Fairy tales are popular stories for children that tell about amazing worlds and characters. They are unique narratives as they describe life with the help of such elements as magic and wonder. This is the reason why designers, directors, and other professionals chose to work with fairy tales and recreate what is real with a touch of mystery and magnificence. The current paper discusses the appeal of fairy tales and establishes the main tendencies of the twenty-first century. The emphasis is placed on fashion and the motion picture industries as they are able to visually represent the themes of fairy tales. The roots of the discussed narratives are also a matter of an analysis as they help to explain the significance of the stories. Additionally, the paper explores a tendency to use dark characters as a source of inspiration. For example, Maleficent is one of the major personages whose image is often recreated in fashion and in movies.

Introduction to the World of Fairy Tales

Fairy tales are a heritage of imagination that finds its realization in various forms. It may be argued that these stories influence the development of art. Presently, the effect of fairy tales may be seen in the contexts of fashion, cinematography, advertisements, cartoons, and other types of mass media. They got modernized and change the current tendencies in fashion. In different lines of works, fairy tales inspire people to produce items that have elements of magic and beauty. Among a number of images that appear in the discussed stories, dark characters like evil queens have a strong appeal. The paper analyzes these tendencies in terms of social and psychological impact and a historical perspective based on the representation of fairy tales in fashion and the motion picture industry. The work observes the trends of fairy tales and illustrates their significance.

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In order to discuss fairy tales and their contemporary implications, the main notion has to be defined. The term “fairy tales” is used to identify stories about incredible or unreal creatures, including fairies. The term is also a synonym to a falsehood. It should be noted that fairy tales are associated with children’s stories. Additionally and most importantly, these are the narratives “in which improbable events lead to a happy ending” (“Fairy Tale”, n.d.). Tolkien, a professor of philology and writer, discusses fairy tales in his works. He believes it is hard to give an exact definition of the term under consideration. It is because “the realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there” and different enchantments (Tolkien, n.d., p. 2). This extensiveness of the field is one of the reasons that explain the immense popularity of fairy tales.

Fairy tales developed as a genre that covers a variety of subjects and “encompasses not only literary texts, but also operas, songs, poems, advertisements, cartoons, comic strips, graphic novels, comic books, ballets, dramas, radio plays, and hypertexts on television and the Internet” (Zipes, 2011, p. 17). These diverse forms illustrate a concentrated public attention to the discussed stories. Fairy tales are also popular in fashion and the motion picture industry as they present a copyright-free material that is already familiar to people and has a great positive effect.

Fairy tales are in line with the latest trends of fashion. In the past, these stories had their impact as well. The origin of fairy tales and their cultural evolution have to be discussed.

Roots of Fairy Tales

There is no a certain point in history that may be officially considered as the birth of the fairy tale genre. Tolkien says that these stories simply ancient as they “appear in very early records; and they are found universally, wherever there is language” (Tolkien, n.d., p. 2). Sometimes, scholars distinguish between literary fairy tales and original folk tales. Genuine folk stories are without authors and dates. They are passed through generations, while literary fairy tales show a creative manner of certain authors (for example, the Brothers Grimm’s).

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Some scientists, including Zipes, an American professor, argue that famous fairy tales like “Cinderella”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “Rapunzel”, “Little Red Riding Hood”, “The Frog Price”, “Snow White”, “The Little Mermaid”, “Jack and the Beanstalk”, and many others are rooted in folklore. These stories are considered to be classical with well-recognized characters like noble kings and princes who have to fight with evil and marry beautiful princesses. Sometimes, the latter need to be saved and protected from wild and dangerous creatures or even family members (for example, stepsisters and stepmothers). There are giants, dragons, and trolls that fascinate people with their magnificence or terror. There are also magical items (for example, crystal shoes, red hoods, and others) that exist only in the unreal world in the never-never land. Every element of these stories is known for a long time and still holds interest of the public.

It should be noted that the oral versions of fairy tales may be traced centuries back. According to Zipes (2013), fairy tales as a genre were “adapted from the oral tradition of folklore for aristocratic and middle-class audiences as print culture developed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries” (p. 1). Some folklorists state that these stories are rooted in real historical events and may be viewed as historical documents. For example, Propp (1997) interprets fairy tales in terms of ancient rituals that existed around the world. He describes a ritual of initiation reflected in “Snow White” and other narratives of this kind (Propp, 1997). Other scientists also use fairy tales to explain customs that may be found in different cultures. For instance, the character of the wicked stepmother that is one of the archetypes has her own social and historical context according to which it represents a general practice of the second marriage. In the past (especially in the Middle Ages) women would often die in childbirth. In some cases, stepmothers and children would live in a conflict lacking love and attention. These and other notions are a part of fairy tales that were especially common in the Victorian era. Warner concludes that “fairy tales have now grown out of that Victorian and Edwardian prescription and have gained a new stature over the last 20 years, both as inspiration for literature, and for mass, lucrative entertainment” (2014, p. xiii). Fairy tales are unique stories as they show the daily life situations with the elements of magic and wonder. This is the reason why designers, directors, and other professionals chose to work with them and recreate what is real with a touch of mystery and magnificence.

