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Lights, Camera, Fashion: Pretty Woman, November 2013

This book’s got a new cover…


Oh the 1990’s… Forget the fashions we’d rather not talk about -cartoon leggings, scrunchies, and THE worst tracksuits imaginable – put it down to childhood experience and absorb some true 90’s fashion in style with 1990 hit, Pretty Woman.

Yes, it’s a Cinderella story with romantic rumble of rags to riches, but beneath the glossy exterior there’s a gem to be had. 20 years on and the film’s as trendy as the day Roberts donned that wig and stepped into those boots; transforming the Vivian Ward from last-chance prostitute, to lady of elegance as if by the grace of a glass slipper.

This realisation of fortune doesn’t come easily, but costume designer Marilyn Vance-Staker accomplished the task with a swift flair of ingenuity that stapled society’s perceptions of the lines between wealth and poverty at the fringe of the 21st century.

A designer with a keen eye for feminine flair and loyalty to narrative requirements, Vance-Straker plucks Vivian from her less than conventional lifestyle to a woman graced in high society, but it was her dedication to knowing Vivian’s character inside out and her dedicated realisation of the script that gave her the character depth that gets us rooting for her.

Robert’s adorned a style so strong that even the public were judgemental of her appearance, making even her feel uneasy, stating during an interview during filming, “Just wearing that dress was awful!” Roberts said at the time. “I’d get catcalls and stupid remarks from guys on the street when we’d be doing exteriors. It wasn’t fun at all. I felt so offended. I don’t get that in real life.”

While Vivian could be defined as being loose in personality yet tight in her clothing style, it is only through her encounter with Edward Lewis and turn of luck that her modest demeanour and sweet nature begin to reflect in the feminine appearance she adopts. Prior to her makeover, Vivian’s look is defined by vinyl boots and lycra, but while the flesh was a plenty, her rough and ready style flowed into a polished working of a style probably not too dissimilar to popular clothing worn today – excluding Miley Cyrus…


A style imitated by many but worn by none, Vivian’s hip mix comprised a style not so different to Madonna’s 80’s trademark look. Channelling a blonde bob, smoky makeup, red lips, white tank top and chunky bracelets, Vivian’s appearance is a collaboration of many inspirations through the times, channelled into a street style workable for the LA streets.

Having to balance the demands of the director with her intuition for costume design, Vance-Staker had her work cut out. Having tailor-made the ring dress and twinned them to a pair of long vinyl boots from a shop in Chelsea, a creative conflict arose when director Gary Marshall decided he wanted her in heels throughout the film, not the iconic boots. As history goes, Vance told him a strict ‘No!’, and the only heels in appearance are for one later scene on Rodeo Drive. Voila!

Vivian’s cut out link dress has been revived countless times since its heyday here but it never fails to age. Yet despite the flirty connotations of the dress, it actually comes from a classier inspiration of Marilyn Monroe’s ring link bathing suit from the 60’s, completed by some heavy alterations. “The skirt wasn’t denim, but a stretchy fabric which I dyed.”


Welcomed into Edward’s lifestyle, Vivian observes the changes in attitude her appearance can bring and begins to alter her look not for the sole purpose of other people, but primarily for herself. Vance Staker observed her character’s style as “Vivian, the hooker, is very smart. We first see her in so much stuff, with piles of jewellery, the boots and hat. She then comes across this guy who is very simple looking, clean, nothing gaudy, and she picks up on this and pairs it down. She is smart enough to see this, and that is how she begins to dress.”


Debuting her new-found demure style for a trip to a polo match, who’d have known Vivian’s brown polka dot dress would have been such a score? Understated and a classic styling of feminine charm, Vance-Staker created the dress from silk found in a fabric warehouse  of West Hollywood. 

“I went over there to search for fabric, but couldn’t find anything that was right. I begged the guy to go into the basement where I knew they kept these really great pieces. Finally he let me, and there was this incredible piece of silk, but just enough for one dress. I fell in love with the colour, as it really went with her hair and eyes. I first created a simpler ballerina length, and if we went with that she would wear the Chanel flats. But if we did knee length, then she would wear the Chanel heal and we would have fabric left for the hat.” she says.

Vivian’s black, scoop collar dress is simply beautiful, capturing her exuberance for fun and her daring personality in one perfect compliment to her character and grace. Adding to the dark tone with another dash of black, Vivian makes no attempt to stand out, which is exactly how she prefers it to be.

“I had gold and black lace, and I tried out different under colours – black, nude, gold – before deciding on black. I cut out the neckline to fall on the shoulders, as this opened out the neckline, which was more flattering on Julia’s narrow shoulders,” says Vance-Staker. “They copied it in the garment district, and I wish I had a dollar for every copy they sold.”


The most momentous scene however, and the event that defines the difficulty she encountered for her appearance comes when she returns to the shopping district she had previously visited on an initial meeting with Edward. Having worn her link dress with her tummy showing, Vivian was met with distaste by the store attendants and forced to cover up in embarrassment at the revulsion of them.

Yet upon her return as a finely dressed lady, the same attendants (it should be noted) happily welcome her now her appearances reflect a status they approve. In a gracious move, Vivian simply breezes past them, quoting “Big mistake, big, huge. I have to go shopping now.”

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