“Nice dress. Where did you get it: at the five and dime store?” goes a pivotal line in Pretty in Pink, which is 30 years old this spring.
It’s a diss born out of the class conflict at the film’s centre, where clothes express the class interplay between characters. The five and dime burn is aimed Molly Ringwald’s character, Andie Walsh, a working-class scholarship student attending a private school. Against this backdrop of preppy attitudes, her outfits (thriftstore-bought and patched together at home) and her look (Virginia Woolf meets early Madonna) identify her as the rank outsider.
When Andie reluctantly ends up at an upper-class house party, we see this fully played out. Wearing granny chic with a flower-patterned, faux-silk grey top over a violet undershirt and Margaret Thatcher hair, it takes a moment to realise that Andie has literally come dressed as the furniture. The second fashion-based diss of the film (“Nice pearls – this isn’t a dinner party, honey”) is notable because it misses the irony behind her pointed choice of clothes.
The look of the “Richies”: Andrew McCarthy’s Blane McDonagh, and particularly James Spader’s Steff McKee, are clearly defined and less coded. Linen suits with khakis in muted colours. Brogues with exposed ankles. Shirts unbuttoned to the navel. Blowdried Princess Diana hair. It’s the look of the idle rich, somewhere between a Bret Easton Ellis character and the Tories-at-the-weekend look of Spandau Ballet.
The look of Jon Cryer’s Phil “Duckie” Dale character is as complex as Andie’s, his partner in crime and class. It’s a layered Teddy Boy look, combining blazers with sharp edges, zoot suit trousers, braces and two (two!) watches. It’s a hodgepodge of styles that couldn’t be more different to the conservative look of the Richies, and would be later adopted Rickie Vasquez from My So-Called Life, another character who used sartorial bricolage to express their status as permanent outsider.
With fashion styles and looks more intermeshed and intertwined than ever, Pretty in Pink serves as an interesting reminder of a time when class differences were underscored by the clothes characters wore.
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