Oops, Wrong Century! 29+ Costume and Prop Blunders in Historical Films


| LAST UPDATE 08/01/2023

By Evelyn Martinez

Have you ever seen a modern costume or prop in a historical movie that looked so out of place it made you uncomfortable? This list shows some of the worst offenders and where they went wrong. Here's a look.

Django Unchained (2012)

Jamie Foxx's sunglasses in 2012's Django Unchained were not totally historically accurate. Still, they looked so cool that Quentin Tarantino didn't care. Django finally got to choose his shades.

Jamie Foxx Django UnchainedJamie Foxx Django Unchained
Sony Pictures Entertainment via YouTube

The sunglasses were based on a pair worn by Charles Bronson in The White Buffalo, but they weren't invented for fashion until the early 20th century. Django Unchained is set in the 1850s, so the sunglasses would have been totally out of place. He may be from pre-Civil War America, but Django still has style.

Gladiator (2000)

Russell Crowe has taken on many diverse roles in Hollywood - his rugged voice and intense gaze have taken on a life of their own. Unsurprisingly, we see this most in his Oscar winning role in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. While Russell’s performance was a picture of perfection, his costume wasn’t always so.

Russell Crowe Gladiator OscarRussell Crowe Gladiator Oscar
Paramount Movies via YouTube

In the final cumulative battle scene, where Maximus fights for his stolen freedom, he falls on the ground and reveals more than we were expecting. Well, not that much more, but the actor is seen wearing a pair of black bike shorts. It doesn't take a historian to figure out that the Romans weren’t in possession of lycra.

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Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Shawshank Redemption has become an all-time favorite film for fans of all ages; the movie has one of IMDb’s highest ratings at 9.3 out of 10. One of its most coveted scenes occurs in the middle of the film when the incarcerated group drinks beers in the morning “like free men.”

Shawshank Redemption Tim RobbinsShawshank Redemption Tim Robbins
Warner Bros Entertainment via YouTube

There is one issue with the 'free men' beers: the bottles they drink from are a twisty cap shape that didn’t yet exist. The scene is set in the late 40s, and the design was only invented many decades later. While Shawshank Redemption spans almost twenty years, it isn’t enough time to make up for the minor error.

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Braveheart (1995)

Perhaps the most contentious film on our list for its many historical inaccuracies, but still adored nonetheless. Mel Gibson's Braveheart may not be the best representation of costuming and props in modern filmmaking. While it earns little credit for factuality, people still quote the film's iconic speech all the more.

Braveheart Mel Gibson KiltBraveheart Mel Gibson Kilt
Braveheart (1995) Paramount Pictures via IMDb

The gravest Braveheart sin on our list is the wearing of kilts by Mel himself and the Scottish freedom fighters. The garment synonymous with Scottish Highlanders was actually only ever adopted in the 16th Century. Given the film is set in 1280, seeing Mel in that kilt looks a little off...

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Braveheart, Again

Yet another Braveheart entry makes our list. This time, we're not addressing costumes or props. Mel Gibson's blue face paint in the final battle scene is a tad more fiction than fact. The Scottish hadn't used face paint for over 1000 years; they last wore it during Julius Caesar's rule in the 1st Century. Oh, Mel.

Braveheart Mel Gibson PaintBraveheart Mel Gibson Paint
Moviestore via Shutterstock

As historian David Williamson put it, "Braveheart is a work of fiction, not history. It takes a great deal of liberties with the truth, and it should not be taken as an accurate account of the life of William Wallace or the Wars of Scottish Independence." If you thought Mel had made enough mistakes, keep reading.

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Braveheart, One More Time

At this point, the better question we have for this film is what they did that was historically accurate? This next entry for Braveheart's criminal list of non-factual portrayals is, finally, not a Mel costume piece. He is spared this time. Instead, it is Princess Isabel's outfit. 

