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!

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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!

54 thoughts on “Sarah’s Labyrinth Ball Gown: A Costume Study Pt. 1

    • aria

      I asked a couple people there, and they don’t have the end date to release, but they said that it should be there until the end of summer.

      • Anna

        Thank you so much for this – this is amazing! BTW, the MOPOP twitter feed (@MoPOPSeattle) has said several times that the Henson exhibit will be there through the end of 2017. I’d assume this includes the ballroom costumes, but I’ve tweeted to confirm – I’m planning to go to Seattle in the fall just to see these, and it’d be heartbreaking to miss them! I love that gown (and film) so much that I made a Sarah ballgown replica myself years ago.
        Also, about the hem – I have the Labyrinth photo album, and the front of the dress looks like it’s just a tiny bit below ankle-length. You can see just the toes of Sarah’s shoes clearly in the one full-length photo, and the sides of the gown are a little higher because of the panniers. Sarah looks like she’s leaning forward a bit in the photo, though (looking for Jareth), so it’s possible the dress actually is ankle-length.
        Anyway, can’t wait to see the Jareth costume analysis. Thanks again!

        • aria

          I hope that’s correct and that the reps there weren’t given updated info of a shorter date. It’s such an awesome exhibit that I got the annual membership so I can see it again!

          Which photo album do you have? I’d like to look into that.

          • aria

            Excellent! I know where I’m spending Halloween. 🙂 I hope that, now that someone’s aware that some of the reps have incorrect info, that’ll be corrected. I was in panic-mode about how to finish my daughter’s gown in time to get back before closing. Now there’s time!

            I’ve got to get that book. Is it worth the $70?

          • Anna

            Hmm – for some reason the blog won’t let me reply to your comment at 3:17 pm, so I’ll have to reply up here.
            I was lucky enough to receive the Labyrinth Photo Album as a gift many years ago. Original price on the back is $5.95! I love it, but I can’t really say if it’s worth $70 — it depends on your budget, and how big a fan you are, I guess. The photos are great — it was a crucial resource to me when I was making my Sarah ballgown. It has the only full-length photo of the dress I’ve seen. Now, we’ve got photos of the dress from this exhibit, though.
            I’ve heard MOPOP has a great Fashionably Undead Prom every year – I think that’s probably when I’ll try to go. I hope they release the date of the event soon, since I want to buy my plane ticket while they’re still having sales!
            I wish I could go to the Labyrinth exhibit in Atlanta at the Center for Puppetry Arts, especially for the Labyrinth Masquerade Ball before DragonCon weekend, but it’d be too pricey after hotel, plane fare etc.:
            http://www.puppet.org/buy-tickets/2017-18/the-labyrinth-masquerade-ball/
            Happily, some nice people have posted walkthroughs of the exhibit on YouTube:
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enmWGNASHSI
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EMQ6BhTSb0
            Also highlights from last year’s ball to celebrate the opening of the exhibit:

          • Anna

            Excellent! Great bargain hunting. 🙂

            Just to clarify – the video of the masquerade ball I posted was from the Center for Puppetry Arts, not MOPOP, just in case you were thinking that. Their Fashionably Undead Prom still sounds very fun, though! I’ll see you there!

          • Anna

            Well … I broke down & bought tickets to that Atlanta Center for Puppetry Arts Masquerade event/Labyrinth exhibit, plus Dragoncon, on Labor Day weekend. So between that and a trip to MOPOP in October to behold The Dress, I’ll be having a very Labyrinth year. 🙂

    • aria

      They’re seriously huge! I don’t know about you, but when I see that scene, I always wished I could be dancing with Jareth. In fact, I named a character In a book I wrote after him!

  1. Alexie Schauerte

    Thank you so much for posting this!!! I knew as soon as a attempted to make this dress and finished it that better information and pictures would surface. LOL! Question for you, when it comes to the lace that is over the sleeves and the panel reveled by the front pick up, is that a white lace with silver running through it, a pale silver, or something else? Also, there are zero pictures out there of the lower half of the bodice and the beading there. I couldn’t find it for the life of me. I know you said that you were having trouble getting pics but if magic happens, you would seriously be an angel!

