Disney princesses are possibly some of the best-known characters worldwide, and part of their appeal lies in their oldey-timey-ness. Each one is certainly a product of the period in which the movie was made, but they are also almost always set in a fantasy historical setting… and thus, their costumes are fantasy historical as well. In this series, we’re going to analyze each of the Disney princesses to discuss the historical influences in their costumes. We’ll work in chronological order of the movies, and then we’ll go back and do all the villains! Previously, we analyzed Snow White (1937), so today, it’s all about…
Cinderella — originally released in 1950. Missed Part 1 of my Cinderella analysis? Check it out here.
We’ve only got two more outfits to look at, plus hair. But they are the biggies!
When we last left Cinderella, she couldn’t go to the ball because 1) the Steps are big meanies, and 2) they destroyed her dress. Along comes the Fairy Godmother, and Cindy gets her Dress-with-a-capital-D:
One thing that’s interesting about this dress is that contrary to most of the reproductions, including the official Disneyland/Disney World repros, Cinderella’s dress is white or white and silver, not blue.
This dress is a mishmash of possible eras. First, let’s look at the silhouette, which is very full but mostly over the hips. This is very much like the mid-18th-century shape (1730s-1770s), created by hoops that are flat in back and front and only extend over the sides.
Similarly wide silhouettes. On the right, a robe, 1775-80 from the Victoria & Albert Museum.
When you turn both these dresses to the side, you can see how comparatively flatter they are in front and back.
While that 18th-century example has a boxy shape, there were also more curved silhouettes used in the period. For example, this late 18th-century court dress has a much more curved silhouette along the lines of the Cinderella dress:
Figure de mode – dame en grande parure de cour à la Française, 1789. Musée des Arts Décoratifs.
For Cinderella’s dress, itt appears that her wide skirt shape is created only through petticoats, not a hoop. The 18th-century wide silhouette pretty much always involved some kind of hoop. You do see a petticoat-only full skirt in the 1830s-50s, but these are a rounded shape (meaning there’s fullness in front and back, too).
Next, let’s talk about those poufy swags over the hips:
Theory #1: These represent the looped-up skirts popular in the late 18th century. Problem: These are looped up at the side back, and there’s another swag at the center back.
Robe, 1775-80. Victoria & Albert Museum.
Theory #2: These represent the looped-up skirts of the very early bustle era (1869-72ish), which were a revival of the 18th-century style. Problem: Again, there was usually a swag or something at the center back.
Theory #3: 18th-century court dresses had a separate train, could be split at the center front. These could either cover the corners of the hoop and then draw back or be drawn back much closer to the waist.
Wedding dress of Hedvig Elisabeth Charlottas, 1774. Livrustkammaren.
Wedding dress of Queen Sofia Magdalena, 1776. Livrustkammaren.
Here’s a court dress where the train is pulled back much closer to the waist:
The train on a doll’s French court costume at the Fashion Museum, Bath | image via blog.catherinedelors.com
None of these options, however, are exactly like what we’re looking at on Cinderella’s dress.
For the sleeves, we’re back to WTF land. The only thing I’ve got are the high, puffed sleeves of the late 1890s:
On the left: Standard Designer, November 1897. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Long, over the elbow gloves were popular at various points in the 19th and 20th centuries. Generally, the rule is that the shorter the sleeve is, the longer the glove (and vice versa).
On the left: Standard Designer, June 1898. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Chokers have been worn in many eras, most notably the mid-18th century, and from the 1860s through the 1910s.