Braveheart princess Belt costumeBraveheart princess Belt costume
Moviestore via Shutterstock

The Princess wears fancy metal belts in the film, which only came into style a century later. She would have instead worn leather belts and girdles that didn't weigh as much. Mel told Empire in 1995, "I knew that I couldn't make a completely historically accurate film." At least he was right about that.

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Troy (2004)

Any fine woman deserves protection from the heat of the sun; heaven forbid a royal lady should ever sweat. However, the 2004 film Troy may have been ahead of the curb when protecting themselves from the sun. While riding a chariot, Helen and Paris of Troy shade themselves with a decorative umbrella.

Orlando Bloom Diane KrugerOrlando Bloom Diane Kruger
Alex Bailey / Warner Bros / Kobal via Shutterstock

Not only did the umbrella not exist for another 800 years, but the parasol is also adorned with tassels, which historians have found no proof of before the 14th Century. That is almost 1000 years after the events of the film. While we can’t give it points for total accuracy, who doesn’t love a pretty little parasol?

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl may be an entirely fictional film, but its story takes place in a genuine period in naval history. For a movie that isn’t based on actual events, Pirates is praised by critics for its historical accuracy. So, this entry on our list isn’t entirely the director’s fault. 

Pirates Caribbean Johnny DeppPirates Caribbean Johnny Depp
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) Walt Disney Pictures via IMDb

In fact, most of the blame could be pinned on a very tired and overworked editor. At the back of the shot, a very familiar but odd piece of headwear appears to be worn by one of the pirates. Accidentally left in the frame is a cowboy or, much more likely, a crew member that didn’t realize he was still in the frame.

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Dirty Dancing (1987)

Nobody puts Baby in a corner! Unless, of course, she wears historically inaccurate outfits. Released in 1987 but set in 1963, Baby Houseman spends her summer in upstate New York learning to dance with her gorgeous instructor. What would one wear if learning to dance? For any post-modernist, shorts are a natural choice. 

Dirty Dancing Baby HousemanDirty Dancing Baby Houseman
Lionsgate Pictures via YouTube

However, Baby’s jean shorts were not the length one would see in 1963. At the absolute shortest, jeans would be cut just above the knee. It would have caused quite a scandal to see a teenager running around in denim shorts of that length. Well, at least, even more of a scandal than Baby had already caused.

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Spencer (2021)

Pablo Larrain's 2021 film Spencer finally gave audiences the Princess Diana story we all wanted. Finally, the People's Princess' inner turmoil and vulnerability were portrayed authentically, as well as the royal family's harshness on her and the former Prince Charles' infidelity.

Kristen Stewart Diana sunglassesKristen Stewart Diana sunglasses
Rotten Tomatoes Trailers via YouTube

Princess Di was a style icon, but there was one brand she never wore: Chanel. The double C logo reminded her of her husband's mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles. In one scene, Kristen Stewart's Diana is seen wearing a pair of shades with the double C the Princess avoided. Diana fans would have known right away something was off.

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The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)

Natalie Portman’s portrayal of King Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, in The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) is not the first, and definitely won’t be the last, historical film to depict women’s hair incorrectly. In fact, filmmakers rarely ever present Tudor films with period-accurate hair pieces.

Natalie Portman Anne Boleyn Natalie Portman Anne Boleyn
Rotten Tomatoes Classic Trailers via YouTube

In the film, Natalie is seen wearing her hair loose at the back multiple times. While the actress looks breathtaking, as usual, the hairdo is entirely inauthentic. In actuality, Tudor women - especially those of high rank - would wear their scalps covered behind a veil and their long hair tucked in a hood at the back.

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Pearl Harbor (2001)

Pearl Harbor is a visually striking film and one of Michael Bay's best. Still, it's not his most historically reputable film. In the movie, none of the women are ever seen wearing stockings. However, nylon stockings were essential to women's fashion in the 1940s and were even rationed during World War II.

