In spite of the doo-wop style music, I didn’t peg Little Shop of Horrors (1986) as a period piece until a recent viewing. But yep, it doesn’t just sound retro, the story is actually set in the early 1960s, so the Motown and early rock ‘n roll style tunes fit perfectly with the setting. Of course, being a musical and having been adapted from the stage production, the movie isn’t going for precise historical accuracy. But there’s enough late 1950s/early 1960s fashion and ambiance to make sense when needed.
This delightfully wacky musical is based on an off-Broadway musical by composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman (who went on to write musicals for Disney), and that musical was inspired by Roger Corman’s 1960 cult film The Little Shop of Horrors. Ellen Greene reprised her role as Audrey, a flower-shop worker and the main love interest, from the off-Broadway version, and super-nerd from SCTV and Ghostbusters, Rick Moranis, plays Seymour, the lead flower-shop worker who discovers the alien plant that eats blood and flesh. Former lead vocalist of the Four Tops, Levi Stubbs, provides the voice of said plant, Audrey II. Steve Martin, John Candy, Bill Murray, Miriam Margolyes, Jim Belushi, and Christopher Guest also have small roles. Frank Oz, of the Muppets, directed the film, and he recruited an animatronics and puppeteering team who he’d worked with on projects like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth to create Audrey II.
But you just have to watch the movie to enjoy the giant evil alien plant and the awesome soundtrack! So I’m going to look at the costumes designed by Marit Allen here. Previous to this film, she’d done a few historical productions, such as a 1985 TV biopic Florence Nightingale, and afterwards, she did Scarlett (1995) and La Vie En Rose (2008), the later earning an Oscar nomination. I can’t find anything else about her or the costumes, but just looking at the flick and these promo pix, you can see she was going for some standard 1950s / 1960s styles.
The character of Audrey is sweet and caring, but she has low self-esteem and thinks of herself as just a dumb blonde who deserves the abuse of her sadistic dentist boyfriend, Orin Scrivello (played by Steve Martin). She doesn’t see herself worthy of Seymour until the end of the movie, when she realizes he’s in love with her too. Fitting her idea of a “dumb blonde,” she wears tight, low-cut wiggle dresses much of the time.
Audrey’s dresses are exaggerated versions of the “wiggle” dresses that were common from the 1940s to the 1960s. In the period, the snug fit would usually be accomplished through seaming, though I think this film uses the stretch fabrics more common in the 1980s.
When she sings “Somewhere That’s Green,” Audrey fantasizes about having a perfect, married, suburban life with Seymour. In these scenes, she wears full-skirted 1950s dresses in the New Look fashion.
These dresses are very much like common ’50s fashions.
For their big duet, “Suddenly, Seymour,” Audrey wears this pink and white outfit. While it’s still in her later ’60s silhouette, it’s not as tight or revealing because she’s finally feeling more secure in herself and in her relationship.
And then there’s the fantasy wedding at the end of the story (yes, there’s a whole deal about that movie ending, it’s not the same as the musical, but the producers made them change it; feel free to discuss in the comments):
The guys’ costumes aren’t flashy, but they’re appropriate for the era.
Some of the most interesting outfits are on the female chorus, Crystal (Tichina Arnold), Ronette (Michelle Weeks), and Chiffon (Tisha Campbell), each named for ’60s girl groups, the Crystals, the Ronettes, and the Chiffons. The trio is first seen as street kids in the background.
When Seymour tells how he found Audrey II at a Chinese flower shop during a solar eclipse, the chorus is singing “Da-Doo” while these green and gold cheongsam dresses.
From then on, they’re always together as a group, providing musical commentary and backup.
These purpley-pink sheath dresses are reminiscent of outfits actually worn by The Ronettes.
At first, these dotted blue bubble gowns seem very 1980s.
But that’s only because the ’80s harkened back to the 1950s bubble dresses by Balenziaga, Dior, and Pierre Cardin:
The group also gets beehives and fringe:
Similar to sparkly outfits worn by The Supremes:
One of their last appearances is wearing purple sequins with a bit of chiffon, plus updos.
Are you a mean green mother from outer space?
Now I need to go check where this is streaming, becuase I have’t seen this movie in way too long! Thank you for a great stroll down memory lane.
Ditto! This movie came out when I was a child, and I only gave it a cursory viewing. I remember it being quirky and a bit creepy. When it toured near me, I passed on seeing the musical. Your post just gave me a nudge to put this one on my list! Thanks!
Also, the very last pic (of the girl group) made me think of Dreamgirls. I don’t know if it’s their poses or dresses. Maybe the dresses are making me think of this pic?? https://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/641880/dreamgirls/#overview
And finally, Rick Moranis looks absolutely adorable!! Great post!!
That’s a photo of the Supremes, not the Ronettes.
Ditto. The first photo of a “real” girl group is The Supremes, not The Ronettes.
I love this movie. Levi Stubbs should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his work as Audrey II. There was going to be a remake of it but COVID stopped it. :( [I wonder if Frank Oz would have had a cameo in it, since he directed the first version of it.]
A remake? What for? Why do they always remake films that don’t need to be remade?
I have to say that I love the film to bits and I think that Ellen Greene is probably my ultimate Audrey; very, very closely seconded by the wonderful Sheridan Smith (Fanny Brice of the London Production of Funny Girl) in the Menier Chocolate Factory’s production in London… which was outstanding. I adore the female costumes from this film – especially the over the top 1950’s ‘dream sequence’ costumes on Audrey. Her leopard print wiggle dress is also so iconic! In regards to the ending of the film, hummmmm. I really felt cheated by the change as I adore and much prefer the dramatic, dark pathos of the stage musical’s ending. The film sort of felt that it just copped out, sadly and it just felt a little flat; but ho-hum, that’s producers for you.
I think the ending was changed not because the producers insisted, but the test audiences did. I think Frank Oz was like “Whoa! We need to change that!”
I love the Butterick ‘60s “wiggle” dress pattern you posted. So good!
In case anyone is interested… I used to use a Butterick “Fitting Shell” pattern when drafting patterns all the time. Do they still sell them? They came in specific dress sizes, not just S, M, and L. Hey, it’s got a good generic neck curve, shoulder slope and armseye to get you started. But it’s really a typical 60s sheath with the ubiquitous ‘60s side boob dart, and back shoulder dart and front and back waist darts with a straight skirt darted into the waist seam. When making several designs for “Dream Girls” I used it like crazy. I’d eliminate the waist seam, change the neckline and lengthen the skirt to the floor for some designs but also used it straight up. I’ve even used the bodice pattern to do an 1860s pattern!… eliminate the side boob dart and worked out the double under bust darts you always see in the 1860s, pushed the shoulder seam back to make a French shoulder and used the back dart to split the back into CB and SB pieces. (I found the CB seam on the pattern is a little long) Anyway, it’s kinda handy! Especially if you’re in a hurry or only have like bust, waist, hips measurements.
Good news! Butterick still makes the Fitting Shell pattern; it’s B6849. You can buy either a paper pattern or a PDF. :)
My mother saw the production in London in the 80’s. At the end of the show, Audrey II seedlings rain down into the audience. She thought that was fabulous.
Having been introduced to the film before the musical, I have no issues with the film’s ending. The closing shot certainly lends itself to the notion that the ending events of the musical might still happen, just after the film’s over. I love the musical ending, too, especially in seeing how creative a given production gets.