Legally Blonde, Legally Fashionable: The Evolution of Elle Woods

It’s been 20 years since Elle Woods (played by Reese Witherspoon) graced the big screen. Even though I didn’t know what movies were when this came out, I’ll never forget how much I fell in love with Legally Blonde – especially after seeing it for the first time, many years later in my government class.  

Legally Blonde is a film for the underdogs. It’s also a feminist classic, representing the many women fighting for a voice and the chance to get the same opportunities as their male counterparts. And Elle does just that, but with clothing! We’re going to look at Wood’s outfits by the talented costume designer Sophie de Rakoff and see how they not only impacted her life but paved her way to success! You may not have realized it, but fashion played a massive role in Woods’ story.

The L.A Sorority Girl  

We’re first introduced to Elle Woods in an amusing and playful opening scene. Elle is preparing for a very special date with her boyfriend Warner Huntington III (played by Matthew Davis). She’s wearing a hot pink, cloud-patterned, fitted halter dress with a tie around her waist. The dress is paired with pink heart heels. She’s the President of CULA’s (California University of Los Angeles) Delta Nu sorority, so she proudly wears a gold pin on her dress.

For accessories, she has a bright sunflower pin in her hair and three significant reoccurring pieces of her costumes: silver studded earrings, a silver chain heart pendant necklace, and a matching silver chain heart pendant bracelet. I call this her “3-piece signature set”. This is the first outfit that Elle wears in the film. It’s established that Elle absolutely LOVES pink and is a very happy, bubbly, and lovable person. She also LOVES her adorable Chihuahua, Bruiser Woods (played by the late Moonie), who has various matching outfits with Elle throughout the movie. 

Here’s a fun game: Count how many times you see the 3-piece signature set throughout the article! 

Low Viscosity Rayon 

In the next scene, Elle heads to the store with her two best friends to pick out a special outfit for the date — in hopes that it ends in an engagement! She tries on this gorgeous, blue sequin dress with straps and a silver chain belt. Elle also has on pink heels. Assuming that she’s unintelligent, the store employee walks over to Elle with a stunning, one-shoulder red gown and tries to scam her by claiming that it’s new and one-of-a-kind.

Elle’s knowledge pays off, though, when she stumps the employee with a fashion-related *question, letting her know that the dress was in the June edition of Vogue a year ago. Elle makes it very clear in this scene that she’s into fashion. She also has extensive knowledge of it and can use it to her advantage—this is an important detail to note. You’ll see why! 

*Note to self: You can’t use half-loop top stitching on the hem of a low viscosity rayon dress. It will snag the fabric! 

The Breakup  

Later that night, while on a date with Warner, Elle shows her love of pink (and halter dresses) by wearing another fitted, hot pink halter dress with a black pattern across it. The high-low dress has a beautiful ruffled hemline that falls almost to the floor as it meets Woods’ black, backless open-toe heels. You’re able to see the entire outfit later on in the date, but unfortunately, it’s as Elle stomps away, upset because Warner broke up with her. 

Post Break-Up Makeover

After Elle’s breakup with Warner, this is where we start to see a slight change in Elle’s style. Elle steps away from hot pink halter dresses and turns to a more casual style. Because Elle has been in her room all day torturing herself with romantic movies and chocolate, her friends decide to take her out to the spa to get manicures and pedicures. Elle can be seen wearing a rainbow tie-dye spaghetti strap top with light pink pants, a red belt, and blue high heels. While at the spa, Elle gets an idea! To win Warner back, she decides that she should become a Harvard Law School student.

Elle meets with the Admissions Advisor at CULA, wearing a blue tank top, silver belt, and bright red pants. This look is similar to what she wore at the spa: a sleeveless top, belt, and pants. Because Elle is majoring in Fashion Merchandising, the advisor tells Elle that she’s not the best candidate for Harvard. But due to Elle’s persistence, the advisor gives her information anyways on how to get in. When she gets back to her dorm, Elle starts to return to her cheery self. She’s sitting on the floor studying for the LSATS wearing a blue, gray, and white striped tank, red and white belt, and black jeans. She continues to model the style of the last two outfits. 

