In which time periods did the Disney princesses “live”?

Reinterpreting Disney Princess Costumes Through a Historical Lens

by Caroline Stanley,, July 18, 2011

If you grew up watching Disney movies, then you can probably picture the evening gown that Cinderella wore to Prince Charming’s ball or what Jasmine was wearing when she took that magic carpet ride with Aladdin. What you probably never considered was whether or not these signature ensembles were historically accurate. LA-based illustrator Claire Hummel, an artist for Microsoft Game Studios Publishing, decided to do some research on the subject, and the resulting images, while not necessarily the stuff of childhood memories, provide an interesting glimpse into the history of fashion…


“Oh, Pocahontas. Really not one of my favorite Disney films, but it posed an interesting challenge. Note that this is the Disney character, not the historical figure, so while I tried to make the outfit accurate to 17th century Powhatan clothing she is, most definitely, not a 12-year-old. It’s my happy middle ground when drawing a historical version of an inaccurate portrayal of a historical person. That’s a mouthful.

“My one big cheat on this was her necklace — the shell necklace should in theory be a deep purple (turquoise is a much more Southwestern commodity), but you lose so much of the Pocahontas visual identity without the splash of teal around her neck.”


“I went with the mid-1860s for Cinderella’s dress, the transitory period where the cage crinoline takes on a more elliptical shape and moves towards the back. Not that it accounts for Lady Tremaine’s sweet 1890s getup, but it’s also not unheard of to see it worn alongside Anastasia and Drizella’s early bustle dresses. It’s also worth noting that it was made by a fairy godmother, so it make sense that her tastes would be a little behind the times.”


“Let’s be frank — Aladdin is hardly an exercise in historical accuracy… It took some effort to track down some midriff-baring outfits but BY GEORGE I DID, thank you Persian fashion plates. I now know what sirwal are called (besides Hammer pants), and that Persian women wore some pretty sweet little jackets that I wish I owned.”


“Snow White‘s time period is pretty easy to pinpoint in 16th-century Germany. Not that the film is accurate, but the clues are there — I took a wide swath from about 1500 to 1530 to come up with something that still maintained the spirit of the original design.”


“The Little Mermaid is hard to place from a time period standpoint — Grimsby’s wearing a Georgian getup, Ariel’s pink dress with the slashed sleeves subscribes to several eras from the Renaissance to the 1840s, Eric is… Eric.

“I went with Ariel’s wedding dress as a starting point since those gigantic leg-o-mutton sleeves (so embarrassingly popular in ’80s wedding fashion) were a great starting point for an 1890s evening gown. It’s also not unfeasible that Eric’s cropped tailcoat could be from the same era, so I’m sticking with my choice.”


“Beauty and the Beast has always hovered hesitantly in the late 18th century (especially in the earlier concept art), so I redid Belle’s gold dress to match 1770s French court fashion.”


“So Prince Phillip does specifically and emphatically say ‘this is the 14th century!’ at some point during the film, but Phillip’s an idiot (a handsome, handsome idiot) and I, never afraid to ignore source material, ignored him.

“Oddly enough Phillip’s clothing is a better point of reference than Aurora’s (since the hourglass, off-the-shoulder cut of her dress is straight out of the 1950′s), and there are far more examples of his get-up from the 1460s onward than in the 14th century. I went with my gut and ended up with something around 1485 — a little later than one might expect, but it’s such a (beautifully) stylized film that all bets are off.”



There was a post a while back discussing when and where each of the Disney Princess films took place; I decided to look into it myself, and I might have an answer. Remember, this is all speculation on my part, and certain movies were rather difficult to place.

Snow White
Time Period: 1500’s-1550’s
I chose this time period based on the clothing worn by The Evil Queen, Snow White, and The Prince. While it looks “generic medieval” at first glance, the collars worn by TEQ and Snow White and Snow White’s slashed sleeves are very reminiscent of early 1500’s fashion, and The Prince’s clothing looks like a less flashy variant of men’s clothing at the time.
Location: The Low Countries
A lot of people place Snow White in Germany, or rather, where modern-day Germany is; before the 1800’s, this area was home to many independent kingdoms loosely united under the Holy Roman Empire. I place it in the Low Countries (modern-day Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) because of the clogs Snow White wears while she’s a servant. It’s still a Germanic region, so it’s not that big a shift.

Time Period: 1850’s-1880’s
Once again, clothing played a factor. Drizella and Anastasia wear dresses with bustles, while Cinderella’s dress was probably worn with a crinoline. I’m more inclined to believe the movie proper takes place during the 1870’s-1880’s, while the prologue where we see Cinderella’s father meeting up with Lady Tremaine takes place during the 1850’s-1860’s. The Fairy Godmother might have been “behind the times”, which would explain Cinderella’s dress being from an earlier time period. Also, most of the men wear the military-style jackets as formal wear, which places the setting as very Victorian.
Location: Germany
The film can’t take place in France, for what I hope are obvious reasons. Germany would not have been completely united at this point, so I picture the film taking place in some kingdom along the French-German border that got passed back and forth a lot.

