Yes, darlings, we’ve decided to do a deep dive on the costumes of 2015’s Cinderella, the story of–
Wait. Who on earth needs the story of Cinderella summarized for them? Let’s just get to it.
Right from the opening shots of the film, a very strong motif about Cinderella and her family is established. This is a family totally in tune with nature. Virtually all the scenes of young Cinderella and her parents were shot outside, in full sunlight, complete with lush vegetation, adorable animals, and dancing CG butterflies. The natural color scheme, the vegetation and even the butterflies will all repeat in Cinderella’s costumes going forward. The point is not only that she was born into a world of sunlight and love, but that she, like her mother, has an affinity for the natural world; one that will manifest itself in her ability to communicate with animals and to inspire tremendous love and loyalty from them.
Note that she and her mother are very similar in style. Both are in delicate floral dresses with short sleeves, modest necklines, a fitted waist and a full skirt. Like almost all of the costumes in the film, they don’t refer to any one period or setting. These dresses are less “historic” in nature and more “Disney princess.” Quite deliberately so, obviously. Director Kenneth Branagh said that he didn’t want the film to be tied to any one place or time and that he looked to period dramas from Hollywood’s Golden Age for inspiration on the look of the film. Cinderella and her mother get the classic Disney princess silhouette, but as we’ll see later, her stepmother’s style comes from entirely different sources.
Note that her father tends to dress in mossy greens and browns in a lot of his scenes. While Mother is a walking garden, Father is more akin to a walking forest. This will not always be the case with his costuming, however.
Note also Cinderella’s pale blue silk slippers, which work as a form of costuming foreshadowing for the glass ones to come.
Note also how the floral prints that dominate their clothing are rendered in more or less naturalistic styles. In other words, the flowers on their dresses look like real flowers. This is important and will come into play as a reference point after her mother dies.
Note also how much the color blue repeats in these scenes. It’s a color found in every one of Mother’s outfits and every one of Cinderella’s. Even her father is seen wearing it.
These, then, are the motifs for Cinderella’s family of origin: nature, flowers, vegetation, naturalism, and a strong sense that the color blue = love. These motifs will come into play in everything she wears and even everything she does for the rest of the film. And because her mother’s dresses all tend to look exactly like the ones Cinderella wears, we are set up for the part in the story where Cinderella tries to wear one of them to the ball. This connection between them – stronger even than the grave – is directly represented in their costumes.
There are times, however, when Father’s costumes move away from the naturalistic themes and colors. In this way, he’s rendered as someone who has cares outside the household (the plaids and silks speak of a business and money-generating background) and who isn’t quite as tightly bound to Cinderella as her mother is.
After her mother’s death, the film moves inside for a good while, away from the bright sun and elements of nature. Father’s clothing gets darker, but still retains a natural, woody tone to it, even as it evokes a certain richness and wealth that Cinderella herself (like her mother) tends to eschew in her clothing.
Look at all the flowers in that house. Practically every surface is adorned with a floral. Cinderella’s mother lives on in her surroundings. She also lives on in Cinderella’s dress, which is rendered in exactly the same style, with the same elements (scoop neckline, slight ruffles, shirring in the bodice), in a pale blue (love). There is a very slight pale floral motif in the skirt of this dress, but it’s almost impossible to see except in a few shots, like a fading memory of a long-dead mother.
Enter, the Stepmother:
And you couldn’t ask for a better representation of the differences between her and Cinderella’s mother than this costume. Gone is the simple, romantic silhouette and natural colors and prints. Instead, we have a grandiose, foreboding silhouette as far from the natural shape as possible (with padded shoulders and a bustle), complete with that enormous and intimidating hat.
Note how she’s wearing floral elements, but unlike the ones in the opening scenes with Cinderella and her mother, these are highly stylized florals, rendered in black and an acid-green; nothing remotely “natural” about any of it. Note also the rich fabrics: the velvet, silks and sequins standing as a rebuke to tall those simple cotton dresses of Cinderella’s youth. Without even one line being uttered, we know who this woman is. Or rather, we know what she isn’t: Cinderella’s mother. There is no loving blue to be found here, or natural elements. It’s sparkles and severity, as opposed to flowers and butterflies. Envy-green rather than a loving blue.
