Sarah’s Labyrinth Ball Gown: A Costume Study Pt. 1

UPDATE: NEW clearer photos taken with the Canon camera I forgot the first time I went with NEW information (like how it closes, and how the lace is done, as well as where some of the bodice seams definitely are under the lace).  You can find those new photos and some updated information on this news page!


On Monday, during a Girl Scout meeting (during a time when the girls were doing an activity we adults couldn’t help with), I saw that the ball ensembles from Labyrinth were in Seattle, and I screamed and freaked out my troop.  But…Labyrinth!  And since there are stunningly few photos available showing Sarah’s ball gown in any detail, I knew I had to go.  So on Tuesday, after our ballet classes, my daughter and I started the 6-hour drive (stopped for the night after an hour and a half, then the next morning, we hit rush hours traffic through several cities, including Tacoma as well as Seattle, though the return drive was a mere 4.5 hours) drive up to the Museum of Pop Culture.  One membership purchase later…

All photos open larger when clicked.

And these weren’t the only ensembles of the day.  Stay tuned for Princess Buttercup’s wedding gown from The Princess Bride, and Dorothy from Wizard of Oz (yes, this has been done before, but I got information I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere), among others!  Subscribe to this blog at the bottom of any page to get notifications when those go up  I will also do a separate study on Jareth’s ball ensemble.  This study will stay focused on Sarah’s gown.

If you need a refresher, take a couple minutes and enjoy this video.

I suspect that designers Brian Froud (father of Toby Froud, who played the baby in the movie quite by accident) and Ellis Flyte had a lot of fun with these pieces.  I’ll save a bit of trivia about Jareth’s ensemble for the study on his at a later time.

To start, how about a couple videos I took?

Spoiler alert: You can skip all the text and go right to this Facebook album I set up for this gown to look at pictures, but surely you wouldn’t want to skip reading all this information. 🙂

Photo 2

Let’s begin this discussion with the skirt.  Not including the pannier under it, this skirt is six layers.  The bottom layer-sandwich is a lining of cotton muslin with an iridescent layer that looks like yellow-tinted cellophane (certainly not the iridescent fabric we can fine easier today), with a layer of soft white, almost a very soft dove grey, and silver lace.  The cellophane is scalloped at the bottom.  Each scallop is about 4″ wide.  The lace is a synthetic fiber, and also has a scalloped edge.  For the 80’s, back when everything was higher quality, this was a cheap lace.  These days, it’s a higher quality lace.  How ironic.

Photo 3

The top layer-sandwich is similar.  It’s backed with muslin, and the cellophane is the sort that is pinkish green.  In photo 2, you can see that the two cellophane layers are different shades.  This cellophane is scalloped at the bottom, but I couldn’t see the edges in the lifted part to tell if it’s also scalloped, or cut straighter there.  The pinkish cellophane is topped with a fabric I haven’t seen since the 80’s, and haven’t been able to track down yet.  It’s not quite a crinkled organza, more puckered similar to seersucker, but in wider, irregular stripes, and it has silver threads running through it.  I’m not even sure if this exact fabric is even made anymore, though I do recall having a dress made with it when I was a kid.

Photo 4

An interesting thing I noticed is that on the far sides, additional stripes are added at the very bottom, about 3″ at most, and tapering down.  At first I saw it only on the right side, but upon closer looking for quire a while, I was able to make out the extension on the other side.  I speculate that the reason for this is that the fabric, which was used lengthwise around the gown instead of in panels, wasn’t wide enough to go from the waist, over the panniers, and to the floor, or wherever they decided to hem it (could have been ankle length, I don’t know since I don’t know Jennifer Connolly’s height).  Had those sides been left shorter, it would have been noticed, and shortening the entire gown 3″ would have been noticed.  The extensions are sewn on with zigzag stitching.  In photo 4, you can see a darker line from the right side that angles down.  This is one of the extensions.  In my first video, at 44 seconds in, I point it our clearer, and for the one on the right, it’s at 2:19 on my second video.

