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Gods & Monsters: The Brides of Dracula (1961): A Study in Costume Design

Distributed by Universal-International, the Hammer film Brides of Dracula featured Molly Arbuthnot (1908 – 2001), as the head of costume design. A prolific artist, she was credited as a designer for nearly sixty films. Her main speciality was lavish Hammer horror titles such as Horror Of Dracula (1958), Curse Of The Werewolf (1961) and The Mummy’s Shroud (1967) just to name a few. The costuming for Brides of Dracula is vast and outstanding. The garments tell us that the story takes place in the 1800s, however, the hair, make-up and some tailoring may very well have been strongly influenced by the 1960s, which was of course the time that the film was produced. Perhaps due to budget restrictions, adaptation of some of the more detailed ladies garments of the late Victorian period such as corsetry and bustles appear to have been relaxed for ease of wear and movement.

The costumes for the townspeople cleverly blend into the background, with the main palette being grey, brown and green. The garments reflect fashions of the era such as top hats, capes, and three-piece suits. Popular coats of the late 1800s were cutaway coats, capes, cloaks and coats with capelets attached – the latter of which feature heavily in the film. Whereas the main characters are dressed in luxurious fabrics popular in the 1800s such as fur, velvet, linen, leather, lace and silk, the tavern owner and his wife for example, are seen in corduroy, cotton, and paisley. The introductory scene features a young Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur) as she travels by carriage through the dark grey and foreboding forest of twisted, bare trees. Her 1890s-come-sixties bouffant, beauty spot and sweet French accent paints her as a flame-haired rival to Brigitte Bardot. Marianne is dressed in a plain black, grey, and red tartan princess coat with a nipped waist, voluminous skirt, leg of mutton sleeves, brass buttons and a large hood trimmed with grey wool with an inlaid black velvet collar, matching cuffs and accessories, and a grey fur muff. This style of coat was seen commonly in the 1940s and 50s, whereas the 1800s coats were often closer to a Pelisse with an empire waist, although the leg of mutton sleeves, that are consistent throughout the film, were an essential fashion of the late Victorian-era.

Dinner with the Baroness Meinster (Martita Hunt), sees her wearing a grey princess line dress, with a button down fitted bodice, voluminous skirt, leg of mutton sleeves and a sailor collar trimmed with red tartan. The gown was of course floor length as showing ones legs was considered scandalous. The predominant grey colouring of the costume reflects her humility as a guest of the stark grey castle and as a lowly travelling student teacher. This however is the last we see of her in repressed colours. As soon as she becomes more powerfully vital in the release and subsequent search to capture the vampiric Baron Meinster (David Peel), her palette evolves into regal, stronger colours.

The bed clothing is the most divine aspect of the costuming. Both of Marianne’s bedroom scenes – in which she wears heavenly negligees which became a staple for future Hammer outings – are quite significant in the evolution of vampire mythology. She first discovers the Baron’s lair wearing a turquoise negligee, trimmed with Broderie Anglaise lace and ruffled hem, her shoulders nary concealed by a flowing, sheer lilac nightgown with lace trim and layered, crimped ruffle collars. In addition to this, just before her colleague Gina (Andree Melly) is bitten and falls victim to vampirism, she has a lovely girly chat in a stunning corseted version of the former nightgown. The colour palette for the negligee was reminiscent of the Victorian-era, although it feels as though it was heavily influenced by the 1960s candy colours that were so fashionable at the time of the film’s making. Some early examples of French negligees can be found in canary yellow and red, however Victorian gowns were commonly pastel colours of mauve, apricot and cream.

Marianne’s proposal to Baron Meinster sees her become bolder—she wears an astonishing deep emerald green velvet, princess line gown, with a full skirt, frog clasp closure, a quilted peter pan collar and the ever-present leg of mutton sleeves. Her final gown signifies she is on the precipice of marriage to the Baron, who is yet to reveal to her that he is in fact of the undead. Fittingly, she wears her most vampire inspired dress of blood red velvet, with a corseted waist, cream lace bib and wide shawl collar with fur trim.

As aforementioned in an early scene in the film, the Baroness Meinster makes a dramatic Draculean entrance into the quaint brownstone tavern, in her first meeting with Marianne. The fabric of her costumes was appropriate of an older lady of the time being heavy satin, silk, and velvet. In this scene, her dress was heavily inspired by Victorian mourning wear, consisting of a black drop-waisted full skirt, heavily beaded Basque bodice and a black satin cape with red satin lining. This terrifying ensemble is accessorised with a gold and ruby necklace and a black pleated silk bonnet with a sheer chiffon floor-length train. Following this sequence, dinner at the castle, where The Baroness attempts to draw pity from the young Marianne, sees the gown hidden underneath the cape revealed in full splendour. It features the largest taffeta leg of mutton sleeves in the film, including pleated fan details on the shoulders and beaded lace cuffs, no less. Her innocent old lady act is soon lampooned, as we see her angrily confronting Marianne in the castle to stop her from obtaining the key to release the Baron. She chases her wearing a deep hued, violet coloured velvet mourning nightgown, with gathered leg of mutton sleeves, trimmed with lilac lace in true Victorian style. Finally, the Baroness Meinster’s power wanes due to the Baron enacting revenge on his mother by draining the blood from her neck and converting her to the undead. With her power, the strong-coloured garments pale also. The previously evil colour palette of black, red and violet is now reduced to a faded plum cheesecloth-hooded robe.

