Immediately after seeing The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, I decided to recreate Arwen’s Mourning Gown. It was the one costume that really stood out to me, even among all the gorgeous costumes in the movie. Partly, it’s the most classically gothic outfit in the two movies so far. Of course I wanted to be a goth elf!
But even more than that, I love this costume as a symbol of the tragic romance between Arwen and Aragorn. Her fate is not kind, but she chooses it out of love. The doomed pairing of Elf and Man has resonated with me since I first read the tale as a child. To see it come to life on the big screen was magical, and I wanted to bring it to life in my own wardrobe.
This was not a costume intended for a specific event. I figured I could wear it to BayCon, at the very least. I will probably wear it when the next movie comes out in December 2003. And PEERS has a Tolkien-themed ball scheduled for early 2004, so I may get to wear this outfit a few times.
On this site is far, far too much detail about the process of making this gown. It’s the first actual recreation costume I’ve ever made. All my previous costuming has been purely creative ideas, visions out of my head. Even with historical costume, I’ve never sought to imitate a specific portrait or somesuch. But this one truly spoke to me. After finishing it, I realized recreation costuming has a unique set of challenges that are enjoyable to try and meet. So I have plans for at least one more recreation — another LotR, of course!
The Scene in the Lord of the Rings Books and Movie
Peter Jackson lifted the whole story of Aragorn and Arwen from the appendices of The Return of the King and put it in his movie version of Lord of the Rings. Purists may complain, but I think it’s wonderful. And hey, it still is Tolkien’s story, so it’s not like PJ invented it 😉
In the movie Two Towers, after Aragorn’s presumed death when he dreams of Arwen, there is a sequence between Arwen and Elrond. Her father tells her how she will be alone if she chooses to stay in Middle Earth with Aragorn. She is an immortal elf, Aragorn is a mortal man. The elves are leaving Middle Earth to sail westward to the Undying Lands. Elrond is leaving and wants his daughter to join him. In the first movie, she said her choice was to take a mortal life with Aragorn. In the second movie, it appears that she recants on this choice. But if you’ve read the book, you know this isn’t how it turns out.
In Appendix A, part v, The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen, Arwen stayed and married Aragorn when he became King of Gondor and Arnor after the final War of the Ring…
The Third Age ended thus in victory and hope; and yet grievous among the sorrows of that Age was the parting of Elrond and Arwen, for they were sundered by the Sea and by a doom beyond the end of the world. When the Great Ring was unmade and the Three were shorn of their power, then Elrond grew weary at last and forsook Middle Earth, never to return. But Arwen became as a mortal woman, and yet it was not her lot to die until all that she had gained was lost.
As Queen of Elves and Men she dwelt with Aragorn for six-score years in great glory and bliss; yet at last he felt the approach of old age and knew that the span of his life-days was drawing to an end, long though it had been…
Going to the House of the Kings in the Silent Street, Aragorn laid him down on the long bed that had been prepared for him… Then all left him save Arwen, and she stood alone by his bed. And for all her wisdom and lineage she could not forebear to plead with him to stay yet for a while. She was not yet weary of her days, and thus she tasted the bitterness of the mortality that she had taken upon her.
In the movie of The Two Towers, this scene is shown as Elrond tells Arwen of her future loneliness. This flash-forward shows Aragorn laid on his death bier with Arwen standing beside him in the long black gown with a long black veil and her crown as Queen of Gondor and Arnor. This is the costume I made, and this story is why I wanted to make it.
Research on the Movie’s Mourning Gown
This is a long, fitted gown with a full, draping skirt that has a bit of a train in back, and it has very long, full sleeves — all vaguely Medieval in style (but the movie designs are not strictly historical). It appears to be made entirely of black velvet and has a heavy gold/black trim over a red backing that lines the low neckline. The same trim is repeated right above the elbows, before the sleeves flare out. There is a row of small gold buttons (which don’t appear to be functional) from the neck to the waist, and a narrow, red fabric sash is tied at the waist. The gown is worn with a long, black chiffon veil over her head, and the veil is held on by an etched gold crown.
In addition to the TTT movie, I saw this gown in a behind-the-scenes TV show (the one on the WB, which was also shown on another channel; I watched it both times ;-). This showed Liv Tyler, backstage at a photo shoot, wearing the Mourning Gown. The footage showed her from about the knees up, so I could view most of the gown. This is what I made my full-length sketch from. Also, the second time I saw the movie, I took a notepad and a tiny flashlight so I could sketch right there. In particular, I looked for details about Arwen’s crown, as well as things like how long the gown’s sleeves and the veil were. I cleaned the crown sketches up in PhotoShop.
There is a small, full-length picture of the costume in the LotR Photo Guide — it’s an Arwen sticker in the back of this children’s book. A friend was kind enough to give me her sticker, and I scanned it for the top picture on this page. Many websites have the close-up portrait of this gown, which is perfect for getting the trim and neckline detail.
- LotR Costume research page (tons of info. and more picture links)
- from Lovely Liv Tyler:
Fan sites from LotR_Costume:
- Maggie‘s exhaustive Mourning Gown study (second only to ACS!)
- Jessica’s Mourning Gown
- Naira’s Mourning Gown
- Donna’s costume gallery including her Mourning Gown
- Brandyleaf‘s Mourning Gown
- Kristen‘s Mourning Gown study and experiments
- Kat’s sketch of Arwen’s Mourning Gown
The real thing:
The LotR Costume site added a page of photos from the FIDM exhibit of actual costumes from the movie. Included are several pictures of the actual Arwen’s Mourning Gown.
Updated after finishing the costume: Looking at these photos, I think I got pretty darn close in my recreation. The original is blue velvet, but it looks black in the movie, and that’s what counts to me. The trim is much fancier, of course. The red sash is a little wider than I made mine, but it looked narrow in the earlier pictures. The sleeves and train are longer, but I purposefully made mine shorter for practicality’s sake (also because I didn’t have a ton of fabric ;-). The shape of the sleeves is a bit more full than mine too, but I don’t think they’re circles — more like the pointed shape I made mine in. All in all, my gown is very true to the original.