Exploring the Decades with Disney Princesses: Cinderella

7:30 AM

Part 1: Snow White from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

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.

Cinderella from Cinderella (1950)

The next Disney Princess to arrive after Snow White was Cinderella, who appeared in a new animated musical released in 1950. Cinderella was Walt Disney studio's most successful animated feature film since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and received three Academy Award nominations. The story was adapted from the Charles Perrault version of the fairy tail, first published in 1697. Preparation for the film began in 1948. Helene Stanley served as the live action model for Cinderella and acted out many of the sequences in the film which the animators then studied and translated into drawn animations (Fun Fact: Stanley also served as the live action model for Anastasia, one of Cinderella's ugly stepsisters).

Live action models being filmed and their animated counterparts.
But how does Cinderella's appearance reflect the aesthetics of the late 1940s and early 1950s? Simply look at fashion illustrations of the period and you'll see that Cinderella fits right in with the illustrated fashion models. As I discussed in my Snow White post, 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.

Far Left: 1949 Illustration from a pattern insert in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Source.
Far Right: Advertisement from 1949. 

While the setting of the film is ostensibly the late Victorian period, Cinderella is firmly a mid-20th-century beauty. She has a slim figure with a small bust, narrow hips, and a nipped in waist-- the ideal figure of the late 1940s/early 1950s woman. Her various dresses give the sense of a historic look while still fitting in with mid-century aesthetics. Her servant outfit has a form fitting top and narrow A-line skirt which falls to just below the knees, a look that fits right in with fashions of the day. Both of her ballgowns feature a form fitting bodice, slight emphasis on the shoulders, and a full skirt. The emphasis on wide, sculpted shoulders is a hallmark of women's fashion of the 1940s, which embraced more masculine styles. In the 1950s a more feminine silhouette took over, so with Cinderella we see a good illustration of the transition between these two aesthetics. 

Left: "Shades of Picasso" dress by Gilbert Adrian, 1944-45. In the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Right: Dior "Junon" dress, fall/winter 1949-50. In the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The full skirts of her ballgowns are also nods to women's fashions of the late 1940s/early 1950s. In America during World War II, restrictions were placed on how much fabric could be used for a woman's evening gown as the government needed to reserve fabric for use by the military. After the war ended in 1945, those restrictions were lifted and women's skirts ballooned out. Compare the two gowns above, one made during WWII (left) and one made during the period when Cinderella was being animated (right). And then compare them to the image of Cinderella's magical ballgown in the middle.

Left: Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, 1944.
Right: Advertisement for Catalina Swimsuits in Seventeen Magazine, 1949. Source.

Cinderella's facial features also conform with mid-century ideals. She has shoulder length blonde hair and short, curled bangs, a fashionable hairstyle for the late 1940s. And her oval face, full lips, softly curved eyebrows, and almond-shaped eyes with full eyelashes are mirrored in the fashion illustrations of the period.

With Cinderella we see the very beginning of the 1950s. Our next Disney princess will look at the end of that decade-- stay tuned for Sleeping Beauty!

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

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