In defense of Belle’s yellow dress
I’ve seen a lot of hullaballoo about Belle’s dress in the new BEAUTY AND THE BEAST movie—it’s not historically accurate, it’s too plain, etc. While I agree that from a purely aesthetic standpoint, it’s not my favorite gown, from a CHARACTER perspective, I think it’s perfect.
There’s a lot of talk about Belle being ‘odd,’ but the old animated movie doesn’t really explore that. The new movie shows more of Belle’s personality as someone who approaches things in her own way, who is creative, who genuinely does come off as a little different. Look at her other costumes in the movie. She almost certainly makes her own clothes- look at her quirky, practical village dress, with the tucked-up skirt so that she can be more active, or the whimsical flower embroidery on her brown traveling cloak.
We all saw Belle get frustrated by the giant frou-frou dresses that Madame de Garderobe tries to put on her (she literally escapes from under them). I would not be surprised if Belle cut and sewed up one of those old dresses to make one that fit her size, her style, and her desire for free movement. She’s lived in a village her whole life—she knows nothing about the high fashion of her time—but she knows what she likes and what she imagines. The dress is very light, flowy, and if you look closely, the layers of the skirt aren’t hemmed, they’re cut off. Her ear cuff and the simple lines of the dress don’t look like 18th century France, but they do look like Belle.
Maurice says about Belle’s mother, “I knew a girl who was so different, so daring, so ahead of her time that people mocked her until the day they found themselves imitating her.” Belle is ahead of her time, and she creates her own style.
Just look at her gorgeous wedding gown at the end of the movie. This is not an 18th century ballgown, and it’s VERY different from the dresses that the Prince’s guests wear at the beginning of the movie. This is a Belle creation, too.
I actually want to delve into this ‘ahead of her time’ concept a little more. This movie is very obsessed with the concept of ‘time.’ From the giant clock tower on the palace to the clock character to the falling rose petals that measure the fleeting time until the curse is permanent, to the way the villagers all instantly snap into action the second the clock strikes, the idea of time and schedule is everywhere. The songs all talk about “tale as old as time,” ‘forever,’ etc.
Belle resists that. She’s the
first one awake before the rest of the village springs into motion, singing
about how every day is like the one before. She talks the Beast out of trapping
Maurice in the castle “forever,” and then later, gets out of that ‘forever’
herself. The rules about the curse even change when the Enchantress transforms
the dead Beast back into a living Prince when Belle says “I love you” after the
time limit has run out. When she reads books, she likes to be ‘transported’ to
other places and times. Belle defies time, while the villagers and the Beast
are all defined by it.
When we first meet the Prince, he is fascinated by fashion, and everyone who surrounds him is dressed in the height of style—of their time period. His castle is a monument of Baroque art and over-the-top modern style—and he appreciates none of it. There is so much detail and so much beauty surrounding him that he’s become completely blind to it. Belle changes that. She shows him the beauty in everything around him, re-introduces him to what makes his castle gorgeous all over again. In that famous ballroom scene, the ballroom is incredibly ornate, but the Beast is focusing only on her, in her simple, bright gown as a focal point. She’s given him something to focus on, symbolically and literally.
When Belle comes down the stairs in a dress that’s completely her own style, the Beast doesn’t sneer at her unfashionable dress the way he would have before the curse—he’s in awe of her beauty.
And because of all of that, I think Belle’s dress is perfect.