Lily Absinthe Takes a Look at the Movie Dracula

When we originally wrote this back in 2015, we aimed to take a deep dive into some aspects of the costuming from the Francis Ford Coppola version of Dracula  and while we think we did a fairly decent job of it, perhaps we were a bit harsh. Over the fullness of time, we’ve tempered out opinions somewhat when it comes to film and TV costuming and we tend to take a more generous view- it’s entertainment and we get it! 😁 So let’s take a look…



or a change of pace, today we’re going to take a look at period costume in a horror movie and in particular, Frances Ford Coppola’s Dracula. Released in 1991, Dracula was a fresh take on the Bram Stocker’s 1897 novel of the same name. The costumes were designed by Eiko Ishioka and the film won an Oscar Award for Costume design. Our focus is going to be mostly on the Victorian side of the costumes and to being, while they are rooted in styles characteristic of the late 19th Century, they also incorporate some non-period elements. Finally, it must be noted that most of the action is supposed to occur in the year 1897.

We’ll begin with what is probably the most iconic dress of the movie, Mina Harker’s green dress. First, we have the costume sketch…


And then, the finished product…



Looking at this dress, the most significant thing that stands out is that the dress style is about a decade too early. The bustle and train give the dress a silhouette more more appropriate to the late 1880s. By the 1890s, and especially 1897, the bustle/train had disappeared and the overall dress silhouette had become vertical.

The color choice, however is good one and it provides a clear, light color that stands in contrast to the people around her who are dressed in a dark, drab/muddy palette. It also must be noted that it picks up tones of the earlier dress worn by Elizabeta in the early prologue scene (although that is sometimes hard to immediately see in varying lighting):


From the Hollywood Costume Exhibit. Unfortunately, the lighting was not the best here.

From the Hollywood Costume Exhibit. Unfortunately, the lighting was not the best here.

 Below are a few more scenes with the green dress:


minawalking_smallHere we see more details of the front of the dress. The shirtwaist/coat combination was very common during the late 1880s mostly as a faux shirtwaist/jacket that was actually one unified bodice. The other element that dates this dress style to the late 1880s are the sleeves. During this time, the sleeve caps either smoothly integrated with the bodice or there was a slight “kickout” or puff on the top of the sleeve cap, a precursor to the leg of mutton or “balloon” sleeves characteristic of the mid 1890s. Below are some examples of dresses from the late 1880s:

Petersons August 1886

Peterson’s Magazine, August 1886.

Petersons September 1886

Peterson’s Magazine, September 1886.

Fashion Plate, c. 1886

Fashion Plate, c. 1886

As can be seen from the above plates, the faux open outer jacket with a faux shirtwaist or similar was one characteristic of the late 1880s. Also, one can still see small bustles and trains and while the silhouette has become somewhat vertical, it’s not completely there yet, in much the same way with Mina’s green day dress. Now, lets take a look at the 1890s:


The Delineator, June 1897


The Delineator, January 1897


The Delineator, December 1898

From the above, we can see that the sleeve caps have increased in size to the “leg of mutton” style. Moreover, the skirts are even and have an even, cone-like silhouette.

To be continued…

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One thought on “Lily Absinthe Takes a Look at the Movie Dracula

  1. Lovely to see this here. A friend pointed me to your blog. I always enjoyed the costumes in this film. The later examples shown toward the bottom remind me of countless movies from the 40’s to maybe early 60’s where the girl was almost always a “showgirl” to permit her character to get past the censors. I think the earlier style has more character. Love the colors!

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