Today I am sharing the costumes of Testament of Youth, one of my favourite period films, in part three of my series of film fashion inspiration! You can read the first two posts, about Miss Potter here and Jane Eyre here. Have you ever seen the 2014 film Testament of Youth starring Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Taron Egerton and Colin Morgan? It is set during the Great War of 1914-1918, and based on the memoir by Vera Brittain the British writer, feminist and pacifist who lived from 1893 to 1970. Her memoir chronicles her early adulthood during WWI and the interwar years, capturing the experiences of her generation. While it is an extremely heart wrenching story, it is also beautifully told. The costumes in the film were designed by Consolata Boyle, and I love how they give such an insight into Vera’s character. Here are some of my favourite fashion inspirations from her costumes which span the pre-war to post-war years.
In her memoir, Vera Brittain speaks of her love for stylish clothing and beautiful fabrics, and she includes passages about her garments and accessories. In this film, unlike the other historical films I’ve shared, the main character has an extensive wardrobe filled with many beautiful pieces, and she doesn’t repeat outfits throughout the film.
Vera’s colour palette consists mainly of blues and pinks, with some adjacent colours of purple and mint. She wears mostly pastel shades before the war, and then those colours darken into navy and burgundy during and after the war.
While Vera wears the more simple and streamlined silhouettes of the early 1910’s (streamlined compared to the decade before) the pieces she wears are extremely intricate, and require a closer look to take in all of the details. Many of her outfits contain embellishments to set them apart, whether it’s embroidery at the neckline or lapel, button placement, bias and straight cut pieced stripes, pin tucks or insets of lace.
Many of the costumes are extant pieces, which really does give a feeling of historicity to the film. However, her costumes are not stuffy at all, and the elegant silhouettes make the outfits much more “wearable”; I would love to add pieces like these into my wardrobe!
While Vera has chosen the path of academia and a serious career in writing (despite her family’s fears that she will become a “bluestocking”) she does not choose this at the expense of her own personal style. She decries the frumpy and ugly clothing of so many of her fellow students and despite the headmistress scornfully asking a fellow professor, after seeing Vera, whether they are hosting an examination or “a debutante’s ball”, she doesn’t give up her enjoyment of clothing to wear what is deemed serious attire. She is definitely what we would call a fashionista, but proves that you don’t have to stop wearing feminine clothing in order to be smart and ambitious.
That being said, Vera does change to some extent what she wears depending on the season and where she is. She wears darker clothing for the city, the original tailored “academia” aesthetic when she’s in Oxford (with her own fashionable twist) and chooses lightweight and less structured pieces for the country.
Vera’s outfits also contain a great mix of textures with a wide range of fabrics. She wears a lot of layers, often pairing lighter blouses with interesting knitwear and tailored coats on top. She wears a lot of lovely sweaters, or jumpers as they’d be called in England, and unifies these separates through her choice of accessories and colours to create cohesive ensembles.
Vera also loves a good hat, and knows the power of a hat to either make or break your outfit. There is one scene in the film where she tries on several different hats before finally selecting one as the perfect finishing touch to her outfit.
A good topper can either complete your outfit, or take centre stage and stand out on it’s own as a statement. She wears both statement hats and more restrained hats throughout the film, depending on the occasion.
Vera also knows that dressing up for an occasion can make it even more special. During one scene, Vera wears a rather too fancy outfit to an event, raising her mother’s eyebrows, but it elevates the mood and sets the tone for what happens. She knows that it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed, and she’ll never be accused of not being dressed for the occasion. I love this idea; even if there isn’t an occasion to wear your fancy clothes, you can make one!
Now that I’ve discussed a lot of the beautiful 1910’s fashions, we come to what Vera wears for the majority of the film: her VAD uniform. Vera left Oxford in 1915 to join the British Voluntary Aid Detachment as a nurse. While we might look at her uniform today and think it looks rather nice compared with modern uniforms, she hated wearing it! Which I can actually understand, as I’ve hated wearing a uniform at past jobs as well, no matter what they were like. Some Volunteers tried to customize their uniforms, which was frowned upon, but there wasn’t really much they could do to personalize it. (Here is an in depth video about the components of the VAD uniforms, by Crows Eye Productions.)
During this section of the film, Vera leaves most of her personal style to the side, though she still continues to wear some great outerwear and hats; she is able to inject some interest into her outerwear with her berets! The beret is a classic piece for Vera, and she wears them often throughout the film, but I especially love this interesting pleated beret she wears with her VAD outerwear. I’d love to make something like it.
I actually take some inspiration from her wartime costumes too, as keeping separate wardrobes for work and personal time is a great idea. Even if you aren’t wearing an actual uniform to your job, after a while the clothes you wear to work can start to feel like a uniform, and you won’t really feel like wearing them outside of work. Keeping a small selection of mix and match pieces specifically for your job can make it easier to get dressed in the morning without stress, as well as giving you the chance to save your favourite pieces for when you’re out having fun. Choosing a “uniform” of your own for work can keep the rest of your closet from feeling stagnant, as well as ensuring that you always have a work appropriate outfit ready to go.
The latter part of the film, spanning the war and post-war years are understandably a more serious and sombre period, and the costumes are much more subdued. There are a lot of darker colours and pared back ensembles, which reflect the hardships Vera has gone through. Society as a whole, and women’s fashion in particular, changed greatly through the war years, with war jobs and rationing drastically transforming the kinds of clothing that women wore. This film did a great job of capturing that zeitgeist and the film ends right as women’s clothing is heading for even more change in the 1920’s, never to return to what it was before. (For more about how the Great War sparked the Roaring Twenties, this is a really great video, again by CrowsEye Productions.)
Well, this isn’t an exhaustive list of all of the costumes of Testament of Youth, but these are some of my favourites from this film. Have you seen this film, and what did you think of it? What parts of Vera’s wardrobe do you like? Do you wish you could steal any of the pieces to add to your closet?