58 thoughts on “18th-Century Costume Influences in Beauty and the Beast

  1. Yayy! Thank you for doing this film! I surprisingly quite enjoyed this version of the Beauty and the Beast, and I hadn’t even seen the original animated version. I thought all of Belle’s everyday clothes were super pretty. I thought the yellow ballgown would have benefited from some sleeves and some more decoration around the chest area. Again, I know next to nothing about historical fashion apart aside from what I read on this blog, but I think stripping down historical costumes from period-appropriate decorations is a tactic employed by costume designers to convey to the audience think the hero/heroine is more “modern” and relatable than others, right? It makes me think of Demelza’s yellow ballgown in Poldark. It looked great on Eleanor Tomlinson, but I thought it looked (at least from waist up) exactly like something I could attend a cocktail in. I thought an actual 1780s dress would at least have some lace or something. Ditto for Belle’s dress.

    1. Agreed, definitely I think costume designers use stripped-down costumes to make characters seem more modern. Granted, I prefer 18th century costumes to just about any other style, but I think they missed the opportunity to 18th century-ify Belle’s yellow dress! Since they didn’t, sparkly organza or no, it just seemed like Yet Another Bridesmaid Dress.

      1. But I actually think they did kind of 18th century-fy her yellow ball gown. Maybe the sleeves would be missing but apart from that it was very well done in my opinion

  2. I’m so glad you saw this! I watched and, while I’m nowhere near your level of expertise or detail, I was sitting going, “That… looks largely right!” One thing did irk me constantly that maybe you can help me with: wtf was with Belle hiking her skirt up into her belt on one side? Someone suggested it was for riding but she did that a lot when she wasn’t riding and it exposed her undergarments quite a bit. Are you aware if that’s something people actually did? It drove me to distraction every time.

    1. I’m not an expert either, and I have no idea if 18th century French women ever did tucked their skirts in like that, but the idea seemed familiar to me because I think that’s something Ottoman women would sometimes do. (Be warned, though, I’m not an expert on Ottoman clothing either.) I can’t specify period, but a style of caftan called “üç etek” (literally “three skirts”) was popular in many regions, which was like a long jacket with a three-part tail. Often they would tuck the two rear parts of the tail in their belts, to enable freer movement. Of course what they wore underneath was the şalvar (shalwar), which wasn’t considered an undergarment as far as I know.

    2. Well, most village women (which Belle is) did hitch their skirts up to keep mud out of the streets. This culminated in the robe a la polonaise, which was hitched up too. I think it was supposed to mimic that.

    3. You certainly see women tuck up skirts for manual labor all the way back to the medieval era. I’m sure they were doing it to make Belle seem extra practical, but from a historical perspective, she wasn’t doing the kinds of things that would warrant skirt-tucking.

      1. That’s why it bothered me. If she’d been doing physical work at the time I don’t think it would have bothered me. But mostly I was just like, “she’s walking around with undergarments visible for no reason.” But I probably can get over it, especially in light of all the lovely costumes.

    1. But yes… I absolutely hated the yellow dress and the final dress stuck out like a sore thumb (although I would like it in another context). Belle’s dancing dress from the cartoon was part of the inspiration from my wedding dress (more Vivienne Westwood than 18th century) and even that would have looked better.

  3. I’m waiting for the DVD as I cannot stand the super loud movie theatre volumes. The gold gown from the pic is a disappointment, though.

  4. Yay! So glad you did a piece on everything in this movie that looked good; I was curious to see what you ladies thought of the costumes! Well, the costumes-minus-Belle’s, anyway. I have, erm, strong feelings about those. (Like, Snark Week feelings. EAR WIRE, WHY.) How cool is the inclusion of the droulet! Not a garment I was familiar with, but I love touches like that that show somebody really Knew Their Stuff, and did a wonderful job of mixing historical garments with the knowledge that they’re still presenting a fairy-tale.

  5. I think the thing that upsets me about the gold gown is that I know Jacqueline Durran can do better, I mean look at the white gown from Anna Karenina, that would have been such an utterly perfect gown for Belle, if you just added some 3 quarter sleeves and made the back into more of a polonaise. I do think both dresses suffer from Watson’s insistence on Belle not wearing proper stays.

