Most iconic dresses in movie history
One of the best girl power flicks of all time, “Legally Blonde,” turns 20 on July 13, 2021! To mark this milestone, Wonderwall.com is celebrating some of the most iconic dresses ever worn on the silver screen, starting with Elle Woods’ sparkly pink courtroom look! Reese Witherspoon’s Harvard Law School student character strutted into court in the 2001 comedy rocking this bold look — with Chihuahua Bruiser tucked inside her matching pink bag — and proceeded to question her hostile witness into confessing to the crime, exonerating Elle’s client.
Keep reading to see which other looks made our list…
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There’s a certain sense of comedy to the emerald green velvet dress that Scarlett O’Hara (played by Vivien Leigh) wore in the 1939 historical drama “Gone with the Wind.” Scarlett doesn’t want Rhett Butler (played by Clark Gable) to know she was running out of money, so she makes this dress from her curtains, fashioning them together using her mother’s dress patterns. The result? Scarlett looks “good enough to eat” (according to Rhett).
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Even if you’ve never seen the 1954 film “The Seven Year Itch” starring Marilyn Monroe, you probably have some sort of cognitive association with the image of her dress flying up while she stands over a subway vent. We all do. The sexy white halter dress and Marilyn’s playful pose have become part of our collective conscious, rising above the status of iconic to become one of the most legendary moments in cinema history.
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Next up? The custom Givenchy gown that Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly donned in the 1961 rom-com “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” It’s considered the dress that made LBDs a staple in every woman’s wardrobe. In 2006, the original gown was auctioned by Christie’s for more than $900,000.
Another Marilyn Monroe gown to make it on our list is the satin pink stunner worn during her performance of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” in the 1953 musical comedy “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” The dress, which hugged every curve and was accentuated with a playful bow on her backside and long, slender matching pink gloves, was an instant iconic fashion moment in cinema. The dress sold at auction in 2010 for a reported $310,000 — although some believe the dress wasn’t the original.
When Julia Roberts’ character, prostitute Vivian, stepped out in this red gown with a sweetheart neckline and long white gloves in the 1990 film “Pretty Woman,” we all let out a collective sigh. What followed was the famous scene where Edward (played by Richard Gere) opens a box and shows Vivian the beautiful necklace he’s borrowed for her to wear, then playfully snaps it closed when she goes to touch it. Everyone from that moment on wanted to be Vivian, in that dress, with that handsome man looking at her in complete and utter awe.
It’s the most iconic prom dress in movie history: the homemade pink polka-dot frock that Molly Ringwald’s Andie Walsh creates from two older dresses in 1986’s “Pretty in Pink.”
Michelle Pfeiffer oozed glamorous indifference in the slinky deep-blue spaghetti-strap dress with a thigh-high slit that her onscreen alter ego, Elvira Hancock, donned during a night out with her husband, Al Pacino’s Tony Montana, in 1983’s “Scarface.”
The year was 1963 and the movie was “Cleopatra,” which starred the world’s most sensuous actress of the time, Elizabeth Taylor. Her dress was one of the most ornate designs ever made in film history. The glittering phoenix-inspired cape was made from strips of gold leather, fashioned with countless sequins and beads. Costume designer Renie Conley won the Academy Award for best costume design — even though the cost for such elaborate costumes contributed to the movie going far over budget. Liz’s golden cape and matching gown inspired an entire generation to glitzify their own wardrobes and by 1964, jewelry, headpieces and dresses like Cleopatra’s were an official thing in the world of fashion.
We just have one (very long) word for Julie Andrews’ frilly white Victorian-influenced dress with its matching parasol from the 1964 film “Mary Poppins” — Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! We don’t need a spoonful of sugar to imagine ourselves dancing and singing in this very girly, undeniably iconic dress.
Here’s another iconic Julie Andrews movie look: the simple frock and apron she donned to portray Maria in the 1965 musical “The Sound of Music.” While it might not be the most beautiful gown in existence, it is a classic look that’s made its way into Halloween costume stores and our hearts, inspiring us all to sing, “The hills are alive, with the sound of muuusic…”
We couldn’t decide if Billie Burke’s sparkling pink gown in the 1939 fantasy classic “The Wizard of Oz” was more memorable than Judy Garland’s blue-and-white gingham dress, but then we realized we didn’t have to choose. We’re positive if anyone wore either of those dresses, we’d know exactly who inspired their look. That’s iconic.
