They were five students in detention: a jock, punk, princess, nerd and outcast. Director John Hughes assembled a character list of high school stereotypes, and award-winning costume designer Marilyn Vance brilliantly clothed each one accordingly. Strip away the dialogue, body language and even facial expressions, and the varsity jacket, flannel shirt, chic designer ensemble, badly belted khakis and thrifted black cocoon still clearly indicates jock, punk, princess, nerd and freak.
So when premiered on this day in 1985, every teenager in America found a kindred spirit in one—or perhaps more than one—of the Chicago-based characters played by Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall and Ally Sheedy.
The Breakfast Club was the second film in the trifecta pairing of Ringwald and Hughes, following Sixteen Candles and preceding . The three movies catapulted Ringwald to the status of teen icon and fashion darling, although Ringwald told the LA Times in 2008, “I never thought of myself as a style icon.”
Compared to the thrift-store-style, DIY get-ups she wore in Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles (also costumed by Vance), Ringwald’s Claire Standish in The Breakfast Club is chic and understated, not miming the pop-culture associations—neon, bangles, puffy shoulders—that come to mind when we think of 1980s fashion. (She’s more Lauren Hutton than Cyndi Lauper.) Instead, her style homes in on high American design, hearkening the effortless tailoring of Halston, Donna Karan or Calvin Klein. Claire’s outfit is actually purchased entirely from Ralph Lauren—there was only one Ralph Lauren store in Chicago at the time—and consists of brown equestrian boots, buttery leather jacket and gloves, a chunky brown belt, midi-length paisley wrap skirt, white lace scarf and pink, draped cotton blouse. (It’s no surprise that Ringwald’s biggest regret about the film was that she didn’t keep Claire’s boots.) In a pivotal scene that translates her character’s status through costuming, Claire removes a large diamond stud from her ear and presses it into the palm of Judd Nelson’s burnout, John Bender. The message is clear: What is unattainable to most of us is dispensable to Claire, that’s how wealthy and privileged she is.
For his part, Bender and his torn flannel shirt, thermal shirt and engineer boots remain the symbol of the kid who could care less (until Marc Jacobs briefly elevated it to high fashion). And take Anthony Michael Hall’s high water, belted khakis (please)! His out-grown, utilitarian costume isn’t fashion: It was and still is the uniform of the studious nerd. Ally Sheedy’s outcast Allison wears so many dark and grimy jackets, scarves and sweaters that she achieves total anonymity.
As the characters begin to open up to one another, their protective uniforms begin to strip off. “The clothing is all very layered, [and as the film progresses] they shed these layers; each layer is a little piece of the person. All their hang-ups are discarded as they start becoming relaxed with each other, ” says costumer Vance in the December 1999 issue of Premiere magazine.
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