Legally Blonde Is Seriously One of the Greatest Beauty Movies—Here's Proof

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Twenty years ago on July 13, Legally Blonde debuted in theaters, and a powerful pink goddess known as Elle Woods made her way into our consciousness. Reese Witherspoon plays Elle, a beloved sorority president who decides to enroll at Harvard Law School in order to win back her aspiring politician ex-boyfriend. Although the movie is rife with “blonde bimbo” jokes, we come to learn that Elle is strong, smart, determined, and successful at studying law just as she is at putting together a stunning outfit.

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The film is famous for its iconic style moments, including the sequined bikini Elle wears for her Harvard video essay (of which Kim Kardashian replicated during Halloween 2019), the Playboy bunny costume party faux pas, and the hot-pink pleather jacket and pencil skirt she has on when she arrives at Harvard.

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Alamy 

Elle’s showstopping looks, which were by costume designer Sophie de Rakoff, ensured Legally Blonde to be one the most fashionable films in cinematic history alongside Clueless, The Devil Wears Prada, and the recent Cruella. (Witherspoon even had it written in her contract that she could keep her wardrobe from the movies.) However, at its core, Legally Blonde is truly a film about beauty. While there are countless movies known for their hair and makeup moments (Mia Farrow’s pixie cut in Rosemary’s Baby, Amélie’s bob, Natalie Portman’s dramatic eyeshadow in Black Swan, etc.), Legally Blonde’s take on beauty is all-encompassing. It’s a major focus from the beginning to the end.

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Everett Collection

From the get-go, we know that Elle is a woman who loves her beauty rituals. It’s blatantly clear from her bouncy blonde hair and immaculate French manicure to the various makeup and skincare products adorning her vanity in the opening credits. As “Perfect Day” by Hoku plays, we see clues to Elle’s beauty mainstays: OPI nail polish, a box of Herbal Essence blonde hair dye, as well as a few Clinique products, including Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion, Happy perfume, and that old familiar green marble blush compact. Clinique’s presence was so evident throughout the film it seemed like obvious product placement, but the brand claimed to have no knowledge of any paid advertising in a 2017 Refinery29 article. (In the story, makeup artist James Vincent suggested it was due to brand familiarity, as Clinique was seen in several other movies that also came out in the early aughts.)

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Everett Collection

The makeup and hair choices in the film were fitting for the time, though, much like her clothing, Elle’s butterfly clips and glossy lips would easily work today, as the aughts-era trends have cycled fast enough to make it in time for the 20th anniversary.

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Everett Collection

As one would expect, being blonde is a focal point of the film, and curating all of the hair moments was a concerted effort by stylists Joy Zapata and Linda Arnold (the two were awarded for their work from the Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist Guild). Colorists Nancy Braun and Dawn Ellinwood were also enlisted to help create the nuance between Elle’s beach L.A. blonde, Brooke’s (Ali Larter) more sophisticated New York blonde hue, and Paulette’s (Jennifer Coolidge’s) tacky blonde. 

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Alamy

Not only did they have to maintain everyone’s root growth during the entirety of filming, but Witherspoon herself also wore 40 different hairstyles. There was even a mini documentary about it called The Hair That Ate Hollywood, in the special edition DVD.

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Alamy

Then there’s the beauty salon, where some of the most pivotal moments take place, such as the tutorial for the “Bend and Snap,” the outrageous and legendary maneuver in which Elle described as having a “Ninety-eight percent success rate of getting a man’s attention,” and it’s where she and Paulette meet and become friends. In both Legally Blonde and its sequel, Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, & Blonde, the salon serves as an important place of bonding for Elle and her superiors, and almost like an equal playing field of sorts. (Haven’t we all felt a little more vulnerable with foil wraps in our hair and a foot grater taken to our rough and calloused heels?!)

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Everett Collection

Finally, it’s Elle’s beauty knowledge that helps her stand out from her colleagues and win the case: “Isn’t it the first cardinal rule of perm maintenance that you’re forbidden to wet your hair for at least hours after getting a perm at the risk of deactivating the ammonium thioglycolate?” she asks Linda Cardellini’s character before serving her mic-drop revelation in the courtroom.

There’s still plenty to adore about Legally Blonde and our beauty and style icon Elle Woods 20 years later, but she proves that there’s nothing shallow about beauty. We already knew that, though. Still, she makes a great point. Keep everything you read here on Who What Wear in the back of your mind—you never know if it could get you out of a legal bind! 

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Everett Collection

Shop Some of the Beauty Products You'll Spot in the Movie

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