The Great is a Hulu exclusive show with 10 episodes out already, and more to air this November. I can easily say that it is one of the only great things to come out of 2020, and the second season will hopefully help us make it through 2021. The show stars Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great and follows the historical character’s path to the throne. It is a work of historical fiction, meaning that it takes liberties with the storyline, including costuming. However, they did not forget the cinched waists and silk gowns that we love to see.
Warning, there may be spoilers!
The Sunshine Dress
When the show starts, Catherine is just arriving to fulfill her arranged marriage to Peter, the emperor of Russia. She arrives in a pale, almost pastel, blue dress that is plain compared to some of the clothes she may wear down the line. This is done purposefully to display her innocence and make her stand out as an outsider from the darker colors worn by the rest of the court. This pale yellow gown is the first one we see Catherine in and I still think this dress is lovely and many others mirror it later on in the series.
Her character is full of blissful optimism and excitement. She wears an almost pastel palette, which is ill-suited for the dark and gritty atmosphere of Russia at the time. Her dress is made of silk and as you can tell there are no ornate decorations to it, showing her family’s position before she is betrothed to Peter. That does not stop me from really appreciating this dress and the silhouette that it makes. When I think of what a princess would wear in her day-to-day activities, I imagine this dress.
One thing that you may know as someone who studies history, but not as an average consumer, is that for a long period of history other European fashion was outlawed in Russia. During The Great, we see many influences of European fashion in both women’s and men’s clothing. Their clothing is made with patterned silk, cotton, and other various materials, also wigs and hairpieces became more popular during this time. We will see that Catherine’s mind and clothing are both deeply influenced by the French.
During the first episode, we also see this gorgeous slate blue hunting ensemble. This color is more muted than her previous gowns. I believe that is because this scene is where Catherine finds out more about Peter’s character. Catherine is deeply inspired by the French from their fashion to their education system and even aspires to open a school, however, Peter dismisses her. It is at this point that we really see in contrast between these two characters.
Catherine is not easily swayed by the Russian court. Her casual wear makes her greatly stand out from all the other women surrounding her. This outfit does not conform to the time period from the pairing of the skirt and blouse to the sheerness and style of the collar. This ensemble would have been considered masculine, but so was academia, and that’s exactly why I believe the designer chose it.
I love this ensemble so much because it is so romantic and simple compared to her gowns, however, it still manages to be intellectual. This combination is also so versatile because you can change the color of any clothing item and maintain the overall look but with copious amounts of possibilities. You can add another color or texture to imply different intentions and moods. Cathrine is almost always wearing a variation of this when she is being academic.
A Subtle Change
Here we can see the same silhouette I was mentioning with the first dress, but there are some key differences here. For example, we can tell that this dress has more elaborate ornamentation. We know that her role in court is changing from her dress alone, which is a great achievement of the designer. Here she has gained Peter’s favor and is standing up to the courtiers that have bullied her before. She still is in her classic pastel palette, but she has made a statement that she is not the same Catherine that arrived.
This gown has made it on my list as a favorite because it is where we see one of the first signs that Catherine is learning to play the game (maybe not so well at times) of court. She stepped away from her roots and is embracing the over-the-top lifestyle at court to achieve her long-term plans.
The Commemoration Dress
How could you make a list of the gowns in this show without mentioning the coronation gown…oops I mean commemoration gown. This dress is as direct as foreshadowing comes. We all know that eventually, Catherine the Great becomes Empress of Russia. This dress has the cape, the sash, the florals, all giving a subtle nod to the dress that Catherine the Great wore in her coronation portrait.
One noticeable difference between Cathrine’s gown here and the one worn by the historical figure is the color scheme. Here we still see Catherine in her staple blue, whereas her counterpart wore gold. I believe this is to be symbolic of the growth she still needs to fill the role as Empress.
As the show progresses we get to see Catherine incorporate more of the Russian style into her own wardrobe. This beautiful brocade silk is accented with light brown fur. Her color palette is still very distinct from the other characters, however, the fur is a nod to the fashion of the court she’s in. While wearing this dress she goes to visit the wounded at a battlefield. The adoption of the style may have been due to her representing the Russian court and therefore what many of the soldiers are fighting to protect.
We also see Catherine interacting with the court more in this outfit rather than her normal group of friends. This may be a signal that she is indeed becoming more Russian so-to-say. I adore that Catherine wears so much blue because it always makes her stand out and changing that is almost like a compromise that she is not willing to make.
More Fur! This has to be one of the best wardrobe moments of the series. During their visit to negotiate peace with Sweden, Catherine dons this dark blue coat and no fur was spared! Her wardrobe is much more in tune with the hues and theme of Peter’s court, which is ironic because she is controlling him during this montage.
I feel as though this is a disguise in a way, since she is manipulating Peter to do as she wishes. This gown acts as a symbolic costume to represent her filling Peter’s shoes during negotiations. That being said, can we just appreciate the contrast of the blue and brown and how this is the perfect cold-weather color scheme?
The Final Look
There’s not much I can say for this pink gown that it doesn’t already say for itself. The color is shocking and eye-catching, just as Catherine is in this episode. Also, she is not wearing blue! She has finally shed her skin and is taking control of the fate that she believes is hers. The costuming is the cherry on top of the cake. Catherine’s ever-changing wardrobe does an excellent job of telling her character’s story while making all of the viewers jealous of her style. This bright color is the perfect way to show that Catherine is taking charge, Huzzah!
What is your favorite outfit of Catherine’s? Are there any that didn’t make my list that I should add?
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