Fairy Tale Clothing

Fairy Tale Clothing
By Derek Newman-Stille

Clothing shapes the way people view us and we wear certain clothing to evoke certain social reactions. Our clothing shapes the narratives by which we are read and we shape the way we are seen by shifting our clothing. With simple changes in fabric and the shape of fabric we can be read as male, female, wealthy, conformist, outsider. Clothing can be a uniform, illustrating our careers. Clothing changes depending on the events we attend and the way we want to be seen at those events – shaping our celebrations and also the way we mourn.

Perhaps it is the adaptability of clothing that accounts for fairy tale obsessions with clothing and it’s transformative powers, but perhaps it could also relate to fairy tale interests in bodies and changes in circumstances. With a simple shoe, Cinderella changes her social status and circumstances, moving from pauper to princess. She is repeatedly read as a maid because her step-mother forces her to wear maid clothing and, even when she dresses in fancy clothes, these are torn from her by her step family, transforming riches into rags. Clothing seems to confine as well as define her until she is transformed by magic into a look that a princess is expected to have. She is read by her clothing and only seen as significant and noticeable when she conforms to the expected look of a princess. Yet she is shaped this way by the male GAZE, by the way she is looked at by the prince.

The Goose Girl is similarly a tale of transformation and clothing with a maid who changes clothing with a princess in order to assume her identity. Since the maid looks as a princess should (dressed in finery) and the princess looks like a maid, the girl is relegated to the position of Goose Girl and told to mind geese for the castle. Skill sets belonging to princess and maid are ignored because clothing is so definitive of social class and perception.

The Emperor’s New Clothes is similarly a tale of wealth and clothing, but, rather than conforming to expectations of clothing, this emperor seeks to set trends that define himself as different from the rest by wearing superior clothing. He simultaneously seeks the best materials, so light they seem like they aren’t there, and so spectacular they can only be seen by the most refined vision, while also fearing losing face and being seen as somehow deficient. The tale is one of pomposity and the fear that people have of losing face.

Red RidingHood is literally defined by her clothing, named after the red hood she wears. This hood represents the power to conceal, hiding her beneath red fabric. Yet that fabric is also the colour of blood, representing both the menstrual blood she will have as she passes from girlhood into womanhood and also the blood that will be shed by the wolf. It situates her as prey to the wolf, already marked in blood.

Clothing in fairy tales is transformative, but it also SPEAKS. Clothing is invested with symbolism and shapes the message that readers receive. So many fairy tales focus on clothing and it’s symbolic power because it IS a symbolic medium that already carries messages and shapes our understanding of the bodies that lay beneath the clothes.

Cinderella – The Art of the Glass Slipper

Cinderella – The Art of the Glass Slipper
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cinderella is a tale of social transformation, a tale that begs the question “what is it like to walk a mile in my shoes”, and it is a tale that centres around a shoe, around a glass slipper. It is a shoe that speaks as much to its impracticality as it does to its power to display. Cinderella’s shoe is a commentary on class and the notion that clothing can create identity, that wearing a particular type of clothing can create a particular performance of selfhood.

These images examine the glass slipper as a central part of the Cinderella narrative and its fragility perhaps mirrors the fragility of wealth and identity.


“Cinderella’s Glass Slipper” by Chris Thompson CThompsonArt on DeviantArt


Chris Thompson’s “Cinderella’s Glass Slipper” explores the centrality of glass for the Cinderella story, creating a work that explores the fragility of story by transposing Cinderella’s image onto the heel of her glass slipper. The focus on creating Cinderella’s body from the bridge of the heel of the shoe illustrates her fragility and her association with the pain that is often associated with walking in heels.

Thompson’s use of a stained glass style links fragility to the notion of the fractured body. The Cinderella tale is one that is mutliplistic, with multiple pieces pulled together to form a narrative.

Thompson portrays Cinderella by herself on the shoe, which is significant since many images of the glass slipper tend to either show the prince picking up her lost shoe or putting the shoe onto her. This image focuses on Cinderella as complete in herself rather than an extension of her prince’s narrative.


“Cinderella” by Alexandra Dawe


Alexandra Dawe’s “Cinderella” accentuates the connection between the Cinderella narrative and time, portraying the clock just passing midnight and Cinderella on the ground in a look of despair. This is a Cinderella who believes that she has missed her opportunity, that this, like so many of her potentials in life, has gotten away from her.

Dawe illustrates Cinderella in rags and surrounded by other images of her poverty that were also figures transformed by her fairy godmother into representations of royalty – her rats and her pumpkin.

Yet, leaning up against her pumpkin is her glass slipper, connecting the wealth that could have been to what she believes her circumstances are now. Only one shoe is illustrated here, likely showing that this is the matching shoe to the one left on the stairs down from the palace. The slipper has become a reminder of what she believes she has lost.

The gears and works of the clock contrast nicely with the image of fairy tale magic, bringing magic and machine together in a way that paints this tale as one about the mechanics of human interactions.


“Cinderella at Midnight” by Jasmine Beckett-Griffith (jasminetoad on DeviantArt)


Jasmine Beckett-Griffith portrays Cinderella in wide eyed doll-like innocence. This Cinderella is associated with time like Alexandra Dawe’s figure, but her pocket watch has just struck midnight and she is portrayed still on the stairs with her glass slipper behind her.

Both Cinderella and her rats are portrayed in the act of transforming. Cinderella has her peasant clothes on with patches sewn into them, but she still has an expensive pocket watch and her hair is still done up in aristocratic style. Her mice are similarly transforming with some of them still in a state of shimmering brilliance behind her and those on her lap fully in their rat form. The centrality of the clock in this image is illustrated by the drifts of glittering dust falling from it onto the pumpkin, rats, and shoes, connecting this dust to the residual magic of her transformation. Beckett-Griffith seems to make the watch the agent of change, highlighting the role of time in this narrative. The use of dust in the image also conveys a sense of the connection between magic and time since it is the literal settling of the dust here that denotes that her time has passed.



