Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
I Feel Pretty, the recently released Amy Schumer body image issue comedy, is a rather frustrating film. Filled with SoulCycle product placement and messages of empowerment that feel like they could’ve come from a corporate feminist focus group, the film — starring Schumer as Renee Bennett, a woman who gains supreme confidence in her looks as the result of a head injury — doesn’t exactly have the most revolutionary aesthetic.
But many reviews have singled out Michelle Williams’s performance as Avery LeClair, Renee’s boss at a high-end beauty company, for praise. Williams, an actress partial to more serious roles in recent years, is quite committed here, putting on a blank expression and speaking in a high baby voice to embody an ultra-privileged fashion-world scion.
And the highlight of the movie does come via Williams’s character: Avery wears the best dress seen in any film this year so far — a pale blue number covered with a delightful pattern of golden lab puppies and roses. It’s one of the few things in the movie that unambiguously works: An exaggerated character wears an over-the-top dress at once both silly and covetable. It’s a perfect expression of her character’s frivolity and a small pop art masterpiece.
So how did this delightful garment come to grace the screen? Costume designer Debra McGuire, whose résumé includes Freaks and Geeks, Friends, Anchorman, and Superbad, among many other films and TV shows, revealed over email that it came off the rack, from the Dolce & Gabbana boutique on Newbury Street in Boston.
The dress is from the 2017 collection, and while it’s not currently available, it’s “not impossible to find with a good Google search,” says the designer. And Williams isn’t the only blonde actress to don the puppy dress — Elle Fanning wore it last summer at a press conference for The Beguiled. Rather fittingly, considering the garment’s cutesiness, it was also available in children’s sizes.
Often the authority figures of the fashion world are presented in little black dresses, and this D&G number is pretty much the polar opposite. And while Williams’s character is a comic figure with a wildly breathy delivery, we later learn she’s hungry to be taken seriously.
So why put Avery LeClair in the puppy dress? McGuire sees the outfit as bridging a gap between Avery and Renee: “I thought it would be amazing, when Renee meets her boss, that she has revered from afar, for her to be in this puppy dress. Who could be intimidated by a woman in a puppy dress?”
At the same time, the print is never explicitly commented on. “Commenting on it would dilute the visual and subliminal impact. The audience has to make their own sense of it!” says McGuire.
When it comes to cinematic costuming, especially in a movie that has scenes in the fashion world, every outfit is a choice. “It wasn’t an easy sell to the producers, but Michelle and I were sold on the idea,” McGuire says. While it may be hard to believe that anyone would reject this puppy dress, McGuire made a compelling argument for its significance: “I do think this dress reveals much about Michelle’s character: She’s a sophisticated New Yorker with a tender interior and clearly a sense of humor.”
The dress is both extremely expensive and extremely silly, and it’s one of the things that keeps Avery from being a severe Devil Wears Prada type. Even if I Feel Pretty isn’t the laugh riot we might have been hoping for, this wonderfully garish dress grabs our attention.
The main takeaway from the movie is one the audience has likely heard many times before: Inner beauty and confidence are more important than outer beauty. This may be true, and beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but a puppy dress, in all its kitschy glory, is objectively fabulous.