Dressing The Borgias: The Ladies

borgiaswomen2Well, we’ve come to the end, folks. This shall be the last Borgias-related post ever (unless these people succeed, which would be great). Sigh. I shall miss it. I loved these crazy kids. Ah well, life goes on.

Naturally, the show’s focus was mostly on the Borgias themselves, and those closest to them, but, admirably, there were quite a few very interesting peripheral characters, both male and female, who were permitted to be interesting and complex. On the ladies’ side, we had a guilt-ridden wife who became a nun, a rather sad lady who went completely insane, and an adversary so badass, she actually won the respect of the men whose asses she was kicking. And they all did it while beautifully dressed, of course. Let’s have a look.

Ursula, season 1 episode 4

 Ahh, Ursula. I wasn’t a big fan of her or her storyline, mostly because I think it dragged on waaaay too long, but she was pretty to look at, and it was rather nice that, rather than just being some eager sex object, she showed some real complexity of character. She was a desperate young woman when we first met her, married to a man with no sense of humour who was rather free with his fists. She unthinkingly begged Cesare for help, not realising how seriously he’d take her request. And after her husband wound up dead, she was completely wracked by guilt and channeled that into the church, in an attempt to atone for her part in the murder. But it was clear that, although she was definitely dedicated to her new religious life, she still felt a pull towards Cesare, and it was a challenge for her to fight it. But fight it she did. Bravo, Ursula. It’s hard to resist that luscious, luscious hair.

Anyway, the first time they meet, it’s at Lucrezia’s first wedding. With Lucrezia now married off, Cesare needs another pretty blonde in pastels to fixate on for a while.

borgias1-52And fixate he does. He basically starts stalking her. And Ursula, who’s clearly neglected by her husband, is initially pleased by all the flattering attention she’s receiving. She even seeks Cesare out, though in the scene where they admit their mutual attraction, it’s notable that the future nun is wearing a black veil reminiscent of the habit she’ll soon put on:

borgias1-51And things are good for a while, but then her husband starts to notice something is going on, and he’s not happy about it.


I honestly don’t know what to say about this outfit of hers other than the fact that it’s insane. All those colours together, the orange and red and the plum (which typically signifies sadness on this show) are a bit of an assault on the eyes. I’m taking this as a sign of her inner confusion. She’s just all over the place at this point.

When, at last, she gets confirmation that Cesare did in fact kill her husband, that’s the end of that. They have one final break-up scene before she hies herself to the convent:

Ursula, season 1 episode 6Sad plum again. It’s also a more somber-toned callback to the lighter purple dress she was wearing when they first met. After that, it’s all habits, all the time, until she’s tragically killed along with all the other nuns in season 2.

Speaking of tragic women, let’s turn our attention to Bianca Gonzaga. This chick is head-to-toe sex. The first article of clothing associated with her is a scarlet-red stocking, which she leaves behind accidentally and is found by Giulia:

borgias2-126When she returns (fully dressed), she’s in a very striking blue:



borgias2-47Couple of things here. 1, that colour looks amazing on her, so the costume choice was undoubtedly at least partially to make her look as attractive as possible. 2, she matches her husband, colour-wise, but their outfits still appear to be fighting  each other. He looks like he’s wearing armour, while she’s showing a lot of flesh, and the horizontal striping on his coat is in direct conflict with the vertical patterning on her dress. 3, blue is a colour we see a lot on this show, and it means different things to different people at different times, but one thing it has meant, historically, is lust.

But what does she wear to seduce the pope right before the big, decisive battle against the French?

Bianca Gonzaga, season 2 episode 4Scarlet. Just like Giulia used to wear. When she later wanders back into Alexander’s life, she’s still rocking the red, but now it’s a more subdued red moving towards the sad plum spectrum:

borgias3-56As the extent of her madness becomes more apparent, she becomes more undone, sartorially, and begins wandering the corridors of the Vatican in whispy nightgowns, like a wraith.

normal_bor305_0458 normal_bor305_0631All this, of course, culminates in her sad death:

normal_bor305_0664Seeing her bloodstained white shift, I can’t help but think back to the image of Alexander at the end of the second episode of the season:

Borgias season 3 episode 2A sign of things to come.

But let’s turn our attention to the lady who refused to be a victim: Caterina Sforza. Man, this woman was awesome. And yes, she was in real life, as well.

She didn’t start off in opposition to the Borgias. Quite the opposite: it was she who was sent to broker an alliance between the two families by arranging her cousin’s marriage to Lucrezia. And, like all the other suitors, she wore Borgia red:

Caterina and Alexander, season 1 episode 3…with plenty of gold, highlighting her family’s wealth. But she’s not really into dressing up, especially in this type of colour. Like other more martial-minded characters, like Cesare, Micheletto, and Rufio, she prefers unfussy black, occasionally with masculine detailing:

borgias1-716 borgias2-322 borgias2-57 borgias3-310

normal_bor305_0091That last look, with the buckles and the studding, is completely unlike anything any of the other ladies on the show wear, and has a lot in common with looks seen on Micheletto and Cesare:


borgias3-716This is not a woman who bothers much with frills and fripperies. She wants to be taken seriously, and she should be. But she does dress up on occasion, though even then, she makes a statement.

Caterina Sforza, season 3 episode 3Black and yellow for Lucrezia’s second wedding. Like a queen bee. Or, as Cesare later puts it, like a tigress. Keep in mind that this is the point where she’s rubbing her power and her new allies in the Borgias’ faces, reveling in the hold she has over them. There’s little doubt that Cesare forgot, which is probably part of the reason he made her wear this when he finally took her prisoner:

borgias3-109A dress fit for a captured tigress. Also a callback to that earlier gown. It may hearten some to know that the real Caterina Sforza was soon released from prison, went to Florence, engaged in a bunch of legal battles with her Medici in-laws, and spent the rest of her life with her grandkids and experimenting with alchemy.

