Costumes of Elite Women Daniella Macias & Angela Gonzalez Edit

Throughout the decades Americans have placed Hollywood fashion on a pedestal. Men and women become inspired by the glamour. Women especially become engrossed in the way actresses are portrayed on the big screen. Elite women such as Patricia Laffan in the film Quo Vadis, and Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra are seen as sexual beings. Through their costumes these two women appear to be of higher status, and are dressed to the nines. Other characters, such as Domina who plays one of the lead female roles in the sword and sandal comedy A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum is dressed in a much more historically accurate-not so elegant manor. In these major Sword and Sandal Films the leading women, Poppaea, Cleopatra, and Domina, are all dressed in gowns to portray their status to the audience. While in some films these women are dressed rather extravagantly, in other films they are dressed a little less lavishly, showing the true diversity of Sword and Sandal films.


With a budget of $2,000,000 this comedic film was adapted from a Broadway musical. Patricia Jessel portrayed the character of Domina, the proud, domineering wife of Senex, and mother to Hero. In many other Sword and Sandal films the leading women are dressed in extravagant, unrealistic gowns, however, in this film Domina is dressed in a long white "toga-styled" gown, which is a much more accurate depiction of the wardrobe of women back then. (Cyrino, A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum) 
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While she was dressed in a simple white gown, the film makers wanted to showcase Domina's power over her husband and the community surrounding her, so they added some gold bangles and rings to set her apart from the rest of the women in this film. With an attitude of arrogance and self-confidence Domina always makes her entrance to any room noticeable. (Peplum, 2012)


In 1951 director Mervyn LeRoy created the film Quo Vadis. This popular sword and sandal film had a budget of 7 million dollars, allowing excessive amounts of money to be spent on costumes and recreating Rome. Quo Vadis is set in 64 AD or more commonly referred to "as the time of Nero." Cast as Emperor Nero's second wife Poppaea is Patricia Laffan.


Poppaea is dressed most commonly to represent her high status. Togas of green and gold are worn by the actress. The character Poppaea's attire embodies 1950's fashion more so than actually giving viewers historically accurate images of the style of a Roman woman. Poppaea's togas were low cut leaving her chest area open. Many of her outfits particularly the olive green dress (pictured) is a sweetheart neckline showing her cleavage.

The costumes, although not exactly historically accurate left viewers of the film awestruck. (Cyrino, Quo Vadis)


Another film that made a very huge impression on movie goers is the Academy Award winning film Cleopatra. Makers of Cleopatra began preparation for this grand film in the year 1959.Four years later in 1963 the film made its way to the big screen. It is easy to see the remarkable work and detail that went into the making of the film.Epic scenes and costumes were fashioned proving to all that this film was truly like no other. The original budget for Cleopatra was set at 2 million dollars. Although 20th Century Fox was on the verge of bankruptcy this company decided to go all out spending an outrageous amount of money on this sword and sandal film. Owning the title of most expensive sword and sandal film to date, a total of 44 million dollars was spent on the making of Cleopatra.

Cleopatra GOLD

Historically, the Queen of Egypt symbolized strength and power. On camera, the queen is personified as a sex symbol. Risque gowns of bright colors of red, gold, purple, and green were worn by the actress. Throughout the entire film, Elizabeth Taylor is wearing dresses that accentuated and enhance her female figure. All costumes showed an incredible amount of skin that reveal her cleavage. V-cut and sweetheart necklines were most commonly used on all of Taylor’s costumes. During the seven-minute procession Elizabeth Taylor showcases an absolutely gorgeous dress made entirely of 24-carat gold thread. This dress was valued at 6,500 dollars. (pictured)

It is safe to say that this film focused more on the Hollywood aspect of Rome. Painting a much more glamorous picture, instead of focusing the accurate clothing being used within that time. (Cyrino, Cleopatra

Works CitedEdit

Cyrino, Monica Silveira. "Chapter 1, 5, 6." Big Screen Rome. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2005. 7+. Print.