A Very British Scandal: Tune In For Sex, Scandal And High Fashion Stakes

Here's why BBC One's Boxing Day drama is a story for our time – and why the clothes are so significant.

bbc one a very british scandal claire foy

by Hannah Banks-Walker |

She was the woman who once stopped traffic – literally – as crowds gathered just to get a glimpse of her wedding dress. Thirty years after that, in 1963, it was her sex life dominating headlines as she endured a very public (and scandalous) divorce trial. Now, Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, is the subject of BBC One’s Boxing Day drama, A Very British Scandal, which revolves around said trial and the media circus which accompanied it. Claire Foy plays the Duchess, Paul Bettany her Duke and while they both give stellar performances, they’re almost upstaged by their incredible costumes.

paul bettany and claire foy in a very british scandal
Paul Bettany and Claire Foy in A Very British Scandal

For Ian Fulcher, the show’s costume designer, it was never his intention to simply replicate Margaret’s outfits. Instead, he says he was looking for the ‘essence’ of her, seen in the fitted silhouettes, smattering of animal prints and the sumptuous fabrics of silk and Venetian wool. ‘I always kept the silhouette very figure-hugging because it was about her being empowered in her sexuality,’ Fulcher says. If that sounds very modern, that’s because this story is one for our time.

margaret duchess of argyll in wedding dress
Margaret in the wedding dress which stopped traffic

The climax of the drama involves the Duke of Argyll initiating divorce proceedings against his wife after stealing her diaries, letters and some explicit photographs, including one in which she was having sex with an unknown man. This led to a national scandal, predictably dominated by sexist attitudes towards female sexuality – attitudes that haven’t entirely vanished from contemporary society. This case is often considered as one of the very first examples of revenge porn, something which is becoming ever-prevalent in society – last year, the UK’s revenge porn helpline saw its busiest year on record, with the amount of images it deals with increasing by as much as 60%.

claire foy in a very british scandal
Claire Foy as the Duchess of Argyll

‘You could go from being the most beautiful woman stopping traffic to dying penniless in a nursing home and people will still call you the blow job duchess,’ says Sarah Phelps, writer of the show. ‘Women are held to a different standard all the time. But I also thought a lot about Meghan Markle, just in terms of how much the modern press goes for her all the time and compares her with Kate Middleton. Why are [these women] considered fair game just because they’re in the public eye?’

claire foy in a very british scandal

The Duchess’s defiance in the face of such scandal is very much reflected in what she wears. Throughout, it is clear that her clothes – from her high-waisted trousers worn with beautiful silk blouses to her impeccably tailored suits – are her armour, protecting her against the outside forces she fights so hard to control.

Margaret, Duchess of Argyll in 1955
Margaret, Duchess of Argyll in 1955

During the six week shoot, Fulcher says there were 85 costume changes just for Claire Foy alone, all of which were made especially for her except for the knitwear, which was discovered in vintage stores. ‘She’s stuck two fingers up to the world,’ says Fulcher. ‘She’s sexy, and sometimes that is looked down on. But why? We should embrace sex.’


SHOP: The Best Vintage Sellers And Shops Online

Nina Gabbana Vintage
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The source of Rihanna's blue Dior by John Galliano beaded choker, Nina Gabbana Vintage is run by Marie Laboucarié from her apartment in Paris. She mainly sells '90s and '00s pieces from designers including Dolce and Gabbana, Dior, Gucci, Fendi and more. Well, if it's good enough for Rihanna...

May de Vere Vintage
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If you're looking for a showstopper of an outfit that nobody else will have even seen, May de Vere is your answer. There are glittering sequined pieces, puff sleeve party frocks and wonderfully over-the-top, frothy concoctions with oversized bow details. There are more understated options, too, but it's almost impossible to resist the frills and flourishes on offer. Every piece is a one-off and can be purchased via Instagram.

ASOS Marketplace
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While you might not think of ASOS as the most obvious choice when it comes to buying vintage, there are actually a number of brilliant sellers on the brand's Marketplace. It's one of the best places to look for pre-loved designer pieces, some of which are very affordable. While many of the boutiques are worth checking frequently, look out also for The Rare Edit, a a limited curated collection of rare designer vintage pieces. Follow @asosmarketplace on Instagram to keep tabs on when the next drop will happen.

Darling & Vintage
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Cassie set up Darling & Vintage as a store on Etsy, where she still sells everything from embroidered 1950s jackets to sun dresses and '70s maxis. It's certainly worth following her on Instagram, however, where she announces new items for sale. Given the speed at which most of them tend to sell, it's best to keep a close eye on her posts!

Bonjour Vintage
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A relatively new venture from influencer Rachael Clifton, this is a great Instagram account to follow if you're in the market for stand-out pieces you could wear every day. Think excellent accessories and statement jackets, all of which can be bought via DM.

A Virtual Vintage Market
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Not only will you find live markets that you can follow via Instagram (a very welcome way to spend yet another day in lockdown), you'll also find information on independent sellers around the world, giving you plenty of options. One of the founders has also established Peony Vintage, which allows you to shop pieces directly from the website.

Retold Vintage
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Every piece is handpicked by owner Clare Lewis, who favours modern, directional pieces that are built to last. As well as clothes that work for every day, Retold also offers a personal shopping service for prospective brides.

Rokit Vintage
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A vintage stalwart in London, Rokit is a treasure trove packed with everything from perfect party dresses to knitwear, shoes, belts and bags. If you can't find something you love here, then you're possibly just not looking hard enough. Best of all, there's something for every budget.

Imparfaite Paris
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Imparfaite offers a curated selection of pre-loved clothes and accessories from France's most beloved vintage shops. From Gucci bags to Levi's shorts, this is certainly the place to find pieces that will collect compliments and become some of your favourite clothes in your wardrobe.

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