    1. I was discussing this on a thread on Facebook and from what people were saying, it seems like they kind of went along with Emma Watson on a few things. As much as I like Emma Watson as an actress and a person, her ideas of what costumes should be shouldn’t supplant the costume designer’s—especially where we clearly have one who is very talented. That said I think too the Disney look of Belle from the original was probably also a constraint. They changed quite a lot otherwise but kept Belle’s main looks the same.

  6. I mostly loved the costumes but that yellow ball gown is a real needle scratch for me — especially contrasted with Dan Steven’s fancy traditional costume, especially his high-heeled shoes! It was rather jarring though overall I loved the movie.

    1. Yes, in addition to just being boring (to me), the yellow dress was so different compared to everything else in the movie!

    1. I did the exact same thing! Belle has always and will always be my favorite princess. I connected with her when I was young because well she was the only one that looked like me (brown hair hazel eyes) and she was a book nerd! I went to go see it with my equally Belle obsessed best friend and when the first scene started all I could think was “Omg robes a la francaise! Frock flicks is gonna love this!” Lol and I absolutely almost shrieked in happiness when I saw Dan in his costume especially the heels!

      I was irked by the “let me expose my underwear” thing though I get that they were trying to make her seem more practical and stand out.

      I was underwhelmed with the yellow dress, especially when I tried on the version Torrid sells and got to the see the details more up close, it’s very plain and boring to me compared to what they could’ve done and indeed compared to the animated version. Also I didn’t notice the ear wire until.i saw it for sale and had to go back and look at images to see where she wore it.

      I absolutely HATE the wedding dress, especially since it looked so weird and anachronistic next that AMAZING costume on Dan.

    2. Hahaha! For myself, I pointed my figer out in the theatre and went “Pockets!! She has pockets!” to my boyfriend…

    1. Probably the main reason she eschewed corsets! God forbid either she or Kiera Knightly have to learn how to stand up straight!

  7. The opening scene was absolutely gorgeous; I think the entire row heard me gasp with delight over the French costuming. (I mourned that the entire thing wasn’t Georgian-specific.) I thought the costumes overall were fabulous on all the extras, but I agree with you that Belle’s wardrobe was not that flattering or particularly radiant. The golden dress was … well, underwhelming. And while I thought the ending scene gown was GORGEOUS, it was sooo not period. Ah well. Dan Stevens in that utterly breathtaking blue coat made up for it. RAWR. ;)

  8. Hello ! I’m French, and I’m originating from the Arles area, and I was part of a folkloric group when I was a teen. So if you need more information about the Provencal traditional dress, shoot !
    The headgear you shown is called “Coiffure en cravate”, and “bannettes” and “cornettes” are both right. They should look like tiny rabbit ears. This costume and hair is traditionally worn by young girls up to 15, or by young women at work. More formal occasions required the “Coiffure au ruban”. (I longed to be allowed to get my first velvet ribbon !). For the sake of curiosity, you can see the “Coiffure au ruban” here : http://www.pichoto-camargo.fr/notre-culture/costumes-et-coiffes/les-coiffures/le-ruban/

    1. Cool, thanks!! Do you have any idea when the “coiffure en cravate” (is that the poufy cap?) dates from originally?

      1. I’ve often read that most regional French costumes and “coiffes” originated in the very late 18th c. but are mostly, in their final form, from the 1820s-1840s max. By the 1880s they were pretty much out of style in the provinces and were replaced slowly by parisian fashions. However the taste for regionalism and tthe fact they were becoming something of the past made them popular for weddings and local celebrations. As such, they were worn for those occasions until the 1920s but became a self-conscious tradition.
        Happy to see provençal costumes here ( I’m provençal from my father’s side :) ).

        1. Nodding — those high-pouf caps just FEEL 1820s to me, but I have nothing to base that on! Yes, they absolutely became a self-conscious tradition. I’ve seen a lot of Provençal costumes (being worn today for festivals) that are spot-on recreations of late 18th century through early 20th century dress, but a lot of “regional costume” was created in order to be charming.

          1. As Daniel said, regarding the “Arlésienne” (different from the “Costume Comtadin, the other provençal costume), it was fixed in the late 19th century by Frederic Mistral, a poet who promoted the Provençal identity. They were still worn on Sundays and for special occasions till 1920-30.
            And the cap is not really pouffy : it is set and pinned (so much pins…) on a bun (or a fake bun if your hair is too short), and then tied to show the “banettes”.

