Maleficent Looks Magnificent (Thanks to the Middle Ages)

Disney knows how to create a character. Their princes are handsome, heroines too lovely, and villains practically ooze evil. 1959’s Sleeping Beauty is no exception. The bitter, jealous Maleficent is everything you’d want from a villain. She is powerful, elegant and haughty with sharp nails and green skin that screams ‘BAD NEWS’!

She is the perfect foil to the innocence and beauty of Sleeping Beauty and her kingdom (not to mention those well-meaning but dowdy fairies). Maleficent is one scary woman. Is it the green skin? The raven companion perhaps? Or maybe it has something to do with the set of devil horns sitting on her head.

MaleficentMaleficent. Scary…but 100% magnificent…


Maleficent certainly has a flair for the dramatic, and her clothing is no exception. This self-proclaimed ‘Mistress of All Evil’ is dressed to kill – quite literally. Her outfit does not pay homage to the 1950’s, when she was animated. Its origin goes back just a little bit further; by about 500 years.

angelina-jolie-maleficent-1-530x321Angelina Jolie as ‘Maleficent’ in the upcoming movie of the same name.


The bat-like sleeves and high collar of Maleficent’s gown are reminiscent of a style popular in Europe from the late 1300’s through the mid-1400’s. The hallmark of this capacious gown, known as the houppelande, is a high neckline, broad sweeping sleeves and a vast amount of fabric in the body section. Originally a men’s garment, it was adopted by women near the end of Richard II’s reign, and could be worn with a high belt under the bust, or unbelted. While specifics varied over the years (the style was worn for quite a long time), the basic silhouette of the gown generally remained the same.

Medieval painter Jan Van Eyck painted ‘Portrait of Margaret van Eyck’ in 1439, showing her wearing a belted houppelande accompanied, no less, by the ultra fashionable flatter collar and horned headdress. Similarly, a portrait of Isabella of Portugal from the same era painted by Rogier van der Weyden, shows a dramatic horned headpiece with an accompanying veil.

portrait-of-margaret-van-eyck-1439.jpg!BlogMargaret van Eyck (1439): Disney’s inspiration?


This was not the first appearance of the horned headdress, however. Christine de Pisan (1364-1430) was a medieval author. She served as a court writer for several French dukes and was known as a talented poet in her own right – all of which were quite notable accomplishments for a woman in that time. There are many extant depictions of Christine, most of which show her wearing a fairly simple pendant-sleeved gown and…quite a headdress. White, veiled and pointed, one almost has to wonder how she got through doorways!

christine_and_sonChristine de Pisan…rocking horns since the 1400’s!


While Maleficent isn’t a medieval fashion plate, evidence says that perhaps Disney had a little help designing the wardrobe for this sultry, scary villain. Either way, thanks to medieval fashion, she certainly looks the part.

Historical Honey 2013 ©

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