Dallas Styles: 7 Iconic Looks from Sue Ellen Ewing

Dallas, Linda Gray, Revelations, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

She’s got the look

Sue Ellen WeekIn true “Dallas” style, Dallas Decoder’s recent Sue Ellen Week ended with a bit of a cliffhanger. Here at last is the final chapter, in which the wonderful Linda Gray joins me to discuss seven iconic looks she wore as Sue Ellen Ewing.


Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, Who Done It?, Who Shot J.R.?

1. The Black and White Dress (1980)

Chris: This is the dress Sue Ellen wore when she was arrested for shooting J.R., and to me, it’s her most iconic look of all. Only Sue Ellen Ewing could make “prison stripes” look this fashionable.

Linda: That dress was an accident. We didn’t know that it was going to be the dress she would eventually wear to jail! I thought it was a little too “on the nose,” but as you said, it ended up being an iconic look that the fans just loved.


Dallas, Dusty Farlow, Jared Martin, Linda Gray, Lover Come Back, Sue Ellen Ewing

2. The Fur Coat (1981)

Chris: Here’s the coat Sue Ellen wears when she discovers Dusty Farlow is still alive. I remember watching this scene when I was a kid and thinking you were the most glamorous woman I’d ever seen.

Linda: I loved that coat and it was perfect for the scene. Soft and feminine. Remember, that was the 80’s and there was not a focus on not wearing fur as it is now. I don’t wear fur … but Sue Ellen would!


Changing of the Guard, Dallas, Goodbye Cliff Barnes, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

3. The Short Hair (1982)

Chris: When the 1981-82 season ends, Sue Ellen is at Cliff’s hospital bedside and your hair is long and flowing onto your shoulders. The 1982-83 season opens later that day with Sue Ellen leaving the hospital — and suddenly your hair is short!

Linda: I loved the haircut. I remember clearly going to [hairstylist] José Eber and telling him that I was tired of clips in my hair, ponytails and the hair constantly sticking to my lip gloss. He said, “Dahling, let’s create a new look!” He did. I loved it … and the producers hated it. Oops! Thank God all the fashion people loved it and we received several awards from hair magazines and fashion magazines as being one of the best coiffeurs in the 80’s!


Dallas, Dusty Farlow, Family Ewing, Jared Martin, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Rock Bottom, Sue Ellen Ewing

4. The Funeral Outfit (1985)

Chris: When Bobby’s funeral begins, Sue Ellen looks amazing in that hat, but by the end of the day, she’s come unraveled — literally and figuratively. She even loses that rock she wears on her finger.

Linda: Well, yes! She does look glamorous in that Valentino outfit, but as you said, she quickly unravels! It broke my heart when they literally tore the skirt I was wearing for the scene. They actually had to buy two Valentino skirts so it broke my heart that they had to ruin one! That show was when I first met Lou Diamond Phillips. He played one of the pimps on the street as Sue Ellen was walking aimlessly around having lost her ring!


Dallas, Linda Gray, Martha Scott, Pam Ewing, Patricia Shepard, Sue Ellen Ewing, Victoria Principal

5. The Oil Baron’s Ball Gown (1985)

Chris: This is my favorite Sue Ellen gown from the mid-1980’s, when Travilla was the show’s costume designer. You look amazing.

Linda: I loved Bill Travilla. He used to come into my dressing room and sit early in the morning and tell me wonderful stories of the glamorous women of Hollywood that he used to dress. Of course, we all remember the famous shot of Marilyn Monroe in that amazing white halter dress — which he designed — of her standing over the street grate. Talk about iconic. He knew how to dress the female body. He was a genius and designed clothes for the actors that suited their characters and their body type.


Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

6. The Executive Look (1986)

Chris: This is one of Sue Ellen’s first outfits when she becomes a business executive. I love that sassy expression.

Linda: I remember it clearly. I like that sassy expression too. It’s so funny because in all of these pictures I can “feel” the fabric! I remember the contrasting patterns being a bit bold back then but we were always trying to push the envelope a bit — or a lot — to give the audience an idea to play more with their wardrobe and become a little more creative.


Dallas, Ewings Unite, Gary Ewing, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, Ted Shackelford, TNT

7. Black and White Redux (2013)

Chris: To me, this outfit demonstrates the genius of Rachel Sage Kunin, the new show’s costumer designer. She manages to update Sue Ellen’s look while staying true to the character’s traditions.

Linda: I am honored and so happy to be working with Rachel. She gets it! She is creative, talented, knows her fabric and has gotten every single character dressed perfectly for their role. The other thing that people don’t know is that she dresses everyone on the show. Usually they have a woman wardrobe woman and a person for the men. It’s the first show that I have ever worked on where there is only one person — and I’m so glad that it’s Rachel.