The hemming on the muslin and topmost layer are just zigzag-stitched, which is very, very, very, surprisingly common on film gowns.  It’s not like viewers are going to see the hem or inside seams, and rarely do these gowns have to last for months on end, of not years, the way Broadway and opera gowns need to.  I doubt anyone noticed the repair to the hem in the back, and I’m going to include people who go to see this gown in person.  Even in person, these small details are only going to be noticed by people who are looking for them.  Like me, and the people who are interested enough in this gown to find this post about it.

Photo 5

The fabric in both front and back are gathered in deep Kingussie pleats, 11 to each side.  The best way to describe these pleats, since this type isn’t often called that, is knife-pleating where the edges all point one way on one half, and the other way on the other half.  On this gown, the pleats on each half point toward the center, either back center or front center.  They aren’t very regular in width that can be seen, and that’s likely due to the fabric being pulled over those panniers, and then gathered on the left in front, further pulling on the fabric.  I highly doubt that the creators of this gown would have just gone willy nilly on those pleats.

Photo 6

The top layer is hitched up at the left hip, with the bottom 6″ or so left to drape down.  The decoration acting as a clasp is very unusual and almost rough for a gown as ethereal as this one.  It looks like large beads and those glass stones used in fish tanks gathered in fine gold netting, and is something I’d expect to see on a mermaid gown. If you click on photo 6 to make it larger, you can see a bit better than the gold mesh is just a mishmash of beads and glass stones.  It’s interesting, but seems out of place to me.  I’m guessing this is to represent gems and such mined from the earth by goblins.  That’s certainly why I used real pearls on the Goblin Queen gown that my daughter and I created.

Photo 7

Now to the bodice.  Oh, where to begin with this one.  The sleeves.  These giant fluff balls are a combination of the pinkish cellophane from the top layer-sandwich of the skirt and the lace used on top of the bottom layer sandwich.  They are so perfectly balloon-like that it’s easy to think that there are balloons in them!  However, they didn’t use balloons.  I’m sorry to burst any dreams of balloons in sleeves.  What was done instead was to make a very full and stuffed short sleeve as an inner sleeve, and a big huge puff outer sleeve consisting of the cellophane and lace for the puff, with a fitted lower sleeve (I hope it was lined with cotton, but can’t be sure).  When sewn together and to the bodice, the stuffed short sleeve supports the outer sleeve.  Believe it or not, this was a common sleeve method using sheer fabric for the outer sleeve during the Romantic era of the 1830’s!

Photo 8

A few more details to note:

The bulk of the gathering is kept to the top of each sleeve.  This gives the effect of the sleeves being ready to fall off of Sarah, yet are supported enough to still puff hugely.

The right sleeve has a frill of tulle.  The left one didn’t, but that could have been lost.  The sleeve lace was tucked upward in the center, and the frill inserted into that.  This was then sewn to the bottom of the inner sleeve.

Also, if you look in photo 8, you can see added lace at each sleeve cuff.  This lace is silver, and the only other place I saw lace this silver was at the neckline and waist, which I will cover momentarily.

Photo 9

The bodice itself, which is definitely boned according to the plaque accompanying the ensembles, appears to have seven panels and has princess seams in front and back with seams at the side.  These panels were really hard to see on the gown in person, though slightly easier to see in photos.  I searched for seams in the lace, but found none.  So what must have been used is a couture method of shaping lace to conceal seams.  How this is done is by assembling the rest of the shell, in this case, more of the pinkish cellophane, and at least one supporting layer, which could be cotton muslin or something more substantial to handle the boning that was used on this gown, and taking a large piece of lace over the front.  In areas that need to be shaped, carefully cut along motifs where needed, lay and manipulate flat, pin, and baste into place.  Do this on all the areas needing to be shaped.  If need be, add more lace and conceal the joins the same way.  When all basted and smooth, hand-sew the edges down.  You shouldn’t see lace seams at all now.

Yes, that’s time-consuming, and yes, the margin of error is high, and yes, this requires top-notch hand-sewing skills to be able to sew invisibly, and yes, this requires being extremely flexible and being willing to work with unexpected behaviors in lace.  This is why it’s a couture method and so often skipped in favor of visible seams and calling it part of the design.  There’s nothing wrong with visible seams when they’re genuinely desired (and sometimes they are, especially for bodices we want to have the visual appeal of a corset), but for when a magical fit with lace is desired, enter lace-shaping!

