Exploring The Decades With Disney Princesses: Snow White

6:14 PM

As a fashion historian, I find that an interesting aspect of Disney is how the animated features serve as records of the visual culture of their day. The Disney Princesses, a successful sub-franchise launched by Disney in the late 1990s, are everywhere these days. They have not been without controversy, but they are certainly popular. They are also records of changing standards of beauty for women in the 20th century. This post series will discuss selected Disney Princesses, exploring how they embody the ideals of femininity of their time.

Snow White from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a landmark moment in the history of film. It was the first full length animated feature produced by Walt Disney, and is one of the top ten performers at the North American box office. Based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, it tells the story of an evil queen who is jealous of Snow White's superior beauty and orders her murder. After a huntsman, Snow White's would-be murderer, shows mercy, Snow White begins a life of hiding in the woods and befriends seven dwarfs. Furious that Snow White is still alive the evil queen disguises herself and visits Snow White in her woodland cottage giving her a poisoned apple. Snow White takes a bite and seems to die but is ultimately awoken and rescued by the kiss of a handsome prince. And they all lived happily ever after.

Marjorie and her animated counterpart dance.

The rendering of Snow White in Disney's film, with her blue bodiced and yellow skirted dress, dainty red bow, and short black hair, has become iconic, and the character is the earliest of the Disney Princesses. Development for the movie began in early 1934. Snow White was modeled on a young dancer named Marjorie Celeste Belcher, daughter of a Disney animator. Marjorie was filmed performing scenes as Snow White, which Disney animators later used as reference to create a realistic human depiction.

But how does Snow White's appearance reflect the aesthetics of the 1930s? Simply look at fashion illustrations of the period and you'll see that Snow White fits right in with the illustrated fashion models. Fashion illustrations are a great source for looking at ideals of beauty because a drawing can convey ideal aesthetics in a way a real human body cannot. Furthermore, fashion illustration also takes a cue from dominant artistic trends of the period, showing broader visual influences.

Illustration of two women wearing dress coats from Croquis de bal, 1930s. The New York Public Library.

Snow White is a slim figured Art Deco beauty. Her silhouette is sleek and long, with no large curves interrupting the smooth line from head to toe, reflecting the ideal silhouette of the period and the sleek lines of the Art Deco style. Her dress has a close fitting bodice, puffed sleeves, and a narrow skirt, all elements of fashionable dress from the 1930s. Compare her to the figures in the fashion illustration above, which also feature a long, slim figure, and a dress with emphasis on the shoulders and narrow lines.

Hat designs from the 1930s.

Snow White's face also shows ideal features. Her hair is cropped short, and she has cherub-like red lips, circular eyes, and pencil thin eyebrows. Once again, these features are mirrored in the fashion illustration above. Snow White's face gives her a dainty, girlish appearance, reflecting the elegant femininity which characterized 1930s fashion. And once again, her round and simply drawn facial features conform with the Art Deco aesthetic which combined sleek lines, round shapes, and a minimal aesthetic without much embellishment.

As time goes by how do the Disney Princesses evolve? Stay tuned!

If you're interested in the historical influences of Snow White's clothes, please check out this excellent post from the lovely ladies over at Frock Flicks!

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  2. Interesting post. Disney character's are my all time favourites.

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  4. I've just seen Frozen and am looking forward to your next post. I teach Children's Literature and I talk about princesses in fairy tales and how Disney has used them. Please keep up the excellent work.

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  9. HI Katy - lovely blog! Just wanted to let you know that one of my students in Costume I cited your blog as being one of the most interesting and helpful to her. Congratulations! And having just designed Snow White for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, I appreciate this particular entry. Looking forward to more about the princesses - the ultimate influence....

    1. Thanks so much Jan! It's so nice to hear from you!

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