In this post I will discuss the costumes worn in the 1997 Titanic film by director James Cameron. The movie blends the tragic history of the sinking of the RMS Titanic during its maiden voyage with the fictional romantic love story of Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater as played by Leonard DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. The film was both a critical and commercial success winning 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director for Cameron and Best Costume Design for Deborah Scott.
For this post I will specifically focus on the dresses worn by the character of Rose. The film is set in 1912 which was a time when first class women passengers were expected to travel on a transatlantic trip with an extensive wardrobe required because of the multiple changes per day that were needed according to the various social activities on board the ship. There were traveling dresses or tailored suits worn when arriving at the departure port or disembarking at their destination, dresses worn in the morning when in the stateroom or while walking on deck, afternoon dresses worn for lunch or tea and of course elegant evening dresses worn for the formal dinners held each night in the grand dining room. Several sets of undergarments would also be needed for dressing, starting with a chemise and bloomers worn under a corset and then a camisole, petticoat and stockings. Numerous accessories were usually needed to coordinate with each outfit and would include coats, shawls, shoes, gloves, hats and jewelry. In addition, clothes for sleeping and silken robes to be worn when relaxing in the stateroom would complete the items of clothing required for first class women’s travel wardrobe.
Fashion Note: Several of the beaded evening dresses worn by the character of Rose in the Titanic movie would be a great inspiration for a bridal dress for a formal wedding. In fact the black beaded dress with the silk coral underskirt was duplicated in white for the final dream/heaven scene at the end of the film. In addition, some of the less embellished dresses, such as the white chiffon with the pink sash, would be great style for a bride or bridesmaid dress for a spring or summer wedding.
When arriving at a port to embark on an ocean voyage first class woman passengers would often wear their best tailored suit, these type of outfits were also a sensible choice for strolling on board the ship while in the colder climate of the North Atlantic. A tailored suit, sometimes known as a traveling or walking suit, consisted of a straight “hobble” skirt that tapered to a narrow opening at the ankles thereby restricting movement. Matching jackets would extend over the hips and were often cut asymmetrical to further the illusion of length. White blouse were most often worn underneath, pin tucks or ruffles were sometimes added a feminine element to the severe suit style.
Rose’s pin-striped traveling suit
In the beginning of the Titanic film a scene shows a women emerging from a car but her face is hidden under a rather large hat. The dark straw hat features a wide brim with an enormous striped ribbon bow and as she raises her head to look at the towering ship we see that it is Rose. The pin-striped tailored suit she is wearing features a straight narrow skirt and a matching long jacket with a dark velvet notched lapel accented with a dark belt at the waist, a white blouse with a rounded collar is worn underneath with a black tie; Rose completes her traveling ensemble by wearing sensible shoes, white leather gloves and carrying a parasol.
Movie Note: The large brimmed hat with the elaborate embellishment was a popular trend during the early 1900s and in the film this fashion choice really added to the drama of the scene as the character of Rose is revealed for the first time.
DAY DRESSES, SHAWLS AND COATS
While on board ship, the first class women passengers would continue to take extra care when dressing for lunch or tea since it would be another opportunity to show their high status in society and also their wealth by wearing the latest Parisian fashions. Day dresses were generally made of silk or cotton material and featured long slim skirts that tapered at the ankles and often had long fitted sleeves. Sometimes, for colder weather, these dresses would be worn with a matching wool jacket or coat for perhaps a beautiful shawl or luxurious fur coat for the older women.
Movie Note: To visually aid in contrasting the distinction between the upper class and refined Rose and the lower working class Jack, she wears colorful dresses made in fine fabrics featuring lace and embroidery to define her upper class style while he wears drab brown colored trousers and well-worn shirts.
Rose’s green lace dress
For lunch on the first full day at sea Rose is in the opulent dining room and she is feeling slightly bored by the dull conversation at the table and also confined by the social restrictions demanded by her mother and fiancé. She abruptly leaves the table and goes to the ship’s upper class deck to clear her head and it is while standing at the railing looking out to sea that Jack sees her for the first time from below on the third class deck, He is intrigued by her beauty and Rose appears very poised and slightly aloof while she notices Jack staring at her.