  9. I’d wondered if bloomers were at all 18th century! I loved the 18th century pockets! The yellow dress was ho hum, but the golden appliques made it pretty. I was very iffy on Emma’s insistence that Belle not wear a corset, after all Catriona Balfe wore a corset or Stays as they were called back then, and she was still active! Yeah the 50s ballerina dress was kind of out of place. Were the boots in any way 18th century?

  10. My feelings about this movie are mixed, mostly due to the fact that the animated Disney film is my favorite (took me years to finally decide between all the cartoon versions). I was happy to go see it on opening day, and loved both the sets and the costumes, but there were some things I didn’t like about the film, though it’s mostly little things.

    You’re right about the dress. I was disappointed at its style and construction. In some circles, it’s a beautiful design; but for Belle, it’s just plain boring compared to the one she wore in the cartoon. The least they could have done was give her elbow-length gloves and make the skirt a bit poofier. I also kept wondering why she continued to wear “peasant” clothing after settling into the castle, when she’s got a wardrobe fit for a princess to wear. I didn’t really think the songs were necessary, considering we already had a musical, and this version almost felt like a cut-and-paste remake.

    My biggest complaint is the fact that the movie lacked the emotional impact the animated film had. Belle and the Beast felt way too cool towards each other, rather than actually showing they liked each other. The ballroom scene in particular felt flat and empty, despite the dancing and gorgeous costumes. The transformation scene did nothing for me compared to the cartoon.

    I also thought it was stupid how Belle ran off in her BALLGOWN to the village to save her dad, whereas in the cartoon, she put her village dress back on first. Plus, the Beast has a magical book that could teleport her to the village! Why the hell didn’t she use that?! She looked ridiculous running about in her underwear in the middle of the magical WINTER at the castle during the big battle.

    I could speak more about this, but I’ll save it for my own website.

    Overall, I’m okay with the live-action Beauty and the Beast film, but I still love the animated one better.

  11. If Belle’s peasanty outfit just had lacing on both sides, the fit would be a million times better. Or center-front or center-back lacing. A soft bodice doesn’t work with off-centered lacing — that’s fitting 101, ppl.

  12. The funny thing is that Tom & Lorenzo had the same issued with the yellow dress and the ballerina dress. Apparently, those two were heavily designed by Emma Watson herself and the costume department had to try and make her crazy ass designs work. Which is why after such a focus on proper costuming with a Disney slant the dresses did not match the rest of the film.

  13. What ?! No love for Matthews wig at the end? I agree about Emma’s lack of support as a costume builder- it really is possible to build a corset that supports and is comfortable- but I loved the fabric patterns in the opening!

  14. When the prince is better dressed than the princess in your princess movie you’re doing it wrong.

    1. Considering who the director was, I’m not surprised. From what I hear, he’s a bitter, resentful whiner. The might might have been better if he weren’t at the helm.

  15. While I appreciate that boning in corsets is more historically accurate, and that’s why most of us read this blog, they were a real form of physical oppression that women suffered under. You would never insist that a Chinese actress has her feet bound for a movie for historical accuracy, nor should we expect a woman to limit her breathing capacity in order to look more like she’s from a time when women were essentially the property of men, especially when acting in a fantasy film.

    As to the yellow dress, I too was disappointed when she first walked out in it. It’s fairly boring, but I will say that it moved deliciously when she danced. It was a delight to see float through the air.

    1. That corsets are necessarily physically oppressive is a simplification of the issue. If you ask re-enactors or people who make historical clothing, they will say it is an issue of fit, how well the corset is fitted to the body. We have to remember that most women went about their physical lives wearing some type of corset and had no trouble doing their jobs. A properly fitted corset doesn’t limit breathing capacity. See the videos from Prior Attire on Youtube to see what I mean.

      I don’t wear such things but I read about such things, as someone with an interest in historical dress.

