Many of us grew up with Vanna White as a staple in our evening routine, tuning in at 7:30 to watch the all-American blonde bombshell turn the Wheel of Fortune puzzle board into her own personal runway in one fabulously glitzy gown after the next. But while her white-blonde locks, golden tan, and that iconic name drop in Nelly’s “Ride Wit Me” have all helped to elevate her to iconic status, she remains somewhat of a mystery – and fans may not know about all of the hard work that goes into presenting that picture-perfect image night after night. White and show’s key costumer, Kathi Nishimoto, were happy to draw back the curtain (or turn over the vowel, as it were) during a conversation with PeopleStyle in honor of the show’s upcoming 35th anniversary this September.
Believe it or not, despite appearances to the contrary, the game show hostess doesn’t spend her off-hours clad exclusively in black tie ensembles. White says her personal style “differs tremendously” from the show; “off camera I’m a blue jeans, tennis shoes kind of girl.” While she admits that given the nature of her job she does find herself in evening attire every now and then for the various events she attends, she’s quick to add, “I don’t get to keep any of my clothes.”
A myth that clearly needs busting, at least according to her wardrobe stylist, who says, “I think the number one question [she gets from audiences] is, do you get to keep your clothes? There’s a common misconception that all of these clothes are in a closet somewhere.” In reality, however, there’s no magical wardrobe or storage locker packed full of endless evening gowns. Instead, every single one of the 6,500 gowns she’s worn over the course of her 35 years on the show (without a single repeat, of course!) is actually on loan from the brand, altered, worn, documented so it can be filed away in their records, and then promptly returned.
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So what takes one of those 6,500 gowns from cute to a Wheel of Fortune classic? “My favorite gowns are the comfortable ones,” White says, specifically, “the ones that are stretchy … I’ve started wearing a lot more cocktail dresses and I like that too because I don’t have to worry about the hem or tripping over it in my 5-in. heels.” Her particular line of work also requires a little give in the gown (“There are some that are extremely tight and off-the-shoulder, so it’s very hard sometimes to reach to the top row and turn the letters”) and a fairly streamlined skirt (“I don’t want to block the letters.”)
Also on the “no” list? Strapless gowns, says Nishimoto: “She moves around so much and they slip, and on camera you can’t keep tugging at the top of your dress.” But White is open to trying pretty much any style or color that adheres to those guidelines. “As long as I can touch all the letters, I can wear it – I think there’s not one color I haven’t worn.” (Nishimoto credits White’s California-girl coloring, which allows them “to use practically any color of the rainbow.”)
So yes, finding great gowns for White is pretty easy, says Nishimoto, who can only remember one difficulty she encountered while dressing the hostess: “The biggest challenge was to just get her to [be vocal about dresses she doesn’t like] because she is so nice she doesn’t want to say no to anybody.” Their main problem? Having more dresses than shows to wear them on!
That’s not to say the path to the stage is as effortless as White makes it look, though. While her hair and makeup combined can be completed in a cool hour and 15 minutes, wardrobe isn’t quite so straightforward. “Every other Thursday and Friday, we do six shows in one day, and every two weeks we do a fitting where I try on probably 40 to 60 dresses,” White says. “I just put them on, take them off, put them on, take them off, hem them, wear them, and then they go out of my sight.”
And that can make dress recall more challenging than you’d think, she says. “People will write to me going, oh, I love that red dress you had on last Thursday! We probably filmed that six weeks ago and since then I’ve tried on 400 dresses. So it’s like, Oh, well, could you send me a picture? I’m not quite sure I remember that red dress. I do feel like a Barbie doll wearing them all, but with so many tens of thousands that I’ve tried on, you just can’t remember!”
And speaking of Barbie, she adds that her favorite dress was actually one chosen by Katy Perry’s former stylist Johnny Wujek that “reminded me of a Barbie dress that my Barbie had when I was 10 years old,” she says. “He dressed me for a whole week and every one of those gowns was spectacular.” She was matched up with the celebrity stylist “because he was being introduced to E! as the new style correspondent; they asked him what celebrity would you like to style and my name came up!” So her team reached out “and the rest is history!” History in the shape of a pink marabou-trimmed dress.
And, of course, when your entire profession revolves around wearing dramatic dresses and walking in crazy high heels, stumbles and blunders are just part of your daily grind. White credits her “years of practice” for keeping her safe for the most part, and thankfully most of her stumbles have happened off-camera. She adds that it helps that the 5-in. heels are her own, and thanks to the platform 2-in. wedge in the front, “I’m really only, in my opinion, wearing 3-in. heels. They’re the most comfortable.”
But nonetheless, wardrobe malfunctions do happen. “I’ve had things pop off, I’ve had things rip, I’ve had my zipper break,” she says. “The funniest thing was on a couple months ago. It was a Christmas show and we had presents on either end of the puzzle board and for some reason my dress caught the bow of the present and I’m walking back and forth turning letters and there’s a gift attached to the bottom of my dress following me. That one went viral and I had no idea! That’s what made it even more funny!”
She also has some wise words of advice when it comes to feeling good in formalwear of your own. “If you’re looking for a dress to wear to an event, put it on with the heels that you’re going to wear and walk around the room and make sure you feel comfortable in it,” she advises. More importantly, don’t forget to “sit in it and make sure you can breathe! Don’t put on something so tight thinking, Oh, I can wear this for four hours. Don’t do that to yourself! You have so many choices these days – find something comfortable.”
All of these formal dresses go out the window, however, when it comes to the show’s theme weeks which she says tend to be a little less dressy, and a lot more fun. “When we have ‘Tropical Week,’ I’ll wear a lot of Tommy Bahama,” she explains, while Nishimoto has one to add to the wishlist: “Can’t we do ‘Sweatsuit Week?!'” They’ve also brilliantly devised a way to eschew those platform heels, joking, “the times when her feet have been hurting we’ve come up with ‘Tennis Shoe Week’.” After all, what could be more 2017 than Vanna White dressed in head-to-toe athleisure?
Which Vanna White gown is your favorite? What style would you like to see her wear on the show? Sound off below!