Disney Princess Historical Costume Influences: The Princess and the Frog (2009)


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 series, we’re going to analyze each of the Disney princesses to discuss the historical influences in their costumes. Previously, we analyzed Snow White (1937), Cinderella (1950) in two parts, Sleeping Beauty (1959), and The Little Mermaid (1989).


Since I got Disney+ for Hamilton, I looked around to see if there was anything else I might watch for the month before I canceled it. And I noticed The Princess and the Frog (2009), which I’d missed back in the day. I found it’s an enjoyable addition to the Disney princess canon, plus the flick has a delightful take on 1920s New Orleans style. So I’m taking editorial privilege, and I’m jumping into Kendra’s Disney princess series, hah!

I’m also picking up where Sarah left off with her version of Historically Accurate Disney Princesses. She gave an option for what Tiana, this movie’s “princess,” could look like in real life.

Left: Disney’s Tiana. Right: Young African American woman, by Addison Scurlock, photographer. 1938 (?)

But this is only the “princessy” dress Tiana wears at the very end of the movie, which, sure, that’s the main image of her on all the marketing and if you were able to go to the theme parks. But she’s only shown this way for a hot second in a 97 minute movie! And yeah, I totally get the complaints that here’s the first Black Disney princess who actually spends most of her movie as a frog, not even as a human being. Weird and offensive, but weird and offensive in that Disney way since they built their empire on singing animal stories. Let’s at least look at the time Tiana does spend as a human, and not just the tiny bit as a princess. Because she’s damn interesting and probably the most realistic person of all the Disney princesses!

The movie’s co-directors Ron Clements and Jon Musker were inspired by a real person when creating the character of Tiana. They told SlashFilm about meeting the “Queen of Creole Cuisine” Leah Chase in New Orelans. Musker said:

“She talked about how food brings people together, and it’s this social lubricant, a way of bringing people together from different walks of life. … Up on the wall was a picture. She has a lot of art work on the walls of the restaurant that she’s picked up, but there’s also a photo up there. It was George Patton. I asked about it. She was like, ‘I admire Patton.’ She’s in her 80s. She was seeing Patton on the newsreels in the ’40s and everything. She goes, ‘That was a man that I admired.’ It was just a great thing to see this warm and nurturing thing, but she has this flinty side, too, where she can be both. That’s what we tried to get with Tiana, that she’s very warm and vulnerable but she has a passion, spine, and a backbone, and she’s really trying to get something done and doesn’t give in easily to things.”

Tiana is the first Disney princess with career goals, and she doesn’t really want to let a man get in the way of her pursuing that. Right on, sister! Of course, this being Disney, there are obstacles in her way, more of them magical than realistic.

The story opens in 1912 New Orleans, in the very pink and princessy bedroom of little Charlotte “Lottie” La Bouff, a spoiled rich blonde girl who is literally dressed as a poufy pink princess.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

She even has Disney princess dolls.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Lottie, the blonde white girl, is in her princess drag, while Tiana wears a contemporary 1910s little girl dress in green, but with a crown for dress-up fun.

She has her own seamstress who apparently does nothing but sew endless pink princess costumes for her (OK, sure, I’d have loved that as a kid, and it does seem like a decent gig for the seamstress).

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Mom kinda sorta has a period hairstyle but her clothes are nondescript when it comes to the era. 

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Lottie’s princess obsession knows no historical accuracy.

Lottie pals around with her seamstress’s daughter, Tiana. The internet says Tiana is 19 during the later part of the movie, so she’d have to be 5 here, which I don’t see. Maybe it’s that super-precocious Disney 5-year-old thing? Bleh.

Nobody seems bothered by the dynamics of Tiana’s Black mom, Eudora (voiced by none-the-less than Oprah Winfrey), working for Lottie’s white dad, and the girls are just happy and perfectly at ease in their interracial, BFF-ness across socio-economic classes. Because everything always works out that nicely in Disney World, remember? Moving on.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

This is how we learn the date of the start of the movie — it’s November 1912.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Good view of Tiana’s dress, which passes for early 20th-c. little girl wear. Also, love Mom’s pedal sewing machine.

Tiana’s family is poor, but they have love and good gumbo. Dad dreams of opening his own restaurant, but he’d call it Tiana’s Place. So when he dies in World War I, his daughter takes up the dream and works two jobs waitressing to save up the money to build up her own restaurant.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

And *boom* we’ve jumped forward in time. Dad’s gone, & Tiana’s working hard for her money.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Her green waitress dress isn’t fashionable, but then, it’s probably a uniform.

