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 new 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, so today, it’s all about Snow White — originally released in 1937!
Snow White is the heroine of Disney’s very first animated feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Based on a fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, the story is about a princess whose evil step-mother REALLY doesn’t like her because of some serious narcissism issues. The step-mother tries to have Snow killed, but instead she holes up with some very messy dwarves who are in desperate need of a mother/housekeeper. As an unliberated woman, she cleans their house and they decide they like her. Meanwhile, the evil Queen/step-mother, who is in dire need of counseling, disguises herself as an old woman and tries to poison Snow with an apple. Everyone thinks Snow is dead, but then a random Prince with an obvious fetish for necrophilia wanders along, kisses Snow, and she comes back to life. The Prince takes her off to his castle, where no doubt she can handle the cleaning for him.
Snow White gets only TWO outfits — she’s TOTALLY ripped off compared to later Disney princesses!
Here’s her first:
This outfit is pretty darn 1930s, with a few exceptions.
First, Snow’s hair and makeup are straight out of the 1930s:
You might think that her hair is a little girl’s style, but you’re only half right:
Now let’s look at the rest of the ensemble:
Short, puffed sleeves also spanned the age ranges:
I’m not sure about the contrasting bodice/blouse:
For sure, the clogs are an “oldey timey” look:
For most of the film, however, Snow White gets to class things up in her famous blue, red, and yellow ensemble. The hair and makeup doesn’t change, but the dress and shoes do:
The different-colored bodice, sleeves, and skirt is pure fantasy. You could MAYBE argue that they were looking at 16th-century different colored over- and under-gowns like this, but I think that’s a stretch:
The puffed sleeves, slashed to show another color underneath, are DEFINITELY a 16th-century reference:
The short puffs are probably taken from similar styles to those shown above, with the fitted lower part of the sleeve removed. Short, puffed sleeves were very popular in the 1930s, however — see the images compared to Snow’s first dress!
Snow’s bodice appears to feature contrast colored piping, but that could just be a line to feature definition on the bodice.
Now, her standing white collar is interesting. I would think that it was part of the cape, but she wears it even when the cape is off, so it’s clearly part of her dress. What are they referencing?
Those are the most likely, but there’s one other possibility:
Her long skirt seems pretty par for the course, although we can note that she’s clearly not wearing a hoop under it:
Finally, let’s look at her shoes:
Did you catch any historical references that I missed in Snow White’s costumes? Let me know in the comments!
The Fashion Historian’s post on how Snow White embodied the ideals of her day is also worth reading!
Thanks to Disney Screencaps.com for the movie screencaps!
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Yes, shoomlah’s drawings are gorgeous!
Aaaaaah, this entire article is amazing! I especially love seeing the potential historical influences next to the clearly contemporary influences in the hair, silhouette, shoes, etc- such a sucker for seeing historical costuming as filtered through the lens and aesthetic ideals of the 20th century. :)
This blog is everything I could ever want from a blog, I am finished <3
AIEEE! It is the great Shoomlah who did the beautiful historically accurate Disney princesses drawings! *I* die!
Hi Kendra I was wondering if you could link some of the sources you used for this post! I am really interested!
Hi！ May I use some of your pictures for a school project?
can you please do sleeping beauty next? I think that she would be great to work on and I am in need of a run down on her (she is my favourite Princess) x
She’s my favorite too, and don’t worry, she’s next!!
Not too long ago, I saw this detail of a painting and was struck by how similar the color and slashing in the sleeves resembled Snow White’s: http://40.media.tumblr.com/2fe21084a54f7e3181f0ecee0e02f1e6/tumblr_njh2v49EsR1sivgcyo1_250.jpg
Here is the full painting: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Louise_Elisabeth_de_France…_-_Adelaide_Labille-Guiard.png
Thank you so much for these posts, they are wonderful!
I am writing a degree thesis about Disney princesses and I found these articles very useful.
Are you planning to write new articles about the other princesses?
I’m so glad you found it useful, and your thesis sounds fascinating! Yes, I am planning on doing the rest — hopefully you found the Cinderella posts, and I’m working on Sleepy Beauty as we speak! Give that one another week or two.
Just in passing, like many other silent stars, Loretta Young was very very young when she started. She was born in 1913, so that photo of her is probably in her late teens. She starred in ‘Laugh Clown Laugh’ in 1928 at 15.
I used to hate “Snow White” growing up, now I love it for it’s Depression Era context! Snow’s wishing well look is so vintage-beautiful. (Not a fan of her goofy collar-and-cape outfit.)
Ever considered looking at different traditional Bavarian dresses? It seems there’s a great deal of Bavarian influence in both dresses, especially the two colour scheme and the short puffy sleeves. Obviously it has been combined with elements from old dresses of noble women in the blue dress, but the general design without the small details seems like a Bavarian dress.
Absolutely, I wish I knew more about all the regional variations!
I’d also say the boxy, boyish shape of her body is of the 20s/30s period as well.
I love how her shoes are definitely 1940s, yet the movie came out in 1937. :)
There’s no firm cut-offs — what I was trying to say was that Snow’s shoes look more “1940s” than “1930s.” Fashion is always transitioning!
The donor Uta, as the evil stepmother, maybe?
Wow, Uta is clearly the influence of that evil step-mother (queen) image, it’s uncanny!
With her slashed sleeves and all of the various colors, I always felt there was a bit of Renaissance German influence in Snow’s main dress – http://faerie-queen.com/german-checkered-gown/ and https://www.wikiart.org/en/lucas-cranach-the-elder/portrait-of-a-young-woman-holding-grapes-and-apples-1528#!%23close , for example.
The stiff white collar seems to be a rebato rather than a partlet, as it doesn’t look like it is apart of an existing/visible undergarment.