Friday, June 16, 2017

My thoughts on the Costumes of the 2017 "Beauty and the Beast"

First of all, to not be redundant, let's see what the internet is already saying about these costumes! In my research I was not able to access the multiple video interviews on the topic, due to my deafness and lack of subtitles on said videos. So they will unfortunately not be a part of my discussion here. However, I did find the following interesting articles:

Fashionista's wonderful interview with designer Jacqueline Durran includes a variety of interesting details, particularly in how they balanced the historical influence with the demands of the story.

People Movies also interviewed Durran, and their article includes additional details, as well as Durran's design sketches. Further design sketches were originally released on Entertainment Weekly here and are a treasure trove for those looking to understand and recreate these pieces for cosplay. While you can see more of the sketches at the above link, I wanted to share my favorite here. (I'm not entirely clear on whether these sketches are her original designs, or drawings of the finished product done for promotional purposes. If anyone can clarify this, I'd be grateful for the details!)

Design by Jacqueline Durran, released on Entertainment Weekly, retrieved from People Movies

The Hollywood Reporter's write-up on the "Beauty and the Beast" costumes contains a focus on the accessories of the film, while the Indian Expression reports on the work Indian artists contributed to Belle's gowns, as well as a few other costume techniques (with some fascinating photos of the processes).

Vox presents a fantastic article on the history of Belle's design and how merchandising strongly dictated her design both in the original film and the new live action.

...and these articles were just what I found on the first two pages of Google! Undoubtedly this film has sparked a louder conversation about costume than just about any other film in recent years--even more so than the live action Disney Cinderella (and you remember how much press that one got!) As a professional seamstress and costume designer, this thrills me to my core and I'm so psyched to finally have a chance to properly weigh in on the discussion!

I will also add that in the following critique I will use the term "historical accuracy" a lot. Though this is a fairy tale, it is very clearly set in a fairly specific time in French history, a decision which as reinforced by almost every garment on screen (and those that break the mold will be discussed).

(Though there are now close-captioned movie theater options, my fibromyalgia sensory issues mean that large screens, even television screens, provoke migraines. I have to wait for everything to be available for home viewing so that I can safely watch it on my laptop screen. A pity in this case, because the lavish visuals of "Beauty and the Beast" are so clearly meant to be properly enjoyed on a large screen!)

Unless otherwise stated, all screencaptures were retrieved from and are as taken from the Live-Action 2017 Beauty and the Beast. (Be aware - some language at the link.) The images are included in this article for the purposes of critique and research.

Now settle in, because we have a boatload of costumes to get through! (Click on any picture to open the full-sized photo-viewer.)

First off -- oh my goodness, the foppish prince! I feel fairly certain that Dan Stevens had a blast with this get-up. The make-up truly is crazy. I wish we got a better glimpse of the coat, as according to the interviews there were some pretty nifty crystal embellishments.

Full ensemble view.

 All of the ball attendees were women dressed in white, a fact which makes the prince's ensemble stand out. It's easy to gloss over these dresses, but I always find it fascinating to see how many different ways you can make one garment with the same color and era perimeters. This photo is a good look at the different variations on display.

Here is our first glimpse of Belle and her iconic blue dress. As I stated in my reaction to the EW photos, there are lots of lovely layers and textures involved in this costume. Although I was originally uncertain  about the red accents, I found them much more subdued in the actual film than in the publicity photos and hardly noticed it--which means it did it's job nicely of adding depth to the dress without taking away from the iconicness of it.

As the interviews above state, one of Belle's "rebel styles" was to wear her skirts tucked up with her bloomers showing underneath. This isn't quite so rebellious as it might sound, as bloomers began to be widely worn by women just a few decades after this film is probably set. Maurice says that everyone thought Belle's mother was weird until they started following her lead...what to guess the same is eventually true for Belle?

(I talk more about the time period of the film in my movie review over on my personal blog.)

I haven't included too many photos of the townspeople, but I wanted to highlight one or two because they are marvelous. I just adore the styles, colors and fabrics used. I'm sure that a serious fashion historian of the period could probably spot some inaccuracies, but at my level of study there was nothing that jumped out to me as unfitting for the period.

 Well...except for the fact that the dressmaker's shop seemed a little too fancy for such a quiet village. However, my guess is that this dressmaker was involved in dressing many of the guests of the prince's ball in the beginning. The townspeople were enchanted to forget the castle, but this dressmaker had to keep making a living and it doesn't seem that her skills were forgotten. I love the way she smiles at Belle--I don't think she thinks Belle as odd as some of the other folks do. Perhaps an unconscious part of her mind remembers other well-read beauties that she's forgotten under the current enchantment.

Gaston's clothing was so perfectly done throughout the film. I loved every single outfit he wore and don't have a single complaint.

The "Silly Girls" are often regulated costumes that I find ugly in the stage show, however I absolutely adore their ensembles here. Overdone, of course, and crazy pink, but it is a nice shade of pink and I love how all the busy prints actually work together to make a harmonious whole.

Here Belle wears a beautiful jacket (the proper historical term is 'Caraco', I believe). According to, such a garment was:

considered day wear at home or for informal activities. It was always considered "undress."

I really love how changing just one piece creates a very different looking outfit.

I adore the combination of the muted stripes and the embroidered birds.

Here we get a look at Belle's full length ensemble.

This is one picture I recommend clicking to get a better look at -- the floral lining of the cloak is clearly visible when magnified.

Here Belle wears another Caraco, also blue.

And here we get a good look at the back of the garment. Look how much fabric is in the peplum!