1924 - waitress, LA, Talk of the Town, LAPL Photo Collection

Compare with this waitress at the Talk of the Town in 1924 – image from LAPL Photo Collection.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

She takes the streetcar to her second waitress job & wears a cute cloche hat.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

The newspaper just barely informs us it’s April 25, 1926, so 14 years have passed.

Meanwhile, a philandering, spendthrift but legit prince comes to town and makes all the girls go crazy. Except Tiana, of course.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Tiana’s dresses, so far, may not look very ’20s, but the gals around town have more of the drop-waist styles we associate with the period. Plus, most everyone wears hats!

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Love the clothing details on Tiana’s friends, as they chide her for always working & never coming out with them to socialize.

1920s - Howard University students

Similar to the styles worn by these Howard University students in the 1920s.

1920s, Josephine Baker

Or even this 1920s portrait of Josephine Baker, with a cloche hat & bow at the neck of her dress.

Lottie & her daddy come visit Tiana at her second job — which they seem to do frequently, since Big Daddy is fond of the beignets. And still, after 14 years, the racial, class, and economic differences between the gals are NBD, they’re still buddies in this Disney fantasy version of the 1920s. Cool.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Lottie has grown up into kind of a floozie / flapper / ditz. At least she’d drawn that way. All big smiles, big boobs, lots of leg.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Tiana is incredibly modest in comparison with the neckline of her uniform filled in & the sleeves having a “rolled up” appearance to emphasize her seriousness.

Since Big Daddy is having a masquerade party to celebrate Prince Naveen’s arrival, Lottie decides to hire Tiana to make beignets at the party. That money is just what Tiana needs to finally buy her restaurant.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Green is Tiana’s signature color & foreshadows her storyline.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Mom brings a gift of Dad’s old gumbo pot to continue the family cooking tradition.

1920s - Gado Images Alamy Stock Photo

Older Mom reminds me of this photo of a 1920s woman with a soft hairstyle & simple coat — image by Gado Images / Alamy Stock Photo.

Next, Tiana’s sings “Almost There” in a fabulous fantasy where she tells her mom all about how her restaurant will be. This part is the best thing about the whole movie to me for a couple reasons. Tiana’s appearance is referencing iconic Josephine Baker looks, with a slinky white gown, but she’s doing it while cooking and running the restaurant — reinforcing the idea that she’s in charge, she’s not just a pretty face.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)
1940s Josephine Baker

OK, so she looks a little closer to 1940s Josephine Baker.

1926 - Josephine Baker

Because this was 1926 Josephine Baker.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

She’s dressed up, but she’s still writing her menu.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

And she’s cooking with Dad’s gumbo pot.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Dancing, singing, but most importantly, cooking.

All this part is animated in a gorgeous Art Deco Harlem Renaissance style, unlike the rest of the movie. The gold and brown colors are significant and beautiful, and every line reinforces the modern, deco feel. This is not your old-fashioned Disney fantasyland scene! The sequence was strongly inspired by the work of African-American painter and illustrator Aaron Douglas, further rooting Tiana in her Black heritage and the 1920s time and place.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Welcoming the crowds in — they look a bit more 1930s than ’20s IMO.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

It’s Prohibition, but the champagne is flowing. And those Art Deco lines are flowing too.

1934 - Aspects of Negro Life: From Slavery to Reconstruction by Aaron Douglas

Compare with one of Aaron Douglas’ major works, “Aspects of Negro Life: From Slavery to Reconstruction,” 1934, New York Public Library Digital Collections

Back in the real cartoon world, Prince Naveen and his stupid valet are tricked by the voodoo witch doctor Dr. Facilier. This ends with the Prince being turned into a frog, hence the action of the movie.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

But I’m more interested in the New Orleans street scenes! Nice touches of ’20s fashions.

1920s - Arkansas State Archives

Similar shape as these ’20s dresses. Photo from Arkansas State Archives.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Plus, multiracial faces in the crowds, appropriate because the population at the time was 26% Black, according to the Census.

At the party that night, everyone’s wearing costumes, so not particularly historical, though slightly hysterical.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Tiana gets this sad renaissance wench outfit to serve her beignets in.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

While Lottie sets herself up as the belle of the ball.

1920s - Eleanor Boardman, actress - robe de style

It’s kind of a stretch, but you could say that Lottie’s drop-waist, poufy ballgown is inspired by the 1920s trend called the “robe de style,” shown here on actress Eleanor Boardman.

1923 - Lanvin - robe de style - VA

Jeanne Lanvin is known for popularizing the robe de style design & was influenced by 18th-century fashions. This 1923gown is a the V&A Museum.

