“This is a really volcanic ensemble you’re wearing, it’s really marvelous!”
That’s the first line spoken in Pretty in Pink. It comes from a man dressed in a brown porkpie hat, a bull’s head bolo tie, grey-checked blazer, John Lennon shades, and way more accent pieces than one sentence can handle. The man says this line to a woman wearing a pink be-trinketed grandma sweater, a black vest with floral print, a black derby hat with floral lining, glasses with transparent frames, and untold accessories. It is a perfect introduction to a film that is mainly about high school love across economic lines but is quietly very much about fashion.
Pretty in Pink came out 30 years ago on February 28, but the characters described above–Jon Cryer’s Duckie and Molly Ringwald’s Andie–could walk into any molecular gastropub in Brooklyn right now and go toe-to-pedicured toe with any bohemian fashionista in the place. Ditto for Annie Potts’s Iona, depending on which of the many styles she tries on throughout the movie she happened to be wearing. The unlikely timelessness of these character’s looks owes a lot to the film’s writer, the late John Hughes, but it owes even more to Hughes frequent costume designer, Marilyn Vance, who went above and beyond to create Hughes’s most fashion conscious film.
We talked to Vance on the occasion of Pretty In Pink’s 30th anniversary and the film’s new Digital HD release to find out more about collaborating with John Hughes, almost getting arrested, and designing Duckie.
Marilyn Vance caught the filmmaker’s attention with a string of high school movies for which she’d designed costumes, including Fast Times at Ridgemont High. (She would go on to also do every kind of film from Pretty Woman to Predator.) When Hughes offered her Sixteen Candles, though, she was leaning toward the action comedy Romancing the Stone, just to do something different. Vance returned from that film, however, just in time to catch Hughes’s next project.
“He offered me The Breakfast Club, and it was very interesting to see how well drawn those characters were, “ she says. “I had to do a lot of research, I had to go to Chicago to see the kids there in different areas and different styles. I did the same thing in California when I was working on Fast Times At Ridgemont High. I almost got arrested for hanging out in front of high schools!”
By the time Hughes started prepping Pretty in Pink with first-time director Howard Deutch, he had already worked with Vance on both The Breakfast Club and Weird Science. They had an understanding and a shared sensibility. Hughes trusted his designer to find the right outfits without writing in the script “Andie wears an insane amount of floral today” or other notes that may have appeared in a hypothetical draft. Instead, he would simply paint a picture of the character and their lifestyle and backstory so Vance had a launching pad.
Jon Cryer’s character, Duckie, just happened to be a more tricked out launchpad than most.
“Duckie will always be my favorite character,” Vance says. “He was modeled after the Teddy Boys from England, in the ’70s, the big haircuts and layered outfits. Jon Cryer was the straightest guy you’d ever meet. He came in looking like a nerd–it was who he was–but the character, he was open to visualize the character and work with us.”
Aside from all the little decisions involved with designing Duckie—she chose the fancy way his cuffs are rolled up—she had to make more macro decisions about the music store-owning character, Iona, played unforgettably by Annie Potts. Perhaps it was because the character worked in a record shop, but John Hughes communicated a lot of what he was envisioning for her clothes through music.
“I was very influenced by Sade for Annie Potts. The rubber dress we had to powder it to put it in on her,” Vance says. “John was very into the Brits. He’d play music for us I’d never heard before, and it just helped build the character. Not only was it on the page, you’d have a meeting with him and he’d say, ‘In this scene, this song is what will be playing.’ And it would be some fantastic song, like Simple Minds, Tears For Fears, things we didn’t know about here. Ferris Bueller was the only character who had normal taste in music for an American teenager at the time.”
John Hughes’s predilection toward The Psychedelic Furs is echoed in his character’s out there taste in fashion. Both Andie and Duckie have extremely good taste in fashion for high school kids, or just about anybody. The way these characters dress is utterly unique for the era, but in addition to communicating taste, their clothes also says a lot about their thrift-shop-hopping financial situation.
“Economically speaking, Duckie couldn’t go out and buy the linen suit worn by Steff [an insanely hot yuppie James Spader]—he wouldn’t think about it because he couldn’t afford it,” Vance says. “There’s a scene in the movie where Andie’s looking around for a prom dress. You see her outfit there—she’s actually wearing a little jumper under that patterned dress, which we made, because she put that outfit together herself and this is how she was perceived. She couldn’t keep up with those other girls, there was no way.”
As counterpoints to Andie and Duckie’s economic status, Vance dressed up Steff and Blane’s [Andrew McCarthy] whole well-to-do group of people to look a certain way. The costume designer went to K-Mart and bought beige and pink and blue and white and just mixed up everything for the girls and the guys. All the friends of Steff and Blane served as a backdrop and a subtle, color-coded reinforcement of Andie and Duckie’s outsider status.
Whenever Vance had a look in mind for one of Andie, Duckie, or Iona’s scenes, she would show Hughes and Deutsch variations with Polaroids. She’d create a wardrobe, put it on the rack, mashing up shirts with vests and a tornado of accouterments, and take shots of them all. Then after the fittings were done based on the results, Vance and Hughes would mix and match to perfect each look. It was a laborious process, but it added up to something that still resonates 30 years later.
“He wasn’t average,” she says, summing up what most fans of ’80s cinema already know about the era’s most astute observer of teen culture. Thanks to Vance, though, those teens’ clothing was nowhere near average either.