There’s no better way to ease into New Year’s Day than with a dose of unbridled sing-along fun – and it doesn’t come much better than Grease. The fabulous costumes, designed by Albert Wolsky, are almost as memorable as songs (Greased Lightning anyone?) and the characters – who can forget Cha-Cha DiGregorio (she’s the ‘best dancer at St. Bernadette’s, lest you forget) and her ruffled, flamenco style dress, Frenchie’s bubble-gum rinse (‘I had a little trouble in tint class today…’) or the embroidered pale pink satin bomber jacket favoured by the Pink Ladies? But in terms of costume, this film belongs to one character alone – Sandy Olsen (played by Olivia Newton John). She’s the ultimate girl next-door, sensible and prim, with a pretty pastel-hued wardrobe to match.
Whilst my personal outfit fave is the peach shirtdress she wears at Thunder Road (complete with a full Fifties skirt, a contrast collar, puff sleeves and pure white plimsolls), it’s the sultry finale costume with which she is more commonly associated. Lets start at the top – curly hair, gold hoop earrings and dramatic dark eye make-up, red lips and nails. And what’s that? A cigarette dangling from Sandy’s mouth? What would her mother say? Then there’s a cropped leather biker jacket with a shocking scarlet lining, layered over a black off-the shoulder top and styled with genuine 1950’s, beyond-skin tight black pants and high red mules. Despite the transformation, it’s comforting to know that Sandy she’s still the same girl inside – she looks over to the ‘Pink Ladies’ for cigarette-stubbing inspiration, and soon ditches those rather unsuitable heels.
Studio legend has it that when Olivia as Sultry Sandy emerged on set, the crew didn’t recognise her. However, the transformation wasn’t the sole work of Wolsky – the actress chose the disco pants (which, legend continues, she had to be sewn into), and the mules actually came from Olivia’s personal wardrobe.
But is the make over a success? Of course on the surface Sandy looks (and is) H-O-T – but that’s only when you overlook her somewhat unconvincing bad-girl betrayal and those not-so impeccable feminist credentials. She’s given up ‘her’ morals and her character traits in order to fit in, she’s trying to emulate the ‘Pink Ladies’; she really did ‘haul all her cookies to the beach for some guy’. In short, she’s a-changing to snag her man. Is Sandy really any different to Marty, who dumps her date at the dance to get closer to the smooth-talking Vince Fontaine? If we’re talking feminist standards, Rizzo’s the only one to step up…but that’s a story in itself. As much as Sandy changes her style to fit in with Danny, the fact that he makes an effort to be more ‘wholesome’, more of a jock often overlooked (although not by Kenickie). His attempts at baseball and in the gym are laughable, but his willingness to don a Rydell High cardi (of the sort more commonly associated with Eugene) is really rather sweet – although he’s quick to throw it off when Sandy-as-vixen makes an appearance.
It’s important to note that Grease is set during the Fifties, although it’s an idealised, borderline stereotyped rehash that makes much of the American Dream. It’s a vision of the Fifties are seen through the directorial lens of the Seventies – and the near two decade hindsight allows Director Randal Kleiser makes it clear that this is a fantasy fairy-tale – the flying car at the end the most literal depiction of this idea. In short, it’s a light-hearted feel-good classic that sees every-one graduate from Rydell on a high – against that backdrop; Sandy’s disco pants seem like a bit of fun. I always imagined she had a neat sweater and a peter-pan collar blouse stashed in that car anyway.