Do you want to dress like Ariel?

Analysis of Ariel from The Little Mermaid for Costume Design:

Whether it’s for Halloween, Disney-bounding on vacation, or just for the fun of putting together an outfit that’s inspired by a favorite movie, TV, video game, or book character–I think we all enjoy getting into somebody else’s shoes every once in a while.

This post will be looking not only at how to get the aesthetics right, but also at how to use character traits and storyline for inspiration, so we can get to the heart of the character we are portraying.

So first, we will analyze Ariel’s character and personality for clues about her style personality–so we can create an outfit that’s deeply inspired by her.

Then after that, we’ll look at what she has actually worn and break it down into various aspects, to gain ideas of how we can re-create or gain inspiration from it.


We will be analyzing through using 8 aspects of costume and character design, which are explained in my post How to Analyze and Recreate a Character-Based Outfit.

Let’s start with the heart of the character and their story, then we’ll get to the aesthetics next:

*This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click on item links to make a purchase, i will earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you. I hope you enjoy browsing my picks, reading this post, and find some inspiration!

Character Design.

Attitude and Personality:

Ariel is a curious, carefree, kind-hearted, daringly adventurous, headstrong, hopeless romantic. Knowing these things about her, in fashion, she’d probably lean towards pieces that are a little bit edgy, whimsically-feminine, and dramatic, and away from pieces that are more traditional or lackluster (though, she’s seemingly less interested in putting a ton of effort into making a fashion statement than her sisters–so it appears she’s also fairly down to earth and casual.):

Ariels Sisters
Just look at all those interesting mermaid hairstyles! Ariel looks casual in comparison, but she’s also the only one who’s daring enough to play with color contrast.

Comfort Zones and Ambitions:

Ariel seems to have few–if any–comfort zones…She seems to constantly live outside them as she strives toward what she wants. Especially when it comes to her desire to be part of the human world. The only moment i can really recall her being discouraged was when “Vanessa” stepped into the picture, nearly stealing Eric away. She sat in defeat, surely feeling like she over-estimated herself, probably feeling a sudden sense of worthlessness–until realizing that Vanessa is actually Ursula in disguise, which made her rush back to action.

With this go-for-it attitude, i don’t think it would be crazy to say she’d likely be a dauntless trendsetter, ready to be the first to take on the latest, greatest and craziest styles (especially if they’re human styles), or set new ones or reclaim older ones herself.

Gender and Ethnicity (+ Species):

Female, Caucasian, redhead, mermaid-gone-human. Her gender and ethnicity aren’t a huge part of her story, so she can easily be gender- or race-bent. The mermaid aspect of herself though, which is a huge part of her story, can fairly easily be represented in costume, with the use of scale-prints and ocean-themed items–such as shells.

Life Story
Princess Ariel is the 7th and youngest daughter born to King Triton and Queen Athena of Atlantica. Her mother was killed by pirates (according to the prequel), to her father’s greatest devastation, while the family was enjoying time above the waves.

Ariel has a fascination with the human world which led to her collection of human objects held in her secret grotto, which were largely collected from shipwrecks. One particular shipwreck adventure nearly got her and Flounder killed by a shark–but she remained almost nonchalant and quick-witted in fending off the shark, though Flounder was scared out of his fins. Afterwards, our armchair-anthropologist, Ariel, brought her findings to her rather incompetent teacher, Scuttle, who taught her the uses of her new “human stuff”: the “Dinglehopper“, a hair straightener and brush (fork) and the “Snarfblat“, a musical wind instrument (smoking pipe).

In the excitement of her adventure, she forgot about the concert she was supposed to sing in–this got her in trouble with her father, and in Flounder’s defensiveness it was accidentally made known that she had visited Scuttle above the waters, again, getting her in more trouble–her response was to swim off in frustration at her dad’s lack of willingness to understand. Sebastian was sent to look after her, from now on, and was therefore made aware of her grotto and obsession with the human world growing stronger, to the point of her longing to experience the human world for herself, as she sung Part of That World.

Ariel swam back up to the surface upon seeing a ship over her grotto and watched the fireworks and Eric’s party in admiration and pure delight. She became enamored at the sight of Eric. A storm took down the ship, and Ariel rescued a near-drowning Eric from the wreckage.

Ariel’s now giggly, daydreamy, singsongy, ecstatic, and romance-struck self became clear to her sisters and then her father, who inquired Sebastian about her new love-interest…anxiously, Sebastian eventually burst out about Eric–an unwelcomed surprise. Triton found her grotto and ended up destroying everything in an attempt to get through to her. She was left devastated and angry.

