Film Fashion & Character Development: Maria in The Sound of Music (1965)

Movies, in part, rely on costumes to tell the story. Let’s discover what clothes tell us about Maria in the family-friendly classic musical Rodgers & Hammerstein's The Sound Of Music (1965).

The costumes for this film were designed by Dorothy Jeakins, a freelance designer who worked in theater and film for over 30 years. Some of her credits include those in The Music Man, Titanic (1953) & South Pacific. Her work in Sound was nominated for the Academy Award that year.

The Sound Of Music is set in 1930s Austria just before and during the Nazi invasion . But before that, the film follows the story of a young lady named Maria, played by Julie Andrews.

We first see Maria atop a mountain wearing a very functional black dress with a full skirt. The kind of dress you can run in or get soiled without much dirt showing. She’s wearing an apron with pockets which tells you she’s a lady who works with her hands. Does she work all day in her own house? Is she employed outside of her house? We don’t know yet.

The black stockings with black shoes tell you that this lady has a conservative sense of fashion. Trendy women had abandoned black stockings about 10 or 15 years earlier . As skirt hems rose, attention to stockings and shoes became fashionable, and stylish ladies wore flesh-toned leg coverings. Maria seems to be a person who is not concerned with the current fads.

She hears church bells chiming out the time, and suddenly remembers an appointment. Then she picks up her wimple, revealing her occupation - she is a postulate at a local abbey.

The sisters are concerned that this loquacious, absent-minded, young lady is not an asset to the organization, so the Mother Abbess gives her an assignment outside of the abbey walls; Maria will be a governess for the Von Trapp family. On her way to the new assignment, Maria again wears a casual look that emphasizes her socio-economic status as well as her child-like characteristics.

"The poor didn‘t want this one."

Our heroine is wearing neutral colors - a khaki jacket on top of a shapeless grey dress, with a pleated a-line skirt that is reminiscent of school girl uniforms . The black stockings and boots make their appearance again. These solid colors and coarse fabrics suggest thrift. The garments seem to have been cobbled together from different outfits, which is perfect for this unpretentious character who gets her worldly clothes from the poor box.

The only dash of color in the outfit is atop her head in what looks like a red leather Breton hat. It reminds one of Madeline, the French school girl of the popular book of the same name from 1939.
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

This style of hat is sometimes used in certain period movies to showcase a character’s innocence. Maybe it’s because it’s usually positioned at the back of the head like a halo.

Honestly, in this outfit her struggle with the Von Trapp’s entrance gate makes her look about 5 years old.

When Maria finally meets her 7 little charges, she looks like the 8th Von Trapp offspring -not the best impression to make when you’re trying to establish authority. Even the aloof captain Georg Von Trapp finds her outfit out of place and makes a few choice comments.

Brigitta:" I think your dress is the ugliest one I ever saw."

Maria mentions that she has no experience in her new job of keeping children and the kids take advantage of that fact. Of course, the wardrobe helps strip away any clout she has over them.

Later that evening, Maria is in her night gown trying to calm the children who are afraid of the storm outside.

You could say that the white night gown shows innocence, as they sing about cream-colored ponies and snow drops, but it’s also like a blank slate. Her rocky relationship with the children gets a reboot in this scene. And her journey away from childhood and towards adulthood gets a jolt of energy as well.

In the subsequent scenes where the children are free to play for the first time in ages, Maria has abandoned her black stockings and button-up boots, and instead sports skin-toned stockings and shoes.

We also start to see more color in her outfits.

At this point, Maria now wears a light scarf or nothing at all on her head instead of that childish halo hat. Taking care of the kids seems to make this governess less juvenile.

Meanwhile, the widowed Captain Von Trapp goes off to court the gorgeous and also widowed Baroness Schrader.

A couple of gorgeous, well-dressed adults

Unlike Maria, the Baroness always looks put together, elegant, and consistently sports perfectly -coiffed hair. She is a self-possessed adult and has a most fabulous, to-die-for wardrobe.

However, Baroness Schrader does not seem to like children , and the Von Trapp children do not like her.

Well, maybe a little.

Her heels and delicate fabrics prevent her from doing all the things she would need to do to play with the kids.

When the children put on a puppet show, Maria wears light-weight fabric that helps her move along with the kids as they manipulate the marionettes. The dress compliments her thin frame and is in a greenish blue that contrasts well with her coloring and her strawberry blonde hair.

However, the fact that the dress has fluttery handkerchief sleeves and is tea-length like the girls’ dresses, instead of floor length like Baroness Schrader’s lovely frock, clothes-wise Maria is aligned with the juvenile crowd and not the adults. You’ll see that a lot in this film.

Maria's hemline mirrors that of the children.

When Captain Von Trapp throws a party for the baroness, the blonde bombshell is dressed to the nines in a golden floor-length sheath that suits the elegant ballroom of the Von Trapp house.

A sophisticated candy floss of a dress. Simply gorgeous.

