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?