Clothes from 1950s,  Girls in Films,  Premium

Grease: Olivia Newton-John is Squeaky Clean, Jellybean

The leading female character of Grease (1978), Sandy Olsen, played by Olivia Newton-John, is the character who wears the clothes most typified by fancy dress companies pertaining to sell costumes linked to the film.

Desperate to fit in at her new school, many of her clothes bear the ‘Rydell High’ logo in some way. Unfortunately for Sandy, she chooses ‘The Pink Ladies’ as her new best friends, the clique who find school far beneath their coolness. No wonder she is deemed by Rizzo as “too pure to be pink”.

We see this purity at the beginning of the film, where Sandy refuses to take her ‘Summer Loving’ with Danny a step further. Wearing a lilac hooded gym top and bikini bottoms, this is more revealing than her Rydell attire, but then again, this is the beach. We are immediately reminded of her warm, gentle nature as we are introduced to her flawless, delicate face, her sensible half-up in a ponytail angelic blonde bobbed hair and her voice full of sincerity. Further outfits in this montage, such as her virginal white terrycloth beach robe, echo this.

At all times über-girl-next-door Sandy looks lovely, arguably lovelier than The Pink Ladies, but she looks like the sweet young lady a mother-in-law would adore, particularly in her “first day at Rydell” gear. NOT a good way to fit in. She is like a 12 year old in her ‘just pressed’ white round-collared with embroidery button-front blouse, her white cincher, yellow full circle skirt (all that is missing is a poodle, which is not worn ONCE by Sandy in the film), little white flat pumps and a yellow cardigan slung over her shoulders.

She wears not a hair out of place, with two matching lemon floral barrettes either side, presumably to keep it out of her face for studying, ever sensible. Her neat, barely made-up face looks as if her mother has spat on a tissue and scrubbed at it. She holds her books protectively; obviously nervous about what is to come. From the moment she sits down with The Pink Ladies and talks about her ideas of love, it is obvious she could not be more different from them, and not only in appearance.

Possibly realising she has more in common with school goody-goody Patty Simcox, Sandy promptly joins the cheerleading squad. Ever a fan of the bobby sox and white plimsolls, Sandy sports these along with a white sweater with a huge red ‘R’ emblazoned on the front, cute red peter pan collar, red wide circle skirt, a red ribbon bow in her bouncy ponytail, and one red and one white pompom. She never looks more like a schoolgirl; as she grins widely her pride is evident, while The Pink Ladies pout away cynically.

Throughout the film Sandy sports the Rydell ‘R’ to highlight her happiness at belonging somewhere. Be it a red ‘R’ on her beige cardigan or a white ‘R’ on a short sleeve red blouse, her love of uniform perhaps hides insecurities and a need to conform to rules and regulations, compared to the Pink Ladies who have a confidence in their own style. But what they don’t realise is that they too are conforming to each other, albeit in a different way.

It is interesting that Sandy is often with Tom, the high school Jock, as she wears her ‘school’ garments, and some are borrowed from him as she sets about making Danny jealous. In those days, lending your ‘girl’ your sweater to keep warm was a way of showing that she was yours’. She is possibly also trying to impress Tom here, compared to the ‘rebellious’ Danny who couldn’t be more against school procedures.

These vast differences arise even more at Frenchy’s sleepover. Sandy wears what appears to be her Aunt Ethel’s nightgown, in a virginal white Broderie Anglaise style dress, starting with a ribbon at the neck and running right down to the floor. A white hair band tops off the ‘no sex for me’ look, in sharp contrast to the Pink Ladies’s scant night attire. Frenchy even tries to ‘beautify’ Sandy by piercing her ears, who can’t handle the blood loss and rushes to the bathroom.

Sandy is such a drip that Rizzo dedicates the song ‘Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee’ (a super sensible 50’s film star) to her. The song is full of references regarding her squeaky clean image. This prompts Sandy to rush outside and sing her beloved Danny (who only appears in her imagination; to the audience he ‘appears’ in the pond…) the love song ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’ – ironic as she is wearing something so sexless, but to her, loving Danny is a romantic rather than sexual pleasure.

Sandy’s neckline becomes a little lower on her first date with Danny. In buttercup yellow, suitable as butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, the dress has a lightly-scooped round neck with a cutie bow in the middle and cap sleeves, of course with a big typically 50’s-style flared skirt. Ever sensible, she dons a thin white cardigan over her shoulders (picking up on the Pink Ladies’s style?).

It is appropriate that in the scene where Danny tries to make out with Sandy at the drive-in, she is dressed ready for what could be attending catholic school. In a peppermint green (ever the sweet girl) cashmere jumper with pristine white flouncy Peter Pan collar, a moss green wide skirt and her ever present white ankle socks and plimsolls, it is unsurprising that she is horrified at his advances.

She is such a cold fish she won’t let the pale green ribbon bow in her swingy ponytail move out of place. Her only ‘on-trend’ 50’s touch is the fact that her sleeves are slightly rolled-up. This disgust follows the sheer delight at Danny offering her his class ring…a huge gesture of commitment for American high school males, particularly in the 1950s.

Sandy’s loveliest outfit comes at the dance-off. In angelic white once again, she looks radiant and childlike rather than sexy, in an almost floor-length silk strappy full-skirted dress with a square neckline, pinched in at the waist with a delicate pink-lilac corsage and plenty of fanciful folds and ruffles. On arrival, she even wears a little white embroidered cape, covering most exposed skin on the top half of her body, but this is later discarded as her confidence builds (and her competition arrives) when she begins to dance, in a romantic rather than a raunchy fashion.