Despite knowing that accepting help from Ursula was a bad idea, she eventually gave in and stuck firmly to that decision, though she was afraid. The deal was made: Ursula would turn Ariel human, giving her three days to get Eric to lovingly kiss her, at the cost of her voice…And if she were to fail, she’d belong to Ursula as a new addition to her garden of polyps.

Her friends rescued her from drowning, and Scuttle created her first dress out of a ship’s sail. Eric’s dog, Max, found her and brought Eric who vaguely recognized her, but doubted himself when he realized she can’t speak. Eric brought her back to his castle out of sympathy, where she was bathed and dressed in a pink gown for dinner.

At the table, she excitedly used the “dinglehopper”, only to get embarrassing, confused stares in return, but she immediately and resiliently became thrilled once again at the sight of Grimsby’s “snarfblat”, taking it and blowing it into his face, to Eric’s humor.

Ariel peacefully drifted to sleep, excited about the following day, even while Sebastian worriedly continued on with advice and concerns. Eric took Airel out for a tour of the kingdom, just the two of them. They explored, danced and shopped, and Eric allowed Ariel to wildly and fearlessly drive the carriage. Their day out ended with a boat ride in an atmospheric lagoon where Eric tried to guess her name and, with Sebastian’s musical help, they nearly kissed, but Flotsam and Jetsam tipped the boat.

The following morning, Scuttle brought news that Eric is getting married–Ariel excitedly ran downstairs, assuming she would be the bride, only to discover Vanessa with Eric, discussing wedding plans with Grimsby. Ariel ran off crying and spent her time sulking as she watched Eric’s wedding boat depart.

Scuttle alerted Ariel that he discovered Vanessa is actually Ursula in disguise, she quickly dived into the water, though she no longer knew how to swim because of her new human form. Sebastian and Flounder helped her swim with the aid of wooden barrels. Scuttle broke Ursula’s necklace, Ariel’s voice was released, and the spell was broken from Eric. Ariel and Eric nearly shared their first kiss, but Ariel transformed back to her mermaid self and was dragged back to sea by Ursula.

In an agreement to bargain with Ursula, Triton took Ariel’s place, becoming a polyp to save her. Eric hurried to save Ariel, and Ursula tried to destroy him with the Trident now in her possession, but Ariel forced away her aim. Ursula grew more powerful, but Eric defeated her and her spells were broken.

Triton came to understand Ariel, the good that can be in humankind, and her love for Eric, and he transformed Ariel back into a human, dressed in a glamorous, lilac dress. She and Eric were reunited, and they soon got married.

^Considering these things about her story can help in double checking whether there are misconceptions about her personality, desires and comfort zones that could end up misrepresenting her in your costume. Additionally, they can guide you in creating specific new designs or outfits that are themed around key moments in her life (What could her longing for the human world look like if embodied in a dress?), or perhaps an alternate version of herself (What if Triton didn’t take her place and she became a polyp? What if Ursula won and started a dictatorship over Atlantica?–how would you dress like Ariel, then?).
Place and Time
The Little Mermaid is possibly the most difficult Disney movie to pin to one particular place and time. We know that the whole story takes place between land and sea–but beyond that, all the clues are jumbled: the fairytale it’s based on was written by Danish author Hans Christian Anderson, there are elements of Greek mythology (E.g. King Triton), Sebastian has a Jamaican accent…Etcetera, etcetera. As for costume time-period clues, we’ve got hints of Renaissance, Edwardian (nightgown), and Georgian (Grimsby) eras, to name a few…And of course, elements inspired from the 1980s, the decade in which the Little Mermaid was created (Big, puffy sleeves…especially the wedding gown). So depending on how you look at it, there are either no ways or several ways to dress like Ariel in a “historically-accurate” costume.

Symbolic Pieces:

Using Ariel’s main color scheme is a strong indication of who you’re dressing as, but using symbolism can help make it even more clear and personalized, and is especially useful if you’re inspired to branch off into an especially creative, abstract version of her look.

Here are a few i could think of, along with shoppable examples:

(Note– these are affiliate links, if you find something you feel will really help you dress like Ariel, and decide to click through and buy it, i’ll get a small commission at no extra cost to you. Each section has several pages you can look through with the grey arrow buttons, so don’t miss out!)

