Costume Party is a monthly column exploring fashion, personal style, and historical aesthetics in film.
Today marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Some Kind of Wonderful. The 1987 teen film penned by John Hughes may not be discussed quite as often as The Breakfast Club or Sixteen Candles, but it stands out for its more subtle look at high school life. The film is a soft-focus portrayal of boy-girl friendship and class consciousness, centered on a triad of teens, Keith (Eric Stoltz), a working-class boy with artistic ambitions, Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson), his tomboyish friend, and Amanda (Lea Thompson), a popular girl with class anxiety of her own. As to be expected in an 80s movie, the costumes often verge on tacky (as evidenced by the abundance of baggy shorts), but as is often the case in Hughes films, the outfits serve as both an endearing time capsule and a quick mode of distinguishing difference (both physical and philosophical) in the young protagonists.
Watts is the fashion icon of the film, a kind of female equivalent of Pretty in Pink’s Duckie. She dresses in a style that could be described as butch with a punkish edge. Throughout, she wears red fringed leather gloves, a statement piece if ever there was one.
She’s coded as the type of character who doesn’t care about fashion, but she still has her own look, with baggy pants, a leather jacket, and an ever-present pair of drumsticks. Hers is an aesthetic of aggression meets slouchy comfort, enhanced by those gloves and a variety of silver earrings.
Earrings end up playing a pivotal part in the story here as in The Breakfast Club—the accessory’s sentimental value seems like a Hughes signature. If you’ve watched a teen movie before, you know that Watts and Keith will end up as a couple, but the journey there is still worthwhile. Keith asks Amanda on a date and buys a pair of earrings to give her as a gift but, seeking independence, she ends up giving them back and they ultimately end up with Watts. Watts and Amanda are stylistic opposites, but an accessory unites them.
The scene which most clearly establishes the differences between Watts and Amanda is one with potentially prurient implications. In the girls’ locker room, Amanda, in a cropped tank top and skimpy panties, looks like a wholesome yet seductive pinup. She seems to be in the middle of elegantly posing, positioned precisely for male fantasies. Watts, on the other hand, keeps to herself, wearing an oversized t-shirt and a pair of boxers. It’s an obvious contrast, but in its obviousness it stands as classic Hughes.
One of the film’s more poignant sartorial details can be found in the uniform Keith wears in his job as a mechanic. The name patch on the uniform is crossed out, with his name written over it in marker. At home, at school, and in his love life and his future, Keith is trying to find his place, and the uniform suggests existential uncertainty as well as economic disadvantage.
Keith and Watts’ attraction can be noted in their outfits. At one point, they both wear pale blue shirts that nearly match, and it’s easy to imagine Watts stealing something from his closet.
When Amanda and Keith go on their big date, which Keith rather boorishly has Watts act as a chauffeur for, Amanda looks dressed for a job interview in a red skirt suit, while Watts, all in black save for her signature gloves, presents a slightly more elegant version of her everyday self. Amanda’s style feels largely generic, full of the typical blouses and boots of the time. Watts, while still wearing 80s silhouettes, is the more exciting dresser, with outfits that project an attitude beyond softness.
30 years later, and no one will ever pull off a pair of fringed fingerless red leather gloves quite so well.