SNARK WEEK: Grease, You’re Not the One That I Want


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If you were a kid or pre-teen in the 1970s, you probably saw and loved Grease when it first came out in 1978. It was a bone-fide phenomenon. “You’re the One That I Want” was a pop hit on the radio, and the movie ranks as the highest grossing musical of the past 40 years. At summertime weddings I’ve been to, chicks my age start singing “Summer Lovin'” after a few glasses (bottles) of champagne. But I didn’t see this movie until last month, when I was bored and watched it on Netflix. Because I knew as a nine-year-old that I would hate it for exactly the same reasons I hated it now. OMG THE CHEESE.

Now, I can’t possibly do the story justice in snarking even during Snark Week, so I’ll just point you towards Tom & Lorenzo’s Musical Monday review of Grease. Meanwhile, I’ll just address the super mega cheeziod costumes and  hair. Because it’s unbelievable how cartoony, fake, and over-the-top bad this movie’s look is. It’s 1950s as seen through the 1970s, two crappy tastes that taste like complete shit together!

Grease (1978)

Hmm … why does Travolta’s outfit look familiar?

Saturday Night Fever (1977)

Yep, just ditch the vest, and it’s the same look. ’50s, ’70s, whatev.

I blame Grease and the Happy Days Nostalgia Industrial Complex (which started in 1974) for turning the 1950s into one giant pink-and-turquoise, hot-roddin’, leather-jacketed mess of cliches forever in popular culture. Not that the ’50s are vitally worth subtle complexities, but compare to how Mad Men nailed the mid-century details of 1960 through 1970 for seven seasons without resorting to tired exaggerations.

1950s patterns for young women

Actual 1950s patterns for young women – not getting that hot roddin’ vibe.

Grease didn’t try to rise above the stereotypes and instead made them worse — especially with all the 30-year-olds portraying high schoolers. I mean, c’mon, Beverley Hills 90210 got flack for the actors being older, but at least they were mostly late teens or early 20s. Stockard Channing as Rizzo was 34, so who cares if she got knocked up?

1959 Teen Magazine

Teen Magazine from 1959 – actual teenagers.

The silliest part, IMO, are the gangs, matched sets of aging greasers and over-the-hill Pink Ladies. These puffed-up musical misfits are all poseurs, wearing their logo jackets, just standing around, trying to look cool. The Sharks and Jets in West Side Story would wipe the floor with the T-Birds, and the West Side girls would bitch-slap the Pink Ladies while singing and dancing all the way back to Puerto Rico.

Grease (1978)

Girl gang? More like gang bang in the making.


They may be younger, but these 1950s biker gang members were hardcore.


Greasy Hair and Weird Wigs in Grease

I guess the costumes aren’t as bad as they could be, compared to actual 1950s fashions. The look is dumb, but not horrific in every scene. What’s a real shit-show is the hair. From the grease-dripping pompadours of John Travolta and the T-Birds to the bombastically fake wigs on the Pink Ladies, the hair looks like somebody’s bad joke of a Halloween costume of the ’50s.

Yes, rocker boys slicked their hair back into a duck’s ass and up into pomps — Elvis Presley was most famous for this style. But if your hair was super shiny and looked like it’d drip a Deepwater Horizon size oil spill on your collar, then you’re doing it wrong.

Grease (1978)

For Grease, they laid it on thick for Danny’s dippity ‘do.

Saturday Night Fever (1977)

Same hair before the pomade in Saturday Night Fever (1977).

Teenage girls wore their hair in a variety of styles, none of which are realistically reflected in the Pink Ladies’ over-sized, face-eating wigs. Olivia Newton-John as Sandy gets a fairly accurate hairstyle at first, and a few background women get moderately non-stupid hair/wigs, but it’s the girl gang that’s off the hook.

Grease (1978)

But first, “Cha-Cha” what’s up with the perm and pot scrubbers on your tits?

Marty has an enormously curled flip that’s so ’70s, it was all over the then-current network TV. Your mom and my grade-school teachers probably had this hairstyle.

Grease (1978)

Didn’t Elton John wear these specs in the 1970s too?

Georgia Engel on the Mary Tyler Moore Show (1975)

Georgette on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1975) — which, btw, was not a period piece.

Jan wears frizzy pigtails in a freakish attempt to make her look younger — and is full of fail.

Grease (1978)

The actress apparently made a career out of frizzy hair — she played Magenta in the U.S. stage premiere of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Gilda Radner as Roseanne Roseannadanna on Saturday Night Live (1977)

Gilda Radner wore it better in ’77.

But it’s Frenchy, the “beauty-school dropout,” who gets her own song-and-dance number and a zillion redonkulous wigs to emphasize how much of a loser she is when it comes to doing her own hair.

Grease (1978)

Frenchy’s “natural” look.

Grease (1978)

A case study in why you shouldn’t dye your own hair at home.

Grease (1978)

Queen of the Face-Eating Wigs at the Prom.

Only Rizzo isn’t wearing a completely crappy hairstyle, and her butch short cut is the most historically accurate, yet it merely serves to remind us how much older Stockard Channing is than her character.

Grease (1978)

Too old for this shit.