Share your thoughts on Sue Ellen’s looks in the comments section below and read more “Dallas Styles.”

Dallas Styles: Pam’s Perm


In “Start the Revolution with Me,” Victoria Principal sports a new hairstyle – a frizzy permanent, one of the fashion fads of the early 1980s.

The look demonstrates how Pam is always ahead of the curve, and it also gives “Dallas” a chance to show how cool Miss Ellie is. She’s the only character to comment on Pam’s new style, telling her, “I love your new hairdo.”

But there’s symbolism in Pam’s do, too. In “Dallas’s” previous episode “Making of a President,” Sue Ellen urges Pam to have an affair with Alex. “Pam, I just want you to protect yourself,” Sue Ellen says. “The Ewing men are all the same. Bobby and J.R. are into the same power trip, and for you to survive, you have two choices: You can either get out, or you can play by their rules.”

Pam seems to resist the advice, but we know she’s really tempted by Alex. This means Pam is becoming more like her morally ambiguous in-laws – particularly Sue Ellen, who has cheated on J.R. with at least three men (Ray, Cliff and Dusty) at this point during “Dallas’s” run.

So is it any wonder Pam shows up in “Start the Revolution with Me” wearing a perm?

Think about it: A “permanent wave,” according to Wikipedia, is created by stretching and softening hair and molding it around the shape of a perm rod. By allowing herself to get close to another man, isn’t Pam doing something similar – stretching the boundaries of matrimony, relaxing her standards, molding herself into the shape of a Ewing? Or maybe Pam just wants Bobby to notice her.

Whatever the case, the perm doesn’t last long – and thankfully, neither does Pam’s flirtation with infidelity.

Dallas Styles: Lucy’s Wedding

Sue Ellen’s dress, part 1

Lucy’s wedding in the fourth-season episode “End of the Road, Part 2,” gives the “Dallas” cast a chance to dress up and show off like never before. No one rises to the occasion quite like Linda Gray, who gets to wear two outfits.

When the ceremony begins, Sue Ellen wears a brownish-gray satin dress with shoulders so wide, it makes Gray look like she’s been wrapped in a king-sized bedspread.

… And part 2

This might be intentional. During the reception, a waiter spills a drink on Sue Ellen, and when she retreats to her bedroom to change, she discovers J.R. has been sleeping with Afton – in the same bed he shares with Sue Ellen.

Old-fashioned girl

Until this point, Sue Ellen has been resisting the charms of her old college boyfriend Clint Ogden, a guest at the wedding who has been shamelessly flirting with her. Once she knows J.R. is cheating on her again – and with her “bedspread dress” stained – Sue Ellen apparently decides she has nothing to lose.

She changes into a much different outfit: a form-fitting pinkish-orange garment with three big white flowers printed on the front.

The u-shaped neckline swoops down across Gray’s chest and leaves her shoulders exposed, making this dress much sleeker and sexier than the bedspread. Sue Ellen seems to be letting the world know she’s available again.

Lucy’s wedding gown is also revealing – figuratively, that is. She gets fitted for the dress in “End of the Road, Part 1,” when we learn Miss Ellie wore the gown during her wedding to Jock a half-century earlier.

This seems appropriate. Lucy is a modern girl in almost every sense of the word, but she harbors some pretty outdated ideas about marriage.

In “Start the Revolution with Me,” a later fourth-season episode, Lucy suggests she’d like to drop out of school so she can become a full-time wife to Mitch. At that point, it becomes clear: Lucy didn’t just inherit a wedding dress from the 1930s; she got a Depression era mentality to go along with it.

Dallas Styles: Purple!

It’s a family thing

Pam is the focus of “Executive Wife,” and in all her scenes, she wears purple. It starts off subtly – in Victoria Principal’s first appearance in this episode, Pam sports a purple belt with a blue pantsuit – but the color becomes more prominent as the story progresses.

Perhaps the purple suggests Pam is emotionally bruised after being rejected by Rebecca in the previous episode, “The Prodigal Mother.” Or maybe it signifies Pam’s romantic state: If purple is produced by blending red with blue, then isn’t it the ideal pigmentation to represent Pam’s heart-versus-head struggle to resist Alex Ward’s temptation in this episode?

The color is frequently seen on other characters during “Dallas’s” fourth season, but “Executive Wife” might be the show’s purplest episode of all. In addition to seeing it on Pam, Sue Ellen wears a purple floral print dress when J.R. takes her ring shopping; Donna wears a purple dress when she and Cliff run into J.R. and Sue Ellen during their shopping spree; and Bobby’s secretary Connie sports a pinkish-purple blouse in “Executive Wife’s” first act.