Pearl Harbor American stockingsPearl Harbor American stockings
Moviestore via Shutterstock

In fact, stockings had become such a commodity they were even sold on the black market. In the mid-1940s, nylon tights were so scarce due to rationing that 40,000 women in Pittsburgh rioted over 13,000 pairs of stockings. But with an epic love triangle on the line, Bay probably figured there were more important things.

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The Last Crusade (1989)

The events of Steven Spielberg's prequel Indiana Jones film The Last Crusade took place in 1938, just one year before the Germans invaded Poland. However, eagle-eyed viewers will notice that the soldiers in the movie are already wearing medals that did not come into use until World War II had started. 

Indiana Jones German soldiersIndiana Jones German soldiers
Moviestore via Shutterstock

Either these soldiers had the ability to time travel, or this mistake slipped past Spielberg. Even though the egregious medals make the soldiers appear more intimidating, it's still a bit jarring to the history-minded to see soldiers wearing medals they shouldn't have yet.

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The Last Samurai (2003)

No one was shocked that the Tom Cruise-led blockbuster film The Last Samurai was a commercial and critical success. People were, however, surprised with just how many historical inaccuracies there were in the story. In the same way, Americans love a fantastical Western film, and Japanese audiences could get behind this film too.

Tom Cruise Last SamuraiTom Cruise Last Samurai
David James / Warner Bros / Kobal via Shutterstock

But most audiences couldn’t believe one story and costume element that didn’t add up. Even original samurai warriors reportedly used modern weapons during the Satsuma Rebellion. The film dramatizes the climactic battle by stripping everything down to good vs. evil; some audiences weren’t buying it. 

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Amadeus (1984)

Amadeus is a great movie, and its costumes are definitely one of the things that make it stand out. The costumes are colorful, elaborate, and often beautiful. The 1984 film paved the way for improved 18th-century costuming, as seen in the 1988 film Dangerous Liaisons and the 1989 film Valmont.

Amadeus Mozart Corset 80sAmadeus Mozart Corset 80s
Amadeus (1984) Orion Pictures via IMDb

Naturally, the costumes in Amadeus are only partially accurate to the historical record. Most 80s films went overboard when styling outfits. However, the corsets present in the movie are the most misleading. One character wears a noticeably modernized corset that wouldn’t have existed for another 200 years.

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The Young Victoria (2009)

The costumes in The Young Victoria were mainly accurate to the period of the 1830s, but they weren't perfect. The costume designer, Sandy Powell, did her research. Still, she also took some liberties to make the film more visually stunning and, more importantly, the pieces easier to get in and out of.

Emily Blunt Young VictoriaEmily Blunt Young Victoria
The Young Victoria (2009) GK Films via IMDb

In a few shots of the film, there is a prominent line where the dress's zipper is, rather than the usual lace bodice. Zippers were only invented 60 years after the events of the film. This effort ensured the costumes were better equipped to fit the actors' bodies. Optimization over accuracy in this case.

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Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

We know Captain America: The First Avenger isn't based on actual events. However, seeing props that don't fit where they should be is still disorientating. Quite obviously, a Captain America's Avengers member is wearing a headset that doesn't look like army equipment the Americans would have had in the 1940s.

Captain America First AvengerCaptain America First Avenger
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) Marvel Studios via IMDb

Called a Bowman Communication, this headset had only existed since the early 2000s, sixty-five years before the film's events were set. Perhaps, it would be more believable if they had made Captain America a time traveler rather than a super strong, super soldier. No one will be throwing medals at Marvel for historical accuracy.

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Pride and Prejudice (2005)

Wellington boots weren't invented yet when Pride and Prejudice takes place, but Keira Knightley wears them in the movie. The Duke of Wellington, named after the shoes, only introduced them after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. However, the events of Pride were set in the late 18th century.

Keira Knightley Pride PrejudiceKeira Knightley Pride Prejudice
Working Title / Kobal via Shutterstock

In the 2005 film adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Keira Knightley's character, Elizabeth Bennet, is clearly seen wearing Wellington boots. Maybe the filmmakers weren't aware that Wellington boots weren't in fashion when the film was set. Or, they might have decided that the shoes were just too stylish to pass up.

