As I am sure all Disney fans have noticed, as of late, Disney has taken on a trend of revamping several beloved classic like Maleficent, Alice in Wonderland, and The Jungle Book. With The Legend of Tarzan right around the corner and the highly anticipated Beauty and the Beast soon to come, the trend does not seem to be subsiding anytime soon! While some skeptics and cynics may believe the slew of live-action remakes is just a ploy aiming solely for profit, a much deeper meaning lies beyond business deals and box office profits. As the years go by and one generation is replaced by the next, inevitable technological, social, and cultural change occurs.
That being said, in order to preserve the beloved classic stories of our youth and share them with the next generation, they have to ultimately undergo a modern makeover too! Leading us to my personal favorite re-make up to date: Cinderella!
Last year, Disney fans both old and new received an official, exclusive invitation to the prince's royal ball! While Cinderella features mischievous mice, a handsome prince, and a pumpkin turned golden carriage, all pale in comparison with every Disney fan girl’s dream fashion piece: Cinderella’s latest ball gown!
It seems as though renowned costume designer Sandy Powell stitched stars, galaxies, and little girl’s dreams into every individual layer of the dress!
Before we get started gushing about what has to be Cinderella’s best gown yet, let us take a look at the epic fashion transformation history’s favorite princess party dress has undergone.
Cendrillon by Charles Perrault, probably the most popular variant of the Cinderella story, can be traced back to 1697, but it was not until 1899 that the princess and her gown finally showed up on film. Although the Victorian era Cinderella wears a much more humble version of the gown, you can't miss the iconic white side flaps on the dress. Look familiar?
As we go along through our countdown, you'll notice that the various gowns change according to the popular style of that time period. For instance, as you can see with the 1899 Cinderella dress, Late Victorian era gowns idealized modesty and elegance and were, therefore, often characterized by high necklines, tightly corseted waists, and ruffled or poufed long sleeves.
Our journey through history now takes us into the twentieth century with George Nichols's fourteen minute silent film also titled Cinderella. While corsets were still generally considered a must, the fuller skirts and fluffy sleeves of the 1800s began to deflate and take on a more modern, natural look. The more toned down outfits eventually led to the shapeless, "scandalous" frocks iconic of the swinging 20s.
Although I am not a huge fan of the giant flowery head band, can we please bring back the elegant cape?
Walt Disney's Laugh-O-Gram Cinderella (1922)
Anyone who knows their period dress fairly well agrees that the 1920s ushered in an era of one of history's most fun and notorious party wardrobe. In addition to the abandonment of constricting corsets, post-war fashion featured more movement and comfort in womenswear, flatter busts, and boyish silhouettes. Even a young twenty-one-year-old Walt Disney had an affinity for flapper fashion, dressing up his earliest version of Cinderella in a short, spaghetti strap frock that perfectly complimented her short, bold bob cut and statement headband.
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Lotte Reiniger's Aschenputtel (1922)
Walt, however, was not the only one attempting to redefine Cinderella in the 1920's. Lotte Reiniger's eerie retelling of the classic fairy tale puts even Tim Burton, king of the twisted and creepy, to shame. Don't get me wrong though! Reiniger's use of black silhouette cut outs beautifully portray the story, yet the shadowy characters admittedly give you a sense of unease.
Now let's talk about this dress! The only dress, in my opinion, that wins over this one when it comes to beauty is Lily James's 2015 gown. Although Reiniger's dress only appears in dark silhouette form, she still manages to create gorgeous depth and detail, especially around the collar and sleeves. If I ever attend a Tim Burton themed ball, I will definitely have to special order this outfit!
At last, we have arrived to the Cinderella we all know and love and all secretly wish we could be! Reimagining his original Cinderella from the 1920s, Walt Disney independently created what has become considered a Disney classic and one of Disney's most beloved princesses. Interestingly enough, however, some debate still exists over the true color of Cindy's ball gown.
As you can see, in the original version of the animation (on the far left), Cinderella's dress is an obvious shade of dark, sparkly silver or white. Yet, as time passed, her gown progressively became a darker blue color. Apparently, during the remastering of the film in the 1990s, animators for the posters and VHS covers darkened the gown in order to create a stronger contrast between the dress's sparkles and the blue fabric. Another rumor claims that the color change was made due to marketing reasons, claiming that a sky blue catches a consumer's eye better than a plain silvery grey.
The Glass Slipper (1955)
Charles Walters's The Glass Slipper is one of the first Cinderella-inspired stories portrayed through a full length live action film and featured both song and ballet. The film's predecessors strictly followed the shallow plot line of the original Cendrillon fairy tale, while The Glass Slipper added depth to the characters by revealing details about Ella's childhood and Ella and the Prince's first meeting. Although the film premiered in 1955, costume designers Walter Plunkett and Helen Rose created a gown that I believe to be reminiscent of eighteenth century French high society.
