Honoring Alice Davis: Legendary Disney Costume Designer

it\'s a small world Costumes designed by Alice Davis

This year I missed out on my annual tradition of profiling important women in Disney history for Women’s History Month. My March was very busy this year so I just didn’t have time to do the necessary research.

Luckily, the perfect profile has fallen into my lap. This month costume designer Alice Davis was honored on Disneyland’s Main Street, USA, as a new window in her honor was unveiled. Alice Davis isn’t a name you’ll hear much when talking about the movies; she only had involvement in a couple, including, “Sleeping Beauty.” Her stamp is much stronger on the Disney Parks.

Davis did costume design work for the animatronics for both the “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “It’s A Small World” attractions. She worked with Mary Blair, my Women’s History profile from last year, to design over 150 costumes for the children of the world at the latter attraction. She went on to work on now-defunct attractions like “Flight to the Moon” and “Carousel of Progress.”

Davis, then Alice Estes, got her start at Disney early. In 1947, when she was only 18 years old, she received a scholarship to attend the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, the well-known and revered training ground for Disney artists. There she met one of the Nine Old Men, Marc Davis, who was an instructor at the school.

She graduated from Chouinard and went into a career designing women’s lingerie. She rose in the ranks to Head Designer at Beverly Vogue & Fashion House in L.A., debuting two lines of fashion lingerie. Who knows where she might have gone, but then she got a call from her former instructor Marc Davis. He was working on “Sleeping Beauty,” and he needed help.

Davis and his crew were working on one of Aurora’s dance scenes, and they wanted to see how the skirt would fall about her body as she moved. He asked Estes to design a Sleeping-Beauty-style gown for Helene Stanley, Aurora’s body model, to wear. That was Estes’ first job at Disney; she next designed costumes for the 1960 Disney movie “Toby Tyler.” Her work on the movies led Walt Disney himself to call her up in 1963 to design costumes for attractions in the theme parks.

Estes got more than just legendary work out of her experience with Disney. In 1956 she married Marc Davis, and the window that she was given last week on Main Street USA is the one right next to Marc’s own honorary window. Disney site MousePlanet was there at the induction ceremony for Alice Davis’ honorary window on Main Street. The Dapper Dans hosted the proceedings, starting them up with a rousing song. Then the Pirates of the Caribbean came by. They heard Davis was in town, and they wanted some updated, fancier duds. They then launched into the song “She Put the Pants On Me.”

Next Mickey came by to present Davis with flowers and then a kiss. The greatest highlight of the event, however, was getting to see Davis’ reaction as she saw her own window unveiled beside her late husband’s. She’s quoted on MousePlanet: “After 83 years I got my wish. Because I came down Main Street and I would look up at Marc’s Window, and I would think the one next to it to him is not taken yet, so I would be wishing for it and wishing for it, and today the day has come, and I couldn’t be more happy, except in knowing for years both Marc and I have had the great pleasure of bringing great fun and joy to people, and that was the jewel of our hearts.”

Related Articles:

A Study in Princesses

The Surprisingly Strict Disney Dress Code

Stand Up for Yourself Already, Cinderella

The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World

Music and Movement: Entertainment at the Animal Kingdom

*(This image by Brian Marshall is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.)

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Angela Shambeda

About Angela Shambeda

Angela lives in southern Maryland with her husband and three rescue pets. She often talks her poor husband's ear off about various topics, including Disney, so she's excited to share her thoughts and passions with you.

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