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Hello, Dolly (1969)

In the 1969 film Hello, Dolly, the effervescent Barbra Streisand's character, Dolly Levi, wears sleek cat-eye makeup. But there's one small problem: cat-eye makeup wasn't even invented in the 1890s when the film takes place. In fact, the popularized look wasn't even deemed "sexy" until the 1960s.

Hello Dolly Barba StreisandHello Dolly Barba Streisand
Snap via Shutterstock

Perhaps the makeup artists thought Barbra looked too good with a more modern style and brushed off the 70-year historical inaccuracy. Or, the director wanted to give the film a contemporary feel so audiences would still like to see the dated story. One thing can be agreed upon; Barb always looks fabulous no matter what makeup.

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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

Brad Pitt is just about the epitome of careless style in Hollywood, and naturally, this carries into his roles too. However, Brad appeared out of place when the eponymous title character in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Well, as out of place as someone with Brad’s face can ever look.

Brad Pitt Benjamin ButtonBrad Pitt Benjamin Button
Rotten Tomatoes Classic Trailers via YouTube

Brad's character is seen wearing a pair of Ray-Bans Aviator sunglasses in a scene set in 1945. Nothing particularly out of sorts? Correct. However, the model he wears (3025 Aviators) was not introduced until 1952. This means that Pitt's character was wearing sunglasses that didn't exist yet.

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Gangs of New York (2002)

During the fire scene in Gangs of New York, you might see a man in a modern firefighter uniform amidst the era-appropriate outfits. Either they needed to fill the take, or the lucky firefighter slipped through and fell into the frame. Who wouldn’t want to be in a Martin Scorcese film?

Daniel Day Lewis GangsDaniel Day Lewis Gangs
Rotten Tomatoes Trailers via YouTube

We figure this likely "real" firefighter was placed on set to help combat the fire in case it got out of hand and needed to be put out. While there is no doubt that extras are talented, sometimes a professional on set can differentiate between a fantastic scene and a charred set. 

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War & Peace (2016)

A sneaky entry on our list, we’re including an outfit from a miniseries. A miniseries is basically just one long movie anyway, so we’re counting it. The BBC adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace was met with acclaimed reviews, and US audiences were not left out of the viewing fun.

Lily James War PeaceLily James War Peace
BBC via YouTube

However, amongst many things, the adaptation was not faithful to the historical period that it was set in. When the story begins, Natasha, the lead character, is seen wearing a thick fringe. It doesn’t take a historical genius to guess these bangs were not regency-accurate hair. 

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Good Night and Good Luck (2005)

Good Night and Good Luck is a 2005 film about political tensions in the United States during the 1950s, during the Korean War. Director and silver fox George Clooney was praised for his accurate portrayal of the era. Still, there's one historical inaccuracy that slipped through.

George Clooney Good NightGeorge Clooney Good Night
Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) 2929 Entertainment via IMDb

Officers of the US Air Force are shown wearing name tags that contain their name, rank, and unit. However, tags were only introduced in the 1960s. While the little badge that has become synonymous with the army was not around until 1962, they are seen in several scenes of the 1953 set film.

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Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

More often than not, Steven Spielberg and the word ‘perfection’ go hand-in-hand - he rarely ever misses. However, like any average Joe, the acclaimed and beloved director is also prone to mistakes. One of his few blunders is right behind the sultry Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Indiana Jones Harrison FordIndiana Jones Harrison Ford
Paramount Movies via YouTube

In the scene, Indy is sitting with his monkey in 1940s Cairo. The background is adorned with beautiful props that fit the location and extras dressed in traditional Egyptian outfits. There is, however, one guy in a white shirt and 80s looking pair of jeans. Guess he looked normal enough for Spielberg to let it slide?