Mermaid-related things:
Shells, Scales and Fins, Ocean, Sea Creatures, etc.
Dinglehopper/Fork, and other Thingamabobs collected from above the sea
Showcasing her excited curiosity over the human world).
Her friends:
Flounder, the guppy (her bestie),
Sebastian, the crab (who tries to keep her head on straight and under the sea),
Scuttle, the seagull (who inspires her curiosity about the human world).
Song Lyrics/Titles and their related symbolism:
“Part of That World”, “Kiss the Girl”;
Her voice (which she used to use for singing, but gave up to Ursula for human legs).
Kiss The Girl Wildfox Sweater
I was so sad finding out this sweatshirt isn’t available on ShopStyle or the Wildfox website anymore…But i was able to track it down and there’s a few left, here, through this link (Not an affiliate link).
Accessories based off of items actually worn by her:
Shells, Green Scales, Rope, Blue Bow, Pearl Drop Earrings, Pearl Hairclips/Bobby Pins. Lilac sea-flower hairpiece, navy blue cocked hat, gold crown and wedding veil (Those last three are not currently listed in my ShopStyle links).
(What could possibly make it more clear that your outfit is inspired by her?)

Can you think of any other symbolic pieces?

Costume Design.

Color Schemes:

As mentioned earlier, to dress like Ariel, using her color scheme is a strong indication.

Ariel’s hair always really stands out, and it emphasizes her boldly strong-willed and playful personality, so i’ve included it in our discussion of her color schemes.

So, of course, her red hair is her most common color, found in all 6 outfits seen in the first movie.

Shades of green are found often and most brought to mind when we think of her colors: found on her fin and in the detailing of her wedding gown.

Purple: in her shell bra, and her formal gown from when King Triton allowed her to reunite with Prince Eric.

Pink was worn quite a bit: found in several shades in her first real human dress, and her pajamas.

Shades of sky blue, navy blue, and very light blue in the dress she wore on her day out with Eric.

Neutral colors of cream/beige/off-white in Scuttle’s sail dress design and her wedding gown.

And brown and black as the occasional accent color: found in the rope on her sail dress, and in her blue “Kiss The Girl” dress.

How to Dress Like Ariel The Little Mermaid Outfit Color Scheme 1
How to Dress Like Ariel The Little Mermaid Outfit Color Scheme 2
How to Dress Like Ariel The Little Mermaid Outfit Color Scheme 3
How to Dress Like Ariel The Little Mermaid Outfit Color Scheme 3.5 PJs
How to Dress Like Ariel The Little Mermaid Outfit Color Scheme 4
How to Dress Like Ariel The Little Mermaid Outfit Color Scheme 5
How to Dress Like Ariel The Little Mermaid Outfit Color Scheme 6

Textile and Patterns:

Since we can’t actually wear a real mermaid fin, it’s important to consider what kinds of materials can give off the magical feeling of a mythical sea creature. Scale prints scream “mermaid” like nothing else, and they are often printed on spandex giving a smooth touch, mermaid-like a slim fit, and freedom of movement. Textured leather could be another good choice in regards to emphasizing a scale-like look and feel, but it’s not as flexible so the uses would be limited. Sequins and other shimmery materials largely capture a sense of magic along with giving off a hint towards fish scales. And tulle is a typical, magical “princess fabric”, which could be especially great for accenting the idea of having a fin. Additionally, silks could be a good fabric for the smooth texture, if you’re desiring to dress like Ariel in something more luxuriously elegant.

Don’t forget to consider the use of the outfit.

How to Dress Like Ariel The Little Mermaid Outfit Textile Print Fabric Ideas 1
More Examples:

Ariel’s first dress was literally just a ship’s sail thrown over her and tied with rope. So, naturally, you should use a practical fabric, favorably one that would have been used for sailing: that would be either a cotton or linen. If you want to make it real simple for yourself, and super close to movie-accurate, throwing on a bedsheet and cinching it with rope or a leather belt would do well. Otherwise, a carefree-looking, preconstructed linen or cotton dress can be found, to give you the look and feel of her first dress without the impractical possibility of needing to readjust things to be sure your outfit doesn’t fall apart.

How to Dress Like Ariel The Little Mermaid Outfit Textile Print Fabric Ideas 2

Ballgowns were commonly made out of fabrics such as satin, silk, taffeta or velvet–Ariel’s pink dress doesn’t appear to have any sheen, though, and it holds its shape well, so i’d assume it would be best to use a thicker, matte fabric, such as velvet for the darker pink layer. I’d guess silk, cotton or flannel for the nightgown. I definitely wouldn’t doubt that Ariel’s wedding gown was probably silk as well.

