You love it or you hate it, and I love the hell out of it (and this is my blog!). We podcasted Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) but that didn’t allow for much in the way of visuals. Well, the time has come for this goth girl because it’s a Halloween classic.
I’m going all-in with the costumes by the late, great Eiko Ishioka, who won the Oscar for this film. Is it historically accurate? No. Is it a work of art? Yes. Much of it is richly inspired by historical costume and historical art, which makes the designs fit the literature that the film is based on and adds depth to the overall presentation.
I’m going to focus on the women’s costumes because that’s what we do around here — usually that’s because the men wear boring suits and uniforms, but in this film, the male characters, especially Dracula, do have some fantastic outfits. But much has already been written about how Dracula’s gold gown is a direct reference to Gustav Klimt’s art and he wears dragon embroidery on his red robes, etc., etc.
Now the biggest historical accuracy quibble is that director Francis Ford Coppola very clearly sets the film in 1897 with a title card, newspapers, letters, etc., all stating the date. That is, of course, the year Stoker’s novel was published, and the story is meant to be contemporary.
However, Eiko Ishioka’s costumes are at least a decade behind the times. Her costumes are freakin’ amazing, but the shape is all wrong for the supposed period of the film.
So, with that out of the way, let’s look at the ensembles one by one. Because they’re yummy!
Mina’s Green Bustle Gown
The central figure of Mina (played by Winona Ryder) is briefly introduced in the flashback sequence as the wife and true love of Dracula (played by Gary Oldman). There, she wears a fantasy-medieval gown that I couldn’t get clear screencaps of. So let’s start with her first proper introduction as a reserved, prim, somewhat naive Victorian lady engaged to solicitor Jonathan Harker (played by Keanu Reeves). Mina is BFFs with the wealthy Lucy Westenra (played by Sadie Frost).
Designer Ishioka gave Mina the thematic color of green most of her costumes to signify her youth and a sense of being reborn. She is the newly grown and fresh version of that medieval princess. Her costumes also incorporate leaf motifs to further this idea of newness and growth.
Lucy’s White Lacy Gown
In contrast to severe, buttoned-up Mina, Lucy is rich, pampered, and free-spirited. Her storyline is that she’s choosing from among three rather fabulous suitors, but then gets seduced by the spirt of Dracula. Her costumes are frankly outrageous and are only tangentially related to the historical period. In the book Bram Stoker’s Dracula: The Film and the Legend by Francis Ford Coppola and James V Hart, Ishioka said:
“The dresses worn by Lucy had to suggest the eccentricity of the role. I referred to Victorian dresses, but the results turned out quite different. Each costume needed to be sexy, unique, and have an aristocratic elegance.”
She’s first seen in a white gown that’s anything but pure and innocent.
Now, this outfit may seem like pure fantasy, but it strikes me as a riff on Pre-Raphaelite and Artistic dress styles of the mid-Victorian era.
A woman in white with long red hair is certainly a trope of Pre-Raphaelite art as well as what women artists and those in the circle aspired to. This movie’s depiction of Lucy seems to fit right in.
Mina’s Green Evening Gown
At the reception where Lucy picks her fiancé, both Mina and Lucy wear green. But Mina’s is, of course, very prissy.
Lucy’s Green Evening Gown
Sexy snake gown FTW!
Mina’s Green Garden Gown
When she receives a disturbing letter from Jonathan and a storm kicks up (portending Dracula’s arrival), Mina is wearing the only soft outfit we’ll see her in. This is a transitional scene and everything in the movie’s plot changes from here, so this is fitting. She’s still wearing pale green and the fabric has a subtle vine pattern, but the silhouette is closer to Lucy’s artistic reform style than Mina’s previous structured bustle. This is one of the rare times Mina’s hair is down too.
The soft fullness of this gown reminds me of both extant artistic dress styles and painted images.
The storm wakes up both girls, but for different reasons…
Yep, it’s the least historically accurate outfit in the whole film. sigh Guess the lingerie was necessary for vampire seduction?
Mina’s Green Walking Dress
Aw yeah, after that last one, we really need something wonderful, and this satisfies. The outfit is both historically accurate and fan-freakin-tastic. In the character’s thematic colors and severe style, but also dramatic and cinematic. Ideal for meeting Dracula face-to-face. I’m sad to note, however, that I couldn’t find any promo pictures or display photos of this ensemble, so all I’ve got are screencaps.
The pleated contrast bustle isn’t just some crazy idea Ishioka made up for the movie. Similar things were done in the 1880s. Pleats were often lined with contrasting fabric to make a splashy statement.
Lucy’s Wedding Gown
Another wacky look for Lucy. But this one is at least impressively crazy! In the book Bram Stoker’s Dracula: The Film and the Legend, Ishioka said:
“Although she is buried in a wedding dress, it does not belong to any style. The Australian frilled lizard was my source of inspiration. Because Lucy turns into a vampire wearing this dress, I wanted to make sure it would look bizarre and haunting after the transformation.”
This outfit fits the brief, that’s for sure. And having made a relatively simple reproduction one Halloween, I’ll say it’s iconic and makes for a great spooky vampire.
Mina’s Red Bustle Gown
The one time Mina steps out of her color palette, it’s because Dracula designed the dress for her for their reunion date. Much copied, this instantly became every goth girl’s dream gown for good reason. It’s a gorgeous melding of historical style with filmic romance. One of the best red dresses in frock flick history.
While this gown is the least strictly accurate of Mina’s outfits, it still shares the same silhouette of an 1880s evening gown.
Mina’s Dark Stripe Outfit
Barely seen late in the film when Mina, Jonathan, and Van Helsing begin to stalk Dracula, Mina’s outfits turn dark. She wears this one outfit in London before they head to Transylvania. She’s lost her innocence and is ambivalent, about to give herself wholly over to Dracula, and her clothes reflect that.
Mina’s Medieval Traveling Gown
During the chase to Dracula’s castle, Mina is fully in contact with her vampire lover. In token of their 400-year-old connection, she wears medieval-ish velvet robes. In the book Bram Stoker’s Dracula: The Film and the Legend, Ishioka said: “Mina is the reincarnation of a 15th-century princess, so I designed her cape in the last scene with a strong Renaissance flavor.” But Mina’s signature green is back and bright, signaling that she may be reborn, fresh, and new once this is all over.
Are you a Dracula fan?