Sunday 15 March 2015

Historical Disney - Snow White

For those who never read my blog before, my greatest hobby is researching and making historical clothing, and I’m also a sucker for Disney. The idea of designing (or sewing) historically accurate clothing for the Disney characters is something that has intrigued me for years and years. It's been done several times by very talented people, but I thought I’d give it a try too. I began with Snow White. I’m not sure why… maybe because I knew immediately how I wanted her to look.
I placed Snow White in (what is now) Germany, in the 1520-40’s, as it’s originally a German fairytale, it’s a place and period I like, fashion wise, and the slashed sleeves of the Disney version could hint at it. The laced bodice of this fashion also ties back with the story as it was written down by the Grimm brothers, where one of the Queens’ murder attempts was to lace Snow White’s bodice too tightly. I decided to only keep the colours of Disney’s Snow White, and for the rest do whatever I wanted to, or had to do, to make it more historically accurate. The colours is one of the most iconic things of the Disney characters, so hopefully that will make her somewhat recognisable, even after the brutal historical makeover. Both the clothing and the composition of the picture have been inspired by the art of Lucas Cranach the elder.

The picture can also be seen at DeviantArt.

Now a disclaimer: I’m not an artist, though I like to draw. I have no more training than I got in school, and what my dad taught me when I was a little girl. I only have the most basic artistic materials to work with: I’ve been using an ordinary pencil and some coloured ones. Thus, this is no artistic masterpiece and probably contains all manner of newbie mistakes. Also, I’m not an architectural historian, so that castle may be very wrong indeed. If so, constructive critique (preferably involving links to pictures) is welcome. I like to learn. The trees and mountains might also be wrong, so if you’re a botanist or geologist, don’t look too closely. All I know is fashion history and sewing, so focus on the clothes, please :) I chose to have the background in mutes, almost sepia, colours, to put focus on Snow White.

In my research I first had a hard time finding evidence of blue dresses in the chosen time and location. Red hues seem to have been the fashion, at least if you look at most of what Cranach painted. But there is this one (at the further end of the fountain, under the tree) that looks very much like the dress I ended up drawing: 

The Fountain of Youth, Cranach the Elder, 1546

And just now, as I was working on this blog post, I found this little gem - I know nothing about it, so please share if you do:

I'm now very pleased with the colours I chose for the dress, as you can imagine.
The headdress is more often than not shown in a golden/orangey colour, not red, but I wanted red, hinting at Snow Whites bow in the film. I suppose I could have used a hat for that - I might have done it differently if I did it again, but, well, done is done. Also, Cranach preferred reddish blond women in his paintings, but that would obviously not do for Snow White.

The lacing in front of these dresses could be in the form of either a spiral (looking like a zigzag when open) or a ladder - I like the former, so that's what I used. 

Three princesses of Saxony, Sibylla, Emilia and Sidonia, daughters of 
Duke Heinrich of Frommen - Lucas Cranach the Elder, ca. 1535.

I based the sleeves off of this painting:

 Judith Victorious - Lucas Cranach the Elder ca. 1530

These kinds of dresses were often worn with several heavy gold chains, but as I wanted a more elegant look, I decided to only keep the choker. A similar arrangement is seen in this painting:

Judith with the Head of Holofernes, Cranach the Elder, 1526-30

Many of the Cranach paintings picture allegories, religious, or mythical subjects, so a small heads up for the influence that might have had on the clothes. On the other hand, the princesses and noblewomen he painted wore the same kinds of outfits.

I ended up drawing this picture twice, as I wasn’t happy with the coloured background of the first one. Though it was very annoying at the time I’m pleased now, as it looks better this way, and Snow White’s clothes came out much nicer. All in all I’m pleased – more Disney Princesses will be drawn, when I have the time and inspiration.


  1. Gorgeous! I love Cranach and I definitely see the Snow White, and all your inspirations, in this one!

    I missed out on all the Disney movies as a kid. I've never seen Snow White, or Sleeping Beauty, and I think I've only seen parts of Cinderella, and this must be why the Disney Princess obsession has entirely passed me by. I do love your historical take on it. Any chance it would be made into a costume? I know it's not your usual style: rather sparkly and showy compared to the subtle elegance of your normal historical look.

  2. Thanks! Though I have a general idea about this fashion, I still had to do some research so as not to make any huge mistakes.

    I'd love to see this made up as a costume, but I don't see myself doing it at this time - if I (or a younger someone close to me) had black hair it'd be more likely. I very much hope to make outfits of some of the other ones I have planned - provincial Belle for example. But then, that have always been my favourite outfit, as well as my favourite film and princess.

  3. What a lovely way to connect your passions! The Renaissance dresses are amazing, especially the German Cranach gowns...some of his paintings are in Weimar and there's also the Cranach House where he spent the last year of his life.


  4. A wonderful picture and what a lot of research went into this! I'm really impressed with your skills, drawing and digging into historical clothes...

  5. Thanks ladies!

    Sabine: Yes, it was fun to combine them! I love those gowns - that fashion is one of few I would pick if ever I was to go beyond my usual low status. How nice to see the paintings in person!

    MindLess: Studying (and sewing) period clothing and fashions is my #1 hobby, so it was fun. But yeah, of course it takes time.

  6. You definitely are an artist, trained or not. I really like your tree...its so beautiful.
    Please consider illustrating fairy tale books at some point in your life, the world needs more well-illustrated fairy tale books :)

  7. Thank you Hannah, that is some praise! I have a secret dream to do just that actually, but we'll see...

  8. I like it very much - especially that you've actually been able to find a historical equivalent!

  9. Hi there, are you able to help me figure out what type of hat to wear with my Swedish folkdräkt bodice for a Steampunk festival? I love your style and gave you a shout-out on my blog!
    Tack! Tina

  10. Depending on where your bodice is from, a 'bindmössa' or a simple kerchief (like this: )would be the thing. Hats as such were not worn by the majority of Swedish common women until after The Great War.

  11. Hello there :-)
    I just stumbled over this blogpost and your question concerning the drawing. I don't know if it helps, but I found this website:
    There it is said that the picture comes from a book which displays German nobility - and might be painted by Lucas Cranach himself.

  12. "That little gem" is a gem indeed! It shows the Elector of Saxony (Kurfürst) with his two wives, Sophie and Margaretha.
    Please refer to this English article in Wikipedia, then switch to german for more information.,_Elector_of_Saxony

    I have been reading your blog for years, I love your style of writing. Oh, and your craft too!


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