Her hair is combed within an inch of its life, half up with white decorative white flowers, and she wears white t-bar Grecian sandals – ironically worn by her total opposite and dance rival Cha-Cha in gold. She looks and feels like a princess.

Interestingly enough, the moment at Thunder Road when Sandy requests that Frenchy gives her a “new” look is a moment where she looks arguably the most wonderful, in a peach shirtwaist dress with short sleeves, full skirt and white embroidered Peter Pan collar. The pretty colour and style, along with the picturesque scenery and lighting makes her innocent blue eyes sparkle, her cream-puff skin look purer and her terrific silky blonde hair (bangs swept to side this time) look softer, which contrasts greatly with her sizzlingly sultry and sexy finale costume to follow.

When Olivia Newton-John emerged on set in an off-the-shoulder black cap sleeve sweater, genuine 50’s skin-tight black pants (chosen by the actress herself who was sewn into them), red killer mule-style heels (Newton-John’s own), a black leather jacket lined in red, collar turned up hep-style, thrown over her shoulder à la Pink Ladies, huge frizzed hair, jewelled hoop earrings and fiery red lips and nails, she wasn’t recognised by the crew of ‘Grease’, much to her and costume designer Albert Wolsky’s delight.

Her demeanour matches her clothes as she hitches her hands half-way into her back pockets to push out her chest, and sticks out her hip to one side. After the pure pastels, devilish black and red could not be farther removed from her old look, to portray a new naughty, red hot image. Certainly when she walks into shot, cracking gum with a new-found husky voice, she is no longer like a young girl and is every greaser’s fantasy.

But do the audience approve? Sandy certainly now seems a cool, collected character and a true Pink Lady, but this writer cannot help but ponder if this ‘bad gal’ makeover is not the real Sandy, and in any case, we love her because she is a little different. We are conflicted here because while we are thrilled that she is now accepted and happy with her man, there is a niggling disappointment that she felt the need to be a ‘sheep’ and follow the crowd, especially when Danny loved her for who she was anyway!

So, sweet Sandy or sexy Sandy? You decide.

© 2010 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.


  • Ben Mason

    Thank you sarah.

    You’ve covered all the main girls from from grease.
    In that picture with sandy as a cheerleader, I noticed something weird. Marty, I mean Dinah Manoff wears a black crew neck shirt with a pink scarf. Did you know that she would wear that shirt again a little more than halfway through the movie? This is from an actress who appears in one movie every ten years. How do you pronounce “Manoff?”

    Olivia had to be sewn into those pants at the very end, you know, and the hair looks almost exactly like Dinah’s.

    Thanks again Sarah. Hope you can do articles on the even funnier T-Birds and Danny Zuko.

  • Ben Mason

    Sarah, It’s me. Did you notice some changes between the film and the musical? Sandy’s last name in the play ws Dumbrowski but was changed to Ollson due to Olivia being a non-american. In the first frosty palace scene, It’s Raining on prom night was playing on the jukebox. This meant that sandy was going to the dance. the song playing right before that was La Bamba sung by Stockard Channing and Dinah Manoff (who was wearing glasses, but you knew that!). Chisom and Sandy were on the bleachers, where earlier, Jeff Conaway said and I quote: “Ladies and Gentlemen, dingleberries on parade!” Did you know that?

    I have some big news. Stockard Channing is going to appear in a brand new movie very soon. It’s called “Multple Sarcasms”, and I’m looking forward to it because Timothy Hutton from Ordinary People is in it. I don’t know if you know this, but did you know that my other favorite pink lady was in Ordinary People as well? I’m referring to the runner up for miss Jew.S.A 1978, Dinah Manoff. Get it? It’s supposed to be Miss U.S.A. But since she’s jewish, I made a little joke. Did you know Manoff was in “Ordinary People”?

    Speaking of which, I have almost every one of her movies right now at home. Here’s a list of the Manoff films I have from the earliest to the most recent.

    1978: Grease, the best one of them all
    1980: Ordinary People, she only got five minutes on camera
    1982: I Ought to Be in Pictures, based on that Neil Simon play and I’m still waiting for it to come out on DVD or Blu-ray
    1988: Child’s Play, the first one
    1989: Staying Together, the Channing/Manoff reunion film directed by the reason why Dinah is around: Lee Grant
    1990: Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael
    2001: The Amati Girls, where Dinah sings Kiss of Fire…badly.
    2009: Bart got a room, her comeback film

    There’s the list. Get back to me soon. Please?

  • Ben Mason

    Sarah, I have some news for you but you may not like it.

    Grease is going to be re-released again later this summer, but this time it’s going to be a sing-along. The inappropriate stuff will be taken out as well as cigarettes. The lyrics are changed. I know Dinah ‘Don’t slam the door in my face’ Manoff will be watching this. I’m NOT. If the movie was to be released again, I would like to see an extended version with added footage that was taken out originally such as longer announcements and all those other deleted scenes that are found on the Rockin’ Rydell Edition. I would watch it then.

  • Ben Mason

    Olivia Newton-John is the Lady Gaga of the 1970’s. That’s how good she is. What do you think, Sarah?

  • Ben Mason

    I’m back. I know it’s been so long but I just found out something that will shock everybody. Jeff Conaway, who played Kenickie in “Grease”, passed away a few days ago. He’s probably one of the reasons why the film has become landmark hit, not just in America but all over the world as well. RIP Jeff Conaway: October 5, 1950-May 27, 2011. Jeff is the first main actor from the film to pass away in my memory. So I think it would be only fitting that a T-Birds blog be done on Clothes on film along with Danny Zuko and Kenickie in memory of Jeff Conaway. Respond back please. By the way, that man with Olivia, is that Lorenzo Lamas? He does not look to much older than Dinah…

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