How their decades shaped the Disney girls

Bit of a random post today, but I caught the end of The Little Mermaid on TV not long ago, and it struck me that Ariel's wedding dress was a bit like Princess Diana's. And that started off a whole train of thought. Little Mermaid was what, late eighties? The same era anyway. And thinking about it Ariel is very eighties in design, isn't she? With her big hair and big puffy sleeves. I wondered whether the trend would show up in the other Princesses. Their stories may be set in real and fictionalised 'olden times' locations - but are both their stories and their style really influenced by the fashions and fads of the last century? 

Snow White

Snow White was my first Disney Princess obsession - which is fitting, since she's the first official Disney Princess. (I think they re-released Snow White in Cinemas/on video in the early nineties?) And I sometimes get annoyed when people dismiss her as the Princess of the least substance. It's not her fault - female characters in the 1930's were rarely written as feminist. It's the 1930's remember. Women were still seen as second class citizens and generally grew up to be housewives. Snow White is a domestic, almost motherly type - which isn't totally a bad thing! 

When it comes to style, Snow White is all about the round face and the short curled hair. Big eyes, pouty red lips - she's pretty much Betty Boop. Little thin eyebrows as well, which I associate with the noughties (*shudder) but looking at pictures I guess that was a thirties thing too? Some of the big Hollywood stars of the 30's were people like Loretta Young, Bette Davis, Greta Garbo and Judy Garland. Snow White's definitely got a Bette Davis look but more of a sweet, Judy Garland persona. 

Cinderella, Aurora (and Tinkerbell)

There were no Disney princess's in the 1940's (there was a war on, don't you know) and by the 50's it was suddenly all about the blondes. Well Cinderella is kind of a strawberry blonde, but you know what I mean. 50's style was all big poofed skirts and this is when the Disney ballgowns start to get that classic princess look. Also they all wear things like hairbands and chokers, which I love. (Alice, Wendy, Cinderella and Aurora all wear a hairband at some point!) There's quite a big difference between Cinderella's look and Aurora's but I reckon that's because Cinderella is 1950 and Aurora is 1959, practically a sixties chick. She's drawn a lot more angular, her hair is long and flowing and her dresses are less poofed. 

Big stars of the fifties were people like Grace Kelly (who Cinderella has to be based off, at least in part?) Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe (Tinkerbell?). The princesses get a bit sassier, but arguably also more grown up (literally too - Snow White is supposed to be fourteen apparently.) Other influences would have probably included Queen Elizabeth's coronation and her wedding to Prince Phillip. Disney's Phillip definitely has some similarities to the Duke of Edinburgh as well as the name - he always had a lot of personality and Phillip arguably is the first Disney Prince to have any at all.

Late 80s and Early 90s:
Ariel, Belle and Jasmine

So skip the sixties and seventies (what happened there? Would have loved to see some Princesses in go-go boots and lots of yellow and brown...) and on to the Disney Renaissance beginning in 1989. Here we get Ariel - a wide-eyed, big-haired teenager with big dreams that involve more than romance. Times they are a changin'. Belle and Jasmine followed in '91 and '92 adding bookish-ness, sharpness and sass to Ariel's curiousity,  recklessness and sense of adventure. Big stars of the eighties and early 90's were actresses like Molly Ringwald, Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan and Melanie Griffith - smiley, happy-go-lucky types (in their best known roles) with big hair and big dreams to match. As we go further into the nineties though, the female characters get to be a bit more cynical and serious. And I like that. We can't all be happy-happy Disney all the time.

Style-wise, the Disney girls of this era are all about the frills and the puffs and the big earrings and the big hair bows. Even Belle's dress, which I never thought of as from a particular era, has kind of a froofy 90's prom dress look to it when you look again. And of course Jasmine gets to show a lot of skin which probably wouldn't have been the case if Aladdin was made in the fifties. 