L to R: Madame de Pompadour (1750s), Lady Anstruther (1761), Princess Alexandra (1860s), Queen Alexandra (1900s), Brenda from 90210 (1990s)
And of course, we’ve got Ye Olde Glass Slipper! Silhouette-wise, it looks straight out of the late 1940s:
This sucker is allll early 1950s, baby. Sure, you could go out on a limb and claim that a big skirt and long sleeves is “Victorian,” but it’s also late 1940s/early 1950s. Don’t believe me? Here are some wedding dresses from the period:
The one weirdly interesting style detail is the very high, above the bust cross-over detail on the bodice:
I’ve never seen that anywhere except in the mid-20th century:
Finally, we’ve got this cap-esque wedding veil, which looks very much like a 1930s-50s cap/Juliet veil:
Left: 1930s cap veil. Right: Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy’s wedding veil, 1953.
Let’s pause from some Lucifer cat-butt action.
I’ve left hair til last, because it’s mostly the same thing throughout. Cinderella has bangs, although they are very 1940s, Betty Grable-esque. Yes, they had bangs in the 1880s-1890s, but they tended to be small, curly wisps.
For the ball, she wears the same bangs, with the rest of the hair up in a French twist and a headband:
This high-on-the-crown-of-the-head knot looks similar to the styles worn in the late 1880s and early 1890s:
L to R: Madame X by Sargent, 1884; Vicomtesse De Montmorand by Sargent, 1889; Olivia Peyton Murray Cutting, before 1889; Lady Agnew of Lohnaw by Sargent, 1892
Now in terms of the headband, I’m only coming up with 20th century references:
Did you catch any historical references that I missed in Cinderella’s costumes? Let me know in the comments!
The Fashion Historian’s post on how Cinderella embodied the ideals of her day is also worth reading!
2. I thought you might get a kick out of the historical mish mash that are the background characters in this shot:
That is hilarious! I think I see medieval, 1860s, 1890s, 1950s…
This movie and Sleeping Beauty in 1959 both came out as/just after the transition from blue-is-for-girls to blue-is-for-boys change is made. I think it’s interesting that Disney comes down firmly in the blue-for-girls camp in both movies. Here, we see the pink dress torn to shreds, while fairy godmother makes an appropriate blue/silver dress instead. In Sleeping Beauty, there’s a whole scene where the fairies are arguing *poof* over which color *poof* Princess Aurora’s ball gown *poof* is going to be. *poof* Blue wins again.
That’s a fascinating point! Yes, blue/pink (and red) swapped back and forth as being male/female throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. I hadn’t thought of that in terms of these movies, but it makes perfect sense.
Regarding the high puffed sleeves on Cinderella’s ball gown – there is a great reference picture of a shoulder roll look from the 1550s-80s in the Disney Princess Historical Influences: Snow White (1937) post that is strikingly similar in shape.
Oooo good thought from you and LadyB below — maybe they’re going for 16th c shoulder rolls!
I’m not an expert in historical clothing, but the mystery-sleeves on Cinderella’s dresses remind me of this:
Could this be where Disney got his inspiration from? I would be a whole different fashion era altogether, but historical accuracy was never really a requirement anyway.
I think the ball gown may have been based on what seemed most formal and fancy to young people in the late 1940s. The “princess gown” was already popular; here’s some patterns that show the general idea:
Couture designers like Charles James and Christian Dior were making gowns with tight bodices and long, full skirts. Here’s Dior’s Venus gown: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/14566398766628739/ and another with a similar silhouette: https://www.flickr.com/photos/53035820@N02/6853064972/in/photostream Here’s one by James with an overskirt that reminds me of Cinderella’s: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/300404237619393791/ So the inspiration could have been the “princess gown” style with stylish, luxurious fuller skirts.
Here’s Helene Stanley providing reference in a real version of the gown, just to see what the animators would have been looking at: http://andreasdeja.blogspot.com/2015/03/long-before.html Interesting that the peplum is thinner, there’s a line down the bodice and she has flowers in her hair.
Thanks for the links! Yes, absolutely Cinderella was a product of its time (1950s/60s). You look at all the dresses she wears and they’re straight out of Dior, which I’m sure was the point– People seeing the film when it came out would associate that silhouette with wealth and royalty (Grace Kelly, obviously, big influence there).
