The story behind that perfect little black dress from Jerry Maguire

Published January 29, 2018

IMAGE COURTESY OF TRISTAR PICTURES.

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.

In Jerry Maguire [1996], single mother Dorothy Boyd [Renee Zellweger] makes the bold decision to leave the stability of her full-time job to join Jerry [Tom Cruise] in starting his own sports management company, after a memo he sends to their entire staff gets him fired. At first, they have only one client and, when the pair get involved in a romantic relationship, things grow even more uncertain.

“Wow! That’s more than a dress, that’s an Audrey Hepburn movie!” Jerry [Tom Cruise] says to Boyd before their first date at a Mexican cantina. It’s a cinematic moment that compacts layers of movie history—the dress, after all, is modeled after Hepburn’s dress in Breakfast at Tiffany’s [1961]. How costume designer Betsy Heimann fashioned the LBD to slip on—or rather, off—Zellweger is a whole other story…

BETSY HEIMANN: I have had so many requests for that dress over the years—I even made that dress for my closest friend’s daughter to wear to her prom. It’s an Audrey Hepburn dress. That’s the line in the movie.

We were on set and Renee had the sweater on over the dress, and we were talking about how Jerry was going to take Dorothy upstairs and kiss her. We asked, “How are we going to get from point A to point B?” I remember saying to Cameron [Crowe], as he goes to kiss her, he’ll slip the sweater off of her shoulders. We made the dress straps tie up at the top so he could just untie one strap. And he was like, “Oh, thank you! That’s so great!”

It was a moment where you could see what a good collaboration between a costume designer and a director looks like, because you’re designing for moments. It’s not just about a look. A lot of it is about creating character. Like, if a scene direction reads, he takes a gun out of his pocket, and whoops, there’s no pocket in his jacket. You know what I mean? I designed that dress purposely to look like it came from a mall—like she went to the mall and got herself a dress to wear on this date. But at the same time, I designed it with two ties, self ties, at the shoulders so that he could untie them later.