gown on the right, from about 1821, that the empire waistline was beginning to drop. This dress that we see here is from the Kent State University Museum in Ohio.
Ross also cleverly includes English poet and painter William Blake.
Another significant historical figure in “The Frankenstein Chronicles” is Sir Robert Peel, the Home Secretary and also Marlott’s employer.
In real life, Sir Robert Peel served twice as Home Secretary, as well as Prime Minister of the UK. Peel is regarded as the father of modern British policing, and an interesting fact is that British bobbies take their name from Robert Peel’s first name, as he established the Metropolitan Police in 1829.
As Home Secretary, Robert Peel is upper-class and dresses in aristocratic Regency-style fashions. He dresses in cool tones, like blues and grays, with ruffles and flounces – in juxtaposition to Marlott’s no-fuss style. His outfit consists of a double-breasted navy tailcoat with brass buttons, with a collar featuring the M-notch, scoop-collared white shirt with front ruffle and starched white cravat, brocade vest, and gray flannel flat-front pants.
While the waistcoat collar is often worn up, like we see here, there was a variety of turndown styles as well.
Here's an example of an M-notched coat collar and stand-up vest collar, featured in this 1809 painting titled “Portrait of a man” by Francois Xavier Faber from the National Galleries of Scotland.
Here's an example of this type of coat from Kerry Taylor Auctions. This naval double-breasted wool tailcoat dates about 1815.
And finally, here's another men's tailcoat, probably English, from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, that dates between 1825 and 1830. This wool plain-weave coat, with hints of its military influences, buttons all the way to the collar – although the fashion was to wear it open or buttoned just to the bottom two or three rows.
Robert wears a beaver top hat and black wool great coat with a contrasting velvet M-notched collar. And unlike the frock coats, great coats would often button below the waistline. So Robert finishes off his look with leather gloves and a walking stick.
This informal dressing gown worn at breakfast has contrasting quilted cuffs and a shawl collar. This style of robe is a precursor to the smoking jacket, an item of clothing suitable for receiving company in informal situations.
Here's a beautiful men's dressing gown dating between 1820-1830. This French robe is made from silk with a contrasting shawl collar and cuffs, in the same fabric as the robe lining.
The story also incorporates Charles Dickens working as a young journalist at the Morning Chronicle under Dickens’ real-life pen name “Boz”. Today, Charles Dickens is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian period.
Here's a portrait of the author at the age of about 27.
Now, compared to Marlott and even Robert Peel, Boz is a bit of a dandy, with his ruffled cuffs and oversized bow-tie. Boz’s burgundy velvet tailcoat has slightly gathered sleeves, contrasting velvet cuffs, and an upper collar.
Here's a close-up of his costume. Under his coat, he's wearing a striped waistcoat, and it looks like his bow-tie has this sort of paisley print. During this time, while the coat was most often a solid color, it was common to see these contrasting textures with the vest and tie.
Here's an example of this style of tailcoat from the 1830s. The coat is featured with cotton twill trousers and a cut-velvet patterned vest with a shawl collar.
Joseph Nightingale is a Bow Street Runner and John Marlott’s right-hand man, sort of the Watson to Marlott’s Holmes. The Bow Street Runners were London's first professional police force.
Nightingale has, essentially, one set of clothes in cool tones. While he is employed, he is still early in his career as a constable. His one coat shows signs of wear, with darns.
In this shot, you can see some of the darns on his coat. His well-worn topper is velvet covered.
Nightingale's overcoat is single-breasted, with the M-notched lapel, as we've seen earlier, and it looks like it's an oilcloth with a good amount of breakdown by the wardrobe team.