The Breadcrumbs widget will appear here on the published site.
Exploring the Decades through the Dwarf Lady
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. Case Study No. 1: Disney's Snow White.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) is a landmark moment in the history of film. It was the first full length animated feature produced by Walt Disney, and is one of the top ten performers at the North American box office. Based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, it tells the story of an evil queen who is jealous of Snow White's superior beauty and orders her murder. After a huntsman, Snow White's would-be murderer, shows mercy, Snow White begins a life of hiding in the woods and befriends seven dwarfs. Furious that Snow White is still alive the evil queen disguises herself and visits Snow White in her woodland cottage giving her a poisoned apple. Snow White takes a bite and seems to die but is ultimately awoken and rescued by the kiss of a handsome prince. And they all lived happily ever after. (But you knew all that already.)
But how does Snow White's appearance reflect the aesthetics of the 1930's? Simply look at fashion illustrations from the period and you'll see that Snow White fits right in with the illustrated fashion models. 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.
Snow White is a slim figured Art Deco beauty. Her silhouette is sleek and long, with no large curves interrupting the smooth line from head to toe, reflecting the ideal silhouette of the period and the sleek lines of the Art Deco style. Her dress has a close fitting bodice, puffed sleeves, and a narrow skirt, all elements of fashionable dress from the 1930's. Compare her to the figures in the fashion illustration above, which also feature a long, slim figure, and a dress with emphasis on the shoulders and narrow lines.
Snow White's face also shows ideal features. Her hair is cropped short, and she has cherub-like red lips, circular eyes, and pencil thin eyebrows. Once again, these features are mirrored in the fashion illustration above. Snow White's face gives her a dainty, girlish appearance, reflecting the elegant femininity which characterized 1930's fashion. And once again, her round and simply drawn facial features conform with the Art Deco aesthetic which combined sleek lines, round shapes, and a minimal aesthetic without much embellishment.
Pretty telling for a cartoon, huh?