In these scenes, for the cooler North Atlantic climate, Rose is wearing a lovely green day dress with sensible long sleeves and an ankle length skirt featuring layers of beautiful lace, a bold wide red sash with a large fabric rose accents her trim waist.
Rose’s blue velvet dress and silk embroidered shawl
After a misunderstanding, Rose once again goes in search of Jack on board the ship to apologize for her behavior. She finds him at the front of the ship as the sun is beginning to set over the North Atlantic. To encourage Rose’s newfound feeling of freedom and to share in the pure joy of the moment, Jack has Rose climb the railing at the bow of the ship to let her experience the unique feeling of seemingly soaring over ocean. This scene filmed with the background of the dramatic twilight lighting has become one of the most memorable and romantic of the movie.
For this iconic scene Rose is wearing a beautiful blue velvet dress with an ankle length skirt, long sleeves and lace detail at the bodice, worn over the dress is an ivory silk fringed shawl. The color of the dress is a lovely contrast against her pale porcelain white skin and her stunning red hair.
Rose’s white chiffon, pink sash dress and pink coat
After a scandalous rendezvous in Rose’s stateroom where Jack sketches her posing nude while wearing the extravagant “heart of the ocean” necklace (more on that piece of jewelry at the end of this post!) the couple is discovered and escape running into the various lower portions of the ship until they emerge onto the deck just in time to see the ship collide with an iceberg. Rose and Jack return to the stateroom to inform her mother that the ship is sinking and the passengers are being evacuated. Meanwhile her fiancé, after learning that Rose and Jack are now romantically involved, in a jealous rage unjustly accuses Jack of stealing the “heart of the ocean” necklace. Throughout their remaining hours on board the sinking Titanic Rose and Jack are separated numerous times and they struggle to remain together until the ship goes down in the frigid waters of the north Atlantic Ocean.
In these final scenes of the film Rose is wearing an ethereal multi-layered white silk chiffon dress accented with shades of lavender layered across the bodice, light and darker pink silk sashes are draped around the high waist, tied and cascade down the back of the dress. Then, as the passengers prepare to board the lifeboats, Rose is seen wearing a full length coat over her white dress as protection from the cold. The coat is made of pink wool which is lined in matching pink silk and features black silk braiding at the collar and cuffs. Rose eventually takes off the coat as the water begins to flood the ship as she searches for Jack. When the couple is reunited and they return on deck Jack has gallantly gives Rose his long dark coat (more on the importance of the coat later in this post!)
Movie Note: Much like the fashion choice used in the film with the dramatic reveal of Rose hidden by the large hat, the dress she wears during these final scenes of the sinking of the Titanic was probably used to convey a subtle meaning. At this point in the story Rose has rejected the social restrictions set by her mother and fiancé and must importantly she feels happiness in her love for Jack. The white chiffon dress was an important choice because it appears so much lighter in style without the heavy embellishments of Rose’s other dresses worn earlier in the film and this helps to convey the change in her newfound feeling of freedom.
During the long Victorian Era (1837 to 1901) women’s fashions were more modest in style with high collars and long sleeves, full skirts worn with several layers of heavy petticoats or crinoline and waistlines pulled in with uncomfortable corsets to achieve the desired hourglass silhouette. Then, during the shorter period of time known as the Edwardian Era (1901 to 1910) the style of women’s fashions became more relaxed with narrower skirts worn with a single petticoat and less restricting corsets to create a long and slim silhouette. The elegant evening dresses were more daring with lower necklines and shorter sleeves, these dresses were made with luxurious rich fabric such as silk and embellished with heavy beading and netting.
Rose’s black and red evening dress
In a dramatic scene when a distraught Rose is holding onto the railing of the Titanic and contemplating jumping, Jack gallantly saves her and this is the moment when they first meet and their love story begins.
In this scene Rose is wearing a stunning black and red evening dress that features a narrow skirt, high waist and cap sleeves. The dress is made of a rich red satin material with an overlay of black tulle netting that is embellished with embroidery and beading.
