Warning: Spoilers for 'Enola Holmes' below.
"Enola Holmes" opens in England, in the year of 1884, as the the women's rights and suffrage movements were on the rise — and on the eve of the titular hero's 16th birthday. Played by also-16-year-old Millie Bobby Brown (pulling double duty as producer on the Netflix adaptation of Nancy Springe's YA book series), Enola shares similar traits to her older, established brothers. You've probably heard of them.
However, raised by her progressive activist and tough survivalist mother, Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), Enola bucks Victorian Era conventions and traditions, especially ones inhibiting young women. She skirts and breaks the rules, not just with her wit, adventurousness, sleuthing skills and cipher-decoding acumen, but also in how she dresses. That's thanks to three-time Oscar-nominated costume designer Consolata Boyle and the custom-designed, -dyed and -built costumes she and her team created for the principle cast and background.
The mystery kicks off when Eudoria goes missing. Enola heads to the train station to greet her siblings: a more freeform Sherlock (Henry Cavill), sans the usual deerstalker cap to unleash his soft, floppy curls, and uptight Mycroft (Sam Claflin), in his buttoned-up three-piece pinstripe suit and top hat. She bikes over in a non-corseted dark blue dress (above), with her white bloomers peeking out as she excitedly pedals, casually wipes out and confidently recovers.
How the Period Costumes in Judi Dench's 'Victoria and Abdul' Help Tell a Story That Was Almost Lost to History
Millie Bobby Brown is the Latest Celebrity to Launch Her Own Beauty Brand
The 'Stranger Things 3' Costumes Include Eleven's '80s Mall Rat Makeover and Steve's New Sailor Outfit
Boyle looked to the era's Arts and Crafts Movement, which embraced grassroots production processes, natural fabrics and hand-dyeing. Out of the "lovely, strong, deep and earthy" hues of the period, she chose the "deep blue-y green" for Enola's course linen ensemble — which almost looks like a Victorian version of rough-and-tumble jeans.
"Even [though she wears] all the undergarments — the petticoats and bloomers — and the skirts of the period, she was still not limited by any of those," says Boyle, on a call. "She literally went for it and was on her bike — even though, not very successfully. She literally would ignore anything that would impinge her progress."
Plus, the outfit speaks to Eudoria's empowering influence on her daughter, according to the costume designer: "One thing that was important for us was the feeling that it was created by Eudoria. This feeling of a Victorian radical and a free-thinker. That's how her mother brought her up and exposed her to advanced thinking and reading."
Upon greeting his little sister, an exasperated Mycroft — who scoffs at "feminism" and definitely would have voted for Brexit — exclaims, "My god, look at you. You're in such a mess. Where's your hat and your gloves?!"
After he decides to send his "poorly mannered wildling" little sis to a finishing school run by Miss Harrison (a perfectly-cast Fiona Shaw, Caroline in "Killing Eve"), Enola sneaks off to London in the first of many undercover looks: Sherlock's tweedy childhood suit and adorable mariner's cap (above). His more homespun wool textures, while expertly tailored, also offer a connection to Enola's instinctive, natural aesthetic.
"As she goes through all these different disguises searching for her mother, I wanted her to use her clothes for her purpose," says Boyle.
When Enola arrives in bustling London, she heads to the dressmaker's shop for her "big mistake, big, huge" moment, but tackles the task all on her own, of course. Ironically, she decides to hide in plain sight by dressing as the expected and proper Victorian young lady. The visit to the dressmaker's, of course, includes the time-honored outfit try-on montage, Victorian-style.
During filming, Brown requested Roy Orbison's classic "Pretty Woman" to play as she improvised Enola's fitting sequence, which included trolling Mycroft and his 'stache, as well as layering on all the oppressive foundation garments.
"All of the kind of bits and pieces that go with the [dress], the bag, the little boots, the underwear, the crinoline, the bust enhancer. All of those implements that went into limit women's lives toward the end of the 19th century, which is obviously going to start to change hugely with the women's suffrage movement," explains Boyle. "The way Enola uses them to empower herself — she undercuts it — and it's really witty and clever."
While Miss Harrison looks to the cage-like hip modulator to "amplify" the figure for the male gaze, Enola resourcefully utilizes the uncomfortable and unwieldy appendage to hide the stacks of cash that Eudoria left her (above). And while she refers to the dreaded whalebone corset as "a symbol of repression," she excitedly requests one as the key element of her proper disguise — a smart move, considering the rigid binding later serves as a live-saving, knife-proof vest of sorts.
"Again, she doesn't allow all the impediments of late Victorian dress to stop her from kicking some ass," adds Boyle. "She's really able to go for it and give as good as she gets."
The eye-catching, custom-dyed hue of Enola's gown (above) sends a message to her challengers, too. "The color of that 'powder puff dress' was very important in that I wanted red for courage, strength of purpose and infallibility," Boyle notes. While Enola prevails thanks to her strategic thinking and jujitsu training, the elaborately-ruffled, draped brocade gown sadly doesn't quite make it through the intense fight scene to come.
Next, Enola completely shrouds herself in another complex Victorian get-up: "When looking to travel incognito, it's safest to travel as a widow," she says, breaking the fourth wall and leaning into people's natural awkwardness in discussing death. Along with lace gloves, an exaggerated headpiece and dark veil, Enola's meticulously pleated and draped gown (which brought Boyle's Oscar-nominated costumes for Judi Dench in "Victoria and Abdul" — and a modern-day The Vampire's Wife aesthetic — to mind) conveyed both mystery and comedy.
"I did a lot of research into theatrical and musical costumes of the period," Boyle says. "So it has that feeling of performance in theater and was almost slightly over the top with the flounces. The length is slightly shorter, so we see a little ankle. There's an element of 'you see her, you don't see her.'"
Even though it's for the greater cause, it hurt me every time Enola said, "I'll pay you £5 to swap clothes with me," to a man for an emergency disguise — especially for her final look. The liberated, almost-bohemian, corset-free embroidered dress felt like Enola dressing for her true self, while also growing into her next stage. She once again has outsmarted a low-key proud Sherlock and found her mother (or vice versa, actually).
"Her final dress, which is a raw silk — untreated, completely natural — reflects the shape of the first dress we saw her in, when she was on her bike," explains Boyle. "The shape fulfills and closes the circle."
Boyle also points out that the "earthy" and authentic qualities of the ivory dress signal toward women gaining more rights and independence as the suffrage movements in the U.K., parts of Western Europe and North America advance into the early 20th century. Plus, the unrestrained, free-spirited look speaks back to Enola's path forward, which Eudoria paved for her.
"That shape and that purity of that color — the lack of intense color — and the freedom of that was very important, visually, to me just to end the film, as Enola cycles off into the future," says Boyle. And, hopefully, into a sequel.