Sketches of Costumes and Sets for The Royal Ballet

AThe Invitation
1960, Costume design by Nicholas Georgiadis

 I grew up in a homogenous suburban bubble on the edge of a mid-sized, historically industrial city, and then I went to school in a homogenous collegiate bubble on the edge of a mid-sized, historically industrial city. So when I spent the spring semester of my junior year studying in London, my field of view widened drastically—particularly artistically.

In addition to visiting countless museums and seeing plays of all scales and scopes, I saw the Royal Ballet twice: Frederick Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardée, and Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet.

I loved both.


Last weekend, I went to a magical Barnes and Noble that has a cheap used book section (yes, really!), and I found this 1981 compendium: The Royal Ballet: The First Fifty Years by Alexander Bland. I had to have it. Yes, it has a lot of dense copy about company/production history which I will never read, and comprehensive indices with lists of dancers and repertory, as well as moderately interesting production photos. But the best part? It includes beautiful full-color sketches and illustrations of costumes and set design.

Fascinating and inspiring, no? Such diverse ideas and illustration styles.

GTop Left: Giselle (Bathilde) 1968, costume design by Peter Farmer.
Top Right: The Sleeping Beauty (a courtier) 1973, costume design by Peter Farmer.
Bottom Row: Mayerling 1978, Costume designs by Nicholas Georgiadis.

BLes Patineurs
Set and costumes designed by William Chappell, 1937

ERomeo and Juliet
1965 decor by Nicholas Georgiagis

1971, Designed by Barry Kay

CThe Rake’s Progress
Costume sketches by Rex Whistler for the 1942 revival, annotated by Whistler and Valois

IElite Syncopations
1974, Costume designs by Ian Spurling

Dressing Cinderella

Disney just released this trailer for Cinderella (2015)—and of course I have notes. Now, let me preface this by saying that I grew up as a Disney Kid; ergo I want to like this movie.


1. Boring. Bored. I’m bored. Plotwise, does this movie dare deviate from the cartoon? It doesn’t seem like it. And now that I’ve seen the trailer, do I really need to see the movie?

2. The costumes. I don’t get it. I read an article on yesterday in which the costume designer, Sandy Powell, described the style as that of “a nineteenth-century period film made in the 1940s or ’50s” (something similar was done costume-wise with Anna Karenina in 2012).

But this isn’t a film made in the 1940s/50s. And most of the period films that were made in the 1940s/50s look kind of ridiculous now. If you want to use 1940s/50s fashion, set the damn movie in the 1940s/50s.

Look, reinterpreting the visual style of a particular era for a movie is great. I even like modern/period mashups. I appreciate the subtle humor of the converse sneakers in Marie Antoinette. And who doesn’t enjoy the 1980s having the time of their life all up on the 1960s at the end of Dirty Dancing? But I’m sorry: The 1800s imagined from the 1940s/1950s imagined from the year 2014 is not a thing.

I might be able to excuse this, if there is some kind of intentional thematic message—beyond alluding to the original animated feature’s 1950 release date—hidden in this seemingly random choice. I don’t know what that message would be—but, maybe there is one?

3. Most Importantly: WHAT is going on with Cinderella’s waistline? My inner dialogue went something like:

Whaaat…. did they shrink her waist with CGI? They must have. I hope that’s what happening. Wait, WTF, why am I hoping that?? NO. If I’m even questioning whether they (the omnipotent “they” of movie-making) felt compelled to computer-enhance Lily James’s waist, that’s a serious problem for the rest of us.

Am I being crazy?

I called my sister, and she confirmed that yes, I am being crazy, and that she thinks it might be true-to-life: a very skinny actress plus some serious corseting, possibly combined with some boobage push-up action.


Either way, Did NO ONE bother saying, “Hmm perhaps the one element from the 1950s ANIMATED movie that is better left in the past is unrealistic boob-to-waist ratios”???


Using some not-very-precise pixel measurements from this screengrab, I am able to determine via some seventh-grade math (someone please check it!) that, regardless of cup size, if Cinderella is hypothetically a 34 bust, then her waist is approximately 20.63″.

According to the size charts at, that waist size is smaller than that of a child’s size 4—which is what 4-year-old little girls wear. How do her organs fit? She must have to pee, like, every 5 minutes.

Now, I have only zoomed in on one (literally) teeny tiny aspect of this Cinderella’s appearance—but I think it’s safe to say that she pretty much hits the mark on any/all requirements for the traditional Western definition of beauty. Pursuing courage and kindness is an admirable goal for any heroine (or hero!), fictional or real. It’s just unfortunate that we are continuing to correlate heroism with the same specific version of attractiveness. This could have been an opportunity to recognize that our notions of beauty have evolved—and perhaps challenge them further. Instead, the approach feels outdated.

Maybe the 40s/50s-inspired costume choices are apt after all.


Update (3/4/15): According to this article, Lily James has denied that her waist was photoshopped.


Never mind that she was corseted down to a mere 17-inch waistline (my estimate of 20 inches was actually generous!). That’s really great, guys, because the message we want to send to the world is that exaggerated proportions are not only ideal but totally achievable.

I mean, Scarlett Freakin’ O’Hara, one of the most self-obsessed characters in all of literature, strove for 17 inches. Who wouldn’t want to be like her?

Alright, rant over. Sorry for the ALL CAPS nonsense. Can we all just agree that Cinderella should have worn this to the ball instead?