Welcome to Harvard

After telling her parents about her new plan while wearing a blue sequin bikini, Elle creates an admissions video essay for Harvard. Elle’s original style of wearing hot pink starts coming back as well. In the introduction of the video, Elle wears a hot pink, sequin, halter bikini top in her backyard pool. She wears another sequin dress in the next scene, but this time it’s gold. She’s explaining her strengths to Harvard, noting how she’s “skilled at commanding the attention of a room,” which she certainly does while wearing this gorgeous dress. To me, it looks very 1920s-inspired.

While in the pool again, Elle wears a green, sequin, halter top bikini, the same as the pink and blue one. These first four sequin looks remind me of the blue sequin dress that Elle tried on earlier for her date. But what truly reminds me of her original style is a hot pink halter dress that she wears. It gives me 70’s vibes, especially with its deep V-neck. The outfits in this admissions essay tend to be shiny and attention-grabbing, which most of her outfits are.

This last outfit isn’t in the admission’s video, but it appears in the scene where Elle is opening up her final LSAT scores. She’s wearing a hot pink shirt with dark wash blue jeans. This gives a hint that Elle is returning to her happy self. She’s no longer in a funk and feels more optimistic, especially since she’s one step closer to getting Warner back. Now I won’t say her final LSAT score but let’s just say Elle’s heading to Harvard!  

The Gemini Vegetarian 

People don’t take too kindly to Elle when she first arrives at Harvard. She’s way different from everyone else, and it clearly shows through her clothes. While the other students and faculty are wearing neutral and monotone colors, Elle shines through — literally. Elle arrives, with Bruiser, of course, in an all-pink outfit. It consists of a pink long sleeve jacket with faux fur and a matching pink pencil skirt with a front slit. She has brown, pointed high-heeled boots and carries a red purse with a patterned scarf tied around the strap. Like the 3-piece signature set, this purse also becomes an essential staple in many of Elle’s outfits and her habit of tying scarves around bag straps.

It’s evident, though, that Elle’s outfits have impacted the way people view her. A student describes her as a “Malibu Barbie” as she enters the school. She’s not taken seriously and gives off a vibe to everyone that she’s unintelligent and only cares about clothes. This idea continues in the next scene, where Elle is checking in for her class materials. She walks up to the desk wearing a very bright outfit. She has an off-the-shoulder, purple, dark blue, and pink striped shirt with a pink newsboy hat and pink pants. She’s wearing a silver belt and is carrying around two bags: A red purse with a scarf tied around the strap and a tan and brown purse that she takes Bruiser in.

The student who is at the desk looks her up and down, giving her a strange look. He also makes a rude, sarcastic remark when she asks about Warner, telling her she should “check with the cruise director on the lido deck.” Despite his comment, my favorite outfit in this scene is where Elle sits around with the other Harvard students. You can clearly see the contrast between their outfits. While the students wear solids and darker colors, Elle’s outfit is the complete opposite, filled with patterns and exciting color choices.

Fresh[wo]man Woods 

After her unsuccessful welcoming, Elle attempts to fit in with the rest of the students by toning down her style and wearing an outfit that will make her “look the part” of a Harvard law student.  She wears a long, teal, black sweater that reminds me of a mix between a Hogwarts uniform and a mermaid. Elle also wears a teal and black pencil skirt and brown boots. She carries her signature red purse with a scarf tied around it and black glasses to finish the Harvard student look.

Elle attends her first law class that day in this outfit. Still, she gets a reality check from Professor Stromwell (played by Holland Taylor) and fellow student Vivian Kensington (played by Selma Blair) when asked to leave due to not being prepared for an assignment. After class, Elle meets up with Warner, who introduces her to his fiancé, Vivian! Elle is speechless and storms off. We later see the pink button-up shirt and entire purple, blue, and yellow plaid tie that’s underneath Elle’s sweater when she breaks down and rants to nail technician Paulette Bonafonte (played by Jennifer Coolidge) at Neptune’s Beauty Nook Hair and Nails.

Third Time’s A Charm? 