Nobody puts Baby in a corner — and no one can top the simple baby-pink dress Jennifer Grey wore during the final scene of 1987’s “Dirty Dancing.” The dress (and her dance with handsome Patrick Swayze) is right up there on our list of the top 10 greatest things to ever happen on film.
We’ll always love the Barbie-inspired multi-colored party dress that Jennifer Garner sported as 13-year-old Jenna Rink, who’s trapped in the body of her 30-year-old future self, in 2004’s “13 Going on 30.” As she tells her teenage neighbor, it works ’cause she’s “got these incredible boobs to fill it out.” Ha!
It was hard to pick just one iconic dress from the 1997 blockbuster hit “Titanic,” but we’re fairly certain this tailored coat dress is one of the best. Worn by Kate Winslet in her role as Rose DeWitt Bukater, the downtrodden socialite who falls in love with hunky pauper Jack (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), this structured black-and-white striped dress and wide-brimmed hat gave Rose an air of power and elegance. It also showed how closed-off she was from reality until Jack helped her unbutton her beliefs (and her dress).
There are few dresses more iconic than Carrie Fisher’s (ahem, Princess Leia’s) flowing white robe gown in 1977’s “Star Wars.” The dress and her hair have inspired many fashion trends over the last 40-plus years and we don’t think that’s going to change any time soon.
We’ll just say it now: Vanessa Bell Calloway looked fierce in the 1988 comedy “Coming to America.” In the movie, she played Imani Izzi, the intended bride-to-be of Prince Akeem (played by Eddie Murphy). Her extremely fitted leafy gold dress with an impossibly long train was one of the most dazzling looks in the film and, dare we say it, of the entire decade.
Kiera Knightley donned this unforgettable green gown in the 2007 romantic mystery-drama “Atonement.” Hailed as one of the best dresses in film history, the slip style sheath featured an open back and a full, voluptuous skirt that was necessary for the scandalous scene that followed. For her work on the film, costume designer Jacqueline Durran was nominated for an Oscar for best costumes.
In the 2012 romantic drama “Anna Karenina” Keira Knightley slayed in a wide array of stunning gowns, but we were head over heels for this billowing satin plum gown, which she wore with a fur stole and matching feathered hat. All of the looks Keira wore for the film were designed by “Atonement” costume designer Jacqueline Durran, who took home an Academy Award for best costumes. Clearly she and Keira make for a winning combination!
Audrey Hepburn donned another unforgettable look in the 1964 musical “My Fair Lady,” which centers around a poor Cockney flower seller, Eliza Doolittle, who’s transformed into a member of high society by Rex Harrison’s Professor Henry Higgins. Toward the end of her transformation, Eliza dons this stunning white dress with black accents and a matching hat to the Ascot horse races. Costume designer Cecil Beaton took home the Oscar for best costume design for his work on the film.
Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen might spend most of the 2012 sci-fi film “The Hunger Games” in her arena uniform — which is meant to be more tactical than fashionable — but before she’s forced to fight for her life, the District 12 Tribute has at least one major fashion moment: the “Girl on Fire” dress. During her interview with Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman, Katniss dons a strapless red mermaid dress that actually sparks flames in the skirt when she twirls.
When Cher (played by Alicia Silverstone) descended the stairs wearing this tiny white Calvin Klein dress in the 1995 comedy “Clueless,” she proved fashion didn’t always have to include bold patterns and matching hats. The way her former step-brother Josh (played by Paul Rudd) looked at her with unabashed longing proved simple looks could also be the sexiest.
In our favorite 2003 rom-com, “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” Andie Anderson (played by Kate Hudson) stunned wearing this yellow silk dress that moved like shimmering water over her svelte figure. It definitely wasn’t the kind of dress to make a guy turn and walk away.
You won’t be surprised to learn that the creator behind Emma Watson’s beautiful, billowing golden ball gown in “Beauty and the Beast” was Oscar-winning costume designer Jacqueline Durran (from “Atonement” and “Anna Karenina”). The dress was inspired directly by the 1991 animated version of the film, with Jacqueline adding historical touches from 18th century France to make the dress come to life. Emma also had a say in the design — she wouldn’t wear a corset — and wanted a dress that had movement. The result? This amazing gown that looks like it was ripped from the pages of a fairy tale.
Much in the same way that Belle’s sunlight yellow dress in “Beauty and the Beast” is iconic, so is the powder-blue ball gown worn by Lily James in the 2015 live-action fairy tale classic “Cinderella.” The dress wasn’t just immaculate in its beauty — it was also a signal of Cinderella’s transformation from victim to queen-in-waiting. The costume designer, Sandy Powell, was nominated for an Oscar for her visually stunning work.
