Dawn's Costume Guide

The Costumes of Cutthroat Island

Geena Davis stars in this extravagant, lavishly filmed 1995 action adventure blockbuster as the beautiful but bloodthirsty pirate Morgan Adams. While the women in other pirate movies faint or complain about their corsets, Morgan Adams laughs at danger, swings a mean right hook, and makes effective use of her stilletto to get what she wants out of men.

Unfortunately, with Matthew Modine as co-star and love interest, the movie tanks pretty quickly. There's no believeable chemistry between the two of them and the witty repartee falls flat in scene after scene. The best acting in the film is done by secondary characters. Frank Langella shines as the deliciously sinister Uncle Dawg, and Stan Shaw is probably the most believable pirate in the entire cast, as Morgan's 1st Mate, Glasspoole. Additionally, Patrick Malahide as Govenor Ainslee and Angus Wright as Capt. Trotter do a terrific job in comedic roles as beleagured British soldiers trying to keep up with all the pirate mayhem.

If you're looking for a fun action movie to rent, try this one. It's got wild chase scenes, explosions, fisticuffs, explosions, amazing scenery, explosions, bar brawls, explosions, ship to ship combat, explosions, more chase scenes, and did I mention it, the occasional explosion. There's also a good bit of suggestive dialogue, and a fair amount of light comedy in the mix.

Rated PG-13 for some strong pirate action/violence and brief sensuality. Runtime: 119 min

Black Harry's girl.

This movie is set in Jamaica during the colonial period, and the credits open with the date 1668. Overall, the costumes have pretty good look-and-feel for the period, with the expected liberties taken for artistic purposes. For example, when we first meet "Morgan Adams, the pirate" she's dressing herself in filthy brown breeches and a vest. While the breeches look correct, the short vest definitely isn't, but it does give the audience a nice view of Morgan's navel. She also has a wide leather belt with a pistol and a dagger. In later scenes we can see that she is wearing sandals on her feet.

Shortly afterwards, aboard her ship, Morgan has changed into another pair of dark pants and a thin white shirt. The pants fit more tightly than the first pair and are worn with the same leather belt as the earlier scene. The shirt is almost thin enough to see through, and very loose, as you can see in the picture. It has a collar, but that is hidden under her hair, and it has ruffled cuffs which are hanging open and unbuttoned in this shot. A metal cross hangs around her neck on a long leather cord.

Here's a second view of the white shirt, and you can see how, for dramatic purposes, Morgan really stands out among the rest of the crew, which is dressed in dull browns and blacks. That little spot of silver on her left hip is the hilt of a cutlass, and there's a little bit of a red rag hanging there too, for additional color.

You're more active than other women I've known.

Morgan cleans up pretty nicely, as we can see in these shots of her in a white (presumably silk) gown trimmed out with metallic lace, a cocoa colored veil, some pearls, and an ostrich feather fan. The skirt and bodice are separates, and the skirt has a light, airy feel to it. It is worn without a farthingale, which is out of style by now. However, I think it was also the fashion to have two skirts, or a skirt and petticoat, with the skirt pulled up, even slightly, to show the petticoat underneath. None the less, this is a lovely, simple look for Morgan.

One of the things that often happens in costuming is that people who are new to the hobby look at the outfit and ask, "But isn't that corset uncomfortable?" More than one costumer has had to deal with an actress who simply won't wear a corset, whether it is fitted and comfortable or not. We're lucky, in Cutthroat Island, that Geena Davis doesn't have this hangup. Here's a nice shot of her beating a British soldier with a shovel, and as you can see she doesn't have any trouble exercising full range of motion or getting enough air to breathe. This is also a nice view of the fullness of the skirts, which form a gentle bell shape.

Here's a nice close view of the white dress from the front. Unfortunately, during most of this part of the movie, the dress is obscurred by people running back and forth so it's hard to get a good look at it. You can see the wide scoop of the neckline with the dark metallic lace. It's hard to tell if it is supposed to be gold or silver, since it is heavily antiqued. The same lace is on the sleeves at the cuff, and you can see from this angle how the sleeves are cut to pouf and curve. This style dates to about 1660, so it's perfect for the movie. Although, I think the undersleeves are a little too long for this style. Note the use of a cutlass as an accessory.

If you look at the three of these images you can see how Morgan stands out in each scene in white again, while the rest of the crowd is in the background in brown. Very theatrical.

Under her skirt, Morgan is wearing knickers, stockings, and shoes. These look like the same white silk as the rest of the ensemble. The tabs from her bodice show clearly in this picture of her throwing another hapless British soldier from his coach. You can also make out her leather belt which has a number of useful items like her pistol and dagger hanging from it. I have a 2nd picture that shows the belt and scabbard a little bit better.