After her talk with Paulette, Elle is inspired to win Warner back from Vivian. She starts wearing more pink again, similar to the beginning of the movie. Trying to get Warner’s attention, Elle shows up to one of Warner’s football practices in an eye-catching outfit. Her pink, cropped faux fur coat stands out the most, along with her pink, sequin, halter bikini top that she wore earlier in her Harvard admissions video essay. She also wears pink pants that are secured with a pink belt and beautiful silver wedges.

For her second attempt, Elle wears pink again while trying to win Warner’s heart (and tummy) at the library. She brings a basket full of muffins to his study session, wearing a sleeveless cheetah V-neck top that pairs nicely with her pink pencil skirt. But it’s not enough — at least for Vivian — and she’s turned away. Attempting one last time to impress Warner, Elle accepts a “costume” party invitation from Vivian. Elle arrives in a playboy bunny-like costume with a pink lace corset, and a strapless bodysuit with pink faux fur lining. The bodysuit is paired with hot pink fishnet tights and pink metallic heels. She wears a thin, hot pink choker, a huge bunny ears headband, and a light, fluffy bunny tail. To finish off the look, she carries a small pink handbag with a fluffy pink lining.

The outfit is cute, but everyone’s reactions aren’t. As soon as Elle steps into the room, she’s met with a surprise – she’s been lied to. No one else is wearing a costume. Elle confronts Vivian then finally meets up with Warner. But after he offends her, telling her that she can do something more valuable with her time instead of law school, Elle realizes that she’s never going to be enough for him. She sets off to prove him wrong. 

I’ll Show You 

Elle gets more serious about law after her revelation with Warner. Her other professor, Callahan (played by Victor Garber), has mentioned that not only will the class be competing for the highest grade, but for an internship spot at one of his firms, where they’ll get to assist on actual cases. Determined to prove her worth, Elle starts studying more. She also begins to wear less pink and more purple, orange, blue, and red.

She briskly walks past Warner, Vivian, and their friends on her way to the library. She’s wearing this dark blue velvet jacket with a long-sleeved purple sweater underneath and dark blue jeans. Around her neck is a long, purple, red, and pink fringe-edged scarf. She also wears a lavender beanie with a white stripe across it and a big purple flower on the side. And, of course, she’s carrying around her signature red purse with a scarf tied around it. This color scheme continues in the next few scenes. She wears a lavender top in class, an orange top while working out, a red top while she’s at the salon, and a 70’s inspired red, pink, and purple dress shirt with a red sweater over top of it while she’s in class again.

Lastly, Elle ends up taking on her small case. Paulette’s ex-husband has her dog, so Elle tags along with her to get the dog back. Elle wears a very similar outfit to the one that she wore in the library. Her outfit consists of a long, purple fuzzy coat, black pants, a red turtle neck with a pink design, and the same lavender cap with a flower and white stripe across it. Elle adds black glasses this time, though, to create a “lawyer” look. 

Lawyer-In-Training 

After all of Elle’s hard work, she earns one out of the four spots for the internship at Callahan’s firm! She’s even going to be working on one of the most prominent cases at the time. With significant milestones come big changes as Elle starts to switch up her style again, making it look more professional. She continues to wear button-ups but incorporates blazers and darker colors into her outfits. This time though, her outfits are less forced and more Elle! It’s almost as if she’s reverting to her “Harvard law student” outfit that she wore earlier when trying to blend in with the other students. 

Elle showcases her new style on the first day of the case. She struts down the hall wearing a black, button-up quarter-sleeve dress. Underneath, she wears a white polka-dotted shirt that has ruffles falling from the collar and a red flower in the center. The dress also has a gold and black striped, ruffled bottom, and Elle adds black stockings along with black heels. She carries a black briefcase that isn’t as colorful as her purses but still maintains her tied scarf tradition.

Elle wears a black V-neck sweater and skirt with a pop of color on her shirt in the next scene. It’s red, black and white with a swirl design. This is when Elle meets the defendant, Brooke Taylor-Windham (played by Ali Larter), who’s on trial for the death of her husband. Elle knows Brooke and believes that she’s innocent, but her fellow interns disagree. Elle’s outfits are primarily black at this time which is an extreme contrast from her previous looks. It seems as though her color palette changes throughout her emotions. She’s in a more serious mood now, so her outfits tend to be on the darker side.   

