The Most Shockingly Sexy Transformations Of Otherwise Sensibly Dressed Characters
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The Most Shockingly Sexy Transformations Of Otherwise Sensibly Dressed Characters

By Joanna Robinson | Seriously Random Lists | June 24, 2013 | Comments ()

Peggy O .png

It's a trope as old as time, or at least as old as an 80s movie. The mousy, sensible chick need only whip off her glasses and shake down her hair and surprise, surprise, under that pony tail and baggy sweater she was a hot piece all along. It's an interesting trope with many shades permutations. The most disturbing of which, of course, is that this brand of overt sexualization somehow wins you the man of your dreams. The crowned queen of that particular plot, of course, being Ms. Sandra Dee.


That's an outdated story that any TV show or film with half a brain these days would be unwilling to support. That doesn't mean, however, that the trope is dead. Rather, these days, writers are more interested in subverting it with varying degrees of success. Here are a few examples of

Liz Lemon -- "30 Rock": Outside of Dan Harmon, no one subverts a pop culture trope quite like Tina Fey. In "Sandwich Day," Lemon dresses to impress a visiting Floyd (Jason Sudeikis) complete with little red dress and well-aimed wind machine. She encounters him the very next morning, however, looking the opposite of her best and the wheels fall off their enchanted encounter.

The episode ends with one of my favorite Lemon moments of all time. She might not look her finest here, but her self-depricating, self-parodying humor is, after all, a more interesting and admirable aspect and why we all love her just exactly as she is.

Angela Chase -- "My So-Called Life": Though this beloved 90s drama starts with a drastic makeover, Angela dying her mousy hair bright red and adopting an "alternative" way of dressing, she's still, for the most part, rather sweet and young looking. Favoring loose sweater, over-sized plaid and tights, Angela Chase, though adorable, is hardly a sexpot. But when she dresses up for a date with Jordan Catalano she looks more Kelly Bundy than anything else. Her neighbor Brian Krakow, who often says the right thing in the worst way, accuses her of looking like she's in costume as someone else. And of course that's appropriate for a young girl floundering to find herself. With hindsight he know that Jordan Catalano, despite his accomplished leaning prowess, is a train wreck and emotionally manipulative. I'd like to think that if she were given a few more seasons, Angela would have figured that out for herself as well.

Willow Rosenberg -- "Buffy: The Vampire Slayer": Joss Whedon is known for battling the conception that a sexualized female is any way bad or evil. One of the best "supernatural evils as real life teenage drama" metaphors in the series centers around a young girl losing her virginity and the ensuing fall out and emotional trauma. But the girl is never the villain nor is she ever meant to feel shame. The same is true in the classic episode "Halloween," in which the impossibly mousy Willow Rosenberg is encouraged to dress up in a way she never would. Largely to attract the attention of her oblivious friend Xander. Though she tries to literally hide under a sheet, Willow ends up exposed and the episode ends not with her getting her man but with her emerging with new levels of confidence. Willow doesn't spend the rest of the series in leather mini-skirts. In fact she favors fuzzy sweaters and overalls for at least another season and a half. She's also the subject of one of the cutest "who is that girl?" moments in any show ever. But Willow's pride of stride at the end of the hour all about coming into her own sense of power. And it's beautiful.

Felicity Porter -- "Felicity": Another young girl's transparent attempts to get her man by dialing up the sex to 11. This one tragically backfires as Felicity attempts to not only dress out of her depth but pretend she's okay with a casual, open relationship. Even folks who never watched the series know where this episode ended, with Felicity cutting off her trademark curly locks. It was a drastic but self-empowering move and given long hair's centuries-old association with sexuality, the cut was more than a 19 year-old's histrionics. It was a reclamation of a-typical beauty. Felicity (and Russell) eventually grew her hair back out, but never to quite the same length and volume.

Olive Pendergast -- Easy A: Emma Stone's Olive wasn't exactly a shrinking violet devoid of sexuality before her Hawthorne-inspired social experiment, but her adoption of corset-only couture is meant to provoke, challenge and subvert. Easy A is handily one of my favorite movies in recent memory. I'll never turn it off if it comes on cable. But it's morality and clarity of purpose is sometimes murky. That being said it's at its most delightful when it's sending up that 80s comedy trope. (Specifically Can't Buy Me Love, which is a rare gender-flipped Makeover Movie). In the end, Olive trades her corsets back in for a pair of jeans but not until she's made her point about ladies and sexuality.

Peggy Olson -- "Mad Men": You'll notice that with the exception of Tina Fey, most of the women on this list are teenagers. That's because the whole notion that you're so willing to contort yourself into something you're not is, one would hope, an immature one. That's why it was a little disappointing to see Peggy Olson, who's come so far over six seasons, deck herself out to snag Ted Chaough's attention. It worked and, of course, it didn't. But, at the very least she got his measure. The hair, makeup and wardrobe department has done such an amazing job at showing Peggy's slow sophistication. This episode was a set-back, but an understandable one. I doubt Peggy will do something like that again.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Bailey Quarters had an amazing transformation in one episode of "WKRP in Cincinnati," although Jan Smithers was always strikingly hot.

    And yes, my AARP card just showed up.

  • BuffyloGal

    Was that the episode around Navel (Nuh-vall) magazine?

  • PDamian

    What about Audrey Hepburn and Funny Face, in which she goes from nerdy (or at least Hollywood's idea of nerdy) to glamorous fashion model?

