TBT: Ever After (1998)

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Ever After  (1998) occupies a special place in the hearts of most costumers that I know. Probably because my costuming cohort came into their own in the early-to-mid ’90s, and along with the sudden technical leap forward with the World Wide Web around that time, Ever After became one of the best-known and best-loved of contemporary costume flicks. I remember it being one of the first costume movies that was shared by both the historical costuming and cosplay communities, and websites still exist to this very day dedicated to dissecting the construction of many of the gowns worn in the film.

What is interesting about Ever After is that it is one of the few films I can think of where historical accuracy is heavily massaged with fantasy and it still works, which probably isn’t surprising considering the costume designer was Jenny Beavan. The plot is set in “renaissance France,” which could mean anything from the 15th to 16th centuries; there are elements of both worked into the costume designs, but the late 15th century, early 16th century seems to be the period the film is aiming for. Also, most of the designs are Italian, not French, so that’s another layer of historical dissonance in the designs, but again, it works. It’s a fairy tale, after all.

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail in analyzing and deconstructing these gowns, since there’s already a very good website by our friend Maggie Massetti that is dedicated to the ins and outs of Ever After costuming. Instead, I’m just going to put some of my favorite gowns up for appreciation.

Danielle’s Costumes in Ever After

Our plucky heroine! The costumes worn by Danielle (Drew Barrymore) reflect the rags-to-riches journey she takes.  Here’s her story arc, told through her costumes:

Blue Work Dress

Danielle wears this for about two-thirds of the film. It consists of an under-bodice that laces at the side back seams (a rather inconvenient, though historically accurate, feature for a work dress where presumably no one is helping her get dressed or undressed) and an overgown with attached skirt that ties in the front. Sleeves are segmented and tied into the overgown at the shoulders and again at the elbows. She wears all of this over an ankle-length white chemise.

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Sketch of a young woman, by Raphael, 1504.

Danielle’s work dress shares a lot of similarities to this Raphael sketch of a young woman, though I’m not sure if this was the actual inspiration for it. That said, it’s very definitely Italian, not French. Also, I find it interesting that Danielle only wears her hair loose for the most part while she’s working. You’d think that having it pulled back and put up would be a lot more practical for slaving away for your evil stepmother.

The Yellow Dress:

This is the one dress that Danielle does not “borrow” from her stepsisters; instead she borrows it from her BFF Gustav who is using it as a reference for his painting of a noblewoman. Again, it’s straight-up late 15th / early 16th century Italian and really quite pretty. Probably my second favorite gown of all the ones she wears.

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The Library Dress

Having presumably only read one book her entire life, “Utopia” by Thomas More, Danielle is overcome with rapture at the sight of so many books. “Utopia,” however, wasn’t published until 1516, right around the time this movie is supposedly set in — maybe Danielle’s father got an advance copy from the publisher … like, really advance. Ten years advance. Anyway, whatever, look at the pretty dress!

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Proving that she’s not just pretty and brainy, Danielle then climbs a tree in her underwear. The under-bodice is presumably similar to the one she wears under her work dress, except made from a cream colored mattelese-ish fabric. Her stepsister Marguerite wears it again in a later scene, proving that it was probably pinched from her closet.

The Red Velvet Dress

This is my favorite dress out of all of the dresses in this movie. The only drawback is that you don’t really get a clear look at it on screen. These two screencaptures were the best I could do, sorry.

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The “Breathe” Dress

Basically, everyone’s favorite gown in the movie (except mine, see above), this is Danielle’s mother’s wedding dress, which she wears to the masked ball with a giant pair of wings that were thrown together at the last minute by Leonardo Da Vinci.

ˆ tout jamais la vŽritable histoire de Cendrillon ever after 1999 rŽal : Andy Tennant Drew Barrymore Collection Christophel
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Via Ever After Costumes.

Maggie of Costumer’s Guide has more hi-res images of this gown can be found here, for those who are obsessed with the sheer level of detail in this outfit. And to be sure, there is a ton of detail.

Also, check out this post for more info on the historical sources that inspired Danielle’s costumes.

Overall, the silhouette of this gown shares a lot of similarities with the Venetian ladies sketched by Albrecht Dürer in the late 15th century, but of course it is a completely fantasy take on this style:

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The Princess Dress

Danielle gets her man and a chance to show she’s the bigger person AND totally epically smack down her stepmother all in one fabulous gown. We should all be so lucky.