Time Period: 1400’s-1500’s
Philip has the line, “After all, this is the fourteenth century!”, but the clothing is more similar to the early Renaissance fashions than those of the medieval fourteenth century. Let’s just assume Philip/the script-writers meant the fifteenth century/1400’s.
Location: Northern Italy
At this point in time, Italy would have been a bunch of independent countries, Northern Italy in particular. Blonde hair worn in a loose style and off-shoulder gowns were very popular in Northern Italy during this time. I picture Stefan’s kingdom is in Northern Italy, and Hubert’s kingdom is in southern Germany, with both countries bordering the Alps.

Time Period: 1650’s-1700’s, 1830’s-1840’s/1890’s-1900’s
The first of many headaches. These are the time periods when huge poofy sleeves would have been in fashion. The late 1600’s was The Golden Age of piracy and of sailing in general. The late 1800’s/early 1900’s was another important age in sailing.
Location: Portugal, Monaco
While watching the film, the scenery gave me the impression that it took place in Portugal. Portugal is a country on the Atlantic Ocean, it is a very warm place, it has a long history of sailing, and there is a variant of the name “Eric” there. And, during the late 1600’s, it had recently regained its independence from Spain and was still a monarchy. Monaco is a tiny country between France and Italy situated along the Mediterranean. French is largely spoken there, followed by Italian, and it would be one of the few countries along the Mediterranean that was still a monarchy during the 1830’s-1840’s/1890’s-1900’s. Plus, it would explain why they have a French chef and an Italian maid.

Time Period: 1750-1795
Mainly from the clothing, once again. Especially the concept art.
Location: France

Time Period: Achaemenid Empire
Location: Agrabah
The Achaemenid Empire, a.k.a. The Persian Empire, stretched from the Indus Valley to Thrace and Macedon. It was a huge empire originating in modern-day Iran. I know the film takes place in an “Arabian” kingdom, but the clothing, buildings, and everything Jasmine is able to get away with points more toward Persian. The Persian Empire included parts of the Arabian Peninsula, so Agrabah could be a kingdom in that region. I chose this time period of Iranian history to make the scenes in Greece during “A Whole New World” and the crossover with Hercules possible. (I’m not going to bother with the other scenes during the “A Whole New World”; the time when the Sphinx of Giza was built and the time when fireworks were invented are thousands of years apart.)

Time Period: 1607
Location: Jamestown, Virginia
Wow, that was easy! 🙂

Time Period: Han Dynasty, Tang Dynasty
I wanted to pull my hair out after researching this. None of the major elements in the movie take place during the same dynasty–The Great Wall was started in the Qin Dynasty, the Huns/Xiongu were pushed back for the final time during the Han Dynasty, fireworks weren’t invented until the Tang Dynasty, The Forbidden City wasn’t built until the Ming Dynasty…plus there’s footbinding to consider, and it wasn’t introduced until the Tang Dynasty. I lean toward the Han Dynasty for the invasion of the Huns/Xiongu and the clothes, and the Tang Dynasty for actually having fireworks. Both ushered in times of great prosperity to China, so take your pick.
Location: China

Time Period: 1916-1926
When Tiana and her mother get on the bus during the prologue, a man is reading a newspaper that has an announcement about Woodrow Wilson winning the presidency, which places it in 1916, and the film proper takes place ten years later.
Location: New Orleans, U.S.A.

Time Period: 1795-1820’s
There is concept art for Tangled that shows the late 1700’s/early 1800’s was the look that the filmmakers were going for, plus Regency-era fashion and its continuation would be very flattering on Rapunzel. Plus, Mozart has to exist and have reached popularity by the time the film starts.
Location: Northern Italy, Archduchy of Austria/Austrian Empire
Partly because of the names, partly because of the Mozart name-drop, but I picture Tangled taking place in a small country in Italy close to Austria, if not in Austria itself.

EDIT: Looking back on this, I really could have done a better job, especially on The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Tangled. TLM and Tangled appeared very generic European at first glance and I didn’t have behind the scenes information to go off of when I made this post, so estimating time periods and locations for them was mostly a vague stab in the dark. Aladdin… Well, that glaring error was made possible by a combination of poor research on my part and the creators throwing anything remotely Middle Eastern together when making Aladdin. (Also, I don’t think the creators realized that most of the places Aladdin and the gang visit in the original movie and the T.V. series existed LONG before the spread of Islam. And that the style of architecture used in the films and the series was from even later.)


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2 Responses to In which time periods did the Disney princesses “live”?

  1. Coru says:

    This may or may not actually still be of interest to you — but my friends and I decided to date The Little Mermaid by Prince Eric’s dog. Max is an Old English Sheepdog, which was first recognized in a dog show in 1873. Given that the breed would have been established for several decades prior, that makes the 1830s(ish) the most likely point.

    You date by fashion, we date by dog.

  2. Ana says:

    In the little mermaid cartoon tv series, there’s an episode where Ariel saves a guy stuck in a “submarine” under the sea. She helps this human, then it turns out it was hans Christian Andersen, because after his encounter with ariel he can’t believe what he’s seeing. TowArds the end of the episode you see him at home,starting or finishing up the little mermaid story and he signs his name.

    Based on that, you can guess what year it was.

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