This scene really made me laugh! I love how the Wardrobe was SO excited to have a girl to dress that she just vomited up everything girly she could and it looks crazy and Belle can just climb right out of it. HILARIOUS.

Red is such a beautifully striking color and it is no wonder that Gaston's scarlet coat is so memorable.

I've made a few coats in this style before, and it is always surprising to realize how much fabric they have in the 'skirt.' Here you can get a good look at just how many folds there are back there!

I also enjoyed the design of the animated servants more than I originally anticipated. Here is a particularly good view of Lumiere's coat.

That said, Plumette's design still weirds me out, yet I did get a kick out of her jewel-bedecked costume in "Be Our Guest."

When it comes to cosplay, it's the detail photos that are gold. I included this shot because it gives us a good look at the closure to Belle's blouse. Looks like there is a button and loop holding it together.

And here is a shot of the back of Belle's floral blouse, one of my very favorite pieces of the whole film!

The icing on the cake, of course, is that this is also the dress she wears for the library reveal...which as a bookworm, is one of my favorite scenes of the movie.

Good 3/4ths shot of this ensemble.

Here we can see some shoulder detail. It's a little difficult to figure out whether the blue is an underblouse, or an accent piece.

This photo gives us a nice look at Belle's shawl as well as the Beast's new vest look. He's dressing more human-like, but still not fastening all of the buttons on his vest.

Another look at the shawl. There has definitely been a surge in 1700's knitwear since the advent of the "Outlander" tv series!

Annnnnnnnnd the red cloak ensemble, as sketched above! This did not disappoint--indeed it is quite similar to my own design of this dress, which I did back in 2013. 

The beautiful cloak unfortunately prevents us from getting a good look at this caraco. It appears to be fairly simple, made from a single-tone fabric. This works well, however, as it allows the cloak and apron to shine. (I adore that apron, even if the embroidered nature of it makes it completely impractical to be an actual apron!)

Another look at the cloak embroidery. The cloak appears to be a simple circle cloak, with the neck opening set off-center.

It is the gorgeous yet simple trim that really makes this cloak--and alas, will make it difficult to recreate.

Disney Style has a good article on the eco-friendly processes that were used to create the "Something There" ensemble. While these techniques put an exact replication out of the reach of most cosplayers, it likely resulted in more historically accurate garments, which I find fascinating.

The above shot gives us a glimpse of the bodice worn with this outfit.

Unfortunately, due to the newness of the film, there is presently a lack of screen-captures for the garments in the rest of the film.

The good news is that the gold ballgown has been on tour for awhile, and there are plenty of photos of that floating around. Check out Hollywood Movie Costume and Props for some really high detail photos of both Belle's gold ballgown and the Beast's blue suit.

Personally, my feelings on the gold gown are mixed, although overall I am far more pleased with it now than I was originally. Although the original promotional photos were disappointing, further details became clear in the actual film and tour photos that add a lot of depth to the dress. And although several costumers were disappointed with the revelation that the gold designs were painted rather than embroidered, I came to understand that decision upon watching the film - the gold designs are not supposed to be embroidery, but actual gold leaf magically inlaid on the dress. Paint seems the most obvious route to take for this, and you certainly can't tell in the actual film.

I do, however, still wish that there were sleeves on this dress. For this time period, no respectable woman would ever have gone without sleeves. Bloomers are one thing, going without sleeves? I find this far more shocking. And I really really think that very simple, sheer sleeves (like what they put on the celebration gown) would have worked just fine with this dress design, particularly because the enchanted castle is surrounded by an enchanted winter! Brr!

Also, I find it hilarious that despite all of the "she's not wearing a corset!" talk, Belle clearly DOES wear a corset, as is seen when she tears off the gold gown and goes rushing off to the Beast's rescue. Now, it's a matter of technicalities, since the garment she wears is a sort of bodice that gives support not from tons of boning but from being stiff fabric and tightly fitted. And while not the sort of garment worn under a ballgown of this type, it is the sort of support undergarment that was worn by poor village women for centuries. Unusual for the ball setting? Yes. Fitting that Belle would have wanted to stick with the type of 'bra' she was used to? Yep. But that's all a little besides the point, because the gold gown CLEARLY has boning in it - no way that it would lay that smooth without at least some minimal boning.

EOnline has an interesting write-up with the numbers involved in creating the gold gown.

There is one final costume I would like to discuss and I am really bummed that there are not screen captures available for it. This is Belle's floral celebration gown and, alas, there are not even very good photos of it online. The best look can be seen here, and I will plan to update this part of the post when better images become available. I do love this gown quite a bit, even though much about it feels a tad too modern for me. This may seem odd, since it has more period accurate lines than the gold dress, (and sleeves!) but the fabric and embellishment is very, very modern. Although I get that they were trying to give Belle a timeless look that they could market to modern girls VERY well, the historical costumer in me mourns. They did so well with the historical pieces in this film, that I wish we could have gotten this one in a bit more period specific flavors.

Final consensus? Although not 100% perfect, I would say that the designers did a much better job than I was originally anticipating. The costumes in the film are a treat to drool over, and I hope that, health permitting, I'll be able to make one or two for myself. People have been telling me that I am Belle for my entire life, and I've always intended to cosplay as her something...I was just waiting to find the right design to do.

For further costume review and analysis, you might enjoy:
-My redesign of Belle's gold gown
-The Costumes of Downton Abbey
-The Costumes of Star Wars - Padme Amidala
-The Costumes of "The Adventures of Robin Hood"
-The Costumes of "Once Upon a Time"

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