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Via Cosprop (archived page)

The moodboard for this costume shows that it was inspired by the one that Giovanna Tornabuoni wears in the “Visitation” fresco by Domenico Ghirlandaio, c. 1488, and it does a pretty good job of evoking it. Still not French, but whatevs! Italian rules, French drools.

 

Rodmilla’s Costumes in Ever After

House Dress

Rodmilla (Anjelica Huston) wears this around the home for pretty much all of the scenes taking place at the château. It appears to be made from a black (or very dark green) figured velvet and is embellished with dark green velvet bands around the neckline. The sleeves lace into the bodice (yay) and the bodice closes at side backs (double yay).

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I haven’t found any direct correlation between this gown and anything in artwork, but it has elements of early 16th century Italian like almost all of the other gowns in the film. Here are two portraits, 25 years apart, that show similar elements:

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Portrait of a woman, Sandro Botticelli, 1475.

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Portrait of a woman, Francesco da Cotignola, 1500.

Green Damask Gown

An absolutely fabulous gown that is basically not given enough screen time to truly appreciate it. Looks pretty much straight up 16th-century Saxon to me, albeit with a higher waist than what’s accurate for this style and lacking a brustflek (the band across the breasts):

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Mary Magdalen, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1520s.

Green Fancy Gown

This particular gown has gone on display numerous times over the years so there are quite a few really good, high-res photos of it floating around on the Internet.

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Via the Louisiana Art and Science Museum Flickr collection.

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Via Jennelise: Movie Costumes

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Via Jennelise: Movie Costumes

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Via Jennelise: Movie Costumes

Design-wise, this gown is a bit of a mash-up. The sleeves scream 16th-century German/Saxon, while the rest of the gown is very much 15th-century Burgundian (which, given that the film is supposed to be set in France, actually makes sense for once).

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Left: Detail of a Female Donor, Petrus Christus, c.1450 . Right: Portrait of Sibylle of Cleve, Duchess of Saxony, Lucas Cranach, 1535.

So, basically it’s like the two gowns above were mashed up into one gown. I’m not saying it’s not fabulous, but I am saying it’s not historically accurate in any way.

Rodmilla’s Hats in Ever After

Rodmilla wears quite the array of wacky hats throughout the film. Most of them are sort of loosely inspired by the Italian balzo, I think. Except for the horns she wears at the costume ball, obviously.

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“Schiava Turca”, Parmigianino, 1531-34

Marguerite’s Costumes in Ever After

Pink Velvet Gown:

Mere words cannot express how much I love Megan Dodds’ portrayal of the wickedest step-sister, Marguerite. She’s just so deliciously bitchy, and has some of the greatest lines in the entire movie. Her pink velvet dress is also a direct copy of the portrait of Jeanne d’Aragon by Raffaello Sanzio. It’s as close to accurate for the time that the film is supposedly set in as the costumes get, but it’s still Italian, not French.

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Jeanne d’Aragon by Raffaello Sanzio, c.1518

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And just because I love her so much, here’s a collection of gifs featuring her amazing range of Bitch Face:

Marguerite-1 Marguerite-2 Marguerite-3 Marguerite-4

Jacqueline’s Costumes in Ever After

Green Damask Gown:

Jacqueline (Melanie Lynskey), the milquetoast younger step-sister, has two outfits, one of which is boring AF, so I’m going to focus on the more interesting one:

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Mood board for Jacqueline, via Cosprop.

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Still not French! All the source images are Italian from the first third of the 16th century. I actually quite like this dress, even though the implication is that Jacqueline is too fat to fit it properly. See, she’s the fat, dumpy sister! You can tell because her chemise is always pulled up way high around her shoulders and her clothes are frumpy! Actually, they’re not frumpy at all. God, I would kill to get my hands on some green silk damask like this…

Early 16th Century French Fashion

So, now that we’ve covered the bulk of the dresses in this film, and I have repeatedly hammered home that, despite the setting being France, all the costumes were basically Italian with the occasional Germanic element or two thrown in, I know you’re all wondering what would women in early 16th century France have been wearing?

