TBT: Bram Stoker’s Dracula Deep Dive

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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.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

That’s four centuries after Vlad Dracul’s big battle & his wife’s death.

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.

1880s vs 1890s fashions

 

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.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

The bustle gown on display.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Mina says goodbye to Jonathan as he goes to visit Dracula. Note the shelf-like bustle, very much an 1880s style.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Closeup of Mina at her typewriter shows the leaf embroidery on her bodice.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

As she comforts a “sick” Lucy, you can see both the gown details & her severe, proper hairstyle.

 

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.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Off-the-shoulders & hair hanging down!

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Note the contrast — Lucy is soft & free, while Mina is stiff & buttoned-up.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

The contrast is clearer as they read from the naughty Arabian Nights book.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

However, is there a little structure under Lucy’s gown?

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Well check that out! In a later scene, she wears the same dress & a cage bustle is visible underneath. Wild.

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.

1868 - Marie Spartali Stillman by Julia Margaret Cameron

1868 – the Pre-Raphaelite painter Marie Spartali Stillman photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron

1866-68 - Lady Lilith by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

1866-68 – Lady Lilith by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

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.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Couldn’t get a full screencap, but even from this bodice view, the pale color, leaf motif, & delicate lace show how sweet & precious she is.

 

Lucy’s Green Evening Gown

Sexy snake gown FTW!

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Another compare & contrast. Lucy is still off-the-shoulders, now with cleavage, while Mina is demurely Victorian.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

The bodice cuts waaaay down in the back as well, but the bustle shape is rather 1880s.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Historical skirt, yes; modern bodice.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

The gown on display, in its full, snaky glory.

 

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.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Viney damask silk.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

The two women are the closest in style here.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Storm is coming…

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Full view.

The soft fullness of this gown reminds me of both extant artistic dress styles and painted images.

1885 - Liberty silk gown made & worn by the wife of Sir Hamo Thornycroft, at the V&A Museum

1885 – Liberty silk gown made & worn by the wife of Sir Hamo Thornycroft, at the V&A Museum.

1871 - detail of screen depicting the Laura Epps painted by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, at V&A Museum (photo by Trystan L. Bass)

1871 – detail of screen depicting the Laura Epps painted by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, at V&A Museum.

 

Mina’s Nightgown

The storm wakes up both girls, but for different reasons…

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Not sure what the color really is (pink?), but the fabric has her trademark vine/leaf pattern.

 

Lucy’s Nightgown

Yep, it’s the least historically accurate outfit in the whole film. sigh Guess the lingerie was necessary for vampire seduction?

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

I guess this is a riff on ‘corset & petticoat’?

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

But then there’s no chemise/smock, so y’know, chafing. And why a cape?

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

At least you can’t tell how silly it looks when she’s laying down.

 

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.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Closeup shows the leaf motif along the bodice lapels & collar.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Even the hat trim is folded to evoke a leaf shape.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

She’s covered head to toe, complete with gloves.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Her fresh, light green stands out in drab London.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

THAT PLEATED BUSTLE. *faints*

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Dracula makes his move.

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.

1884 fashion plate

 

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.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

She’s first shown getting fitted for the gown.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

And it looks like there might be some kind of Victorian bustle gown underneath?

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

I’m a ruff nerd, so this is relevant to my interests.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

I’m not a fan of open casket funerals, but glass coffins & proto-vampires? Sure.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

The headdress has a 1920s look, like some Erte drawing gone wild.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Look at the details on that gown — this is like a silvery version of the Klimt-inspired robes that Dracula wears.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

The turban really makes the headdress look 1920s imo.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

The full gown is dramatic & bizarre & amazing.

 

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.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Reunited at last.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

The three-dimensional trim evokes leaves — still subtly including her motif.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Her gown is all swirling lines around her body — like vines.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Unusually low cut in the back.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

The full bustle is still close to the period shape she’s worn throughout the film.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

The full gown on display — note all the fabric treatments that went into this.

While this gown is the least strictly accurate of Mina’s outfits, it still shares the same silhouette of an 1880s evening gown.

1882 French fashion plate

In this 1882 French fashion plate, the evening gown on the left has the same bustle shape as Mina’s red dress, while the daytime dress on the right looks like her daytime bustle shapes.

 

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.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Solid bodice with striped sleeves. Can’t tell the color — is it dark olive green, maybe? It’s sombre & severe.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Stripe overskirt on her dark bustle gown. Wearing a veil with her hat. Bundled up. The men are trying to protect her, but she’s ready to turn to Dracula’s side.

 

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.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Simple, dark, & elegant.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

But bright green underneath.