As if that wasn’t enough, when Mitch and Lucy announce their engagement to the Ewings, she wears a purple dress, while he sports a purple necktie. In Mitch’s case, the color is particularly appropriate. After all, if he survives his entry into the family Ewing, he may well qualify for a purple heart.

Dallas Styles: Jock’s Medallion

Lion king

In the famous painting of Jock that hangs at Southfork (and later, Ewing Oil) after the character’s death, he wears his signature gold medallion. The lion’s head, which dangles on a chain around Jock’s neck, reminds the world of his role as father of the Ewing pride.

When Jock was alive, sometimes his own family needed the reminder.

Jim Davis is first shown wearing the lion’s head in the fourth-season episode “The Venezuelan Connection,” when an enraged Jock chases down Bobby in the Southfork driveway after discovering his youngest son has bought a refinery.

“Why in the hell didn’t you check with me first?” Jock demands.

“There wasn’t time, Daddy. I had to move fast,” Bobby responds.

“Move fast? So fast you didn’t have time to talk to me?”

Similar scenes unfold in other fourth-season episodes. In “The Prodigal Mother,” Jock is wearing the medallion when he makes a dismissive remark about Mitch and Lucy stands up to him, and in “Executive Wife,” the lion’s head is hanging around Jock’s neck when Ray suggests he should check with Bobby before taking millions of dollars out of the company to invest in a land deal.

In that instance, Jock lets Ray know he’s still top dog (er, cat) at Ewing Oil.

“Let me tell you something, Ray,” he says. “Ewing Oil is mine. I started it. I worked it. I made it what it is today. And if Bobby or anybody else don’t like the way I do things, they know what they can do.”

As Jock speaks, the medallion around his neck catches the Texas sunlight, drawing the viewer’s attention and helping to illuminate the Ewing patriarch’s message. There’s no doubt: Jock may be a lion in winter, but he’s still a lion.

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.

Dallas Styles: J.R.’s Vest

‘The Wheeler Dealer’

Is there something symbolic about the vest J.R. is wearing when he gets shot at the end of “A House Divided,”“Dallas’s” famous third-season finale?

The vest, which appears to be gray flannel with a silk paisley-printed back, goes with one of J.R.’s three-piece suits, a style that had been back in vogue for awhile when this episode debuted in 1980. Three years earlier, John Travolta famously rocked a three-piece white suit in “Saturday Night Fever,” while Steve Martin adopted a similar look during many of his late ’70s standup routines.

J.R. sports several three-piece suits during “Dallas’s” third season. In “The Wheeler Dealer”and “A House Divided,” he is seen wearing a vest without the jacket, which could signify how J.R. is no one-dimensional villain. His personality, like his wardrobe, is layered. In “A House Divided,” the vest could also be seen as having an ironic effect: The garment is like an extra layer of armor, which does J.R. absolutely no good once that intruder steps out of the shadows and pumps two bullets into him.

Whatever symbolic value J.R.’s vest offers, one thing is certain: Larry Hagman has never looked better. In his 2001 autobiography “Hello Darlin’,” the actor recalls how he went on a diet on New Year’s Day 1980 and began jogging two miles daily, eventually shedding 35 pounds. By the time “A House Divided” was filmed, Hagman is noticeably thinner. The formfitting vest accentuates his newly trim frame. He looks positively dapper.

Hagman’s physique really works in his character’s favor, too. J.R. struts his way through “A House Divided,” cockier than ever. At one point, Jordan Lee, angry that J.R. has suckered him into buying worthless oil leases, bursts into his office and sneers, “You must be mighty proud J.R. You must be on top of the world!”

Jordan is right: J.R. is on top of the world – at least until the episode’s final scene, when he almost leaves it.

Dallas Styles: Miss Ellie’s Fur Coat

Warm, in more ways than one

In “The Wheeler Dealer,” Jock and Miss Ellie visit the Colorado sanitarium where Amanda, his first wife, has lived for many years. The scene is beautifully written and performed, but whenever I watch it, I find myself a little distracted by the dark brown fur coat Barbara Bel Geddes wears.

This is a decidedly un-Ellie-like look, after all. On “Dallas,” Ellie is the rancher’s daughter who never outgrew her affinity for simple skirts and blouses. For her, dressing up usually means conservative suits and a strand of pearls. What’s she doing bedecked in fur?

