Fashion in Cinema: Moana

Fashion in Cinema: Moana


In honor of Women’s History month we are curating a series of blog posts dedicated to some pretty powerful women who use fashion as a weapon. These women are strong, independent and inspiring. They showcase their prowess through their wardrobe and continue to leave a legacy. This week we are focusing on Moana. Although this is an animation, and done by Disney no less, the story is empowering young women to find their voice, go after their desires and make the future what they want it to be. This story is one of culture and a new generation finding their path. If you haven’t seen the Disney cartoon yet, why? Moana blew up when it debuted in 2016. Disney is chiming in on the women’s movement by finally creating strong female characters that are the hero of the story. This story centers around Moana’s journey to restore and save her people who are in trouble. Now the premise of the movie takes place on the shores of an unnamed Polynesian island and the waters surrounding it. Although the movie is a work of fiction the storyline is taken from real legends and myths of Pacific Islanders and Polynesian ancestry.. What makes Moana so different from her Disney peers is her realistic appearance and a plot line that doesn’t include the damsel and distress narrative. She is not a fragile girl, and her excitement and desire to explore is something that we realize pretty early in the film. She is a wild child always looking for adventure and doing something that her dad doesn’t approve of. She yearns for life outside of her small community and her aspirations have outgrown the everyday life on the island. Ultimately her desire to leave is what helps propel the story. She has a strong and almost fierce presence throughout the film that is deepened through her costuming. Neysa Bove is a costume designer that worked hard on this animation to accurately incorporate textures, fabrics and patterns into the outfits.  Bové conducted an interview with Technique in which she stated she knew that Moana needed an outfit that matched her adventurous and voyager spirit and it was important to keep her culture at the forefront while creating an outfit that seemed practical. The animation takes place over 2000 years ago so it was a challenge for the directors, and creators to get a sense of what the women would wear. According to interviews during the release of the film, the creators took many trips to the region and assembled the “Oceanic Trust.” This team of historians, linguists, samoan choreographers and many more individuals worked to bring accuracy in all aspects of the film. Red is a significant color in pacific island culture representing regality and royalty. Moana is set to lead the people of the island due to her families royalty. 

Each of her seven outfits feature this deep red color in some way. 


She is introduced to us as a toddler in a diaper made of a fabric called Tapa. It is a barkcloth from the Pacific Ocean islands. It is literally made from the trees in a process of soaking and beating. It is a long process and the fabric is usually colored with natural ingredients like berries and figs. One can assume that is why red is the color of royalty, because of the accessibility of the color. Everything Moana wear is made of Tapa. It looks stiff although it might be more mobile than we think. But for practicality in Moana’s main outfit Bové featured a slit to help with movement. Speaking of her skirt, the top layer is made of Tapa but the bottom layer is more of a traditional shredded version of Tapa that you might be familiar with when samoan dancers are performing during a taugaluga. 

Her ceremonial outfit where she dances is one of the most beautiful and intricate pieces. Although it is only briefly seen in the film the regal red is ever-present. Her top, a traditional Tapa and features a pattern of sea shells and greenery. Her ankle bracelets are made from tea leafs something that would be found in the region. What is most interesting about this outfit is the use of the color pink. It is easy to miss as an off red but it actually represents Moana’s purity. The pink conch shell necklace she wears also symbolizes this, her nature. In many cultures a conch shell represents femininity. Her headdress feathers are shades of red and pink and white which nicely sums up her personality. As her character develops and showcases her personality her ensembles become much more meaningful. 

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