Before I start, I just want to make a small disclaimer. I fully appreciate the work that goes into making costumes for films, I am no way discrediting the hard work all those put into making all of the costumes. They’re all beautifully made. This is a bit of fun, a comparison to real life. I would just like to see if Beauty and the Beast (2017) is actually accurate.
I’m pretty sure that anyone with even the slightest amount of knowledge about the 18th century can tell you that the answer is a clear no. It’s not accurate, especially the fashion. I’ve seen plenty of people, fashion historians, with much more knowledge than myself, explain why the answer is no. Check out this video by Glamour featuring April Calahan:
Although these fully qualified fashion historians have shared their thoughts, I just have to share my opinion. I’m specifically looking at the live-action film from 2017 because the inaccuracies are abundant.
Beauty And The Beast Time Frame?
In order to judge the accuracy accurately we need to establish a time frame, but with this film I actually cannot. 18th century, of course, but which decade is a mystery. As April Calahan says in the video above, it’s likely set before the French Revolution (I know it’s fantasy, but still…), so before 1789. This would make sense with the majority of the fashion we see, but historically it makes absolutely no sense.
In the film we find out that Belle’s mother passed away when Belle was a baby from the bubonic plague. This where I lose any sense of when this film is set.
The bubonic plague was brought over to France on a ship called ‘Grand Saint-Antoine’ in 1720. This was the last major break out of the bubonic plague in Europe. For two years the plague swept through Southeastern France killing millions. I’m not 100% sure the plague even reached Paris, meaning it couldn’t have killed Belle’s mother, unless she traveled.
The inaccuracies in the dates compared to the costumes is so frustrating. If the plague started in 1720 and only lasted two years, 1722/23, that would mean that Beauty and the Beast would have needed to have been set in the late 1730s in order to be historically accurate. I’ve googled the year that they intended the film to be set, it said 1760’s. No. Absolutely not. I refuse to accept that someone, the person they paid to research the history for this film, allowed this to happen.
Listen, I know that it is complete fantasy but it’s based in a real place at a real time (or so they say), therefore I can’t help but compare and judge. The animated Beauty and the Beast doesn’t explore Belle’s mum, probably for the best, it makes that version ever so slightly more accurate.
If the film was set in the 1760s, like they imply, that would make Belle over forty-years old! Obviously, this isn’t the case, she’s seventeen. So if Belle’s mum died in the plague, it’s impossible for Beauty and the Beast to be set in the 1760s. This makes the clothing not period accurate.
Due to Belle’s mother dying from the plague, I conclude this film to actually be set between 1739 and 1741. This means that the costumes in the film are inaccurate. Fashion in the 1730s and the 1760s were reasonably different.
So Is The Fashion Accurate?
When you think of 18th century fashion I bet you imagine those extraordinarily wide panniers that cause gowns to be so ridiculously wide, but the pannier didn’t really start to come into fashion until the 1740s, just a little after this film, in my opinion, is set. Gowns during this time had a more rounded bell-shape silhouette, just like the painting below.
We can see women clearly wearing panniers in the film, which would make total sense if the film is actually set in the 1760s. Unfortunately, because of the mention of the plague (we know it was the bubonic plague because of the plague doctor mask found in Belle’s old house in Paris), the times just don’t add up.
Let us talk about the leading lady herself, Belle. Played by Emma Watson, Belle is a little different than her animated version. I know that Emma Watson didn’t want to wear stays/a corset. From what I’ve read she seems to believe that stays were a physical inconvenience. It also seems that she considers them ‘unfeminist’ and restricts women’s freedom. This is a total myth! Stays, if fitted right, are not uncomfortable at all. Many women wore them all day, regardless of the tasks they carried out.
I think this decision was simply an uneducated one based on 18th century satire which men used to mock women. It seems like everyone else in Beauty and the Beast is wearing stays, so why exactly didn’t Emma want to Belle to be a little more accurate?
This doesn’t necessarily mean that Watson’s decision not to wear stays was completely inaccurate though. Her reasonings, yes, but Marie Antoinette was known to refuse to wear her stays during her teenage years, so it was something that happened. I, personally, would have liked to have seen Belle in stays. This style of clothing was made to be worn with stays, they don’t look right without them.
Is That Yellow Dress Accurate?
I’m firstly going to mention the horrific dress worn by Belle in the ballroom scene. I actually hate it so much. It could not be more inaccurate, plus it is super ugly. From the colour to the style. As April Calahan mentions in the clip at the top of the page, a yellow that bright was highly unlikely as dyes came from natural sources like plants at this time. Although yellow was an achievable colour, a more muted mustard shade would have been closest to real 18th century gowns.
The shape of that yellow gown is absolutely not it, Chief. There is not one aspect of that dress that is time period accurate, well maybe the shape is a little more reminiscent of the 1730s than the rest of the costumes, but besides that it’s just wrong. It wouldn’t look out of place on a red carpet today. The animated Beauty and the Beast actually managed to make this gown more accurate.
First off, where on Earth are the sleeves? Belle’s gown has small capped sleeves, which weren’t worn until WWI. Her sleeves would have been elbow length at the minimum. The neckline is too high for the time. The mistake I see a lot of people make when trying to recreate 18th century fashion is making the neckline too high. As you can see from the image below, the neckline of the gown comes very low on the bust. This is a disney film so I suppose I’ll let them off.
Now, can someone please explain to me why Belle’s dress has frilly layers? What is going on there? How many 18th century gowns have you ever seen have layers? This just wouldn’t have happened. Her skirt would have been rounded and smooth. She’s not wearing stays again, but I’ve already mentioned her reasoning behind this. Maybe the gown would have looked more 18th century if she was wearing them, but I guess we’ll never know.
The Men In Beauty And The Beast
Men’s fashion during the 18th century changed only slightly (until the end of the century), but there are definitely differences to spot from decade to decade. In this case, we can see that the main difference between 1730s and 1760s style is the skirt of their jackets. The 1730s style is, again, more rounded and full, whereas the later style is much more slimmed down.
Gaston, and the majority of the men in the film, have very streamlined style. Implying that they’re in the 1760s, which would make sense to the creators of the film, but because of the mention of the plague, they’re just not that accurate. And please do not get me started on the wigs… I could talk more about the men’s costumes (there are more inaccuracies) but I think I’ve waffled on long enough.
So Is It Accurate?
Overall, Beauty and the Beast isn’t that accurate. If they had not mentioned the plague I definitely think the costumes could be passable for the 1760s, but unfortunately they just had to include it. Ultimately their fashion downfall.
Of course I understand that no film could ever be 100% accurate, and it’s about the art not the accuracy, but I enjoy analysing it. I am totally aware of all of the hard work that goes into creating and designing costumes for films, therefore I am in no way directly attacking any of the people that worked on the costumes for this film. This is just a bit of fun and a way for me to increase my knowledge (and share my opinion). Regardless, they’re absolutely gorgeous items of clothing.
If you like this post then check out my previous post ‘Films Throughout The Decades: 1940-1949‘. If you would like to help support this blog then you can always donate to my ko-fi account, I’d really appreciate it!