Nobility:

Rodmilla and her daughters would probably be wearing styles more akin to these:

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Briseis, HM 60, f. 11v, c. 1500

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Detail from Charles d’Orleans’ “Lover Addressing Three Ladies” (circa 1490-1500)

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Detail from Pierre Sala’s Petit Livre d’Amour (Stowe 955, fol.13), c. 1500.

Working Class:

And Danielle’s work dress would look a lot more like this:

Robinet Testard, c. 1500.

I get that we are discussing a fairy tale, so obviously the director and designer are under no obligations to match the story with the actual historical time and place. Jenny Beavan’s designs strike a nice balance between fantasy and feeling believable, and honestly, the decision to base most of the designs off early Italian costumes manages to breathe new life into the old fairy tale. I dare say that’s why this movie has always been a costumer favorite and why it continues to attract new fans, nearly 20 years later.

Do these costumes make you feel happily ever after? Let us know in the comments!

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Website

Sarah discovered her dual passion for history and costume right around the age of twelve. Dragged kicking and screaming to her first Renaissance Faire at Black Point, she was convinced she was going to hate it, but to her surprise, she fell head over heels in love with the world of reenactment and dress up immediately. Her undergraduate degree is in Clothing & Textile Design, and she has a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture. When she’s not hauling crap to SCA events and ren faires, Sarah enjoys reading true crime books, writing fiction, and sewing historical clothing from the Middle Ages through the 20th-century. One of these days, she might even start updating her old costuming blog again.

10 Responses

  1. Stephani

    Sigh… I just LOVE this movie so much. For what was essentially a historical rom-com, the costuming was so well done (although that not-French, not-16th century thing always bothered me–and why were the men all wearing more Tudor-like styles???). I mean you can’t go wrong with Drew Barrymore, and Dougray Scott is adorably swoon-worthy, and Angelica Huston couldn’t be more fabulous. And of course I bought the Simplicity Ever After-inspired costume pattern, even though I already owned the Period Patterns Italian Women’s pattern. And you can have either when you pry the key to my pattern vault from my cold, dead hands.

    Reply
      • Stephani

        I used the Period Patterns one to make my madrigal-group costume for performing at Ren-faire in Maryland (or really, my mother used it, thanks Mom!). As I recall, it went together okay, but the directions were a bit strange. Anyway, I got a beautiful garnet/wine-colored velvet gown similar to the 2 gowns in the film inspired by the Albrecht Durer sketches. Pretty, but hot as #@*% in August and September in the Mid Atlantic.

        Reply
  2. lesartsdecoratifs

    I wonder how much the difference in the quality, diversity and quantity of the references for Italian and French fashion influenced the decision to with Italian.

    And apparently one of these dresses was supposed to be original ball gown before they decided it wasn’t special enough and made the Breathe gown. Does anyone know which one is it?

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      And apparently one of these dresses was supposed to be original ball gown before they decided it wasn’t special enough and made the Breathe gown. Does anyone know which one is it?

      My money’s on the blue gown Danielle wears in the library scene. Out of all of the dresses she wears, it’s the most “ball gown-y”. I’m super glad they upgraded her outfit, though… Danielle’s mother’s dress, while not my personal fave, is effing FABULOUS.

      Reply
  3. Susan Pola

    Love the movie and Danielle’s clothes. Loved that ‘fairy godmother’ was Leonardo da Vinci. Even Jacqueline had her happy ending. What’s the site for the costumes?

    Reply
  4. tiffers1912

    *sigh* I absolutely adore this movie! It gives me so many nostalgic feels, and it definitely has some amazing costumes. Is the gown that Danielle wears super briefly at the very end of thr movie a different gown from all the other ones she wore? It’s the one she wears when Da Vinci reveals his painting of her. Her hair in that scene was also my favorite hairstyle of hers.

    Reply
  5. Elska Jenness

    Oh man, this movie was my childhood (in more ways than one) and the best Cinderella movie out there (The Slipper and The Rose is a VERY close second)
    I’m planning on recreating the Red Velvet dress and the Breathe dress for the movie’s 20th anniversary.

    Reply
  6. Dayna Willms

    I adored this movie and loved the costumes, story, actors- all of it. I bought the Simplicity pattern and made a dress with a bright blue velvet. I loved wearing It to Renaissance faires, though as I got more into historical costuming I became shy about the zipper in the back. Oh well, I still love that dress and will hold onto it forever! “There was a bee” still gets used around our house.

    Reply

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