The Costume Designer For 'Pretty In Pink' Finally Explains That Prom Dress

Marilyn Vance on how John Hughes' vision helped her develop Andie and Duckie's out-there styles.

You know there's going to be a lot of attention paid to style with a title like "Pretty in Pink."

And while John Hughes and Howard Deutch's 1986 film wasn't just about fashion, the iconic moments from the storyline were helped along by each character's look. If the love story of teenage outsider Andie and rich-kid Blane was what pulled viewers in, each character's personal style is part of what made the movie go from a nice flick to a cinematic time capsule, from good to great.

"Great," of course, isn't a word many would apply to Andie's lace and polka-dot creation -- constructed from her friend Iona's frock and a dress given to her by her father -- that she debuts just before heading to the pinnacle of all silver screen high schooler's lives: the prom. If you've forgotten it, let's refresh your memory.

"Oh, boy," costume designer Marilyn Vance said over the phone once I mentioned the interesting end result. "Molly [Ringwald, who played Andie] hated that dress. She wanted to be like the other girls, you know, in a strapless dress with kind of a full skirt."

The character of Andie, however, wouldn't have been able to afford a dress like most of the other girls at school -- nor would one truly suit her persona.

Vance explained how she could have followed the era's trends, like big shoulders, but chose not to. "I just went in the other direction," she explained. "I didn't want to date anything." Thirty years later, it's not hard to imagine the visuals of "Pretty in Pink" fitting in a Brooklyn or Portland neighborhood, or in the nostalgic-cool feeling of current films like "Dope." It's the timeless visuals that make re-watching it feel like a classic black dress instead of a woefully unwearable homecoming affair.

"Pretty in Pink" or backstage at a DIY venue in Williamsburg?
"Pretty in Pink" or backstage at a DIY venue in Williamsburg?
Paramount Pictures

"I won't say that I was in love with it," said Vance, noting that the design was specifically for Andie, and wasn't meant to be a run-of-the-mill gown. "But that's not the character. The character was so original. She had a mind of her own, she marched to a different drummer."

"I said, 'This is Molly! I can't just give her a prom dress.'" she continued. "So, anyway, John [Hughes] came in and said, 'It's the character. That's it.' There she was."

Deutch, the film's director, recalls the unveiling of the dress. "I think the studio didn't like it when they saw it," he told The Huffington Post's Lauren Moraski. However, he had worked with Vance on previous projects and "trusted her always." As he explained, "It wasn't supposed to be a designer couture thing. It was supposed to be something she put together herself."

To create the look, Vance mixed and matched a few dresses before settling on the final dress. The high neck was inspired by Andie's black top of a similar style -- one she's wearing, and touches thoughtfully, while sketching the final outcome. "I tried to put the story together: How did she come up with that gown?" Vance explained.

Something more universally adored was Andie's best friend Duckie's (Jon Cryer) general style, complete with blazers, vests, bolo ties and hats. "I was very involved in the music business as well, and very much into the British music," said Vance, noting that sometimes Hughes would play the crew original music in order to set a scene.

Duckie's look, essentially, is that of a "Teddy boy." "His character is the whole fashion," Vance explained, "It's very kind of rock 'n' roll." Rolling up Duckie's sleeves and adding an Army patch to his jacket were two subtle ways Vance helped "make it his own."

This is a really volcanic ensemble you're wearing, Duckie.
This is a really volcanic ensemble you're wearing, Duckie.
Paramount Pictures

Both Andie and Duckie were teens from the lower-class side of the tracks, which meant they had to express themselves using what little resources they had. "They really didn't have a lot of money, but they had a lot of style," Vance said. "They had feelings and used them. They had feelings, and were sensitive. As opposed to the other folk."

The other folk, naturally were Blane & co., representative of the aspirational J. Crew vibes of the wealthier late '80s set. "I dressed all the other kids in kind of beige and light blue," Vance said. "Khakis, whites. I tried to do that, not to make it obvious but to kind of ... to really register in your head what you're seeing, without going 'Oh, they're the rich ones!' You gotta be subtle." Andie and Duckie didn't just stand out socially: at a glance, their loud prints and unconventional styling literally set them apart from the crowd.

Her favorite scene -- "I got to say, that's one of my favorite things ever" -- is Duckie's dance in the record store where Andie and Iona work. "Jon Cryer is so not that character -- he pulled it off," Vance said. "The most incredible thing that I've ever pulled off, in my life, is getting him in that wardrobe."

Hughes' involvement in the film served as a muse of sorts for Vance. "John Hughes is such a wonderful storyteller. You know, it just dances in your head, the visuals," she said. "He was one of a kind as a person. Like a big kid, but at the same time, a grown man."

It was this storytelling, and Vance's costume design, that helped the film become a classic to return to time and time again. That's why we'll always love "Pretty in Pink," even if it did awaken some viewers to heinous injustices:

"Pretty in Pink" is available now on Digital HD.

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