Mid/Late 90s: 
Pocahontas, Meg, Esmeralda, Mulan, Jane

Girl power really hit it's stride in the nineties and the Disney princess were no exception. And finally we start to get some representation of ethnic minorities too. The nineties gave us Jasmine from the middle-east, Native American Pocahontas, Meg from Greece, Mulan from China and Romany Gypsy Esmerlda. Had to wait a bit for Tiana but still, the nineties was definitely more inclusive. And it produced some of the all-time best Disney films too. The nineties Princesses, I also think, have a greater range to their personalities. Mulan is intelligent and brave but also insecure and kind of scatty. Meg is cynical and sarcastic but a lot of that hides how she's been hurt in the past. Mulan is all at one with nature and she's got a lot of gravitas and idealism, but she also does mad things like jump off cliffs for the thrill of it and she wants a man with a sense of humour not someone serious like Kokoum. I'm going to stop now - could talk about the nineties heroines forever. But basically they're starting to seem more like real women. Looks wise though - did they suddenly all get really skinny, or is that just me? 

The iconic actresses of the nineties, like the Princesses, had started to get more complex roles. I struggled to think of who would be the big icons, but I guess it would be people like Sandra Bullock and Demi Moore and Kate Winslet. Style got a bit more grungy maybe? Evening dresses were very no frills - and there's not one princess ballgown among the Disney heroines of this era (although in fairness that's the settings. But I'm sure if this was the eighties again they would have wangled something less understated somewhere.) Esmeralda looks 90's to me too but in a different way - she dresses kind of 15th Century French Gypsy meets Saved by the Bell.

Late 00's and 2010s:
Tiana, Rapunzel, Merida, Elsa and Anna, Moana

Style evolution sometimes goes in cycles - the fifties took us back to Victorian era silhouettes, the sixties brought back 1920's bobs and straight skirts, and apparently the noughties decided horrible 20's/30's eyesbrows should come back. Then this decade gave us the welcome return of the high-waisted jeans, and I hope against hope it stays that way. But what's my point? I think the Princesses of the 2010's have taken a slight step back. Not necessarily in a bad way, but they're more traditional Disney again aren't they?  Wide-eyed, fresh faced and happy go lucky. Kind of like Ariel. (I know Elsa's different, but she's got Anna to balance her out.) And also like the big names in Hollywood today - Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Stone, Lily Collins, for example, are all quite 'Disney' aren't they? However, one step forward is that Disney have taken a swing away from traditional romance for their heroines. Plus their waists are getting a little less incredible. 

I love the style that the Disney heroine's have at the moment, and it doesn't look too obviously of the era - but maybe that's just because it's the era I'm living in? In a few years will Elsa and Anna's fancy braids seem iconic of the 2010s? Or the way that all the Princesses have long, natural looking, un-styled hair? Or that Elsa's 'Let it Go' dress is off the shoulder with sheer sleeves and a side split? And if Ariel's wedding dress was reminiscent of Princess Diana's, Tiana's looks like something pricey off Say Yes to the Dress. And I love her gloves. 

So what do you think? Am I over-analysing this, or are the Disney princesses really products of their decades?


  1. I don't think you are over-analyzing it, especially with the older ones (or maybe its easier to see the older styles?). I love seeing the modernized or slightly more realistic to their times versions on Pinterest. I think the waist thing has a lot to do with wearing of girdles and corsets . . . and the fact that people truly were smaller in older times.

    I think historical style and fashion is so interesting, and the repetition is interesting. Not just only over decades, regency from Greek and in reaction to excesses of Colonial (to me)/Georgian (to UK) hugeness and the nineteen teens and twenties similar to regency and in reaction to Civil War/Victorian hugeness.

    1. You're right I think it's definitely easier to notice with the older ones. And I hadn't thought of Regency being kind of a take-off of Ancient Greek /Roman style but I can really see it now! And like you said I guess the shape of clothes changed when corsets stopped being a thing and then styles changed with that. It is so interesting to see what gets taken forward from other fashion eras :)

  2. Love this!!! Brilliant idea! Each princess is totally a product of her time and it's so much fun to see the influences and why each one looks like they do.

    In fact a lot of period dramas in general and products of their time, lol. It's always a mixture of what the actual era had and then the interpretation from that decade ('50s period dramas look nothing like '90s period dramas).

    1. Thanks! Yeah you're so right about period dramas, I think you see it more with some than with others - like how 'Dirty Dancing' is set in the fifties but it looks so eighties!


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