In 1990, Julia Roberts starred alongside Richard Gere in one of the most famous romantic comedies of all time, Pretty Woman. Roberts plays Vivian Ward, an escort who is hired for the night by a wealthy businessman named Edward. Upon their meeting, he finds her charming and asks her to pose as his girlfriend for the duration of his business trip. Throughout this film, audiences get to see Vivian transform to fit into the high class lifestyle that Edward lives. One of the key tools in this transformation? Clothing!
Led by Marilyn Vance, who was nominated for a BAFTA in costume design for this film, Pretty Woman showcases some of the best clothing in rom-com history. Each outfit worn by Roberts in this film were custom-made for her character either by Vance or by commissioned designers, making the styling even more special. Here are a few of Julia Roberts’ most iconic Vivian Ward looks!
When we first meet Vivian Ward, she is walking through LA’s red light district in this blue and white one-piece with thigh high boots. While seeking potential clients, this outfit is meant to show who she is before she meets the businessman who would change her life. This dress was designed by Hunza G, and was even remade years later. Vance calls this Vivian's “whole signature look,” and it became one of the most well-known on-screen outfits in history.
When people think Pretty Woman, this is often the outfit they think of first. Cosmopolitan called it one of the most iconic movie character costumes for Halloween just last year, showing how much staying power this ensemble has in pop cultural relevance.
As Vivian begins to work her way into Edward’s high-class life, her outfits change drastically. When she attends a polo match with him and his high society friends, she wears this iconic polka dot, belted dress with a matching hat. The look is complete with white gloves, the ultimate symbolism of wealth and class. While this style is seemingly very different from Vivian’s typical dress, she takes on this style and glamor so well.
Though the style of this outfit screams 90s, it was so iconic that it was referenced over two decades later when polka dots re-emerged as a trending pattern. Vogue France even called it one of the most iconic polka dot dresses in cinema!
If you are familiar at all with Pretty Woman, you may remember one scene in particular. Vivian attempts to buy clothing from an expensive store on Rodeo Drive when the saleswoman insultingly insinuates she could not afford their clothing. To prove them wrong, she returns later in an elegant white, puff-sleeved dress with a black hat and gloves to tell them they made a big mistake (“Big mistake! Huge!”). This scene is revered as one of the best revenge scenes in modern cinema. For such an important moment in this film, the costume design did not disappoint. This outfit embodies glamor and high society style and shows how comfortable Vivian is becoming with this new lifestyle and the clothing that comes along with it. This scene relies heavily on Vivian’s confidence, and nothing says confidant more than this ensemble.
While shoe shopping in Beverly Hills, we see Vivian in a pinstriped skirt suit with sheer sleeves and pantyhose. This, despite being shown in a rather unimportant scene, is a standout outfit for several reasons. Not only is the style much different than much of the high-society styling of this film, but it also shows Vivian in a much more casual state. She is not at an event with Edward or dressing for revenge on Rodeo Drive, she is just shopping. This shows a shift in Vivian’s demeanor as she becomes more comfortable in this new lifestyle, and, in a way, this outfit represents her own daring personality blending with her new environment. The sheer sleeves add a flair to the outfit that fit this character so perfectly, and it brings a new energy to the ensemble.
The most glamorous fashion moment in this movie comes when Vivian attends the opera with Edward, wearing a red dress, white gloves, and a diamond necklace. The off-shoulder dress, designed by Vance, features a sweetheart neckline and draping at the hips. The vibrant red color, something that makes this dress stand out most, was actually up for debate when making this film. The production studio insisted on a black dress for this scene, but Vance created three dresses before finding the perfect shade of red to convince the studio to follow her direction. In the end, it was obvious that this dress was the best decision they could make. It symbolizes Vivian’s full transformation throughout the movie, and the dress itself was so iconic that it was exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in 2014.
Pretty Woman is one of the most iconic and stylish romantic comedies of all time. Film in general relies heavily on costume design to set the scene of the story, and Marilyn Vance went above and beyond for this movie.