Whoever said orange was the new pink was seriously disturbed. Pink remains one of the most beloved colors in costume design and is worn in so many pivotal and iconic scenes in Hollywood history. Whether it perfectly underscores a character’s introduction, transformation, or triumph, pink is the color of champions.
The use of color in film can have a vast array of meanings and be used in clever ways to stir the emotions of the viewer. Pink has been associated with everything from romance to innocence to playfulness, but especially femininity. Let’s take a look at the decision-making behind the most famous pink dresses in cinema history and the psychology behind the color. Specifically, those pink dresses that played a crucial role in the storytelling of a movie, have become iconic in their own right, or were completely unexpected and original costuming choices. Spoilers ahead but you already knew that!
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Even if you haven’t seen this movie you know this iconic pink column gown from Marilyn Monroe’s famous number “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” In this romantic comedy, two show girls with different approaches to marriage—one will do it for the money, the other for looks—head for Paris on a transatlantic cruise and encounter several mishaps along the way. The epic pink look took on a life of its own and inspired countless reproductions and homages, most famously in Madonna’s “Material Girl” music video. A little-known fact: The gown was actually plan B! The original design, made by legendary costume designer William Travilla, was a jewel-encrusted showgirl outfit, which the Hollywood sensors deemed too risqué. With only two days left until filming, Travilla whipped up this replacement and the rest is history!
Even going from west coast sorority girl to law student at Harvard, from privileged to professional, Elle retains her sense of self and passion for the color pink. Surrounded by stuffy professionals, Elle never compromises her personal style thanks to costume designer Sophie de Rakoff. She has a highly covetable wardrobe of feminine pink looks worn throughout the movie, but let’s focus on her unique riff on the “power suit” at the end when she defies expectations and wins her first case. She was her most true self at this moment with a bright pink dress and light pink details. The film is incredibly rewatchable due in part to its costumes that still hold up today.
Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion
If you’re sensing a pattern here, you’re right. Pink looks great on blondes. Mona May, the visionary behind the costumes of Clueless, designed these two looks. At their 10-year reunion, Romy and Michele decide to confront their high school bullies and change their perceptions by making up a crazy story about how they invented Post-Its. The two dresses were both shiny, low-cut and simple, but are worn very differently by the two women. The pink one appears on Michele played by Lisa Kudrow, and reflects her sexy, fun character. The dresses both shined on camera signifying the girls’ newfound confidence in themselves after they ditched the lie, determined to have a good night. May clearly designed the outfits with the word “iconic” in mind.
Pretty in Pink
Eighties darling Molly Ringwald starred in this coming-of-age drama about a teenage outcast caught in a love triangle between her best friend and a rich, popular boy at school. The final scene at prom is one of the film’s most memorable, mostly due to Ringwald’s thrifted and reconstructed ensemble. The pink polka-dot dress is still a divisive issue among fans and at the time, Ringwald hated it! Costume designer Marilyn Vance has said the reasoning behind the creation was that she didn’t want to date the dress by incorporating ‘80s trends like big shoulders and knew the character wouldn’t have been able to afford a run-of-the-mill prom dress anyway. I, for one, love it and think it perfectly represents Ringwald’s character, originality, and unique sense of style! Who said redheads can’t wear pink?
No one puts Baby in a corner. We all known this line from the most epic dance movie ever with the greatest lift of all time! In this film, Baby spends the summer at a resort where she meets and falls in love with a dance instructor who introduces her to this exciting world. The understated, character-driven costumes were designed by Hilary Rosenfeld. The pink finale dress was a culmination of her transformation from quiet good girl to a woman who craved the attention of an audience. The look perfectly represents the character: not too sexy, simple, and perfect for the time period. Rosenfeld still gets emails from fans all over the globe asking where they can buy that dress!
Crazy Rich Asians
This pale pink Christian Dior served as Astrid’s introduction to this hit romcom. Instantly, you know her character is about to do some serious damage at that high-end jewelry store. You immediately notice her sophistication, elegance, and grace from the clean lines of her high shawl collar and drop waist. The dress was expertly paired with Dior sunglasses and Chopard earrings by costume designer Mary E. Vogt. Certainly, it was Astrid’s most glamourous look and I would go as far as to say the best look of the movie—which is saying something for a film with so many head-to-toe designer looks!