Absolutely, each Disbey film is totally influenced by the era it was made in. I’ve just been trying to stretch to try to find historical influences if I can!
Cinderella, to me has always been right at the beginning of the 1890s, the bustle has just collapsed (the sisters wear them to the ball), the sleeves are EXACTLY this shape in 1891, with a high, peaked head, but not as voluminous as they get mid-decade, Lady Tremaine wears a high neck and proto-Gibson pompadour, and the prince’s uniform is very late 19th century. Cinderella’s hair at the ball is also classic early nineties (though I’m still mystified about that headband). The only thing missing is the very full skirt, but that can easily be explained as a nod to the New Look aesthetic. As for the hip poofs, check out this fashion plate! 1891!
The fairy godmother is probably at least a few centuries old, so I think the reason The Dress looks more 18th-century than 19th-century is probably because her sense of style is a bit outdated and she doesn’t know the latest trends.
Terrific piece, Kendra. Congrats. A new article has come out on Cinderella, in which the author points to some Surrealist sources:
Cool, thanks for the heads up! I look forward to reading it.
I loved the commentary on Cinderella’s dresses though you seemed to be missing some historic options. I will be happy though to help you out on this as I have been recently pouring over various historic examples for a sewing project.
Let’s start with her scullery dress- the length may not have been far off, though most dresses were close to floor length this was not always true for servants. Waist aprons were also common dating back to at least the early Victorian era. The top could have been an 1870-1890 scoop necked cuirass or may have even been a Victorian/Edwardian chemise over a second similar top or with non matching sleeves attached.
Balls gowns and wedding dress- These are all lovely examples of mid to late 1800’s ball gowns. House of Worth and Jacques Doucet were well known designers who featured gowns with many of the elements found in all of Cinderella’s formal gowns. From the odd shaped sleeves to the contrasting colors, even the unique sash style top on her wedding gown. The following examples are all of real gowns held in museum collections from these designers from the late Victorian era.
This fashion plate from the 1870’s Peterson’s Magazine even has the side puffs. They do not appear to continue to the back with a proper bustle there. Rather they seem to curve up sharply indicating they may not connect in the back but rather leave a space between them like Cinderella’s main gown.
As for shoes and hair some shapes span decades… even centuries so while they may seem modern they could be older then we think.
YES! Worth! The ‘wrap’ effect is likely some sort of gentle nudge to Worth’s asymmetrical bodices.
Cinderella’s ball puffy sleeves are not in WTF land, funny as that sentence was. In the 1800’s, genereally long sleeves were worn most of the time and short, “cap” sleeves were worn for evening gowns. That would include ballgowns. In other words, Cinderella’s puffy cap sleeves are a poofy, stylized version of the kind of evening gown cap sleeves they had. The pooofiness added to the sleeves no doubt was to go with the poofiness of her bustle/side puffs/whatever on her hips. Here’s a link to a picture showing what I mean. In it is a woman wearing a red dress with a bustle and hair and a choker and cap sleeves similar to Cinderella’s, and even a woman helping with a gown with a bustle and collar all the way up her neck like Lady Tremaine has:
And I think the side poofs at Cinderella’s hips are indeed something between a bustle, the “polonaise” overksirt “looped up at the sides”, as “polonaise gown” was described when I did a quick search, and Disney fairy tale stylization. If you Google “polonaise gown” I think you will feel similarly. But I do wish I could see in history something closer to what Cinderella’s hip poofs actually look like! But I think on the Platinum Edition Cinderella DVD, they labeled those things as Cinderella’s bustle in a sheet to show what things should be what colors. I wish I could find that picture.
Love your blog! I did just discover this dress from 1860, which seems like a weird time-warpy version of Cinderella’s ball gown…
1910s 1920s 1930s actual research adapted from books inspired by a true story men in wigs playing fast & loose with history TV videos
Bohemian-Rose on Interview with the Vampire (1994) short review
MoHub on What’s Your Favorite Masterpiece Series?
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