Here are two final detail shots of the white outfit. On the left, a glimpse of the back where you can just make out the cross-lacing up the back. A nice touch, since you can't see it unless you're looking in slow-motion, it could have been a zipper. The lace is so dark it almost looks black. On the right, a close up view of the front of the bodice and the lace cuffs of the undersleeves. It doesn't look as if there is any stiffening in this bodice, although in other shots it quite clearly is stiffened. It's likely that, for filming purposes, the bodice used in this scene didn't have boning, so that Morgan could get her hands under it.

You in the mood for a whore?

After proving she's no lady, Morgan changes into something a little more tawdry. This is a bodice and skirt set in shades of red and green. As you can see at left, the bodice is a darker red than the overskirt, and she wears the outfit with the green underskirt tucked up into the front waistband. Patterns for this kind of outfit are commonly available, although they're more fantasy than 17th century.

Here's a closeup of the bodice, which lets us see a few interesting details. The front cross lacing is easy to see, it looks like there is some stiffening at the center front, but not all the way across the bodice, as there are large wrinkles right under the breast. Some of the chemise construction is also visible. You can see where the body of it is gathered into a band and a low neckline, and where it ties in the center front.

Another view of the bodice lacing, again you can see the two shades of red for the bodice and skirt, as well as the light olive green skirt that is tucked up into the bodice lacing.

Morgan reminds us that she's a pirate, after all, and a good pirate never goes anywhere without her weapons. That thigh holster looks to be pretty handy, as it appears to hold up the faded red stockings, too. This shot also gives us a clear view of the chemise sleeves, which have been rolled up to the elbows. Must be those warm Jamaican nights.

I did say the movie had a number of fight scenes, and this is one of them. Morgan takes a moment from beating off rival pirates with an eel to turn and show us the back of her outfit. The back of the red overskirt is pulled up and fastened, I'm not sure how, at the back waist. I'm sure this makes it much easier for her to climb on tables and manoever around during the commotion. We also have an excellent look at the side lacing on the bodice, the shoulder straps and the lace on half-sleeve. It doesn't show clearly, but the sleeves are tied with wide pink ribbons.

I haven't quite figured out the footwear for this costume. It appears that Morgan is wearing red stockings, but it almost looks like there is a shoe sole of some sort inside the stocking with her foot. She could be wearing an extremely low shoe, but I was not able to pick out any images which showed any difference in color or texture that could confirm that.

One of the advantages to having your skirt hiked up in both the front and the back is that when you go to kick a guy in the face, the audience gets a good view up the inside of your leg.

Some rum might help.

Here's Morgan looking like a pirate again, in a suit of black clothes trimmed out in red. This is men's fashion from the middle part of the 17th century, with a design very reminiscent of the Elizabethan period. Her breeches go to slightly below the knee, inside the high boots, and are lined with red fabric which shows through the side slash. The slash is trimmed with false buttons and buttonholes. (They're not really meant to close)

View of the outfit from the back, where you can barely make out a pouch, powder flask and a dagger on her belt, which is slung just below the red sash.

She also seems to have washed and combed her hair, making her look less like a drowned rat and more like the Captain of her own ship. It's not how good you are, it's how good you look doing it.

The matching doublet, again, very much like the style of the previous century has shoulder epaulettes, but now also has wide cuffs and false buttonhole detailling. Morgan is wearing a red sash at her waist. It looks good with the black suit, and it hides the bleeding gut wound she just took. While the entire outfit looks very smart -- and it's one I'd want to replicate -- it's too early for the 1668 date of the movie. By about 1660 this "plain" style is out of fashion except with religious extremists like the Puritans. Ruffles, ribbons, and excessive ornamentation are the rage. However, Morgan is practical, and most likely wears the plainer clothing because ruffles just don't work on a pirate ship, even if you're a girl.

This is a close shot of the cuff detail, you can see the contrasting red cuff with black braid and false buttons, and her long white poofy shirt with the ruffled cuffs. Ok, you can get away with some ruffles. The shirt, in this period would have been fine white linen, and the rest of the suit, wool. Suits were also made in silk, but they tended to be much fancier. We'll take a look at some examples of that later. Note the buttons on the cuff are made from fabric over (probably) a wooden form, and not from metal. While metal buttons were used, the fabric kind seem to be much more common.


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Movie images from 'Cutthroat Island', copyright 1995 MGM/UA. All other text and artwork copyright 2006 D. Duperault. NOTHING on this site may be reproduced or distributed by any means without my written permission. This information offered in good faith, and worth only what you paid for it.
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