Photo 10

The bottom of the bodice has 1/8″ piping with the lace over cellophane, and, though not visible, that had to have had some of the muslin lining it.  Making piping of cellophane and lace alone is asking for it to tear.  The back closure can’t be determined with any certainty.  It looked to be hooked-and-eyed.  However, it’s not unusual for actresses to be sewn into their gowns.  Just recently, Lily James was confirmed as having been sewn into her blue ballgown as Cinderella.  So either of those are possibilities for this gown.  Definitely no buttons and definitely no zipper.

As for adornments, there are very few.  Motifs of silver lace are applied over the neckline in front and back, as well as some around the bottom of the waist, which is pointed in back as well as front.

Photo 11

Speaking of the front, getting clear photos of the beading just wasn’t happening, no matter how hard or how often I tried.  I suppose it’s some consolation that the studio headshot of Jennifer Connolly, which are clear enough to show individual strands of hair, couldn’t photograph it clearly either.

There’s a single large plastic gem front and center, with some rocaille bugle beads, but as for what the yellow is, I couldn’t tell in person, and still can’t tell.  At times they look like silk ribbon, and at other times, yellow beads.  I hate to have to take a wild guess on something I got to see in person, but I think that the yellow on top and bottom (refer back to photo 6) are a combination of silk flowers and crystal, with a few pearl beads scattered in.  The yellow in photo 11 looks very bright, but that entire photo has been lightened.  It’s much softer in person, much lower contrast.

Photo 12

The neckline has a couple asymmetrical details, only one of which is still present on the gown.  The ruffle on the left shoulder (right side when viewing it straight on in photo 11) is still there, and it’s more lace.  The detail on the other shoulder has disappeared.  Photo 12, which is a screenshot from one of my video, lacks it.  But photo 11 shows a single shabby yellow that appears to be made of feathers, with a small fall of some sort, possibly other feathers.  Something I learned at the exhibit is how much Jim Henson and his crew, including Brian Froud, loved to use feathers.  This was so, so incredibly amazing to get to learn through personal observation of Fraggle puppets and several there iconic pieces.   So if I had to wager on that flower, it would be feathers.

More photos will be posted to this Facebook album.  I will be heading back to the museum rather shortly as my husband wants to see the indie video game exhibit (and it’s just plain an amazing museum).  If there are other details you want to see that I didn’t capture, or there are any questions, please let me know and I will be glad to try to find out the answers for you!

Wonder Woman’s Gala Gown: A Costume Study

Wonder Woman blue gala gown
Photo 1

*SPOILER-FREE*  This movie has barely been out a week, and many people haven’t had a chance to see it yet.  So no spoilers, not even going to say what led to this scene or what’s going on. This article focuses just on the gown.  Clicking on any photo will take you to a larger version.  For now, this is more of a miniature study as there aren’t make photos out yet.   And yes, TWO of this gown, one in royal silk and the other in gold silk, are officially on my agenda already.

(To see more photos than used in this post, see this photo album on my Facebook page, and check back or follow this blog for other costume studies from this amazing movie.)

When Diana (who is never called Wonder Woman in the movie, which wonderfully implies she wears the clothing rather than the clothing changes who she is) enters this scene, she steals it.  That gorgeous royal blue gown is just jaw-dropping.  It’s a confection of very thin silk charmeuse (edit: after more research, I found that it is 10mm in weight, which is pretty hard to find), used doubled.   The drapes over her thighs are highly reminiscent of 1914-1918.  I think it goes without saying that this movie takes place during WWI, which was during the transition years between the Edwardian and flapper eras.  The asymmetrical neckline leads into a low-backed cowl.

Wonder Woman blue gala gown
Photo 2

Make note of the length of the shoulder drape and of her train.  I will be returning to those.