This gown is the stuff that fairy tales are made of. If King Midas married the Queen of Spun Sugar, their kid would weave the material for this dress. The Baroness belongs among the splendor with the Captain, who looks handsome and distinguished in his tuxedo and medals.

They belong together. Or do they?

They represent refinement. Maria, on the other hand, is out in the gardens looking in with the kids. She wears a very practical light weight day dress and seems to represent raw, natural or innocent things. Here Maria emerges from the greenery.

The captain comes out of his ballroom.

They meet on the patio - where indoors and out of doors, refined and raw, intertwine. And they dance,

and dance

and dance.

Well, this complicates things! Will Maria and the Captain marry? Or will the Captain go back to the Baroness?

Choosing between nature woman and refined lady

Back to the ball, the Captain’s best friend invites Maria to the party as a guest after the children have gone to bed. And there is comment on her wardrobe again.

In a Cinderella -like bit, Maria goes to her room but cannot find a dress for the ball. The real problem in this scene is what to do now that she’s discovered her attraction for an (almost) engaged man.

The Baroness - " Now where is that lovely little thing that you were wearing the other evening ... when the Captain couldn't keep his eyes off you?"

More than her slip is showing in the Baroness’ presence here. So, like a fairytale princess, she runs away from the ball.

After a brief stint at the abbey, our heroine is sent back to the Von Trapps, where we see a more mature Maria and a more mature outfit. Maria wears a traveling dress that a recent postulate has just given up. The outfit is a form-fitting sheath with matching belt. No halo hat.

Mature Maria!

This is definitely a more age-appropriate look for Maria, with a simple design that still fits the character’s unpretentious sensibilities. The verdant outfit is a lovely contrast with her hair, and seems almost as if our leading lady has plucked herself right out of the vibrant greenery around her.

Nature woman!

Maria ’s wardrobe will continue to show her poise throughout the rest of the film, as the Baroness, knowing she’s licked, goes home, and Maria and the Captain declare their mutual love, finally.

Then. Comes. The Wedding.

This is Maria’s butterfly moment fashion-wise and in terms of character development. She’s no longer the awkward girl-like figure prancing into the Von Trapp family’s world. Here, she is solemn, graceful, she is in command and she’s clearly a woman. The wedding gown’s cathedral train compliments the setting. It’s a grand dress without being ostentatious. It’s subtle and its simplicity matches Maria’s straightforward personality.

An absolutely stunning outfit

Had the story allowed her to wear an elegant gown at the Captain’s party, this wedding scene, might not have been as powerful, and her transition into complete adulthood perhaps not as noticeable.

Walking through the gate, Maria steps into another role in life.

By the end of the film, Maria is a fullfledged adult, who winds up with the love of her life, the respect of the children and a decent wardrobe.

Funny that some of the things that cause trouble for her at the beginning - running around on a mountain, enjoying nature, and not really caring much about clothes - help save their lives at the end of the film. I mean, can you see the Baroness escaping from Nazis over a mountain into Switzerland on foot? Not in those heels. Maria is exactly where she can be of the greatest help, and she has the proper clothes with which to handle life's challenges.


  1. Wow! Great post!! I loved seeing the progression slowed down like that - very neat!

    By the way, I really love your header!

  2. Thank you, Sally.

    The characters talk about Maria's 2nd dress so much that I began to notice all of her dresses. Then I noticed a distinct pattern for Maria.

    It's wonderful when the movies you love just keep surprising you.

    Thanks for stopping by

  3. Awsome post. One of my all time favorites. Great job.

  4. I loved this post very much, but I especially loved the line at the end about picturing the Baroness trying to climb the Alps to escape to freedom! Hilarious! It's great to see someone appreciating the varied looks of both ladies. Thanks!

  5. Poseidon,
    Your blog posts have a great amount of detail, which I absolutely love! I'm currently on a Suzanne Pleshette marathon of sorts, so your reviews of her film performances have me champing at the bit to get my hands on a copy of those movies. Well done!

    Thanks for dropping in.

    -- JAVA

  6. My Aunt, Dorothy Jeakins, did the costumes for "Sound of Music". I asked her one time, "What was your favorite Costume you ever designed." She said, "The blue dress Maria danced in on the patio in "Sound of Music".

  7. Anonymous,

    Thanks for sharing that memory! If you have any other stories you would like to tell us, please feel free.

    I see that you have already viewed our Quote of the Day by Dorothy Jeakins. Thanks for commenting there as well.

    - Java

    1. Did you know Dorothy Jeakins designed Lucille Ball's wardrobe for 'I Love Lucy?' One day - before the start of filming for a new season - Dorothy drove out to Lucy's house to show her some sketches. As they were sitting beside the pool, Lucy's daughter - then only a few years old - fell into the pool and Dorothy saved her life by jumping in and rescuing her. So Lucie Arnaz has Dorothy Jeakins to thank for saving her life!

    2. Greg May,

      Thanks for that information. Didn't know this designer had a Lucy affiliation. Great contribution!

      -- JAVA


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