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Legends of the Fall (1994)

Brad Pitt's role in the 1994 drama Legends of the Fall helped make the upcoming star a heartthrob for 90s girls from all walks of life. His long blonde hair and stubbly chin were the epitome of 90s fashion. But while this look was the beauty standard at the time, it was anything but historically accurate.

Brad Pitt Legends FallBrad Pitt Legends Fall
Rotten Tomatoes Classic Trailers via YouTube

For a film set in 1910, most audiences know that men typically sported short hair and a clean shave. Brad's long hair and stubble would have made him a social outcast. For them, he looked more like Tarzan than an English gentleman. However, beauty is beauty, and the filmmakers wanted to see Brad with luscious long hair.

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Argo (2012)

Ben Affleck's Oscar-winning film Argo surprised audiences with its profoundly complex and intense story. We knew Ben was good but didn't think he was that good. However, some things are hard to control when creating a period piece, and 70s films are hard to get right without being too shaggy.

Ben Affleck Oscar ArgoBen Affleck Oscar Argo
Warner Bros Pictures / Kobal via YouTube

Argo's mistake proves that details are sometimes the biggest giveaway. Ben's watch that he wears throughout the film is the Rolex Sea-Dweller Deepsea, which wasn't invented until 2008, and the film was set in 1979. A small mistake, but we're satisfied since the rest of Ben's look is so 70s accurate.

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Mary Queen of Scots (2018)

Mary, Queen of Scots may have been nominated for an Academy Award for its costumes. Still, some viewers have pointed out that the costume designers made some interesting choices. In some scenes, Mary wears multiple earrings in the same ear that differentiate from those on her other ear. 

Saoirse Ronan Queen MarySaoirse Ronan Queen Mary
Rotten Tomatoes Trailers via YouTube

While earrings were becoming more popular in Europe in the 16th Century when the story takes place, there is no evidence that women wore multiple earrings at the time. The use of hoops was also not a period-appropriate choice by the design department, as the earpiece didn’t exist for another 150 years.

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Almost Famous (2000)

In the Kate Hudson film Almost Famous, set in the early 70s, there's a scene where an extra is wearing a Black Sabbath T-shirt. You may be thinking, "what's the issue?" since the band was formed in 1968. But the specific T-shirt the extra is wearing wasn't released until 1997.

Kate Hudson Almost FamousKate Hudson Almost Famous
Dreamworks / THA via Shutterstock

That's a good twenty-five years with a lot of other band tours, and we reckon the costume department could have found another Black Sabbath t-shirt. Sometimes, filmmakers assume extras fade into the background and fill a scene. But some audiences are far too nitpicky to let these details slide.

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Pompeii (2014)

No one denies that purple did not exist during the Roman Empire. It definitely did exist; it was just more exclusive. Back then, as a scarce color with royal connotations, only the ultra-wealthy could afford it. However, that is not why people criticized the 2014 film Pompeii and its inaccurate use of purple.

Kit Harington Pompeii movieKit Harington Pompeii movie
Rotten Tomatoes Trailers via YouTube

The real issue is that Emperor Nero had banned wearing purple by anyone except himself. So, it is impossible that Senator Corvus, played by Kiefer Sutherland, and the entire Roman army wore purple before the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii. 

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Little Women (2019)

Greta Gerwig's acclaimed adaptation Little Women may have taken home the Oscar for Best Costume Design. Still, some viewers think it shouldn't have even been nominated. To name only a short list of inaccuracies, the sister's hairstyles are modern, lacking bonnets and crazy uses of colors the family definitely couldn't afford. 

Little Women Greta GerwigLittle Women Greta Gerwig
Columbia Pictures / Moviestore via Shutterstock

In an interview with Varsity, fashion historian Sarah Abbas said, "A crime I cannot overlook is Durran dressing Amy March, the youngest sister, in Uggs. How they slipped in the costume design 120 years too early is a mystery to me." It seems she isn't alone, as many fans criticized the decision on Twitter and Instagram.

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