 

 

Are you a Dracula fan?

20 Responses

  1. Elaine

    Love most of the gear in this, but some of Lucy’s outfits just make me wince. Meh, it’s fabulous to look at, and Gary Oldman is on form.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Are you back on frockflicks.com & maybe refreshing the page? The plugin is supposed to log you in & send you back here, tho’ it seems to not work perfectly :(

      Reply
  2. Roxana

    The costumes are totally cray-cray but mostly pretty. The exception being the monstrosity poor Lucy is buried in.

    Reply
  3. Badger

    My friends and I argue about this movie. They hate it because it’s not historically accurate and I agree. BUT the subtle change in colors in the Winona Rider outfits as she falls for the Count is lovely. I even like the nod to Klimt in the final Dracula outfit. I do agree though, that Lucys burial gown is ridiculous.

    Reply
  4. Lea

    I love this movie! And I just can’t with how stunningly gorgeous Winona Ryder is in it!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  5. Melissa

    This post has some impeccable timing since I just finished a commission of Mina’s green walking dress two weeks ago. It was one of the most complicated commissions I’ve ever done. Eiko Ishioko really went crazy with these designs! I loved this write up! Thank you!

    Reply
  6. Alissa

    One of my favourite movies. Love everything about it: acting, direction, art direction, the crazy costumes (the making-of documentary is highly recommended by the way). Winona never looked so gorgeous, and I would steal some of her dresses :)

    Reply
  7. Natasha Rubin

    I think the costumes in this are beautiful, mostly (and even the ones I don’t love, like Lucy’s wedding dress, are definitely striking and memorable), but it gets no love from me as an adaptation. It’s too bad, because I know Coppola’s intention was to make the most accurate adaptation yet, and in some ways he came closer than most, including stuff from the book that’s usually left out.

    But none of that matters if you don’t fundamentally understand the characters, and I don’t think he did them anything approaching justice. And worse, his adaptation is so influential that this is who people are convinced these characters are, sometimes projecting it back onto the book even when it’s clearly not there. Lucy’s reputation is now that she’s a shallow tart, Mina is uptight and repressed and needs Dracula to loosen her up, Dracula is a tortured romantic who just wants love, and Jonathan is a piece of cardboard. None of that is true to the book, of course, but good luck convincing anyone of it now.

    Reply
    • Mary A. Koehler

      I completely agree!! I love the book but this adaptation is something of a travesty (albeit a beautiful one).

      Reply
  8. Lily Lotus Rose

    I have LOVED LOVED LOVED this movie ever since it came out!! Even for my friends and family members who persist in not liking this movie, I make them admit that it is BEAUTIFUL whether or not they like it! I loved ALL the costumes–male and female–but especially Mina’s costume when she meets Dracula on the street and her signature red dress. Both of those scenes just make me swoon!!!!!!!! Thank you for providing a detail of Mina’s dress from the scene when she goes back to Dracula’s castle. To me, it looks like the ribbing on her sleeves echoes the patterns in Dracula’s armor from the beginning of the movie when he was “only” Vlad the Impaler. I never noticed the inspiration from the Pre-Raphaelites on Lucy’s costumes until now, but I totally see it. Thanks for pointing that out.

    Other thoughts: 1. If you ever do a second deep dive on this film, I would love to know your thoughts on Mina’s all-too-briefly shown wedding dress and on the dresses worn by Dracula’s wives. 2. I recently watched the first run of Penny Dreadful, and I could see echoes of this movie in several places. The season one scene when Vanessa Ives and Mina Murray kiss in a garden maze was totally inspired by this film. Now, I have to go back and see if their costumes in that scene were also inspired by the ones in the film. Also, I’m 97% sure that Penny Dreadful composer Abel Korzeniowski quoted from Wojciech Kilar’s Dracula score in the final season when a certain someone was being confronted.

    Thanks again for this AWESOME post!

    Reply
  9. Melponeme_K

    I intensely disliked this film when I was younger. I really wanted an accurate depiction of Stoker’s novel and this film insisted on adding the romance. Plus I didn’t think Oldman was attractive at all, it really needed Frank Langella (alas too old). The acting in general is silly (Ryder’s and Reeves’ bad English accents).

    However I do like the theatricality of its setting. The sets were very goth and the costumes so pretty.

    Lucy’s wedding dress was supposed to be off putting. It made her look like a baby which is eerie when she eventually turns into a vampire baby killer.

    It was the see through white gown of Lucy’s that annoyed me. I know it’s supposed to be provocative but it just looks like she had some nervous breakdown and forgot to wear petticoats.

    Reply

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