Greta (Freda Jackson) is a secondary character but not to be discounted, as she was the Baron’s wet nurse and co-conspirator. It is she that coaxes the titular “brides of Dracula” from the grave. Greta is costumed very much as the servant in a maroon, long sleeved dress with full skirt, paisley shawl of maroon, blue and gold swirls, her hair in tight plaits wrapped around her severe hairstyle. Alas, the last we see of her is at the first bride’s graveside with crazy salt and pepper hair astray and a matching maroon cape to her drab dress.

Peter Cushing reprises his role of Van Helsing, although he is noticeably depicted as much younger than his previous bespectacled counterparts. Van Helsing is a doctor of many professions and this is reflected in the rather dowdy colour palette of sensible earthy shades in a range of brown and beige, tweed suits; the same goes for the practical Dr Tobler (Miles Malleson). At the beginning of the film, he wears a brown three-piece suit, consisting of a jacket, pants and waistcoat with fob chain, a brown, tweed tie, matched with a top hat and an olive green cape. He is consistently seen in white shirts with detachable collars with ribbon trim lapels. These collars were very common in the late 1800s, mainly to avoid laundry or “ring- around-the collar”.

In the next scene, Van Helsing graduates to a slick slate grey wool, double-breasted suit and violet tie to greet the eccentric Dr Tobler. This is more indicative of formal gentleman’s daywear of the later 19th century, usually of black or blue-black wool. By this time he is well on the tail of the offending vampire and thus is seen exiting in what is known as a greatcoat of black wool with a large fur shawl collar. However, in the final fight scene against the Baron, he returns to the beige, tweed, three-piece suit.

We meet the first “bride”, a village girl played by Marie Devereux, in a coffin in the tavern. Both of the vampire brides are ravishing as the undead, however the village girl has a touch of sexiness as she exits the grave in a belted Grecian, gathered silk night gown with a sweetheart neckline that clings to the bosom. In contrast, Gina is a student teacher at the ladies school. Her first costume is a Victorian crimson dress with high neck, ribbon and bow trim and small leg of mutton sleeves. Much like Marianne, her bed wear is also jealousy inducing. When the Baron makes her his second bride, she is clothed in a stunning duck egg, blue, satin nightgown with lace applique and a large shawl collar, over a lilac nightdress of cotton Broderie Anglais. Gina presents more demurely as the undead, in a white, cotton voile gown, with a fitted bodice and gathered billowing bell sleeves.

Baron Meinster is first discovered chained to his dormitory by the well-meaning Marianne. The Baron appears to be part English gentleman with a touch of private school boy, complete with blonde coiffed hair and tanned skin, a rarity in vampire make-up design, as to have raven hair and be pale in complexion is de riguer of male, cinematic vampirism. His premier costume is a charcoal grey, pinstripe three-piece suit, a cravat and a crisp white shirt featuring a stand collar with tiny wingtips. Once the Baron has gained strength through biting his first bride, his evil plan takes shape in the form of a proposal to Marianne at the ladies home. Now his evil character develops into a more classic vampire, wearing a black three-piece tuxedo featuring black velvet collar, white shirt with stand collar and a black silk cravat. After hanging around in the form of a bat with glowing red eyes, he soon appears again in the same suit. Yet this time he has donned his private school grey vampire cape, ready to make Gina one of his “brides”.

Of course, Dracula himself does not make an appearance in this film, but it is relative to consider the history of Dracula’s outfits for reference in varied incarnations. In the early 1920s, two cinematic versions of the Dracula mythology were released—the lost Hungarian film Dracula’s Death (1921) and the much discussed German Nosferatu (1922). Both early depictions of male vampires were dressed in rather plain garb of a plain overcoat with buttoned front, albeit with bat-like facial features. By the Depression-era, Dracula was completely transformed by Bela Lugosi in Universal’s Dracula (1931). His outfit, designed by legendary Universal costumer Vera West (as well as Ed Ware), defined the regalia of all if not many future male vampires. He wore a Tuxedo consisting of a white dinner shirt, white bow tie, waistcoat, black dinner jacket and black cape with the infamous Dracula medallion. As it is a black and white film, one can only imagine the lining colour, though in recent times recoloured press photos indicate the cape as having red satin lining. A few years ago, one of Bela’s capes was to be auctioned, purported to have been obtained from a garage sale. This cape had cream lining, however it was deemed as possibly inauthentic as it was unable to be linked to any of his previous films.

About Elissa Rose

Elissa Rose is a musician and fashion designer, in addition to being a fashion, film and costume history enthusiast. She has written and performed music in various bands for 20 years that has featured on Australian tv shows such as Home and Away and Neighbours, and performed spoken word poetry for the short film "Decomposition and Transcendence" -Light Year projection festival NYC and the ep "Sometimes" by Dumb Numbers featuring Adam Harding and Dale Crover (Melvins). In March 2017, she recreated a collection of 1950s garments from the archives of the prominent Flinders Lane heritage label "Mr Simon" for Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival that were featured in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. She is currently channelling her passion for vintage design into studying and writing costume design pieces.

One comment

  1. Dear Ms. Rose,

    As someone with a lifelong interest in both Hammer Films and historical fashions, I found your article both informative and highly interesting.
    However, just to add to your last remarks rather than to correct them, Bela Lugosi Jnr attempted to auction off his father’s screen worn cloak from the 1931 film and the accompanying photos showed the lining to be a muted silver grey.

    Sincerely,

    Simon Rowson
    (Tokyo, Japan)

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