Bring Back The Fichu



In this season of hyper-bad news and ultra-serious posts, it’s time for a little levity. We need it, what with ISIS and Ray Rice and Rotherham and all.


For those “Game of Thrones” fans who are in hypoxia-mode because their favorite characters won’t return until OMG next spring, there’s a fix: turn to the Starz.


I mean “Outlander”, now in its fifth week on Starz.


Based on the series of books by Diana Gabaldon, translated into umpteen languages and beloved all over the world, this well-planned and cinematically gorgeous show displays all the suspense, romance, intrigue and 18th-century violence of its literary parent. Though I look forward to the boxed set – captions for the Scots Gaelic! – even the fact that the protagonist Claire Beauchamp Randall (played by Caitriona Balfe) only half-understands the people into whose midst she’s been flung by time travel works well. We don’t understand either, so her confusion mirrors ours as she navigates the 1740s Scottish Highlands with 1946 sensibility and knowledge.


Superlative casting also nets us handsome Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser, the young Scotsman who marries Claire to save her from torture, as well as Graham McTavish (the tall dwarf  Dwalin of The Hobbit) who plays Jamie’s conniving uncle Dougal McKenzie.


Acting is great. Scenery gorgeous. Sets and locations fabulous.




We could do with fewer candles (candles were expensive, no one would light one in daylight – if they needed extra light then, they might fire up a small lamp with oil in it, or even a simple handmade lamp).


In addition, at a time when every woman and most girls would have worn a hat or lace or even a canvas hood, as a matter of keeping warm but also mindful of the Biblical injunction that a woman’s hair must be covered, Claire wears precisely nothing atop her shoulder-length brown locks — short by 1740s standards, but they might have been purposely cut because of a fever. Oy vey.


All right, I understand, the producers want us to be able to pick her out from the crowd.


However, two things are not only historically inaccurate, but would have seen Claire verbally chastened if not beaten at a time when men felt it was their business to criticize women’s choices in hairstyles and clothing. (Wait, they still do that.)


Number one, she occasionally wears her hair down.


No. Just no.


A grown woman (Claire is 27 and claims to be a widow, her husband having been left behind in post-war Britain), would never do that in 1743 except in severe Catholic penance, or, as in the legend of Lady Godiva, in order to achieve some nearly impossible goal. Let-down hair was for girls – that is, female people who had not yet married – as we see from young Laoghaire who has a crush on Jamie Fraser. Laoghaire’s blond tresses tumble down her back. However, grown women, especially widows, would have always pinned up their hair. They would no more let it brush their shoulders than they would wear skirts up to their knees.


Then there’s the matter of the fichu. Ah, the fichu. Or lack thereof.


A fichu was a piece of fabric like a kerchief or shawl (shown here), usually white and triangular, worn over the shoulders with its ends crossed over the breasts so that their upper part would not be exposed to view. (The lower part was covered by the bodice and underlying chemise.) In the photo above, Claire wears no fichu. The same goes for many other times. Within Castle Leoch, where she is first taken, on the road, wherever. The fichu is on-again, off-again, when by rights it should be definitively on, at least during daylight hours.


Again, it would be partly to keep her warm, and partly to cover her breasts. Even in the early 19th century, in Jane Austen’s time, women wore such covers. Only they tucked them into their low-cut bodices and called them, well, tuckers. Readers of Pride and Prejudice may remember that the elder Bennet sisters criticized young Lydia for purposely omitting her tucker during the daytime. (Lydia, only 15, was unconcerned.)


One might show a bit of breast after supper, but as long as the sun was shining – unh-unh.


Claire, doing the same thing (time after time), in real 1740s life, would have been roundly critiqued by the women around her and told to go dress herself by the men in power, like Dougal – and men who thought they held power, meaning every wearer of trousers or kilt.


I realize it’s too late – and it’s Starz, known for nudity – to set the loose hair and fichu-gone-AWOL in their proper places. It’s not too late for Season Two, however, already greenlit for next year.


Long live the fichu!



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