Provincial Belle: A Costume Study

On the heels of Beast’s ball ensemble and the yellow ball gown and “celebration” gown, I bring you this mini-study of the provincial dress.  (Now up as well: Gaston’s wardrobe, as well as my post-seeing-the-movie costume thoughts.)  This dress is a great example of how you can pad out the detail (when everything was hand-drawn animation, the most detail, the longer it took) while staying true to both the animated design and the era, somewhere in the mid-1700’s.

It is correct that this ensemble takes liberties with the era, but the general look of the era is there.

First off, in that era, women of Belle’s financial status wouldn’t have worn much blue.  It was an expensive color.  Earthen colors we far more common. Less-natural colors, such as blue, white, and black were signs of wealth.  However, in the animated version, Belle was in blue to make it easier to track her through the village.

No matter where she is, she stands out among the greens and browns and pinks.

Now the printing on the fabrics is a correct detail.  France pioneered much of the calico-printing in the 18th century.  The accuracy of the prints themselves I won’t get into since they’re very passable and aren’t egregiously out of the era.  Using pricier striped fabric (that looks to be woven) as wash rags…I can overlook that rather minor detail.

We have what appears to be a cotton bodice with a homespun wool detail on the front.  I can’t make heads or tails of the purpose of this piece being a different fabric, but it seems to attempt to invoke an image of a stomacher, which was a fancy often-embroidered piece that would be pinned into the front of a lady’s gown.  It doesn’t match anything I’ve seen for working-class women of the era, but this isn’t too surprising.  They wore their dresses until they wore out, and then would rip them to make rags, rugs, or other things.  Fashion magazines never really featured the clothing working-class women can afford, just like today.  (One of the things I collect are the hand-painted “magazine” fashion prints from the late 1700’s onward, and only one very unusual one shows country-folk attire.)

That piece crosses over a red print flap.  While you can just see a smidgeon of red, a photo farther down will clearly show the red flap.

The back of this has the higher cut one would expect, and if I strain my eyes, it looks like there are the correct drop-shoulder seams and back side seams, though I can’t tell for sure and have found or been provided with no better photos yet.  This is something I will watch for, and update here as necessary.

Something I like is how the top-stitching at the waistband is in white.  That gives this ensemble a hand-sewn finish.  The apron has top-stitching in red, and with white, it’s clear to see some rougher stitching holding the pleats on the skirt in place.  None of the pleats on either the skirt or apron are perfectly even, which is another wonderful detail.  Imagine doing today’s wash-work and cooking without a water heater or anything electronic at all, and then work in making your own clothing, and being concerned about perfect pleats just plain isn’t important.

The cream and blue cloth is sewn to its own waistband, and tied on.  The same photo below that will show the red bodice flap shows the rag band clearer.  The red one has its own waistband, and is actually a pocket.  Before pockets were set into skirt seams, women had pockets that they carried or tied on.  The thicker red vertical stripe visible in some shots is the opening to her pocket.  Awesome detail to add in.

So she’s wearing, at least, a skirt, tied-on apron, tied-on cloth, and the red tied-on pocket over that.

I must say that that blue reminds me a great deal of some cotton I got at JoAnn Fabrics in about 2000 that I ended up giving away.  I intended to make myself a Phantom of the Opera Wishing gown from it, but never did.

The piece beneath the blue bodice is a long-sleeved chemise, tied with a ribbon in a casing, which you can just see in the second photo from the top, and a fichu.  A fichu is a simple square or triangle of fabric tucked into a neckline.

As a sock-lover, I love these socks.  I have never seen a pair as elaborate as that for a mid-18th-century working woman, nor for upper-class people, for that matter.  Clocked socks kept detail to the ankle.  But this detail isn’t a glaring issue, and does add some period-inspired whimsy.  Those shoes are fantastic, and it tickles me that they didn’t metal grommets to those lacing holes.  They’re appropriately weathered.  I do, however, question using leather lacing.  That could have been added when this display was set up.

She does have another similar ensemble to the one above that is nearly identical.

Different skirt fabrics, different apron fabrics, and an added jacket.  Otherwise, it’s the same.  The underside of this skirt is bag-lined in a print.  She occasionally tucks this skirt up into her waistband.

Not quite as scandalous as it may seem. Long, flowing skirts could get in the way of one’s work.  If you want scandalous, well, there are things wealthy French ladies wore that would raise eyebrows even by today’s standards.  I don’t know if her other skirt up top also has a printed bag lining, but the darker one with the navy and white windowpane apron does.

The next photo backs the blue and white cloth having its own waistband with the red and white pocket tied over that, as well as displays the red flap and the lacing.


The right fabric is connected to the bodice’s left side.  The blue side crosses over and laces closed on the left.  Again, a detail I have not seen, but certainly one that is very reasonable.  It’s easier to lace one’s own corset than to tie off one’s own dress with back-lacing.  It was very common for the edges of a bodice to meet in the middle and lace closed.  A cross-over is within the realm of very reasonable.  The different fabrics can even be explained away as making her bodice using scraps of other fabric on hand, even though that wouldn’t make a lot of sense.  Belle and Maurice aren’t poor folks.  Working class, certainly, but not poor.  A woman with multiple decorated aprons could get enough fabric to make a bodice in the same fabric.

It is in that photo that one of my peeves grates on me.

If she just had to insist that corsets restricted women (they absolutely did not–they protected the bodies of working women similar to the back support braces many nurses and nursing aids wear even today [so much for the idea that these things restrict movement], as well as the hips of wealthier women who wore heavy skirts), could she not at least stand straight?  I’ve seen several stills in different scenes of this slouching, as if she’s trying to make it even more apparent that she’s shunning a garment that was vital to the safety and well-being of 18th-century women who did hard, back-breaking work.  Guess what restricted women more.


By the way, corsets of that era usually had many rows of flexible reeds, similar in movement to hemp cord, rather than expensive metal or whalebone.  If you do heavy lifting and hard work, one of these suckers will give you some fantastic back support.  The straps help so much.  You might notice that the corset below doesn’t nip in at the waist much, and that the cut would force you into some fantastic posture, and take some of the work from your torso and back.

Let’s just say that there’s nothing anti-feminist about them, nothing oppressive…and men used to wear them too.  Yeah…we don’t talk about that much.  It was more for upper-class gentlemen who wanted to hold in their tummies rather than support their backs during work or supporting heavy gowns.

But I digress.  Corsets and their history, including the fallacies around them, is a post for another time.

Back to the provincial gown at hand.

I do not yet know if there are other pieces in her provincial wardrobe.  It makes sense for her wardrobe to have some mixing and matching, and I’m certainly glad to see that she has more than the one silk dress that Cinderella had.  This set of costumes draws heavily from the rococo, or late baroque, era, as well as from the animated film. The blue, the white apron, looser sleeves with 3/4 cuffs, the look of a fichu…  Yes, they very much lifted the animated gown and added to it rather than taking away, and kept to influences from the era.   THIS gown says Belle, the Belle we all know and love from the animated movie, and THIS gown takes us out of the 21st century and drops us squarely in the mid-18th century in France.



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