    • aria

      The lace is a very soft grey with silver. 🙂 Things that look white on screen or onstage are rarely white. Under all those super bright lights that eliminate shadows, white glows. So usually a grey or a blue are used so that, when the color gets washed out, the garment looks regular white instead of glowing. When I did Les Mis, I used white on the final ensembles Fantine and Eponine wore at the very end to make them appear as if they were glowing, and when I did The Pajama Game, I learned first-hand that a lovely soft blue dress will look like a white wedding gown on stage and result in having to replace a costume two days before opening. 🙂

      The best photo I managed to get of the bottom of the bodice is this one: https://www.facebook.com/AriaCouture/photos/a.1822508034442595.1073742020.207726889254059/1822995677727164/?type=3&theater

      When even the photographers for the headshot couldn’t get really clear photos of the bodice, which is designed to look hazy, I’m not sure how well I’ll be able to get it. Next time I go, which will be very soon, my husband is going to try with our good Canon. A tricky about photographing this display is that it’s on a turntable, and that makes zooming and focusing very challenging. However, I will be trying. We may head up a week from tomorrow. My husband is much better with the Canon than I am. If it’s going to be possible to get shots that are really clear, he can do it. But if it’s not, he may know what shots to get to toss into one of his editing programs to make it clearer. 🙂

      • Alexie Schauerte

        You are a gem! I understand if you can’t get the shots and appreciate the heck out of you for trying. I just didn’t want the opportunity to document it if it was possible. <3 Gosh, I wish I could see it in person. That would be amazing!

  2. Kellan

    This is amazing! Thank you so much. My only thought on the little bag is that it’s like Hoggle’s bag, only whimsical.

    Thank you thank you thank you for this!!!

  3. Swiffer

    Just finished reading the blog(and now hoping this exhibit travels closer to home), and if I had to hazard a guess I’d say that the unusual clasp decoration used to hitch up the top skirt isn’t a nod to goblins in general so much as it’s a nod specifically to Hoggle, given that it both mimics the look and the location where Sarah is wearing the pouch of precious jewels she takes from him.

  4. Li Morgan

    You. Are. Awesome. Thank you for doing this. I am a cosplayer and while I don’t currently plan to make this dress, I truly appreciate the effort you made to make this information available. You rock.

    • aria

      Aw, thanks!

      I sew for both fun, and because I have a business sewing, and sometimes there just isn’t much info on certain costumes that really should get more attention, but don’t just because there isn’t much info on them. So when I found out this gown was on display, I had to rush to get there. We’re going back next week since I didn’t get enough good pics of Jareth’s ensemble.

      Are there any costumes you can think of that interest you? I can do my best to scour up the info and find it, if possible, to see. 🙂

  5. Megan

    Its and absolutely stunning gown and I love it!

    I have a theory that the gown has some aspects to it that were supposed to look like it had been made from “finds” in the rubbish tip – which is where Sarah finds herself after the escapes from the Ball.

    I am loving these costume studies! But I tell you one I would LOVE to see – and that is the black ballgown out of Legend.

  6. GamerGirlX

    Thank you so much for this. I know a lot of my friends will love the descriptions of the details of the gown. Sometimes you just can’t get all the details from watching the movie for the billionth time.

    • aria

      Since the whole scene was meant to be hazy, it’s even harder to get details on this gown, and there are so few studio shots! That’s why I hightailed it to Seattle when I found out this gown was on display. 🙂

  7. Susan

    What a great article. Thank you! I thought the dress had been lost, I didn’t realise it was still around. Labyrinth is my favourite film, I saw it in the cinema when it was released and I’ve seen it countless times since, and still discover new things in it all the time.

    The detail in the film is incredible. At the David Bowie Is exhibition, they displayed Jareth’s whip- I was amazed to see lots of tiny goblin faces moulded around the silver handle. This was Henson at the height of his powers, it’s such an underrated film, and like the Labyrinth, much more complex than it first appears!

    The ballgown she wears is heavily influenced by Princess Diana’s wedding gown – it may be worth posting a picture for reference – this poofy, romantic wedding dress was the gold standard for all little girls’ dreams in the mid-80s.

    The ballgown here was so heavy and large that apparently Jennifer Connelly had to be picked up from her dressing room and driven across set on the back of a pick up truck used for props.

    David Bowie was 5’10, so I’d guess she was 5’5 perhaps from your photos, maybe a little less. Actresses are usually tiny.

    If I ever make it to the states, I must visit these two 😍

    • aria

      Do you have any references to this gown being inspired by Diana’s? I haven’t been able to find anything aside from blogs. Are there any interviews where someone associated with the production confirms this? I have Labyrinth: The Ultimate Visual History arriving today. I’ll see if that has any info.

      The gown doesn’t look heavy, but is definitely huge! Driving her would be much better than having her try to make her way across a set. Trying to walk across the set from her dressing room would have been asking for damage! It looks like only one gown was made (films almost always have multiples), and so damaging could have set filming back a while. Even for short scenes, there should be two. When filming the live-action Cinderella movie, Lily James stood too close to a heater and burned the train of the wedding gown, and they had to scramble to make a new one!