Modern fairy tales have the same characters and plot as the original stories with slight modifications. In the twenty-first century, the discussed narrations have evolved and may be regarded as elements that serve as “connective tissue between a mythological past and the present realities” (Warner, 2014, p. xiii). In some cases, the characters are more developed and have deeper motives to act. However, fairy tales are still perceived as stories of beauty and magic, while their social and historical roots are almost forgotten. Contemporary fictions have structural and thematic similarities with folklore but explore other sides of social domains, especially in movies produced by Walt Disney.

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Appeal of Fairy Tales in the Modern World

It has been an experience of some designers to use fairy tales as a theme of their clothing collections. As it was stated above, these stories have a significant influence on fashion. When choosing a certain character as a source of inspiration, it is important to know what this specific image implies, and how it may be understood by the audience. The impact of fairy tales has been a subject of research and study of a number of sociologists and psychologists, including Freud, Jung, and others. They wanted to establish the main elements of these narrations responsible for popularity. The power to influence people is established “on the conscious level in the way all good fairy tales aesthetically structure and use fantastic and miraculous element” to prepare people for everyday life (Zipes, 2011, p. 3). The current paper concentrates on the most general aspects that form an appeal with a focus on modern tendencies represented in fashion and other industries.

These common tendencies are as follows:

1. Fairy tales come from the world of fantasy.

They depict things and events that cannot be real. Fairy tales show images that cannot otherwise be seen and draw attention of children and adults who are mesmerized by these stories in literature or on the screen. This aspect is stressed by Freud who states that in fairy tales “the world of reality is left behind from the very start, and the animistic system of beliefs is frankly accepted and adopted” (as cited in Zipes, 2011, p. 7). The ability to explain the world of fantasy and bring it to life in imagination is the main reason why people are instinctively drawn to these narratives that describe unusual things.

2. Fairy tales bring the sense of happiness.

In the modern world, they are often used as they create a definition of happiness in numerous forms, including clothes designed on the basis of fairy tales. The notion of “the happy end” is strongly associated with tales and draws people to the magic of these stories in eternal search of happiness. The idea is supported by Zipes who says that “fairy tales hint of happiness” (Zipes, 2011, p. 1). Designers try to create happiness out of clothes that may be related to such characters as, for example, the Sleeping Beauty and Snow White.

3. There is a clear distinction between good and evil in fairy tales that the real life lacks.

It is easy to define a negative or a positive character. It should be noted that fairy tales describe good and evil. As a matter of fact, evil is introduced by a great number of creatures. Special interest is placed on witches and evil queens. Apart from monsters, characters like, for instance, Maleficent, create an atmosphere of mystery and desire. Usually, they hold power beyond limits, and it takes the ultimate force such as love to defeat them. The wish to feel empowered makes people want to have some attributes connected to masters of evil from fairy tales.

4. Fairy tales bring people to the land where good characters seldom die.

The notion of life and death are modified in these stories. Some characters are not bound by death and are able to fight it. The episode when a prince gives a kiss to a princess, and she wakes up from a mortal dream is a powerful moment that people need to have in the real life. In the modern world, fairy tales are also used as they create an illusion in which close people do not die. This is a subtle psychological element that appeals to the audience. Therefore, objects that remind of fairy tales and this aspect are popular. For example, when a girl wears a dress that might suit a princess from a fairy tale she feels secured. This item promises a chance of a happy life and eternal love.

5. Fairy tales help people to escape from reality.

Watching an episode about a girl who is intimidated by a wolf or any other series serves humans as a distraction. Fairy tales is a space where no reality is allowed. People need them in order to remember childhood and dream. Thus, human beings look for fairy tales everywhere – in literature, on screens, in clothes, and other places. In the twenty-first century, people live under the stress that makes fairy tales a valuable resource for many industries to use.

6. Fairy tales are an essence of folk wisdom.

These stories describe basic patterns of human behavior, social roles, and political responsibilities that are valid at the present time. The most important thing is that fairy tales have morals and are able to remind about things in life that should be important, for example, love, friendship, courage, truth, faith, and other things.
These are the most common explanations that help to understand why fairy tales are used in different forms of art. It may be concluded that people want to be closer to the characters of these narratives who have power and influence.

Fairy tales are effective as they can “mutate and blend in altered and adapted forms that respond to environmental transformations” (Zipes, 2013, p. 22). Therefore, fashion and other industries successfully implement fantastic elements and recreate the images from fairy tales to make them up-to-date.

Fairy Tales in Fashion

Taken into consideration the appeal of fairy tales, it is a matter of no surprise that their motives inspire professionals in different industries. In this context, fashion follows these stories and recreates the most popular themes.

