Re: Hello, Sailor!

Russell Crowe as Lucky Jack Aubrey in “Master and Commander: Far Side of the World”. Not every guy can wear ruffled shirts and make them seem macho, but Crowe carries the look off.

I watched “Master and Commander: Far Side of the World” just recently and was completely blown away by two things: 1) how dishy Russell Crowe looks in 1805 naval gear and 2) the impressive amount of work designer Wendy Stites had put into the costumes.  This eye for historic accuracy is matched throughout the production and you really get a feel for what it was like to work and live aboard a Royal Navy ship during the Napoleonic wars.

Crowe in full uniform as Capt. Aubrey. His ship, the HMS Surprise, is in the background.

One of the most difficult things about costuming a historic period piece like “Master and Commander” is that the costume must be true to the period, but at the same time must say something about the character as well.  Capt. Aubrey is described as a traditionalist, a guy who still wears an old-style uniform, so Crowe’s outfit is copied from Aubrey’s hero, Admiral Horatio Nelson.

Throughout the movie, the wardrobe and makeup people play up the generational difference in fashions. The older men like Jack wear knee breeches and have their hair in long pigtails while young men in the crew have their hair cut short and wear long pants. This is the beginning of the transition in men’s fashions from breeches to pants.

From left to right, unknown seaman, Midshipman Callamy (Max Benitz) and Midshipman Hollum (Lee Ingleby) check the waters for enemy sails. Notice that while the seamen and the officers have similar articles of clothing, they wear them differently. Both have black neckerchiefs, for example, but the officers wear them wrapped twice around their necks (called a “stock”) while the seamen wear theirs tied loosely about their shoulders.

The class difference between officers (usual drawn from the upper classes) and the enlisted men (usually working class) is indicated by their garb.  Enlisted men were expected to supply their own gear and while they might get some second hand clothes, for the most part they cut and sewed their own clothes. I was surprised to learn that there was still considerable leeway for officers to express their individual dress sense and that Naval officers often competed with each other to see who could be the most fashionably turned out.

The Royal Marines, by contrast, were very regimented in their dress. The Marines wore red coats with white pants in summer, blue pants in winter, and a white “undress” uniform which they are seen wearing in the movie while on the Galapagos Islands. In addition to being sharpshooters and a landing force, Marines also served as security guards aboard the ship.

Paul Bettany as Dr. Stephen Maturin in “Master and Commander”.  I covet his banyan–the loose outer coat that he’s wearing.

As ship’s doctor, Stephen Maturin is one of the few civilians aboard ship. Like his friend, Jack, he wears the old-style knee breeches, but unlike Jack, he has his hair cut short and brushed forward in the fashion of the period. His hairstyle, like the banyan or Indian-inspired jacket that he wears on-shore, indicates that he is an intellectual and a progressive who favors social and political reform.

I was able to find a couple of neat fan-made costumes on the Net inspired by the movie.

Cathy from The Crafty Cattery made the above Jack Aubrey uniform as a Halloween costume. She wasn’t trying for an exact re-creation, just an impression, but I think it turned out great. Click here to read her blog entry describing the project.

Lord MoufMouf did this beautiful rendition of Dr. Maturin’s Galapagos Island outfit. Notice the excellent spats as well as the small cage for live specimens. Dr. Maturin is an amateur naturalist as well as a physician and a linguist.

The folks over at the  Man the Capstan blog make a habit of re-creating Napoleonic garb and have some great costumes to show.

You should check out this small set of exhibit photos from Alleycatscratch (scroll down about 2/3s of the page). The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising also has a couple of pictures here including the only good shot I was able to find of Captain Howard’s uniform.

If you are serious about re-creating one of the costumes from the film, I highly recommend “The Making of Master and Commander” book which has plenty of stills as well as background information. The book is currently out of print, but you should be able to borrow a copy from or through your local library.