Why Mia Wallace’s outfit made Pulp Fiction’s dance scene so iconic

Published January 15, 2018

Clothes on Film is a series in which we explore iconic looks from film and television that have stayed in our minds years after they first hit the silver screen. 

Pulp Fiction [1994] is known for its many twists, but most poignant of all is the one danced by Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta). It’s in that scene that Mia sports the outfit that has inspired one of the most popular Halloween costumes of the last two decades, with a white button down shirt as the quintessential piece that makes her Mia. 

But when we spoke to costume designer Betsy Heimann about the look she created for one of Quentin Tarantino’s best-known films, she shed some light on the oft-forgotten bottom half of her outfit: cropped black trousers that draw attention to Mia’s feet and gold Chanel ballet flats, which she slides off moments before Mia and Vincent hit the dance floor. You’ll never watch that scene the same way again.

HEIMANN: I loved Uma. I worked with her a couple of times, I just adore her. She has amazing body language which, as a costume designer, I recognize more than facial features. I wanted her to be the female “reservoir dog,” because Quentin and I did Reservoir Dogs together and then we moved onto Pulp Fiction and John Travolta and Sam Jackson were reservoir dogs as a character type. They’re kind of these low-in-the-hierarchy criminals and I wanted her to be a female reservoir dog, so I thought her outfit should be black and white. She’s very tall and we had no money. I found some trousers for her that I just loved so much, but they were so short. So I said, “Let’s just show it off, let’s make it like we mean it, let’s crop ‘em.” And Uma thought that was a good idea. I said, “You know, your husband is very wealthy, so I’ll call Chanel and see if they have some ballet flats,” and they had gold ones and she said, “Oh, I have a big shoe size,” and I said, “I think that’s great. There’ll be more to show off, they’ll be so thrilled.” [laughs] So Chanel gave me the shoes. I’m a very pragmatic costume designer. So here’s a girl—she sits at home all day with her drug-dealing husband, they have a pool, they live in the lap of luxury … but she wants to have some fun. And so the reservoir dog scene is very attractive to her because they’re bad boys. And what good girl doesn’t want to be with a bad boy?