Celebrating the Fearless Style of 1983 Classic Flashdance

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Flashdance, 1983(Film still)

The legendary dance film was released 35 years ago, and its sartorial and performative influence is ever-enduring

1983 cult favourite Flashdance barely needs an introduction. Welder by day, dancer by night (as the saying goes) Alex Owens becomes involved in a whirlwind relationship with her boss Nick Hurley as she navigates working at the steel mill (reading French Vogue on her lunch break), performing at Mawby’s bar in the evenings, and her desire to audition for the Pittsburgh Conservatory of Dance and Repertory. The Adrian Lyne-directed film’s splicing of music video-esque dance sequences and Alex’s tumultuous life set a precedent for movies like Footloose and Top Gun, and while the latter examples were better received by critics, Flashdance remains especially iconic – given its myriad stand-out dance sections, like the unforgettable moment that Alex pulls a cord on stage that opens the heavens, water crashing down over her poised figure – 35 years after its release.

Alex is experimental and spontaneous in her style both of dancing and, we discover, her general life. Fiercely protective of herself and her friends, we see the heroine embarking on something of an emotional rollercoaster: a romance and numerous arguments with Nick; almost losing her friend Jeanie to an aggressive rival club owner; despondency following the death of her mentor and friend Hanna; and the final elation of her dance audition routine, into which she channels these intense emotions. Through this turmoil, however, Alex’s style remains a constant. The dancer-cum-welder’s tomboyish wardrobe serves to both allow her to blend in at work and go from place to place easily on her bicycle, while she taps into her sexuality via racier, more daring choices in the evenings. Here, in celebration of 35 years of visionary dance, a life-affirming soundtrack and fearless sartorial choices, we look at the key facets of Alex’s style.

1. Always have an army jacket to hand

An oversized army jacket is one mainstay of Alex’s wardrobe, allowing her to weather the Pittsburgh rain as she bikes around town and creating a necessarily big-shouldered 1980s silhouette. While she favours a traditional khaki green iteration for much of Flashdance, she sports a red military version following her eventual Pittsburgh Repertory audition, this colour change perhaps representative of a courageous new chapter of her life. Plus, when she runs out to meet Nick holding a bunch of red roses while Grunt, her ever-faithful hound, brandishes a bow of the same rosy hue, it makes for a pleasantly colour-coordinated final tableau.  

2. Clothes are better ripped

It would be fair to describe Alex as a beautiful girl with an edge. It therefore makes sense that many of her clothes are slightly off-kilter in the same manner: T-shirts and sweatshirts are slashed at the neck and worn falling off one shoulder (a styling trick that caused a sensation), her requisite leg-warmers for dancing are raggedy, and blue Levi’s are hip-hugging but tattered, with gaping holes at the knees and frayed hems. Similarly, it’s apparent that the warehouse she lives in is on the brink of disarray when a broken radiator causes a minor flood. Such well-worn details add to the already evident idea that Alex is a diamond in the rough, and a steadfast non-conformist.

3. A skirt suit isn’t just for the office

The performances staged in Mawby’s Bar are wild. After Alex’s aforementioned water stunt on stage, Tina Tech – covered in glitter – dances a memorable routine to Karen Kamon’s Manhunt against a backdrop of a brick wall painted black. But it’s the dance performed to Imagination, which sees Margo remove layers of voluminous clothing (piled on at first in much the same style of Balenciaga A/W18) as she darts across the white tiled stage. Removed from its original context and placed firmly in the unknown, a red skirt suit is Margo’s second outfit during this routine, its garish shade, fitted pencil skirt and profound shoulders jarring against the bright tiles, and shocking when viewed through strobe lighting.

4. Take ‘dewy’ one step further with constantly damp hair

Alex’s wild dark curls are consistently seen bouncing around her face as she loses herself in dance. What’s more, her hair is often damp – either from being caught in the rain, working up a sweat or literally pouring water over herself – when she’s in motion, adding a constant energetic, dewy glow to her complexion. This effect is especially pertinent during the famed Maniac sequence, in which Alex stretches and dances mesmerisingly to the punchy tune. 

5. Borrow from the boys (in part)

One of Alex’s most risqué outfits is unveiled over a luxurious lobster dinner with Nick. Upon the arrival of his ex-wife, Katie, Alex removes her boxy, men’s tuxedo jacket to reveal that the bib-front shirt and bow tie she is wearing is literally just that – a sleeveless, backless, shirtless, oblong bib. Needless to say, it’s a look that’s gone down in cinematic history.