Don’t cry for Madonna, Argentina, because the truth is, she looked fierce as Eva Perón in the 1996 biographical drama “Evita.” Toppling Elizabeth Taylor’s former record in the movie “Cleopatra,” Madge had 85 costume changes for the film. Of all the looks, one of the most iconic dresses in the movie is this simple black-and-white button-up sheath with detail work on the collar, sleeves and hip. The matching black hat create a perfect fashion story of a woman who’s embraced her new life as the wife of Agentina’s president.
Often referred to as the “Shall we dance?” dress, this stunning satin number from the 1956 biographical drama “The King and I” worn by actress Deborah Kerr still makes our hearts flutter. The gown featured a corseted bodice, puffy Elizabethan sleeves embellished with sparkling gems and a beautiful front bow, culminating in one of the most elegant dresses in movie history. Literally no one would be surprised to learn that the costume designer for the film, Irene Sharaff, won an Academy Award for her work.
The 1991 dark comedy “The Addams Family” brought the classic skin-tight and seductive style of Morticia Addams to the big screen and we’re still mesmerized. Worn by actress Anjelica Huston, the black, long-sleeved dress with a train almost looked like dripping tar, giving Morticia that “risen from the underworld” appeal we’ll never forget.
The 1998 film “Shakespeare in Love” won Gwyneth Paltrow her first (and so far, only) Oscar, but it also happened to win an Academy Award for best costume design. With decadent period dresses like this one, it’s easy to see why. This is one of the gowns that stood out and remains a testament to the creative genius of costume designer Sandy Powell — an elegant cream-and-gold number with shimmery embellishments, a heavy gold cape and an empire waist. Based on fashion from the 1500s, this dress made us all want to take a time machine and join the theater.
You might see a tutu, but what we saw when we watched “Black Swan” was a Swarovski crystal and feather-embellished costume that empowered Natalie Portman’s character, Nina, to embrace her deviant side and become the sinister title character (and go a little crazy in the process, but we digress). The elegant black tulle tutu designed by Rodarte inspired controversy because the sisters behind the label weren’t eligible for an Oscar nomination because they weren’t members of the Costume Designers Guild. Scandal aside, the look inspired trends on the biggest runways, including Chanel, Oscar de la Renta and Lanvin. Thanks to Nina, wearing a tutu in everyday life became a possibility for us all.
We actually had a hard time deciding which dress from “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” to choose. Cate Blanchet starred in the title role and wore several gowns that are forever etched in our memories. One of the most striking, however, was this saffron yellow gown with an intimidating full skirt meant to create distance between Elizabeth and her court. Designer Alexandra Byrne described finding inspiration from historical paintings as well as from fashion labels like Vivienne Westwood and Balenciaga. Her work paid off, as she won the Oscar for best costume design for the film.
Another Academy Award-winning film for best costume design was the 2001 musical remake “Moulin Rouge!” starring Nicole Kidman as the gorgeous red-headed courtesan Satine. One of her most stand-out looks in the film was this baby-pink skin-tight number featuring jeweled hearts on the bosom and a long, open, feathered skirt. The ensemble was both playful and sexy, which were the hallmark characteristics of Satine’s personality.
Mia Wasikowska donned this simple baby-blue house dress in the 2010 semi-animated fantasy adventure “Alice in Wonderland.” While remakes of this classic story have been told and retold, costume designer Colleen Atwood didn’t want the film’s style to be a mere repeat. Instead, she paid homage to the original drawings in the 1865 manuscript, bringing this film’s fashion a sense of authenticity. It also allowed audiences to feel a sense of familiarity without looking at the same-old style. For her work, Colleen won the Oscar for best costume design.
Can we get an amen for this little black dress (and amazing wig) worn by Angela Bassett in “What’s Love Got To Do With It”? The 1993 biopic on the life of hit singer Tina Turner was as big and bold as we expected, but it came alive when Angela donned this classic Tina look. Seriously, we had to do a double take during this scene to make sure Miss Tina herself wasn’t on the stage.
We can’t get over how dreamy Liv Tyler looked in the 2002 film “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” as Arwen wearing this floor-length crushed velvet medieval gown. Half Elven and half human equaled 100 percent stylish in our book.