  • apsutter

    Or Audrey in Sabrina. She had long ponytailed hair and wore plain clothes and she comes back from Paris with chic short hair and a super fashionable wardrobe.

  • melissa

    Am I really the only one to point out that Sandy from Grease is NOT Sandra Dee? (who as far as I know didn't ever go uber sexy...which was the point)

  • JoannaRobinson

    Are you really under the impression that I didn't know that?

  • Zen

    True, she was Sandy Olsen. Rizzo was making fun of both of their wholesome blonde "can't touch this" personalities.

  • Repo

    No Laney Boggs? Come on! I don't care if its borderline parody. Given your intro, she should be on this list. Plus it's an excuse to speculate on the lack of success of Sixpence None The Richer. What, just me?

  • lowercase_ryan

    I can't believe you forgot She's All That and The Hottie and The Nottie.

  • kirbyjay

    Cher in Moonstruck.

  • Three_nineteen

    Grease is a little more nuanced than that. Sandy had Danny way before she sexed up. When he saw her like that, Danny was wearing his letterman's sweater to show her he wanted to try to fit in her world. Of course, they threw that point away with the ending, but it was a nice little gesture.

  • apsutter

    Yea and everyone always forgets that Danny was undergoing the slow process of changing himself completely. He wanted to be a jock and then he stopped hanging out with his friends as much leaving Kenickie(sp?) as the de facto leader.

  • PaddyDog

    Agreed. Sandy doesn't fit the trope at all. She was always considered pretty and attractive, just not "cool" in the greaser definition of cool.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I think Cinderella is maybe the ur-makeover myth, rather than Sandy, but fine list nonetheless.

    Though that is a terrible dress Peggy is wearing.

  • e jerry powell


    And you notice that it didn't really stick with Olivia Newton-John herself past about 1987, either. She got Physical, then she got over it.

    Same with Sheena Easton, come to think of it. When she was done with Prince, it all went back to how it was.

    In terms of women who received career sexpot makeover treatment -- as opposed to just character -- the only one it seems to have stuck to was Carmen Electra. I don't know if that's a good thing, but hey, at least there's a porn star out there getting some mileage out of using Electra's real name.

  • PDamian

    It could be about three inches longer, but other than that, I like it. Love the hair, too.

  • TheOriginalMRod

    Tell me about it... stud.

  • emmelemm


  • Nadine

    We're not going to talk about how Tim Gutterson went from his dorky little shirt and tie to Mr Military?

    This guy ;

    To this guy

  • I'll talk about it. I think the evolution is a combination of confidence in his job and the realization that if Raylan can come in looking like overcooked ass and still get the plum assignments, it might not be necessary for Tim to go the button-down route.

  • Nadine

    Absolutely, great insight. Also? Jacob Pitts visibly gained some real muscle and the costume people realised just what exactly they were dealing with.

  • For which we thank both him and them, amen.

  • lowercase_ryan

    No, we're not going to talk about that.

  • Nadine

    Well, shit.

  • Nadine

    The first picture might even be a badly applied clip on tie.

  • Beth Ellen

    I loved Tim Gutterson even with the dorky shirt. The man deserves all the love...

  • Nadine

    SO true.

  • BWeaves

    1. I never watched Felicity, but I thought her short haircut was adorable. I'm probably one of the few people who liked it better shorter. I've had thick long hair. It's a bitch to take care of. My husband loved it, but I cannot understand why. He was always putting an elbow on it so I couldn't move my head, and HEY! Yeah, I wear it short now. Screw it.

    2. I was shocked and surprised that Peggy would pull that "See what you're missing, don't you want me" crap, and at the office yet. Still, it's the hottest she's ever looked.

  • Tinkerville

    My pixie cut is my favorite hair cut I've ever gotten. It's cliche to say, but it felt very empowering. I've had to grow it out a bit longer since it was so costly to maintain, but man is it fun.

    People can be absolute assholes about women cutting their hair off, and some certainly were to me, but that just made me feel like more of a badass.

  • oilybohunk7

    Everyone was nice to me about my hair when I cut it super short but they shouldn't have been, I have a large pumpkin and I couldn't pull it off.

  • emmalita

    I was surprised by Peggy's move too, but I thought it was more a fuck you to Ted than a come and get me. Also a response to his wife showing up. Mrs. Ted is not stupid.

  • BWeaves

    Yes, I agree with everything you said, too.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I wear mine boy short. The last time I grew it out my boyfriend of the time actually complained because it seemed like it was always in his face or under his arms in bed.

  • Mrs. Julien

    I'm totes jells. I would love short hair, but I can't pull it off. The last time I cut it, when it started growing in, a whole bunch of people made a point of leaning in and saying emphatically, "I really like your hair longer". Even a pony tail is bad. Totes. Jells.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    It comes with its ups & downs. I'm too lazy to blow dry (don't even own one) so it's good in that respect. but it shows when I let it go too long between cuts. (like right now) And the thinner I am (not now) the more cropped I can go.

    the downside is that I have a very low hairline on my neck, and it's very visible. I would go even shorter if I didn't have that.

    I do miss brushing the long flowing locks I had from teenage years through my late 20s though.

    Someday when you post your old-timey photos, I'll post mine. ;)

  • BWeaves

    I shave my back neck, even when I wore my hair longer. It just felt and looked cleaner. Not that it was dirty, just too fuzzy. Didn't go with the rest of the haircut.

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