Compare the portrait of Marie Antoinette with Cinderella's gown in The Glass Slipper. Note the large, caged skirts and extravagant detailing. From here on out, many of the costume designers that worked on Cinderella films utilized period inspiration to create their gowns.
Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella (1957, 1965 & 1997)
Composer Richard Rodgers and and writer and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II created some of history's most successful adaptations of the Cinderella tale. Starting in 1957, the duo produced a made-for-TV version starring Julie Andrews that boasted over 100 million viewers. Rodgers and Hammerstein then followed up with two more fairly successful recreations in 1965 and 1997. Their work has now been converted into a stage performance that has been featured on Broadway for the last several years.
All three gown designs stand out against their predecessors. Julie Andrews's 1957 gown and Lesley Ann Warren's 1965 dress definitely display period inspiration, specifically early nineteenth century France and Renaissance Europe, respectively. Brandy Norwood's dress, on the other hand, appears to be a live action reimagining of Disney's 1950 gown.
Ever After (1998)
This post-feminist rom-com retelling of Cinderella is considered by many to be a modern classic. Set in Renaissance-era France, the story has been stripped of its fantastical qualities and claims to be the "real" story of Cinderella.
During the Renaissance period in Europe, women's wardrobe normally covered most of their bodies, reflecting the importance of religious modesty and purity. Womenswear featured large, elaborate skirts and sleeves with a plethora of different cuts, trimmings, and materials and were often paired with a form of headgear. While the Renaissance affected most of Europe, the fashion styles of the day took different directions in various geographical regions, resulting in fashion variants.
A Cinderella Story (2004)
Welcome to the twenty first century! Here we have a teen rom-com movie that definitely ranks up there with Mean Girls: Hilary Duff's A Cinderella Story. A Cinderella Story adds a modern twist to the classic tale complete with emails, college applications, mustangs, and a high school Halloween ball. Despite the elegant masquerade mask, Duff's ball gown seems to solely be a fun, fluffy homecoming dress that any high school senior girl would die for! All that's missing now is a pair of pink kicks and Chad Michael Murray!
Another Cinderella Story (2008)
Another Cinderella Story comes second in a long and somewhat unnecessary line of "modern" Cinderella remakes. This time, Selena Gomez takes on the symbolic role of Cinderella as Mary Santiago, a high student with ambitions of becoming a dancer. Abandoning the cliché fluffy, sparkly dress, Gomez donnes a gold masquerade mask and a high-low ruffled ruby red dress reminiscent of a traditional flamenco dancing outfit.
Gomez's wardrobe is definitely not one of the most memorable in the long list of Cinderella gowns, but it definitely is unique and fun!
Last but not least: Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella (2015)
At last, we have arrived to what I believe to be the best Cinderella gown of all! Despite the Fairy Godmother's talent with a wand, Sandy Powell is the woman to thank for this marvelous creation! In the past, Powell's creations, such as those seen in Gangs of New York, The Aviator, and The Young Victoria, normally carried a heavy emphasis on historical accuracy. However, her work on Cinderella, although minimally influenced by nineteenth century wardrobe, allowed her to explore a more fantastical side of her creativity.
The cerulean ball gown boasts hundreds of fabric layers, each a different shade of purple and blue as well as 10,000 Swarovski crystals. As if the gown wasn't spectacular enough, the butterfly-studded crystal slippers came about as a result of a special collaboration between Swarovski and Powell.
I discovered a shoe during a visit to a shoe museum in Northampton. It was a shoe from the 1890s that had that same shape and that 5 inch heel. A tiny little, beautiful shoe!
An understandably naive male in the L.A. press junket audience asked how uncomfortable those slippers really are to wear! Powell gladly explained the physics of wearing a glass high heel.
You can't wear glass! You can't put your foot into something that can't move! What [Lily] wears on her feet is a leather version. I made a shoe that's the same shape that actually fits her foot.
The rest is CGI magic! My sincerest apologies to anyone out there hoping to get their hands on a pair. So what exactly does it feel like to wear such an extravagant gown and magical slippers? Well, according to Lily James "you feel like Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride! It was the best moment of my life!"
I think you might have one upped Julia Roberts this time, Lily!
There you have it, folks! An incredibly truncated version of Cinderella's fashion evolution! Keep in mind that there are over 100 adaptation of the Cinderella story, so my list is not by any means exhaustive. Can you think of any more gowns worthy enough to go up against Disney's latest? If so, please tell me about it by commenting below!
P.S. As if her ball gown wasn't already gorgeous enough, Cinderella also got the world's most perfect wedding dress!
Remind me to give Sandy Powell a call sometime soon...
Which was your favorite gown in the list?
Illustrations by Stephen Webster