This feeling is continued with the introduction of her daughters, Drisella and Anastasia:
Bright colors not found in nature and highly stylized florals that have little to do with the outside world. Drisella and Anastasia have one of the most persistent costuming motifs in the film, as all of their costumes will be in this exact color scheme, with no variations, except Anastasia’s pink is sometimes rendered as peach:
In every single scene with the step-sisters, they’re rendered in the same garish shades, wearing fussy, pampered, expensive-looking costumes that nonetheless have a distinct whiff of tackiness about them. Not only do the bright colors and outlandish silhouettes play against Cinderella’s more modest dresses, but their increasingly elaborate and ridiculous hairstyles tend to play off her more “natural” (in that Hollywood sense) hair. There’s very much a sense (which is more or less stated outright in the script), that this family is a bunch of social climbers and graspers without any sense of class. What we’d call “nouveau-riche” in more modern times.
Bustles, high collars, and very tight bodices with padded shoulders are the Stepmother’s go-to style and these elements repeat over and over again in her costumes. We’ll get to that in a second.
Note how the animal print dressing gown not only cements the parvenu tackiness of this family, but underlines the Stepmother’s predatory nature and sets her even further apart from Mother’s delicate florals. Let’s take a further look at her costumes because they tend to be the most glamorous and eye-popping in the entire film, and Cate Blanchett seems to instinctively know how to set them off to their most dramatic effect.
There is no one motif to be found in her clothing, although the style tends to be very consistent throughout. Unlike all the other female characters, she has no consistent color story, although unnatural greens do tend to dominate in certain scenes.
We don’t normally do “green=envy” style of color theory, but in this case, we’re happy to go there. First, because that is her character’s defining trait and secondly, because the film’s costuming is, for lack of a better word, naive. In other words, it’s all deliberately kept on a very simple and basic level due to the fairy tale origins of the story. The stepsisters always wear garish outfits in the same colors to show their tackiness, Mother always wears florals to show her nature-loving ways, Cinderella always wears blue because it reminds her of her mother. None of the themes in the costuming are particularly difficult to parse out. Everything is right there on the surface.
But unlike the Disney Princess inspirations for Cinderella’s costumes or her mother’s, the Stepmother’s point of influence tends to be a bit more real-world in nature. Take a good look at every single thing she’s worn in the film and ask yourself this:
Would anything she’s wearing – or anything at all about her style – look out of place on Joan Crawford in a circa 1940 melodrama?
Almost nothing about her costumes owe anything to any historical period nor do they tend to evoke European clothing styles throughout history. She is quite openly and consistently costumed exactly like a grande dame from Hollywood’s Golden Age, right down to the shoulderpads, 3/4 length sleeves, and laquered hairstyles.
It’s not strictly speaking a “Mommie Dearest” allusion, but her sense of glamour and ambition, along with her scheming and tackiness, is meant to set her very far apart from the humble gentry that her parents embodied or the kindly aristocrats we’ll meet once the Prince is introduced.
She is consistent in terms of style and silhouette in scene after scene. And because the shape is so dramatic and the color are either very bold or very dark, it lends her a great air of intimidation. She’s not strictly speaking a witch, but she’s dressed to remind you of one.
No one else in the entire film is dressed in this manner. Just look at the crowd scenes and you’ll see how much the Stepmother and her daughters look like clowns or outsiders in comparison to everyone else:
And note again how humble and pretty Cinderella looks in comparison; especially when she’s outside that house and out in the natural world, where she looks like she belongs.
Enter Love, in an explosion of blue, gold and green:
This is why we tend not to subscribe to across-the-board color theory. Because while you could make the argument that the Stepmother’s greens reference her all-consuming envy, here on the prince, with its touches of gold floral elements and sky blues, it represents a more aristocratic and romantic form of love than the one she got from her parents, even as it references the mossy greens of her father and the blues and floral elements from her mother. Part of the reason this green works on a different level than the Stepmother’s is because unlike almost all of her scenes, this one takes place outside, in the realm of nature. All of the colors of his costume and her costume are reflected in their surroundings and play off each other in a way that implies a bond or a similar outlook. And unlike the garishness of the Stepmother’s and sister’s costumes, the richness of this one speaks more of genteel nobility than tacky social climbing.
Much more to come in Part 2, including the implication that the Fairy Godmother is far older than she looks and the possibility that all the Disney Princess attended the ball that night.
[Photo Credit/Stills: Jonathan Olley/Disney, Tom and Lorenzo]
Coming Soon: Cinderella Style Next Post:
Jessica Jones: “AKA You’re a Winner!” & “AKA Top Shelf Perverts”