Just a quick note on a few pretty minor characters, because why the heck not?

First, a look at the French court:


borgias3-59This is very different from what we’re used to seeing in Italy. The queen and most of her ladies wear blue or shades thereof. As we’ll recall from our time with King Charles, blue is a common tone for the French to wear. It brings them all together and makes it seem like they all belong together. Even the men wear blue. Cesare, in his usual black, stands out, as he’s meant to. Interestingly, Charlotte, the woman he eventually marries, is in a similar shade to what we saw Ursula in the first time she showed up. Also, note the Borgia red accents. In an odd moment, this exact same dress shows back up on the queen in the scene where she screams at Cesare after learning she’s to be set aside. A rare costuming mistake on this show.

And now for something completely different:


borgias2-24Remember that nice prostitute who showed Paolo around? Ok, maybe you don’t, but this might jog your memory. She had a pretty fun costume that served a couple of purposes. 1, it made Paolo’s drab peasant wear really stand out. 2, it clearly set her apart as an ‘other’, just as another character who wore these colours was set apart:

borgias1-310His colours match almost exactly with hers. And like Djem, she was doomed. Her colours also tie her to her sisters of the night, all of whom wear one of the shades in her outfit:

borgias2-26Ahh, sisterhood.

And on that colourful note, I think it’s time to sign off. Thanks so much for reading the recaps and these crazy roundups. They were lots of fun to do and gave me a chance to look back at the show, relive some good moments, and say a little goodbye. I’ll miss you, Borgias. You were crazy at times, but you were always compulsively watchable and the strength of your writing and acting really elevated you above the usual Sunday-night-bodice-ripper. May you live on in our reruns and DVD box sets for many a year to come.

7 thoughts on “Dressing The Borgias: The Ladies

  1. This was another great one, but two things: 1) I think maybe the French Dress “mishap” could be explained away–just as the Queen gave D’Albret to Cesare, her pissiness likely extended towards D’Albret and taking back anything and everything she might’ve given or loaned to her, after she was served with her divorce papers/annulment. 2) The nice prostitute who showed Paolo around wasn’t the one who was doomed (she seemed to live a good life sleeping with the cardinals when the Three Wise Women came around with promises of lice-free accommodations); it was the lovely lady hanging out of the window on the left in the second photo who met her unfortunate end in Micheletto’s arms. But all in all, I love reading what your eyes caught…spot on again.

    1. Interesting thought on the dress double down. Honestly, I’m still leaning towards it being a bit of a mistake (those types of costumes are super expensive to produce, so they often show up in multiple spots–I think there’s a whole website dedicated to spotting costume reruns–so it’s not unreasonable to assume the costume folks on this show would reuse minor characters’ wardrobes and hope we didn’t notice or not think about it themselves). The queen may very well have taken back a gift dress, but would she have really worn it? If she gave it away, it’s because she was totally done with it; I find it unlikely she’d return it to the rotation. But it’s not impossible–I could be wrong!

      Thanks for pointing out the prostitute mix-up. Nice to know the nice one got away. I guess I got them mixed up because, well, they all kind of looked the same and were minor enough characters they weren’t really differentiated.

  2. I’m not trying to argue at all, I see your point. I love playing devil’s advocate and mentally picking apart a character’s mind (however minor) though, and to the question “Would she have really worn it?” I dunno, maybe she would have–because at that moment her life as she knew it had been taken away, she had been humiliated, she was pissed as all Hell, and maybe it was a big, last “I may not be queen anymore but I can still take back my s*** and rock it better than you, b****!” thing (and maybe it could’ve just been a loaner the first time, if the queen knew that Cesare Borgia was coming to scope out the ladies/she might’ve just loaned it to D’Albret for the occasion…yeah, I’m reading too much into this, but the show is nearly flawless in my mind). Ha ha! But yes, I do understand the whole costumes are expensive to produce/mishaps happen thing as well; I’d written a 16th century period piece that was sadly too expensive for Sam Goldwyn to produce at the time (mainly because of this very subject).

    I loved all your writings about the show’s costuming. :^)

  3. Okay, scratch my entire last comment, the one that’s awaiting moderation that I wrote last night. I just re-watched “The Wolf and the Lamb” again (making the most out of Netflix here, ha ha) and I think either you made a mistake or I’m not understanding what you wrote/meant: “In an odd moment, this exact same dress shows back up on the queen in the scene where she screams at Cesare after learning she’s to be set aside.”

    Charlotte wears that dress pictured above in two scenes: The one you pictured/first time we see her, and the one later when she’s sitting and laughing as Cesare gets smacked around. The Queen sticks to shades of blue, and is wearing something different each of the three times she appears. So…nothing borrowed, just blue. ;^)

    1. Oh dear. You’re totally right–sorry about that screwup on my part (and thanks for setting me straight!) Either my brain seriously short-circuited the day I wrote this up or I mistook Charlotte for the queen in the pictures. Yikes!

  4. Ha, we all make mistakes. But now you’ve got me watching more carefully to see if there really are any in the show re: the costuming. I’d gladly watch and re-watch just because there’s so much beautiful eye candy in that respect. The velvets, the brocade (my God do I loooooooooove brocade!)…everything is just so gorgeous. I’m tempted to be a Cardinal (or even a bishop in purple like Cesare was at the beginning) for Halloween this year (since you know…a guy like me would look horrible in a dress, ha ha), but I wouldn’t know where to start with the biretta (and can’t find any online that remotely resemble the ones on the show).

    1. Oh the sweet, sweet eye candy. I can’t imagine what the costume budget for this show was, but man was it worth it!

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