Then, in the final episodes, the Pink Ladies makeover Sandy as a bad girl. Not only does she get black skin-tight latex pants and top, she also gets a huge curly disco mane of hair. The hell? How is this ’50s? The whole outfit looks like she’s in line for Studio 54, circa 1978, all she needs is a coke spoon and Andy Warhol on her arm.

Grease (1978)

Oh wait…

Olivia Newton-John, 1978

Olivia Newton-John at the Grease premiere party at Studio 54, June 13, 1978. Really didn’t have to wear anything different to “promote” the movie.

I usually love musicals, but damn, Grease almost ruins the genre for me. I’m used to the historical costume short cuts taken in musicals from the 1940s to 1960s (I’ll still snark them though). But the sheer weight of the horrible ’50s/’70s mashup sets my teeth on edge. Grease is too greasy for me!

Grease (1978)

This kinda looks like the Frock Flicks Team at Costume College — at least we know we’re overgrown teenagers.


Are you hopelessly devoted to Grease? Or is watching this the worst thing you could do?



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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

23 Responses

  1. Kendra

    1) I love Grease. One of my favorite memories is watching it in a theater in Paris with a friend, and singing along to all of the songs and irritating the other audience members.

    2) True story: when I was about 12, me and my friends put on a performance of Grease in my living room, for our parents. I played the dual roles of Rizzo and Cha Cha. I always wanted to be a bad girl!

    3) Yes, the costumes are ATROCIOUS.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      I KNEW IT. You’re one of those girls always singing these stupid songs from this stupid movie!!! OMG!!!

      At least 1940s musicals had ye olde timey costumes, like Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis ‘n stuff. But Greasey ’50s/’70s BS, just gross.

      (I’m Rizzo in that CoCo picture, ‘natch.)

  2. MoHub

    You nailed the fact that between Grease and Happy Days, anything set in the ’50s that followed used those as their source material rather than authentic references from the period. And I should know. I was born in 1951, so I have pretty good memories of the entire decade, not to mention family photo albums showing real period dress, hair, and makeup.

    And thank you also for referencing T-Lo’s Musical Mondays. Hope Tom and Lorenzo know you’re fans!

    • Trystan L. Bass

      As a child of the ’70s, I know all the ’70s references, & omg, that movie was far more of it’s decade than the supposed period it was pretending to be in. Happy Days started out less stereotyped, but then, literally jumped the shark, & Laverne & Shirley, etc., piled it on. Not that the ’50s need to be made over perfectly, but let’s get real & see where the silly Halloween costumes come from!

      And yes, I idolize T-Lo. We will never be one iota of what they have become *sigh*

      • MoHub

        I’m doing everything I can to spread the word about your site. I’m a performer and former costumer myself and hang with lots of similarly experienced and like-minded folks, and if they aren’t already aware of Frock Flicks, I’m doing my best to get them to check you out.

  3. Susan Snare

    Also a T-Lo fan and definitely a Frock Flicks groupie. Kendra’s response to her mansplaining commenter would have won me completely had I not already been hooked. Please continue doing good in the world and thank you for giving me a place where “What do you mean, Rose in TITANIC DIDN’T WEAR A HAT TO CHURCH?And why is her hair DOWN HER BACK?” can be appreciated instead of just getting an eye-roll.

  4. Emily Barry

    OMG, THANK YOU!!! I felt like I was the only person in my high school who didn’t love Grease!

    • Trystan L. Bass

      Thank you! I feel like I’m entirely out of step with my generation in that I don’t deeply understand the meaning of “nobody puts baby in the corner” since I couldn’t bring myself to watch all of that movie.

  5. Kimiko

    I’m with Kendra. I loved that movie when I saw it as a Jr high kid in ’78. I loved watching Happy Days, and Laverne & Shirley, so this was up the same vein. I even had the album to sing along to, and still know most of the songs by heart. The costumes, well back then I didn’t know better. But nowadays, I can’t seem to be willing to buy the movie off the cheap rack. It’s not for the costumes which I can ignore, but for the storyline, which anymore is so painfully backwards in feminist issues, and bad relationship issues. It is a movie I do not want my daughter to watch, except as an exercise in what sorts of things one does not do for their true love.

  6. misat0

    I’m totally with you! I never watched it, and hated the songs when I was a kid. I only realised it was set in the 50’s later during the 80’s when it played on TV or something, and rockabilly fashion was becoming a thing.

  7. Joe

    For the record, the 1950’s fashion that I love is not this crap. It’s the haute couture of Christian Dior, Charles James, Norman Hartnell and Jacques Fath. These losers wouldn’t know what or who Dior was if he walked up and slapped them in the face. (Yes, I’m being harsh here.)

  8. Brad

    You people are forgetting that Grease the Broadway Musical and the Movie is a PARODY of the 1950s…meaning the point of the piece was to poke fun of it, which is why you have all the exaggeration in costume, hair, etc. it was never meant to be an actual representation of the 1950s. ‘K? Thanks. Bye.

    • Katya Patatya

      Mr. Brad, you are correct, in spite of the frock flick flak you have caught for being right while being male. I was 14 (and a girl at the time) when it came out, and was just not into the hysteria. For 1978, I loved Watership Down, Big Wednesday, Animal House (perfect parody of the late 50’s, early 60’s).
      Ms. Trystan, for a truly original frock flick, try Jubilee.