(re)View: Grease (1978) – A study in lesbian fashion


         Tight, high-waisted jeans with thickly-rolled cuffs, cozy patterned cardigans, tight t-shirts under sturdy leather jackets: these are the T-Birds, the group of teenage greasers at Rydell High, the adolescent microcosm around which the movie musical Grease is centered. Doody, Sonny, Putzie, Kenicke, and Danny all generally fall into the style spectrum we’ve come to expect our of our film greasers, the exceptions being maybe Doody’s red striped blazer and Putzie’s fondness for cardigans. They’re all interesting figures of American adolescent male masculinity, and – as all the Grease film characters were – products of two different, now distant, periods. You see this most obviously in the girls’ fashions, particular pre- and post- makeover Sandy: these are 1970’s conceptualizations of 1950’s fashions. No one in the 1950’s, much less someone who was trying to be popular at an American high school, wore high-waisted spandex and permed their hair.

But I digress. The T-Birds are outside the norm of the 1950s “popular high school boy” image – they aren’t jocks and in fact they have intense disdain for anyone participating in anything that might even suggest school spirit. The film gestures toward their relevance to the popularized greaser subculture – an ethnic working class background, usually Italian or Irish – with their interest in car mechanics, street racing; there’s a slight flirtation with a Brooklyn accent, etc.

Mostly, I’m interested in what they’re wearing. Mostly, I want to wear all of it. I think about this a lot, how I’ve probably spent great portions of my life thus far emulating fashions from Grease – a movie I saw when I was 8 (we had the 20th Anniversary VHS). As far as iconic film fashions, it’s not the hardest or most unusual stuff to imitate; I still have a more far-reaching dream of dressing like Duckie Dale from Pretty in Pink.  After all, leather jackets really don’t ever go out of style. But now, as a lesbian in her mid-20’s, I watch Grease and just think, “Every single character in this movie dresses like a lesbian.” Years down the road, as it nears its 40th Anniversary, the stylized 50’s fashion of the 1970’s musical Grease operate, for me at least, mostly as an astounding precedent for lesbian fashion of the 90s onward.

I mean, let’s take another look at the T-Birds:


The Kristin Stewart comparison has been drawn before, not to mention more than a few fan-made posters of her as Danny Zuko, but like. Look at Kenicke. The hair, the t-shirt stretched across his stomach, the boots – he is the ideal dapper butch lesbian. Sure, I have it on good authority from straight women I know that this is a look they find attractive in men – tight t-shirts and leather jackets pretty much have no gender limitation – but there is something about these looks that speak specifically to lesbians. Every single lesbian or bi woman I have ever met has agreed that an all-female remake of Grease should happen. Is it because it’s an iconic film and we’re tired of straight people remaking the same film again and again in their image? Absolutely. Is it also because, at least visually, we can picture ourselves literally in these characters’ shoes? I think so.


And then there’s Jan. Oh, Jan. She’s “the fat one” (??), the dorky fat girl that, for reasons unknown to us, is allowed into the exclusivity of The Pink Ladies. Growing up, I always really loved Jan’s style; in my mind, she usually existed in the fashion realm that also included Duckie, and one that I aspired to. It’s funky, eclectic. Her Betty Page bangs, her use of layering and color clashing. The idea that she was supposed to be an object of ridicule never really occurred to me.


Look at her choice of a plaid midi skirt and bare calves, with crew cut white socks and mary-janes. Look at the grey sweat shirt under her Pink Ladies jacket. The pigtails, the bangs. This, ladies, is a look. And I don’t want to be that lesbian, but there were more than a few times watching this film today that I thought, “Why does Jan look so much like Carrie Brownstein?”

Licking the frosting off Oreos, eating Twinkies with wine, wearing pigtails every day – frankly, Jan is the only person in this movie who really knows how to have a good time.


In the sleepover scene, Jan is the most covered-up of the women, whose outfits range from Marty’s negligee, to Rizzo’s button-down and panties combo (another Look), to Sandy’s virginal floor-length full-sleeve nightgown. Jan, on the other hand, is wearing a matching striped PJ set with her grey sweatshirt layered on top. This is most likely to remind us, again, that she is the “fat, unattractive friend” but mostly it just gives major lesbian vibes. I’m itching to pull the collar of her PJs out just a tab so that they peak out over the neckline of her sweatshirt. Y’know, like this:


Then, and I swear to God I didn’t even put this together until I watched the movie while writing this article, there’s this:


When my girlfriend was getting ready to leave for work, and I was sitting on our couch watching this movie, I said to her, “Wow, I can’t believe Grease invented lesbian fashion.” Which was mostly a joke but I think about the actual pair of cuffed boot cut jeans I own, and the two leather jackets, and the black motorcycle boots, and I think maybe it’s not – at least it might be true for this lesbian’s fashion.


Alice Lesperance lives in Brooklyn with her girlfriend and their cat. She writes about music, films, dead media and dead women. She’s written for The Youngist and One Week, One Band, and is the founder/editor-in-chief of Shakespeare and Punk. Find her on tumblr.


All images taken from Grease © Paramount.

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