Dallas Styles: Sue Ellen’s ‘Who Done It?’ Dresses

Subject to contrast

When “Who Done It?” begins, Sue Ellen is at the Dallas police station, where she is being arrested for J.R.’s shooting. We see her have her mug shot taken and get fingerprinted, and then Detective Frost reads her her rights.

We also watch as Sue Ellen removes her jewelry – rings, earrings, bracelets, pearls – and passes each item to an officer seated behind a cage window.

True colors

The poignancy of this scene can’t be overstated. For Sue Ellen, these aren’t just ornaments; they’re part of her identity. Not since the first-season episode “Winds of Vengeance,” when Luther Frick forced her to wear a swimsuit, has she been this exposed.

To underscore the drama of Sue Ellen’s jailhouse scenes, the “Dallas” wardrobe designers put Linda Gray in a black-and-white “dress” (it’s actually a matching blouse and skirt that give the appearance of being a single garment). The right side of the top is black and the left is white; below the black belt, the colors are reversed.

Aside from evoking prison stripes, the dress symbolizes the dichotomy of seeing this wealthy Dallas society wife being hauled off to jail. The dress also represents the mystery surrounding Sue Ellen’s role in J.R.’s shooting. She was drunk the night he was gunned down and can’t remember if she pulled the trigger, but the truth is black or white: Sue Ellen is either guilty or she isn’t. She just doesn’t know which.

By the end of the “Who Done It?” Sue Ellen figures out J.R.’s assailant was Kristin, who has been trying to frame her for the crime. In the episode’s climactic scene, a triumphant Sue Ellen goes to Southfork to confront her sister, and once again, “Dallas” uses Sue Ellen’s clothing to open a window into her mindset.

With the burden of doubt lifted, Sue Ellen’s somber black-and-white dress has been replaced with one that’s lighter and brighter, dotted with small splashes of red, blue and yellow. Unlike the earlier outfit, this dress offers a plunging neckline – perfect for a woman who is eager to expose her sister’s misdeeds.

Comments

  1. It’s true, the black and white dress is quite iconic, It added a special quality to the episode. I did enjoy her wearing both dresses, but I also found it strange. Sue Ellen had never worn stuff like that before, I never noticed her to be so stylish- and yet here where she is supposedly stressed out the most, she seems to be wearing these rather loud fashionable dresses, it seemed a bit out of character for me- she always looked good, but it seemed she was dressing up a bit in this episode, something she had not really done before- and she really would not do it again much after this period.

    I think a special mention should go that HAIR. Her hair is just amazing- and it’s quite different from when she first appeared on Dallas. Both Sue Ellen and Pam had hair transformations, where they were both nice when they appeared on Dallas, but then they started to take on a life on their own. Pam morphed nicely into her great Pam hairstyle quickly, and although Sue Ellen’s hairstyle did not change much (until she cut it)- it was very different, fuller, such a richer color, perfect for her.

    • That’s a good point about Sue Ellen and Pam’s hair. I tend to overlook hair since I have none myself, but you’re right: Both Linda Gray and Victoria Principal have gorgeous hair. Do you remember when Principal endorsed Jhirmack products?

      Regarding Sue Ellen’s wardrobe: I always thought the character was well dressed, but I agree that she was particularly fashionable in this episode. I’m glad you agree the black-and-white dress is iconic.

      As always, thanks for your comments, Archie. I appreciate them.

Trackbacks

  1. […] much as I love the iconic dresses Sue Ellen wears in “Who Done It?,” nothing compares to Jock’s lion’s head medallion, the […]

  2. […] Ellen believably desperate at the beginning of “Who Done It?” when the character, clad in that iconic black-and-white dress, is forced to spend the night behind bars because the Ewings refuse to bail her […]

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