Such items from fairy tales as red hoods or glass slippers are easily recognized. The unique clothing in these stories captures attention of the fashion industry. Fairy tales have served as “inspiration for countless designs, runway shows, advertisements, magazine photo shoots, and editorials” (Duggan, Haase, & Callow, 2016, p. 334). The most famous fashion houses like Dolce & Gabbana and small independent designers have collections that are entirely devoted to fairy tales, especially to stories written by the Brothers Grimm. These clothing lines consist of “hoods, capes and peasant dresses… peppered throughout a collection that used familiar fairy-tale elements such as wrought-iron keys and bewitching woodland creatures as elaborate surface decoration” (Gonsalves, 2014).

Some people who work in the fashion industry use other elements. Alexander McQueen, for example, created a collection that seems like “wild beauty lit by moonlight” that came from another world where there is a “nature’s power to bewitch” (Gonsalves, 2014). It is a clothing line that is founded on the idea about a girl who prefers living in the tree. She has black clothes that fascinate. The “enchanted forest” theme is very popular in the modern world of skyscrapers. The mysteries of fairy tales, enchanted forests, and love between princesses and princes are empowering.

Artists also work with technology to design collections. For example, Berky Stern, uses technology to make dress sparkle when a model moves. This is done in order to achieve an effect described in the tale “All Fur” in which there was a “dress that glistered like the stars” (Duggan et al., 2016, p. 335). Modern times present more opportunities for designers to explore.

Presently, people are attracted to the dark side. It is interesting that designers “turn away from the sanitized and safe, and offer instead something that is wild at heart, scary yet seductive” (Gonsalves, 2014). Popular culture accepts dark images. For example, the style of Maleficent, portrayed by Angelina Jolie, is intimidating and beautiful at the same time. This character received positive feedbacks. Fashion adds a twist that makes some personages obscure and interesting. Viktor & Rolf and Manolo Blahnik also adapt fairy tales in their work.
Fashion focuses on the visual representation of fairy tales. Therefore, designers often work together with producers and directors of motion pictures that reproduce a theme from the discussed stories.

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Representation of Fairy Tales in Movies

Fairy tales is a fruitful source that is used for movie adaptations. The motion picture industry differs from other genres by its structure and methods. However, “like any artistic genre that began in the oral tradition, the fairy tales has evolved from a print genre… to be embraced by the technology of film” (Zipes, 2011, p.18). There is a long list of movies that are based on fairy tales: Beauty and the Beast, Snow White and the Huntsman, Jack the Giant Slayer, Pan, Ever After, The Brothers Grimm, Tangled, Once Upon a Time, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, Ella Enchanted, and many others.

Disney movies are best known for their use of fairy tales for the plot. In addition to these, the Walt Disney Company has used fashion to present its princesses. Thus, the corporation launched “a line of wedding dresses in 2011 designed by Alfred Angelo” (Duggan et al., 2016, p. 334).

One may see a lot of differences if he or she compares modern movies with the original stories. These films show the tendencies of the modern time where there is more action, adventures, and even thirst for blood and revenge. It is interesting that Hollywood is able to turn positive characters, who serve as examples of gentle and humbles souls, into real warriors who fight and kill. A good example is a film Snow White and the Huntsman. The director of the movie presented the character of Show White as a strong and independent woman who is able to lead an army and bring peace to society with a sword in her hands. Such an image did not appear in the original story. The movie reflects the evolved fairy tale. It should be noted that the design of clothes has also changed. There is an episode in the movie where Snow White wears a suit of armor. In this film, the dark queen’s character is also modified. She is both beautiful and able to feel. She is presented in dark colors wearing marvelous long dresses and jewelry. Here, fashion helps to develop the character and tell her story.

The main point is that in original fairy tales, characters have certain attributes and act with accordance to them. As a rule, there is no background. Apart from a moral lesson, there is nothing that makes people think about stories. Presently, artists depict fairy tales with ambiguous characters who make complex decisions and challenge well-accepted morals. Movies and fashion emphasize the complexity of heroes. This transformation is essential as it shows the cultural and social evolution of storytelling. The earliest appearances of fairy tales in the movies differ from the stories that the Hollywood tells nowadays. It is hard to tell the future of fairy tales; however, it is certain that they will continue to affect fashion and the motion picture industry, introducing new elements and features of well-known characters.


Fairy tales have a great effect on culture and society. Their roots are hidden in the folklore and historical events. Fairy tales have a visual appeal and are often represented in different industries (for example, in the movies, fashion, advertisement, and others). Presently, these narratives reflect the cultural evolution of storytelling that may be followed in fashion. Modern fairy tales offer people stories that interpret history and original tales, including extensive action and even violence. Therefore, a number of clothing collections inspired by fairy tales are focused on the characters who have a dark side, like Maleficent. The attraction to these stories may be explained with a few reasons. Fairy tales create worlds of fantasy and bring the feeling of happiness. People want to be associated with the characters from these narrations as it helps them to feel powerful and dream. In this context, fashion is important as it makes the written fantasy come true in the real world.

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