Of course she carries her sword, which almost fits in as a design element.  Almost.  This photo of the back shoes that the drape is on just one shoulder, and that photo 1 doesn’t have a second that happens to be hidden.  The left shoulder that is wider than the right evens out in the back, and if the drape, which is attached underneath the cowl, were removed, you’d never be able to tell that the front is asymmetrical.  This actually has me wondering id the shoulder drape isn’t cut as one piece with the down, and the cowl back being a thinner piece of fabric….  I will play around with this idea, and report back.  We never got a clear view of her shoulder from her left side.

Wonder Woman blue gala gown
Photo 3

A detail I have not yet managed to  make out is if the gown under the sword is bunched due to the weight of the sword (the sword hidden behind her in this scene is plastic, and only about 4″ according to Wonder Woman: The Art and Making of the Film), or stitch lines of the hidden holster, or if there’s some sort of rosette there.  I’ve seen this movie multiple times, and we do not see the back with the sword.  Since Hollywood loves to make it appear as if closures don’t exist, and there is a way to close this down without one showing and that wouldn’t disrupt the flow of the cowl, I will hedge my bet on a holster for the sword being sewn there. 

To get back to the shoulders, the photo 3 shows that the left side is wide wider rather than the right side merely being scrunched on her shoulder.  There’s not enough fabric for the right shoulder to  be so bunched.  Photo 2, again, shows the drape to be sewn from underneath.

Wonder Woman blue gala gown
Photo 4

Now let’s get back to those notes I told you to take.  What is something you notice different in this photo of Diana dancing with Steve Trevor?  Take a look at the train.  It’s gone, yet it’s not draped over her elbow.  It’s hemmed at the bottom.  We don’t see this moment full-length, and so it’s not a detail at all noticeable in the movie.

In fact, as far as the train goes, if you’ll refer back to photo 2, you’ll see that the fabric is gathered beneath the gown in the center back.  This gives a nice chance to make two trains and to swap them.  But the movie wouldn’t do that.  No movie ever relies on just one costume for a character.  Ever.  No matter how detailed.  One rip needing to be repaired could shut down an entire production for a while while that one costume is repaired.  Multiple versions allow for one to be cleaned to repaired while the scene is continued.

Wonder Woman blue gala gown
Photo 5

The other detail I said to note regarded the drape over her shoulder.  It ends here in the region of her mid though rather than closer to her ankle.  As with Steve, we don’t see this moment with General Ludendorff.  There’s no real functional reason for this aside from possibly to save money in a film that was given an insultingly small budget compared to other films. Batman V. Superman had a budget of $410mil (link contains spoilers).  Wonder Woman has a cap of $150mil (same link).  This resulted in just one scene being able to be reshot, and absolutely no deleted scenes for us to drool over on special features later.

Something interesting and entirely off topic: General Ludendorff is loosely based on a real person, General Erich Ludendorff.  You can read that.  It won’t spoil the movie for you.

Now a few more observations: The underskirt is lined in a fabric of the same color.  This detail can just barely be seen in photo 6.

The underskirt also appears to be pleated at the sides in photo 4.  This would be a good place to conceal any potential bulk of the fabric as the draped fabric over her thighs and hips would camouflage it.

Wonder Woman blue gala gown
Photo 7

The overlay that is draped is smooth across the back, as can be seen in photo 4, and the fabric is gathered in just a few inches.  This method will take a good number of yards on its own.  Presumably the right side will be the same as the left, which we can see.

To make it more complicated, the bodice under the cowl has no waist seams.  The bodice is cut as one piece with that overlay.  The fitting is limited to darts.  Photo 7 shows this nicely.

Chances are the overlay/bodice extends over the shoulder as thin straps, and the cowl a separate piece. The front of each side include being gathered to a small point.

I have two complicated ideas for how this gown may close without having any visible closure, and both take just two hooks and eyes.  Rather than try to describe them, I will share photos of the method I figure works better.

Since I will be making two of the gown for the same person, I will draft and drape this pattern using muslin, and use that as my pattern for both gowns.  I may make my pattern available as a one-size pattern.  Frankly, this gown in silk charmeuse is advanced and complicated enough that if someone can’t figure out how to scale a pattern with sizing guidelines, that person won’t be able to handle this gown yet.  It is not one for the feint of heart, but will provide advanced seamstresses with a nice challenge.