Carrie isn’t like other girls. She’s a lonely outcast with telekinetic powers and when she’s pushed over the edge on prom night all Hell breaks loose, literally. Rosanna Norton impeccably designed all the costumes for this horror flick. In the beginning, Carrie wears dowdy, unflattering clothes that emphasize her innocence, which makes her sophisticated pale pink prom dress all the more impactful. It’s timeless, unembellished, and an act of defiance against her abusive, religious fanatic mother who forbids her from wearing such a sinfully revealing dress. It can be interpreted as representing her sexual awakening and growing confidence, yet still retains a sense of vulnerability. Her joyous prom moment is abruptly cut short when a merciless prank by school bullies drenches her in pig’s blood and thus begins her killing spree. It’s certainly horror’s most iconic fashion moment.
10 Things I Hate About You
The ‘90s was a big time for teen dramas. In this reimagining of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, it’s love at first sight when the new guy Cameron first lays eyes on popular girl Bianca. To get around her father’s strict rules of dating—Bianca can only date if her sister Kat does too—he enlists the help of bad boy Patrick to win Kat’s heart. 10 Things had so many memorable scenes (hello Heath Leger’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” serenade from the bleachers!), but Bianca’s prom outfit is what steals my attention. Bianca’s style is very feminine and girly, and she’s often seen in pink. For prom, her pink crop top and matching tulle skirt were the culmination of her romance with Cameron; signifying her most romantic self, according to costume designer Kimberly A. Tillman. The look was fun and playful and was actually filmed unfinished! Look closely and you’ll see how big the top looks when Bianca’s in the house, but at prom it fits perfectly.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
The fourth installment of the Harry Potter series deals with the titular hero as he must fight to survive the epic magical contest that is the Triwizard Tournament. In the film, there is a traditional Christmas celebration held for students from Wizarding schools in conjunction with the Triwizard Tournament, called the Yule Ball, where we see our favorite characters dressed in their best (or absolute worst in Ron’s case). Hermione is the most enchanting of all in an elegant gown with layers of graduated, colored panels in shades of pink finished with a bow design at the waist. Among her classmates and friends, there was an idea that Hermione was a bookworm and one of the boys, but this gown made them look at her in a new light, as more feminine thanks to costuming by Jany Temime.
Coming to America
The classic Eddie Murphy comedy follows Prince Akeem of the fictional African country Zamunda as he goes undercover to find a suitable wife in Queens, New York. The movie features one of the most memorable pink dresses in cinema history—and it was a wedding dress! Costume designer Deborah Landis felt a rosy pink instead of traditional white would complement the skin tone of actress Shari Headley, who played Prince Akeem’s love interest Lisa McDowell, better. To this day Landis still gets messages from fans of the movie asking if she can recreate the dress for their wedding!
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
This film is practically required viewing for every fashionista. Holly Golightly is a superficial yet complex socialite and call girl whose mission in life is to marry rich. When a young man moves into her apartment building, that plan is complicated. Her wardrobe is mostly made up of LBDs with the occasional beige bed sheet for entertaining, but this hot pink ensemble was definitely a standout. Golightly wears this pop of color in a pivotal scene when she gets devastating news about her brother’s death. The dress was designed by Audrey Hepburn’s longtime collaborator Givenchy and was actually studded with green rhinestones. How unexpected!
The Wizard of Oz
Renowned costume designer known monomonously as Adrian designed the costumes for this ‘30s classic. In the original book, Glinda’s gown is white, but to account for the harsh Technicolor lights on set, Adrian redesigned it in a dusty rose to avoid a strong glow. The puffed shoulders were meant to resemble an angel’s wings. The light rose color was a perfect choice for the Good Witch to look ethereal and graceful.
My Fair Lady
Audrey Hepburn dons this frothy confection in the final scene of My Fair Lady. By this time, the former Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle is officially a lady and has realized she has formed a strong bond with her phonetics professor Henry Higgins. The costumes for the film including this pale pink ensemble with matching hat and boa were created by famed costume designer Cecil Beaton. It perfectly represents Eliza’s new sense of self and her coming life as a sophisticated lady.
What a Way to Go!
A masterpiece of camp, What a Way to Go! was designed by legendary costume designer Edith Head. The film was allocated a budget equivalent of $4 million today for costumes and it clearly went to good use with the massive amount of intricate gowns featured in the production. If you’re not familiar with this star-studded ‘60s flick featuring Shirley MacLaine, it’s a hilarious tale of a four-time widow whose four marriages were all cut short by her husbands’ desire to be rich. The pink dress in question is shrouded in a matching floor-length chinchilla fur and topped off with an elaborate pink wig. Everything in the character’s life is pink at this point on her fourth marriage (to a man named Pinky) and she is unexpectedly widowed again in this scene. The film saved her most over-the-top look for last and it definitely sticks in viewers’ minds after the conclusion.
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