As 'Pretty in Pink' Turns 30, the Costume Designer Revisits Those Hip Signature Looks — Including the Prom Dress!

Andrew McCarthy, Molly Ringwald, and Jon Cryer (Paramount)

Of all the John Hughes teen movies released in the 1980s, Pretty in Pink is the one with the most clearly defined, cutting-edge sense of style. The story of Andie (Molly Ringwald), a smart, stylish girl from the wrong side of the tracks, her quirky best friend Duckie (Jon Cryer), and the rich kid, Blane (Andrew McCarthy) who falls for her, it had a soundtrack overflowing with New Wave songs by artists like New Order and Echo and the Bunnymen and a fashion sensibility ripped right from the racks of an ultra-hip vintage shop. The aesthetic of Pretty in Pink was basically MTV’s 120 Minutes, before MTV’s 120 Minutes existed. (Actually, the movie was released on Feb. 28, 1986, just 10 days before the late-night block of alternative music videos — which featured the kinds of artists found on the Pretty in Pink soundtrack and catered to kids who probably dressed like Andie or Duckie — debuted on MTV.)

Howard Deutch directed Pretty in Pink, but Hughes — who wrote the screenplay and executive produced — originally envisioned its look and feel. And from a fashion standpoint, it was his longtime costume designer Marilyn Vance who brought that vision to life.

Related: ‘Pretty in Pink’ Returning to Theaters, Teases Look at 'Duckie Love’ Ending

“He would have me come over and we would talk about character,” Vance says of Hughes. “You just would sit with him, and he would tell the story of this character and how she lived and what her father was like and drop in a song that I never heard before. From England! He had people from A&M Records, I guess, really floating to get him the sounds that were not even happening here yet, but were so instrumental, I think, in making that movie work.”

Those sounds and Hughes’s guidance were also instrumental in Vance’s costume work, which, on the eve of Pretty in Pink’s 30th anniversary and its re-release in theaters on Feb. 14 and 17, she was all too happy to discuss.

“I relate personally to this film,” says the Brooklyn native, who grew up, like Andie, without a lot of money, but with an enormous amount of creativity when it came to fashion.

“My mother was buying me clothing, and I hated her taste,” she recalls. “But I never wanted to hurt her feelings. So I would go to my room and cut everything up and remake it. I taught myself how to do that.”

It was a skill that would serve her well when she was designing Ringwald’s famous DIY prom dress — a dress that Vance says Ringwald hated at the time — as well as some of the other quirky fashions that add so much pastel color (and brooches, bangle bracelets and bolo ties.) Here are some of Vance’s recollections about dressing the key characters from Pretty in Pink, and, yes, about that prom dress, too.

Blane and Andie on their first date (Everett)

Andie

Andie’s style was aggressively retro and, as the character herself notes in the opening moments of the movie, cobbled together from thrift stores and things she made herself. Vance took the same approach when pulling together Ringwald’s ensembles. The skirt-and-blouse set that Andie wears on her first date with Blane (see above), for example, was based on a look from the 1930s, but made by Vance and her team.

“The gray outfit — the top and the skirt, with the long necklace and the pearls and everything — that was fabric I went out and bought,” Vance remembers.

Duckie in his rockabilly-inspired outfit with his signature shoes (Everett)

Duckie

It took some coaxing to persuade Jon Cryer that Duckie’s quirky blazers, suspenders and omnipresent hats would work in the context of the film.

“As a person, he was sweet as can be, but totally, you know, geeky,” Vance says. “The most incredible feat that I’ve ever done was getting him in those clothes.”

Those clothes were inspired by rockabilly style and “all the acts I’d ever seen in CBGB in New York,” Vance says. And Duckie’s signature footwear? Those pointy-toed white shoes were acquired at NaNa, an L.A. punk rock shop where, later, Vance would also find the thigh-high boots Julia Roberts wore in Pretty Woman.

Blane’s classic prep look (Everett)

The Richies: Blane and Steff

The wealthy kids in Pretty in Pink were, ironically, largely outfitted in clothing purchased at K-Mart.

“I bought those light blues and pinks and T-shirts and purses at K-Mart. I had to. I didn’t have any money [in my budget],” Vance says.

For Andrew McCarthy’s gentle Blane, she went with the classic preppy look: beige sports jackets, light blue shirts and khaki pants. “I made sure the other characters in his realm were all basically variations of that.”

For James Spader’s arrogant Steff, she worked in the same color palette, but took things up a flashier notch.

“No socks, with loafers, cigarette-smoking. Attitude. He had an attitude, and that’s how I dressed him.”

Steff’s flashier yuppie style (Everett)

Iona

The manager at music store Trax and Andie’s surrogate mother was played by Annie Potts, who sported some of the more over-the-top ensembles in the movie. Vance especially remembers the form-fitting black “rubber” dress Potts wears in the scene that first introduces her character (see below).

Iona’s outrageous sense of style (Everett)

“I had to put baby powder inside to get it on her,” Vance laughs. “She was such a good sport.”

Vance also remembers that she originally wanted Iona’s hair in that scene to be styled in a sleek ponytail reminiscent of the singer Sade’s. “The hairdresser said, ‘No, she needs something in front,’” Vance recalls. So the ponytail stayed, allowing for a ‘do that was business in the back but a big ‘ol party in the bangs.

Duckie and Andie hit the prom (Everett)

The Prom

What about prom? Right, we’re getting to that.

Duckie’s ensemble for the big dance — still complemented by his dingy white shoes, of course — was highlighted by one of his signature bolo ties and a blue and black satin-trimmed band jacket that Vance found in a thrift store.

“I loved his outfit,” she says. “I would have worn that to the prom myself.”

Ringwald’s dress — which, according to the movie, was created and designed by Andie using pieces of Iona’s prom dress and a dress her father, played by Harry Dean Stanton, bought for her — actually was created by merging two separate frocks into one sack dress.

“I went to one of these stores off Van Nuys Blvd. and bought one there, and one downtown,” Vance says. “I didn’t buy two of anything, I bought one. Once I cut into [them], that was over.”

When it was time for Ringwald to try on the dress, things didn’t go so smoothly.

“She hated the pink dress. She hated it with such a passion,” says Vance. To make matters worse, the designer says that when Ringwald tried on the dress for the first time, her tutor — who was required to provide instruction on-set because the actress was still a minor at age 17 — blurted out, “Oh, that is so ugly.“

“I wanted to stuff a sock in her mouth,” says Vance. 

Ultimately, the matter was settled by John Hughes himself.

“I said, ‘I think John should be involved in this. I really do,’” Vance recalls. “It’s just important enough for him to make that decision. And he said, ‘No way. This is it.’ That was the character. It wasn’t that he loved it or didn’t love it. It was just right for her character.”

In conjunction with the movie’s 30th anniversary, HBO is streaming Pretty in Pink on HBO Now and will air the movie on HBO Signature on Thursday, Feb. 25 at 9 p.m. ET. Here’s HBO’s 30th anniversary trailer:

Now watch the original trailer below:

In conjunction with the movie’s 30th anniversary, HBO is streaming Pretty in Pink on HBO Now and will air the movie on HBO Signature on Thursday, Feb. 25 at 9 p.m. ET. Here’s HBO’s special 30th atrailer