“Legally Blonde” at 20: The Lasting Legacy of Hollywood’s Pinkest Wardrobe
There are a number of reasons why movies are becoming cult classics. Sometimes it’s because of their stories. Other times, it’s their razor-sharp scripts and sassy, citable one-liners.
A reminder, in case you needed it: the film follows sisterhood queen Elle Woods (played by Reese Witherspoon), a cheerful blonde obsessed with the color pink, as she enrolls in Harvard Law School for win back his ex. It turns out that she is naturally suited to the courtroom and can overcome adversity just by being herself i.e. both intelligent and stereotypical blonde. She doesn’t have to compromise her style to be taken seriously or conform to gender stereotypes about what successful women are supposed to look like.
Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde”. Credit: Tracy Bennett / MGM / Kobal / Shutterstock
Throughout her neofeminist awakening, Elle flaunts one hyper feminine outfit after another – 44 in total, for a movie of just over 90 minutes. Among them are the sequined bikini she wears in her college admissions video, the candy pink knee-length dress she wears in court and the hot pink leather two-piece sets – complete with sunglasses. roses, naturally – that she gets to Harvard Law School at. (And not to mention the many matching pink outfits worn by her chihuahua, Bruiser.)
Bursting with confidence, Elle’s wardrobe is central to the film’s message of empowering women and its rebuttal of the “stupid blonde” trope. With every skirt, fur coat, and halter top, she proves that looks don’t define us and that a woman can be several seemingly contradictory things at once. It is society, and not Her love for pretty things, that sees her surrounded by the “Malibu Barbie” cliché.
“Elle’s uncanny ability to embrace individuality and feel empowered by her sense of style is what resonates with audiences everywhere,” she said via email. Along with Elle’s optimism, kindness and compassion, it’s her wardrobe that “makes her an icon,” Sanchez added.
Elle Wood’s extravagant outfits are central to the film’s plot, exposing the characters she interacts with as being critical or benevolent. Credit: PictureLux / The Hollywood Archives / Alamy
The same goes for her shameless fixation on pink, a shade associated with those same qualities.
“What’s important to note about the use of color in the film is that (the color pink) represented more than the hyper-femininity and femininity that we often associate with it,” said Sanchez said. “For Her, pink is representative of power, confidence and a confident sense of personal style.”
There were 44 outfits throughout the 90-minute film. Credit: Tracy Bennett / MGM / Kobal / Shutterstock
Looking at “Legally Blonde” two decades later, it’s striking how many of Elle’s outfits still hold up, from her sparkly off-the-shoulder crop top to the backless dress she wore the night she was dumped by her boyfriend, Warner. Her “first day of school” ensemble, complete with cardigan, pencil skirt and tie, would not look out of place today – neither would her pointy internship outfit, which included a high-neck ruffled blouse and a mid-length black fitted. skirt with a slip that comes out at the bottom.
The same could be said of Elle’s rival Vivian Kensington (Selma Blair), with her preppy tennis skirts, headbands and pearls, or the double-jean manicure Paulette (Jennifer Coolidge), both of which would feel at home alongside millennials or Generation Zers.
Part of this, Sanchez says, is due to a recent revival in 2000s styling. “Y2K trends are visible everywhere these days,” she said. “Our seemingly endless nostalgia for this period means that Elle’s most iconic outfits are just as modern today.”
The recent resurgence of style in the 2000s has cemented the credibility of “Legally Blonde” in the fashion world. Credit: Tracy Bennett / MGM / Kobal / Shutterstock
Audiences have less than a year to wait – until next May, to be precise – to see what Elle’s style looks like now that she’s in her 40s. While little is known about how her wardrobe will be updated for 2022, one thing is for sure: with de Rakoff reprising her role as costume designer, pink will be the order of the day.
“While Elle could swap her stilettos for chunky heels or swap her fur-trimmed coat for a more polished pink blazer,” Sanchez said, “she would never tarnish her shine.”