It’s good to consider the use of the outfit: When Ariel went out for a tour of the kingdom, i wouldn’t doubt that dress would have been one made of a practical fabric so that it’s comfortable and sensible to wear on their busy and active day around town. Cotton, or maybe linen, is a fair choice.

How to Dress Like Ariel The Little Mermaid Outfit Textile Print Fabric Ideas 4

For Ariel’s glamorous dress, the way it sparkles is the highlight–So be it glitter, jewels, sequins, or whatnot: be sure it shines.

How to Dress Like Ariel The Little Mermaid Outfit Textile Print Fabric Ideas 5

Shapes, Forms, Silhouettes:

In general, Ariel’s looks are whimsical, romantic, and sweet. The shapes emphasize the delicate nature of a typical teenage girl, with elements that highlight her slender waist, either following and draping off of natural lines or contrasting them with larger shapes.

Here are the shapes and cuts that are most commonly worn by her, plus a few that are similar:

Ariel Shape Form Silhouette Colored
Similar Shapes and Cuts Terminology
Mermaid Tail.

– Similar: Mermaid/Fishtail Skirt, Trumpet (Both are tight at the top and eventually flare out, much like a mermaid tail…The Mermaid cut has a longer, slimmer look before flaring, while the Trumpet cut flares closer to the top.),

– High-low (This cut often has a hemline with a shape that’s reminiscent of a tail.),

– Bodycon (Similarly contouring, but without the look of a fin at the end).

Scoop Neck. Found 4 times in her Pink Gown, Town Dress, Nightgown, and Glamorous Dress.

– Similar: Off-Shoulder, Boatneck.

Sweetheart Neckline. Found 3  times in her Shell Top, Town Dress’ corset, and Wedding Gown.

– Similar: V-Neck, Straight.

Strapless. Found 3 times in her Shell Top, Town Dress’ corset, and Sail Dress.

– Similar: Spaghetti Strap.

Leg of Mutton Sleeve. Found 2 times in her Pink Gown, and Wedding Gown.

– Similar: Juliet, Puffed, Lantern, Bishop.

Bell-Shaped Ballgown Skirt. Found 2 times in 2 different styles: Looped/Draped Overskirt (Pink Gown), Split Overskirt (Wedding Gown).

A-line Skirt. Found 2 times in her Town Dress (tighter fitting A-line), and Nightgown (loose-fitting A-line).

– Similar: Fit and Flare, Princess Seam.

Shirt-Sleeve. Found 1 time in her Town Dress’ shirt.

– Similar: Bishop, French cuff.

Poet Sleeve. Found 1 time in her Nightgown.

– Similar: Layered, Bishop.

Sleeveless Cowl-Neck. Found 1 time in her Glamorous Dress.

– Similar: Asymmetric/One-Shoulder, Halter, Spaghetti Strap, Tank.

Asymmetrical Skirt. Found 1  time in her Glamorous Dress–The Sail Dress also has its own kind of asymmetrical hemline.

– Similar: Slit, High-Low.

Additionally notable: ALL of Ariel’s looks have long skirts.

Maxi Length. Found 4 times in her Town Dress, Sail Dress, Nightgown, and Glamorous Gown.

Floor Length. Found 2 times in her Pink Gown, and Wedding Gown–arguably, her Tail would also be floor-length.

Fun Fact!

Did you know that most of Ariel’s costume design was inspired by the first three Disney Princess’? So, if you want to dress like Ariel, you also have to dress a little bit like Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora! You can read more about it in this FanPop article and look at the examples which that writer provided in the pictures below:

How to Dress Like Ariel The Little Mermaid Outfit Shape Form Silhoutte Inspired by First Princesses 1 How to Dress Like Ariel The Little Mermaid Outfit Shape Form Silhoutte Inspired by First Princesses 2

Some Inspiration For You:

I’m so thankful to all the wonderful bloggers, artists, and Ariel-lovers that gave me permission to use their beautiful images displayed below! Be sure to click on the images to view fullscreen, and give your favorites a visit through their social media links.

Pretty cool how many different ways there are to dress like Ariel, right?!

Spot-on Costumes:

Especially Creative Cosplays and Crossovers:

Disney-Bounds and Inspired Outfits:

Did you like this post?

What are your favorite things about Ariel and her costumes?

Have you ever been able to dress like Ariel before?

Do you have any additional tips or thoughts you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

What character would you like to see next?

So far, i have requests for Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Mulan, and Sinon (Sword Art Online).

Here’s an infographic image you can share on Pinterest that summarizes

how to dress like Ariel:

Dressing Like Ariel Pinterest Graphic
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