      This display is only expected to be here through the end of summer. Hopefully it travels before going back into storage.

  8. Athene Kordan

    Thank you for posting such an incredible amount of info. Love the movie, but honestly I usually watch a movie for the garments.

  9. Mariana

    So when you say cellophane, do you mean the plasticky stuff used for gift baskets and stuff? Or is there like a fabric version of the stuff? I’m having the darnedest time sourcing materials for as close a replica as I can muster.

    I just went and saw the dress in person, too! Looooved it. Might go back this week sometime to get a better look with my better camera.

    • aria

      It’s the plastic stuff. The plaque even states it: Iridescent film. That’s the generic term for cellophane, like hook-and-loop tape is for velcro or adhesive bandage for a bandaid. Velcro and Cellophane and Band-Aid are all trademarked terms that have entered common lexicon, and so are usually said in place of the generic names.

      So yes, it’s that plastic stuff. Pretty strange in my opinion.

      Have you had any lucky finding any organza or lace? I can’t find any organza with that seersucker-like striping to save my life. I’ve looked it up as wavy organza (the one I found by that name is strips sewn on in waves), as crinkle organza, pleated organza, etc. I found one place willing to make it…for $50/yd with a 50-yard minimum! And as far as the lace, it used to be common to find non-corded, non-beaded, non-sequined laced with a scalloped border and motifs spaced apart, with the ground in soft white and the flowers in silver. I used to buy it all the time for other things, but it’s no longer made. As far as cellophane, it’s usually 36″ wide, which isn’t wide enough. There are no seams in the cellophane.

      I can find unclenched muslin though. So at least there’s that…. It’s just the rest of it!

      • CenturiesSewing

        The organza may be silver silk/metal “tissue” that was washed in hot water to crinkle. I have yard or two I washed years ago and it turned itself into almost broomstick like pleating. A little too dense for the Ballgown but if done with less agitation or time it might give a similar look.

        • aria

          There’s a plaque that confirms it as organza. And I went back to the museum today and was able to get much better shots that show it’s organza that looks like it’s been pulled in a way that I can’t quite describe. I need to see if I can find what it’s called.

          Post #2 will be up in the next week or so with additional info. 🙂

  10. Steffy

    Thank you for this!!

    I am curious, are her hair ornaments and earrings on display with the gown? I’ve spent so much time watching and screen capturing the ballroom scene, just trying to study those enough to get a semi-clear mental image of them.

    • aria

      Unfortunately, they were not. However, her necklace is, and this past weekend I managed to get great pics of those. Watch for a new post later this week!

  11. Aryn

    Thank you for these pictures! Did you by any chance take pictures of Jareth’s coat? I am trying to do an analysis in his coat and I have been having trouble identifying the types of fabric his coat is made out of. The photo of his identification card is much appreciated.

    • Aryn

      Clarification: I am wondering if the sleeves and upper body of the coat is just the velvet you show in your videos. It has a shimmery quality in other photos that made me think there had been something other than velvet, or perhaps layered over the velvet.

      • aria

        I did, tons, but haven’t had a chance to do that write-up yet. Since it’s all so dark, I’ve got to add in some Photoshopped lines and such.

  12. MsKittyMuses

    I stumbled across your blog last week, because I had started doing research for my husband’s and my Halloween costumes for our 13th wedding anniversary this year (we got married on Halloween in 2004, have parties every year, and I almost always make our costumes).

    I’ve known for years I wanted this to be our 13th, since 13 is my lucky number, and that I’m sure has nothing at all to do with my childhood infatuation with Jareth/D.B. when it first came out. I also knew I needed to give myself a few months lead time, and bam! Your amazing breakdown was right there the first day I start researching, and is SO INCREDIBLY HELPFUL!

    I can’t wait to read your Jareth write up, an even though we currently live near Louisville, KY, are thinking of planning a trip to see these, and knock out some NW state visits where we’re a it!

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, from the bottom of this hobbyist costumer’s heart!

    • aria

      Aww, thank you! I didn’t even see this comment, or else would have replied before now. 🙂

      I’ve got better pics, but lack the time to put up a new post with them! I’ll do that today. 🙂

  13. Paiton

    do you know where the gown and coat will be after the end of 2017? I don’t know if I will be able to come see it before the end of the year, but if its moving somewhere else (preferably closer) I will go and see it come hell or high water because I love that dress and I also want to see that IMMACULATE blue beaded coat!

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