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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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).
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:
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):
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.
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).
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.
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.
And just because I love her so much, here’s a collection of gifs featuring her amazing range of Bitch Face:
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:
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?
Rodmilla and her daughters would probably be wearing styles more akin to these:
And Danielle’s work dress would look a lot more like this:
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!