“Disney Elementals Cinderella” by Joel DeQue (CeruleanRaven on DeviantArt)


Joel DeQue connects the Cinderella tale to the moon, exploring the power of the night as a place for transformations. This is especially significant for Cinderella’s connection to the ball, where she experiences her transformation over the course of an evening.

DeQue only shows one shoe peaking out of the bottom of Cinderella’s dress, which has taken on the form of a constellation in the night sky. Her glass slipper mirrors the glass bobble hanging down from the horn of the moon above Cinderella’s head. By connecting moon and slipper, DeQue highlights the transformative power of both – the moon changes over the course of the month as it goes through moon phases and the slipper changes Cinderella over the course of the evening from maid to princess to maid again and it will eventually reunite her with her princess identity when she is reunited with her lost shoe.

The Art of The Emperor’s New Clothes

By Derek Newman-Stille

The Emperor’s New Clothes is an intensely visual tale, exploring ideas of dignity, performance, and the ostentatiousness of royalty. But, fundamentally, it is about what is not there – the absence of art, the absence of clothing.

Clothing is a way that we perform our identity, the way that we illustrate who we are. It is an art that is linked to identity. The Emperor in the tale is caught between the power of the spoken word to create clothing (by describing it and convincing the court of the presence of the clothing), yet the clothing is not physically present. It is not something that exists except in the descriptive sense.

Art work about The Emperor’s New Clothes is simultaneously about what is there and what is absent.



Harry Clarke

(from Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, New York: Brentano’s 1916)


Clarke portrays the Emperor as a mix of nudity and ostentatiousness. The Emperor is dressed in a simple undershirt, but is still wearing his ostentatious crown.

Clarke highlights some of Hans Christian Andersen’s orientalism in the tale by portraying the Emperor as effete and self involved. He is portrayed with head tilted upward, the centre of attention. He has one arm on his hip and his other hand touching his chest. He poses for all of the other ostentatiously dressed officials, all of whom have focused their entire attention on him.

All of the members of the court portrayed in the image are dressed in long, flowing robes with elaborate patterns. Clarke accentuates Andersen’s interest in courtly artificiality by bringing attention to the Emperor’s closed eyes and his assumption that everyone will be looking at him. By centering the Emperor in the image and portraying the rest of the court on the fringe, with most of the courtly figures only partially exposed in the image.

Harry Clarke lived from 1889 to 1931 and was born in Dublin. His first printed work was a set of illustrations of Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales in 1916. In addition to illustrations, Clarke designed stained glass.



Renáta Fučíková


Renáta Fučíková portrays the Emperor surrounded by his own images. He has two mirrors, illustrating his self-obsession and vanity. This Emperor stares at his own image, bending his neck seductively, lidding his eyes, and pursing his lips. This is a narcissistic Emperor who is in love with his own image, excited about his nudity.

Whereas earlier images of the Emperor depicted him with underwear or a dressing gown, Fučíková portrays him in the full nude. Like Clarke’s illustration, Fučíková’s Emperor wears his crown and his staff.

This Emperor is portrayed in the midst of having his invisible clothing displayed and altered by the tailors. One of the tailors holds up the invisible garment for the Emperor to observe even though the Emperor is entirely uninterested in the garment, looking at himself.

Portraying the Emperor’s bedclothes on the floor around his feet mirrors the image of nude models rather than representing an image of someone who is trying on new clothes.

Despite the fact that these tailors are portrayed as lazy liars, these men are performing an excess of work. They are illustrating a counter artificiality to the performance of wealth. Their performance is one of work, a purview that is generally ascribed to the working class. Fučíková portrays a dual narrative of performance in this image, portraying the performance of ostentatiousness by the wealthy and the performance of work by workers.

Renáta Fučíková graduated from the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague during 1988. She has illustrated works from The Brothers Grimm (in 1993) and The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (in 1994).



Angela Rizza


Angela Rizza’s illustration of The Emperor’s New Clothes provides the viewer with the Emperor’s own image of himself, using a mirror to allow us to see the way the Emperor imagines himself to appear. The emperor is portrayed in his underwear, a crown, and a staff. He is portrayed with underwear that have hearts on them, illustrating some of his self love. The image he sees is of an emperor in full regalia. Rizza does what other authors don’t by showing us the way the Emperor sees himself, giving physicality to the invisible.

Rizza’s Emperor is portrayed in a large, open room with few objects other than a floor-to-ceiling mirror. The focus is on his own reflection. This mirror is portrayed with leonine imagery, playing with the notion that the lion is the king of animals. The lion portrayed at the top of the mirror stares back at the Emperor, making certain that all of the eyes in the room are on him.

Angela Rizza is an American artist who shows her work on the website Deviant Art at


Barbara C. Freeman


Barbara C. Freeman’s illustration of The Emperor’s New Clothes illustrates the Emperor processing. He is illustrated in the nude with emphasis upon his golden crown, staff, and orb illustrated by the nimbus surrounding each of the gold items. The Emperor’s nude lower body is cleverly cloaked by the literal cloak of a courtier standing in front of him.

This Emperor is surrounded by ostentatiously dressed courtiers with wigs and the peasants are portrayed in the background, standing on the staircase. There is a literal wall between the two classes, though the peasants are literally elevated in this image, standing above the royals by standing on the staircase.

Directly above the Emperor is the child who points out the Emperor’s nudity. This child is portrayed with her accusatory finger pointing at the Emperor while her father rests his hands on her shoulders.

Barbara C. Freeman lived From 1906 until 1999 and was an English illustrator.