Carrie Bradshaw (played by Sarah Jessica Parker) wore one of the most gorgeous wedding gowns of the century in the 2008 “Sex and the City” movie. The only problem? The gown, designed by Vivienne Westwood, never made it to the altar since Carrie’s husband-to-be, Mr. Big (played by Chris Noth), got cold feet and skipped the wedding. Still, wasn’t it a thing of glory? Also, a shout-out to Carrie’s bridesmaids, Miranda (played by Cynthia Nixon), Charlotte (played by Kristin Davis) and Samantha (played by Kim Cattrall), who looked stunning in their sexy, bold dresses.
These are the dresses everyone remembers when they think of the movie “Dreamgirls.” Starring Beyonce, Anika Noni Rose and Jennifer Hudson as a soul-singing trio in the early 1960’s destined to take over the airwaves, the women shined in these knee-high fitted bodice dresses with sweetheart necklines and flaired hems. Sharen Davis, who designed the costumes for the film, was later nominated for an Oscar for her work.
As Queen Amidala in 1999’s “Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace,” Natalie Portman rocked some futuristic garb that made it clear she was royalty. This look — a crimson-cloaked gown with gold embroidery and a fierce headpiece — stands out as one of the most powerful and regal looks from the film.
Can anyone forget the gorgeous look Whitney Houston rocked as Rachel Marron on stage in the 1992 romantic drama “The Bodyguard”? While Rachel had several jaw-dropping costumes in the film, one of our favorites is this halter-style black gown paired with a jeweled headdress and stacked bracelets, which made her look regal as well as edgy. It’s no wonder Kevin Costner’s character, Frank Farmer, fell head-over-heels in love with her.
When we were little, we dreamed of growing up to look like Jennifer Connelly’s Sarah Williams in the magnificent ballgown she dons during a masquerade scene in 1986’s “Labyrinth.” (The dream also included sharing a dance with David Bowie’s Goblin King Jareth, we admit.)
When we think of Grace Kelly, we often picture her in this look from 1954’s “Rear Window.” The blonde beauty and future princess donned a stunning gown with a fitted black velvet bodice and a full white skirt with floral details along the waist for her role as socialite Lisa Fremont. Famed Paramount costume designer Edith Head worked on the Alfred Hitchcock-directed thriller.
Two words: money and Prada. That’s the genius at play in the dazzling chandelier dress worn by Carey Mulligan in the 2013 drama “The Great Gatsby.” Featuring a mink stole and a nude tulle overlay embroidered with hundreds of Swarovski crystals, Carey’s character, Daisy Buchanan, looked like a vision of wealth and privilege.
There’s a reason the 1958 musical comedy “Gigi” starring Leslie Caron won best costume design at the Academy Awards — and it has everything to do with with this dress. Made of shimmery white satin with a lengthy and dramatic train and black feather embellishments, the dress made Leslie (as Gigi) stand out amongst the crowd and look so elegant and refined, everyone fell silent.
In the 2006 biopic “Marie Antoinette,” Kirsten Dunst took on the title role, playing the queen consort in love with the finer things in life (even as the people of France were starving). Of all the gowns Kirsten wore, our hands-down favorite was the heavily embroidered wedding gown worn during the marriage ceremony between Marie and King Louis XVI. The satin gown was made of creamy silver silk and embellished with beads, jewels and some serious panniers.
The satiny purple gown Vida Boheme (played by Patrick Swayze) wore in the 1995 comedy “To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar” was unforgettable. As Vida sashayed down the runway to the song “She’s A Lady” by Tom Jones during the drag queen beauty pageant, she had every one of us slack-jawed and (we’re happy to admit it) even a little bit envious. That dress was poppin’!
Just by looking at this magnificently embroidered midnight blue gown worn by Glenn Close in the 1988 drama “Dangerous Liaisons,” we totally see why the film won an Academy Award for best costume design. In the film, Glenn plays the Marquise de Merteuil, a femme fatale and noblewoman intent on revenge. Of all the many luxurious, elaborate costumes, this dress is a clear contender for No. 1.
Chinese actress Ziyi Zhang wore several gorgeous traditional Chinese gowns in the 2004 romantic drama “House of Flying Daggers,” but none were as classic (or beautiful) as this colorful, flowing Hanfu dress that allowed her to show off her martial arts expertise while still looking royal and elegant. Costume designer Emi Wada styled the dress after Chinese paintings from the same time period.