    2. As a historical reenactor in the SCA, Golden Age of Piracy, and Dickens communities I have worn/owned dozens of different types and styles of corsets/bodies/bodices over the years. I can say with full confidence that the most restrictive and breath reducing corseting is the middle to high Victorian. The middle/Upper class pigeon breast shape was very restricting and the tight or lock lacing trend was designed to make the women too fragile to do the heavy work required of the lower classes. Earlier style corsets or bodies depending on the era were actually not as restrictive. First they were designed to be more practical and were there more to reduce the stress on your fine outer clothing then to push your ribs around. Second they are NOT steel boned or whale ivory boned which was done in the Victorian era. Most earlier bodies were boned with reeds, stiffened rope, wooden busks, and I have even read about stiffened leather boning. all of these will bend and mold to your body and act like a back brace, allowing you to lift and stand for long period without stress on your spine.
      So, If Emma Watson wore a proper 18th century corset with reeds or corded boning, she would actually felt better during production then she did. Hell I have put up and taken down several tents, scrubbed pots and cooked a grand feast for 100 in a corded corset and was fine.

  16. I spent most of the movie being distracted by the little bows on the bodice of her peasant dresses – why???i

  17. For the wonky cap, all I can assume is that they were taking the style of Bretagne/Brittany in the north (also slightly annoying since everything else pointed to Provencal/southern). This is the tame version:
    And this is the hilariously tall version:
    Both actually worn in different northern regions of France as ceremonial/traditional dress.

  18. The reason IKEA makes 18th century reproduction fabrics is because they had a line of Gustavian (the Swedish version of Rococo) furnitures in the 1990’s. The fabrics proved very popular, so they continued, even after the furniture line was discontinued. And as Sweden had a large and thriving cotton printing industry in the 18th century, there are a lot of original samples around to pick and choose from. :)

  19. Ecstatic that you did this review! Ever since I saw this movie I’ve hoped you would do one. I think the costumes are absolutely marvelous and if the costumes in that first scene don’t deserve an Oscar then I don’t know what does. Not to mention Prince Adam’s blue outfit at the end of the movie. Absolutely mesmerising! I at first did not like Belle’s gold dress at all, but it has grown on me and now I absolutely love it. I think it is gorgeous, even if it’s not accurate. I also think Emma pulled off that wig that Madame de Garderobe puts on her, so I really would’ve loved to see her in a more period accurate dress. However, I read an interview with costume designer Jaqueline Durran where she said that she sketched designs for a more historically accurate dress for Belle, but that the studio turned the idea down. A bit of shame. You can still see some images of Belle in 18th century clothing in the concept art for the film. Overall I loved the film, and am extremely happy they decided to be inspired by real 18th century fashion. It’s a beautiful film, if you ask me!

  20. The high point of my costume nerdistry was recognising the Duran Textiles fabric on one of the dresses in the final ensemble dance scene.
    Overall I really liked the costumes, they looked pretty genuine if Disneyfied a little. The yellow dress was soooo underwhelming! I thought the film itslef was fine but my main take was, I much preferred the live action Cinderella.

  21. Finally saw it as our library got in the Blu-ray. I really liked the movie, but not Belle’s yellow or ending dresses and I loved the animated one. I will say they moved beautifully as Emma Watson danced in them.

    I loved the opening costumes and the Prince’s as the Beast.

    Emma Watson is a talented actress but should stick to acting not costume design. Did she even try wearing a proper correctly laced corset?

    I was surprised how well they all sang. Well Miss Watson sang as Gaston and LeFou came from musical theatre. Even Kevin Kline and Emma Thompson have sung before.

    Two of my favourite secondary characters were Madame de Garderobe played by the awesome Audra McDowell and Plumette played by Gugu Mbatha-Rau.

  22. Hmmm, I always thought that the wedding dress was based off on 18th century ballet dresses, that’s why I gave it a pass, but yes, the yellow dress is atrocious and I think that I would’ve enjoyed the movie more if they stuck with an 18th century gown. My gosh, Cinderella 2015 had a gown so distinct from the animated one, so there’s no point in sticking with the original design and making it less of a showstopper (ughhh the kiddy neckline and the gosh awful layers made it look like a random dress you buy for kids at party city). Also, agree with the corset controversy. corsets done right are more for support and posture and idk, i feel weird about the “woke” cred she gets for not wearing a corset.

  23. Don’t know why,but seeing emma as belle just doesn’t do it for me.She lacks the ballerina like grace and the silent charm of the animated character.I have always imagined Rachel Weisz as belle,but perhaps Hollywood thinks her to be too old for this role

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