Perhaps the “Dallas” wardrobe designers wanted to draw a contrast between Ellie and Amanda, who wears a basic floral print dress and long sweater in this scene. The fur might also offer a window into Ellie’s state of mind, suggesting she’s still struggling to accept the fact she isn’t the first Mrs. Jock Ewing.

Remember, Ellie didn’t learn about Amanda until the eve of her cancer surgery in “Mastectomy, Part 1,” an earlier third-season episode. The shock came at a time when Ellie was worried about her health and feeling insecure about her femininity. Is the fur coat her way of asserting her role as the wife of a wealthy and powerful man?

As “Dallas” fans, we tend to put Ellie on a pedestal, but she was capable of experiencing doubts, as we saw during the “Mastectomy” episodes. Of course, Ellie is mostly strong and compassionate, which the sanitarium scene ultimately demonstrates. When Amanda sees Jock, she doesn’t recognize him and appears somewhat frightened, so Ellie approaches the woman, gently puts her hand on her shoulder and quietly says, “Hello Amanda. My name’s Ellie.”

It’s a touching moment, and even though it’s very brief, I consider it one of Bel Geddes’ best scenes. It’s also a lovely reminder that Ellie is “Dallas’s” warmest character, and not just because of the coat she wears.

Dallas Styles: The Colors of ‘Return Engagements’

Green, green glow of home

When “Return Engagements”begins, Miss Ellie is sitting in her missing son Gary’s bedroom, leafing through pictures he drew as a child. It’s a fitting opening. At times, this episode looks more like a Crayola production than something Lorimar made.

The actors and sets in “Return Engagement” are splashed with bright colors, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence. The hues seem to offer clues to help the audience better understand the Ewings and their predicaments.

The most striking examples are found in Val’s stylish living room, which brims with blues and greens. The sofa is navy, the walls are aqua and leafy plants abound.

The soothing blues let us know Val’s life is less turbulent than in her previous “Dallas” appearances, while the greenery suggests her fortunes are rising. We don’t know what Val is doing professionally these days, but this doesn’t look like the home of someone scraping by on waitressing tips.

Blue is also used to signal Miss Ellie’s changing moods. When a saddened Ellie looks at Gary’s childhood drawings, she wears a light blue blouse. At the end of “Return Engagements,” when true-blue Ellie delivers her moving monologue and admits she didn’t do enough to help Gary and Val keep Lucy, she wears a navy suit.

Peachy, but not so keen

In “Return Engagements,” we also learn Gary and Val have renewed their romance, making her apartment their sanctuary during his secret visits to Dallas. Perhaps to signify the couple’s enduring love, the show makes Val’s bedroom wall-to-wall peach, a symbol of immortality in Chinese mythology.

Other uses of color in this episode: In the first act, J.R., his morals as muddied as ever, is covered hat to boots in brown, while jealous Kristin sports a green polo shirt when she finds J.R. cozying up to Sally Bullock.

Speaking of the Bullocks: Crotchety Mr. Eugene and gold-digging Sally don’t sport anything particularly bright in this episode, but that’s OK. With personalities as colorful as theirs, who cares what they wear?

Dallas Styles: Jock’s Bathrobe

‘Ellie Saves the Day’

Is it a coincidence Jim Davis wears a bathrobe during some of Jock’s most vulnerable moments on “Dallas?”

In “Survival,” Jock is clad in a beige terrycloth robe when he overhears Miss Ellie’s confrontation with a Dallas Press reporter and learns the plane carrying J.R. and Bobby has crashed. The usually rock-like Jock crumbles upon hearing the news. “Damn it, Ellie,” he says with wet eyes. “Both of them. Why?”

In “Ellie Saves the Day,” Jock is wearing a different robe – this one appears to be dark blue with white dots – when he learns J.R.’s risky Asian oil deal has brought the Ewing empire to the brink of collapse. It’s a moment of reckoning for Jock. At one point, he buries his face in his giant hand and tells Bobby, “I trained J.R. and taught him everything he knows. Gave him the fever for big business. But I never taught him when to stop.”

The bathrobes are crucial props in both scenes. Davis cuts such an imposing figure, it’s hard to forget he was almost 70 when “Dallas” began. The robes help the actor humanize his character, reminding us Jock is in his twilight, even if he doesn’t look or act like it.

Appropriately, the bathrobe also helps Ellie – and “Dallas” viewers – come to terms with Jock’s loss. In the fifth-season episode “Acceptance,” Ellie finally stops denying Jock’s death and walks into his closet, where she tenderly touches his clothes. Hanging among them: that blue-and-white-dotted robe, reminding us once again that Jock really was mortal.