The Bend and Snap 

Elle steps out of her internship role for a moment as she meets with Paulette again. In this infamous scene, Elle performs “The Bend and Snap” move to get Paulette and everyone else at the salon to gain more confidence and learn how to grab other’s attention. Even though she’s wearing darker-colored pants, Elle adds brighter colors to this look by pairing it with a hot pink spaghetti strap top and a yellow, floral-patterned, see-through top. Elle is in a more relaxed state at this time, and her outfit perfectly blends in with the vibe and color scheme of Neptune’s Beauty Nook Hair and Nails. 

On The Case 

Elle returns to work in her business outfits. She’s been spending a lot of time on the case, talking to and interviewing witnesses. Throughout the following few scenes, Elle wears a lot of gray, black, and white. Bright colors have disappeared from her outfits, but she still does manage to feature many patterns. She wears a gray top with a white collar while discussing the case with her colleagues, a gray blazer with a black design on it while meeting with Brooke, and a long black velvet coat with a black velvet skirt, a black belt, and a G-patterned white blouse while she’s out with her colleague Emmett Richmond (played by Luke Wilson).

The Trial   

It’s the first day of the trial, and Elle is ready to take on the world. She’s still wearing business clothes but starts to add subtle hints of color. She shows up with a dark blue jean blazer with a white button-up shirt. On the second day of the trial, she returns with a black blazer, loose black skirt, large fishnet stockings, and black high heels.

She also wears a black, red, and white dress shirt with hints of pink on it. Yes pink! Is this a sign that hot pink Elle is coming back? Well, Elle happens to find out a critical piece of information that will turn this entire case around. But unfortunately, Elle is left with no choice but to leave after Callahan hits on her and tries to take advantage of her. Elle is disgusted at how she was used for her looks and attempts to return to Los Angeles.

Lawyer Woods  

After some wise words from Professor Stromwell, Elle returns to the courtroom, but this time as Brooke’s lawyer! The hot pink Elle is back and ready for justice. Elle catches everyone’s eye as she walks down the courtroom in a hot pink dress with a light pink collar and cuffs. Her hot pink heels shine with their glittery buckles. She also wears a glittery belt that ties around her waist and hangs off to the side. And goodbye briefcase, because Elle is back with a matching hot pink purse.

Elle has always been an optimistic and bright person, but here it seems she’s her true happy self, just as she was in the beginning. I love how Elle maintains her love of pink in this outfit and displays a more mature version of herself. And just as she did earlier in the movie, Elle uses her knowledge of glam and fashion to win the case! 

What, Like It’s Hard? 

Elle Woods speaking at her Harvard graduation. Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Elle graduates from Harvard two years later and will be joining one of Boston’s most prestigious law firms. This is the first time that we see Elle wearing the same thing as everyone else, haha! But we all know that she’s special. Everyone is! And if there’s one thing that this movie has taught me, it’s that you should flaunt your differences and be who you are. Even though Elle was treated a certain way because of how she looked, dressed, and acted, she found a way to turn it into a positive and ended up proving everyone wrong. It’s cool to see how her style went on a journey with her as she found her way back to her roots. Thank you, Sophie de Rakoff, for bringing us this massive collection of costumes that we can cherish forever. You have inspired so many people!

Please check out the Art of Costume Blogcast if you love Legally Blonde and want more of it. There’s a super fun Legally Blonde episode! And I have some great news. Not only is there a Legally Blonde 2, but a Legally Blonde 3 in the works set for May 2022! I can’t wait to see the brilliant costumes.


Sources:

Legally Blonde | Netflix

Guillaume, Jenna. “Every Outfit In ‘Legally Blonde’, Ranked From Good To Goddamn Iconic.” BuzzFeed, BuzzFeed, 1 July 2021, http://www.buzzfeed.com/jennaguillaume/every-outfit-in-legally-blonde-ranked-from-good-to-iconic.