Rose’s black and deep coral evening dress
After the ordeal of Rose almost jumping, Jack receives an invitation to dine in the upper class section of the ship as a thank you for his rescuing her. Jack is loaned a formal tuxedo since his lower class clothing would not be acceptable in the opulent dining room where the tables were set with crisp white linens, bone china, crystal glassware and numerous silverware. Later Rose and Jack join a festive and very lively party below deck in the lower class section of the ship
For these scenes Rose is wearing another beautiful evening dress. The dress is made of a lovely deep coral taffeta with overlapping layers of black netting that is heavily embroidered and beaded. To complement her ensemble Rose is wearing long white gloves, a diamond necklace and earrings, her long red hair is worn in a loose bun and intertwined within her curls are long strands of beading to match the dress.
Rose’s white beaded evening dress
In the final scene of the movie, in a heavenly dream we see the young Rose being reunited with Jack back on board the Titanic. As the camera moves around the area of the grand staircase the couple is surrounded by a crowd of people, including the ship’s captain, the crew and several passengers who had all perished when the ship sank in 1912.
For this scene Rose is wearing a duplicate of the black and coral evening gown but this version is made of white taffeta and white beading, her hair is worn in loose curls.
Rose’s enameled butterfly hair comb
When watching a report on the artifacts that are discovered among the wreckage of the RMS Titanic, an elderly Rose is shocked when she sees Jack’s sketch of her that was done so many years ago and she makes arrangements to be flown out to the research ship. As she looks at the items retrieved from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean she picks up a lovely enameled butterfly hair comb that she had worn during her time on the Titanic … and the memories start to come back to her and she begins to tell the story on what happened on that fateful maiden voyage.
Rose can be seen wearing the butterfly hair comb in the iconic romantic scene when she is at the bow of the Titanic. The Art Nouveau design of the hair comb was a popular style during the late 19th and early 20th century and frequently featured very artistic designs of all different types of flora and fauna. In this case the tortoiseshell hair comb had a large butterfly that was probably made in celluloid or glass cabochon in a lovely jade color and then hand finished with enamel detailing.
Movie Note: There were actually two different butterfly hair combs used in the Titanic film, one is made to look like it was just bought by Rose during a shopping trip to Paris or London while the second one has an aged and worn look because it was supposed have been found in the ship’s wreckage at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
Heart of the Ocean necklace
While on the ship, Cal (Rose’s fiancé) has presented her with a stunning necklace known as the “Heart of the Ocean”. This is the same piece of jewelry that is worn when Rose scandalously asks Jack to sketch her in the nude. The necklace is also used for a pivotal moment in the story when Cal unjustly accuses Jack of attempting to “steal” the priceless necklace.
The “Heart of the Ocean” necklace in the Titanic film was inspired by the famous Hope Diamond (for more information, please watch for an upcoming post on this blog). The necklace in the story was supposed to be a 171 carat heart-shaped Ceylon sapphire surrounded by 103 diamonds and set in platinum. In fact, the prop necklace was made by Asprey & Garrard and features a large blue cubic zirconia to simulate the sapphire and clear cubic zirconia to simulate the diamonds set in white gold.
Spoiler Alert: It is later, after Jack has died, and Rose is onboard the rescue ship that she reaches into the pocket of the coat that Jack had graciously given to her to protect her against cold temperature as the Titanic sank in the water of the North Atlantic Ocean. She is shocked at the discovery but interestingly in all the years following the tragedy she never tells anyone that she has the expensive necklace!
After the success of the Titanic film, the Asprey & Garrard Jewelers created a duplicate Heart of the Ocean necklace which was donated to Sotheby’s auction house for an auction with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. This version of the Heart of the Ocean necklace was eventually donated to the Charlestown Shipwreck & Heritage Center (formerly known as the National Shipwreck Museum) located in Charleston, Cornwall in England where it can be currently seen on display.
Movie Note: It is the “Heart of the Ocean” necklace that the research crew is trying to find in the wreckage of the RMS Titanic. In a very controversial scene at the end of the film, the elderly Rose steps onto the railing of the research ship and the “Heart of the Ocean” necklace slips through her hands and falls into the water of the North Atlantic Ocean.
It is almost the exact spot where the doomed Titanic had hit an iceberg on the night of April 14 and sank within a few hours in the early morning of April 15 while making its first transatlantic voyage from Southampton, England to New York City in 1912. Sadly, an estimated 1500 of the approximately 2200 passengers and crew died making it one of the worst marine disasters in modern history.