Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Belle's Live-Action' Beauty and the Beast' Dress: Modern Sentiments & Aristocracy
By: Domonique Cox-Salberg
Oscar-winning costume designer Jacqueline Durran has designed countless gorgeous dresses within cinema. Some of her greatest creations are Cecilia’s unforgettable emerald green satin dress in Atonement (2007) and the extravagantly feminine 1950s couture influences in Anna Karenina (2012). Both were believable of a period, but at the same time accessible to modern-day.
However, this same approach did not translate well in the costume design for Belle’s iconic gold ball gown in Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast (2017). Namely, since the film’s lead, Emma Watson, refused to wear a corset as a feminist statement and other alterations to the dress by Durran, subsequently undermining the costume design.
Corsets and Modern Sentiments
Moreover, Durran and Watson did not want a “Corseted, impossible idea of female beauty” or for her to wear anything “inhibiting.” But here’s the thing about corsets—they are not dreadful torture devices meant to suffocate women’s freedoms, shrink their waist down, or restrict breathing as their commonly associated with today. Rather, they were essentially the equivalent of a bra now and served a structural purpose, not to achieve a cinched waist and hourglass shape or for the male gaze.
There were various types, including rigid and softer unbound versions; either type was necessary to wear the clothes of the time to maintain the garments integrity and keep the person from feeling weighed down by them. All this considered, it created an uninformed, albeit needless, statement that took away from the magic of Belle’s iconic moment and a celebration of the aristocratic history ingrained in the original.
‘Beauty and the Beast’ Setting
On that note, some could argue that it is an animated movie and a work of fiction; nevertheless, there is a direct period in which the film references seventeenth and eighteenth-century France. Then inspired by the picturesque French villages of Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé in the original and the Medieval French village of Conques in the live-action, Beast’s castle was inspired by the grand and luxurious Renaissance castle Château de Chambord, located in the Loire Valley.
Furthermore, the names, dialogue, and pieces of information determine the period as in how Belle and her father lived through the plague, which happened somewhere in the middle of the 1700s and the Prince’s life before he turned into Beast. The fashion was the late Baroque styles (Rococo era) of elegance and excess, wigs, and poufy dresses.
Though what made these inaccurate creative liberties even more jarring was that the decision to modernize the film’s costumes was only incorporated in Belle’s to unfavorable effect. The women, men, and Beast are dressed in elegant sleeves, extravagant skirts, and flamboyant wigs, accurate period pieces that overtook her modest costume choices. Belle’s dresses had a lightness to them and little to no structure—especially since the corset was missing, inevitably affecting the gown’s silhouette.
It ended up looking like the simple not-so-fancy dress from The Prince and Me (2004) but yellow. Ultimately, the vivid gold color and stunning arrangement of its animated predecessor and aristocratic history were lost in the live-action version.