The sexy red sequined flapper dress and dazzling beaded headpiece worn by Margaret Avery’s character, Shug, were the un-credited stars of “The Color Purple” — they also played a role in helping Whoopi Goldberg’s character, Celie, come out of her shell and feel beautiful for the first time in her life.
To the untrained eye, Salma Hayek’s simple green cotton dress with a crimson shawl in the 2002 biopic “Frida” might not have seemed iconic. However, the dress, like the film, gave viewers a renewed appreciation for traditional Mexican clothing and heritage. Even 15 years after the film’s premiere, when someone wants to look like Frida Kahlo, they often do so by donning a sack dress and red shawl (and, let’s be honest, that awesome braided hairstyle too).
Yes, even the 2016 biographical drama “Hidden Figures” gave us an iconic dress we’ll never forget. Thanks to costume designer Renee Ehrlich’s studious work researching the time period (1960s) and the fact that the main character in the film, Katherine G. Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson), made her own clothes with respect to NASA’s strict dress code policies, the clothes featured in the film had to be realistic as well as beautiful. When Katherine stepped up on the ladder to solve a complicated math equation wearing this stunning full-skirted floral dress, we couldn’t help but cheer.
One thing the 2005 film “Memoirs of a Geisha” got right was the exquisite style of the Japanese kimono in the mid-20th century. Michelle Yeoh (right) played Mameha, a seasoned geisha who teaches young Sayuri (played by Ziyi Zhang, left) the art of her craft. In particular, Mameha’s shimmery green silk kimono with delicate embroidery looked positively glamorous, even if she was off duty for the night.
In our all-time favorite love story, 2004’s “The Notebook,” Rachel McAdams’ Allie dons a baby blue button-down dress with floral-print buttons and matching trim to reunite with her former sweetheart, Ryan Gosling’s Noah. (It’s the same dress she’s wearing when they share that rain-drenched makeout session in the ’40s-set film.)
There is so much magic and beauty in the 2006 Spanish-Mexican film “Pan’s Labyrinth.” The star of the movie, Ivana Baquero, played a young girl named Ofelia who wore a simple, drab shift-dress throughout much of the film. But when she stepped into the faun’s royal court, she was suddenly wearing a shiny red and gold dress and given a new lease on life.
More evidence that “iconic” doesn’t always mean sexy are these looks from the 1992 musical comedy “Sister Act” starring Whoopi Goldberg and Kathy Najimy. While the standard nun’s habit has long been a part of our collective fashion conscience, it transformed into something bigger and more meaningful thanks to this movie.
A Bollywood star who could probably land on our list multiple times (she’s worn so many gorgeous looks in films over the years) is former Miss World-turned-world-famous actress Aishwarya Rai. Her heavily embroidered bridal gown in the 2008 film “Jodhaa Akbar” was adorned with gold jewelry and so beloved by fans that it became one of the most popular inspirations for wedding-day looks in India.
Dorothy Dandridge starred in her breakthrough role with the 1954 film “Carmen Jones.” Dorothy’s fitted black off-the-shoulder blouse paired with a sultry red skirt (and bare feet) were so sexy, they almost outshined her Oscar-nominated performance.
Although simple in its design, the salmon patterned hand-me-down dress worn by Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey in “12 Years a Slave” speaks volumes about her existence and hopelessness. Designed by Patricia Norris, the clothing was meant to tell a story of its own. “Well, cheery-looking slaves don’t cut it,” she told The New York Times. The dress that hangs loosely on Patsey’s body is a reflection of hunger, of solemnity and of sorrow, which makes it important in the legacy of iconic film dresses.
Robin Wright donned several unforgettable looks for her role as Princess Buttercup in 1987’s “The Princess Bride” — from her red riding gown to her country dress and not one but two wedding gowns. But our favorite is the blue dress she sports while barely tolerating the advances of Chris Sarandon’s Prince Humperdinck. It truly makes her stunning blue eyes pop!
It’s another one of cinema’s most iconic style moments: the (usually red) dress that Julie Christie’s Lara Antipova is forced to wear by her older lover in the 1965 adaptation of “Doctor Zhivago,” which is set in Russia between 1903 and the 1930s. The epic love story won five Oscars, including best costume design!
Beautiful singer and Bollywood actress Madhuri Dixit wore a stunning heavily embroidered green and gold Anarkali gown while performing the song “Maar Dala” in the 2002 film “Devdas.” The gown reportedly weighed 33 pounds, and it wasn’t even the heaviest one she wore in the movie, but it was one of the most breathtaking.
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