Lottie may be a ditzy blonde, but she’s well-intentioned. When Tiana’s crappy costume gets even crappier, Lottie pulls out a spare princess gown for T.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

The best of friends even share their tiaras. Awwww.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Well, there’s nothing 1920s about this dress. Just looks like it’s stolen from another Disney princess.

1930s - McCalls evening gown pattern

At best, the blue gown is like a 1930s evening gown.

Then Disney magic intervenes, and Tiana is turned into a frog just like Naveen. They go off to the swamp and have adventures with singing animals, but there’s no costuming so I’m going to skip that.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Meanwhile, the bad guys continue scheming, which involves hoodwinking Lottie.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

This seems like just another ruffly princess-y dress.

1928 - McCalls Fashion

But it has some inspiration in period fashions, like these 1928 evening gowns. Day dresses could have ruffled tiers too, though more often the dresses would have sleeves or drapey collars.

Eventually, Tiana and Naveen make their way back to town to try and break the spell that turned them into frogs. Tiana encounters evil Dr. Facilier, who tempts her with the idea of her dream restaurant coming true.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

LOVE seeing Tiana in glamour garb, even if it’s via the bad guy & in a cemetery.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

And her restaurant looks pretty good.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

But no way is she making a deal with the devil!

They think they can break the spell with Lottie’s help.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

She’s wearing a wedding cake as a wedding gown.

But newp, they’re still frogs.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Until, y’know, twu wuv’s kiss…

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

And hey, there’s that Disney princess dress! Told ya she wears it for a hot second.

For some reason, their magical frog wedding isn’t legit enough, so they have a church wedding as humans and wearing different outfits.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

I know this is a Catholic church, but I don’t see a priest.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

OK, it’s nice to have their human family present.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

The lily pad on her shoulder is a sweet reminder of their frog experience, along with the green jewels in her tiara. I guess his green uniform is because he’s now the Frog Prince?

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

But the cut of her gown isn’t particularly evocative of the era.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)
1920s - wedding couple

While this groom isn’t in uniform, this couple has more appropriate 1920s wedding clothing.

Now that she’s married to a prince — and more importantly, that prince isn’t disinherited because he’s settled down with a sensible partner — she can open her restaurant.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Tiana is finally wearing a ’20s drop-waist day dress, also in a rich orange.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Tho’ her finale gown confuses me. It’s more 1910s than 1920s and so covered-up and restrained compared to everyone else, even her mom.

1910s - woman in white

That last dress looks more like this 1910s women’s Sunday going-to-church dress.

1920s - Bessie Smith

Instead, it would have been nice to see a 1920s evening dress like this worn by Bessie Smith — still not too showy, but elegant and with opportunity for animated flourishes. Oh well.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Look, all the in-laws are here at Tiana’s Place! I love that the Prince is now a waiter.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Lottie befriends the littlest prince, because she’s a good sport.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

And they live happily ever after.




What do you think of The Princess and the Frog?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

8 Responses

  1. Beverly

    This was a fantastic and insightful read of The Princess and the Frog! The screenshots from the film paired with the historical fashion photos were fun and effective. Disney definitely missed some opportunities to be more historically accurate. The 20s was such a great time in fashion.

    I will say that my daughter and I do give this film some hard side eye, because:

    1) Tiana is a frog for most of it (thanks for touching on this).

    2) Naveen, though good-looking, is just so, very trifling. Tiana deserved better.

    3) We appreciate that Tiana is smart, resourceful, ambitious, and hardworking, but, as Black women, we did want her to have that princess fantasy of of being swept off her feet.

    4) I, too, thought her final dress was a bit unfortunate. There were so many fabulous directions they could have went with it!

    • Trystan L. Bass

      Disney gets an “E” for effort, but yeah, they’ve got a ways to go in terms of character, representation, & fashion :D

  2. Saraquill

    A Disney princess with a live mom? It’s a miracle.

  3. jeanie jay

    Ahhhh, I love this movie! Yeah, it’s got a few issues re: representation and accuracy, but at the end of the day I still love it and love the music in it. So glad you did this one!

    • Trystan L. Bass

      Watching it the first time as an adult, it stands up better than a lot of other Disney stuff (which slides by on nostalgia).

  4. Nzie

    I don’t think I’ve seen the whole one, but maybe I should also explore my Disney plus more. I saw the latter part, and liked Tiana’s pluck, but I see what you mean on both costume and plot. The church looks quite a bit like St. Louis Cathedral, right on Jackson Square. If the vows are done in that era the priest may well have exited to the side–although I doubt Disney was researching pre-conciliar Catholicism.