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In the "pretty ugly girl" trope, an attractive young woman is cast as "ugly", this being signified typically by (a) baggy clothes, (b) hair in a bun or otherwise held up over the neck, and (c) glasses. At some point in the film, the "ugly" girl will get a makeover, consisting of changing into tight clothing, taking off her glasses, and letting her hair down. Only then do people find her attractive.

I think this is a form of the Pygmalion / Cinderella myth. TV Tropes would classify it as "Beautiful All Along".

The trope appears in very pure form in the 1999 movie "She's All That".

I'm wondering what was the first appearance of the complete trope — remove glasses, let down hair, put on tighter clothing, then attractive. TV Tropes lists numerous near-matches, the earliest of which is Dorothy Malone in The Big Sleep (1946). This scene shows Bogart flirting with Malone and asking her to take off her glasses. She does, and lets down her hair, at which point he says "hello!" to indicate appreciation of how much more attractive this makes her.

Recently I noticed a pure example in the 1982 film "The Pirate Movie", in which Kristy McNichol plays an unattractive woman until she takes off her glasses, changes into tighter clothes, and lets down her hair, at which point she is 'beautiful'.

What is the earliest example of the "complete" trope?

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  • "I'm wondering what was the first appearance of the complete trope" : Cinderella? (adapted from the myth of Rhodopis?). So the first credited short film in the history of the story might be a French piece produced by Georges Melies (1899). Not my DV BTW, I don't think this is off-topic...
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 7:53
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    TVTropes itself says Now Voyager(1942)
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 8:11
  • I don't know the answer to your question, but I enjoyed reading it. And it reminded me of another question that once bothered everyone I knew: why does Rocky's wife keep getting better looking?
    – Chaim
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 20:51
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    It is unclear why this is getting downvoted. I am curious to see this post evolve. Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 17:50

2 Answers 2

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As Tetsujin said in a comment, TV Tropes notes the oldest filmographic example as 1942's Now, Voyager:

  • One of the earliest examples. Bette Davis is first dressed down with glasses, frumpy hair, bushy eyebrows, and an unflattering dress - only to get a glamorous makeover early on. However, the physical makeover doesn't automatically make her life better; it's just one of the steps. It's also worth noting that the twenty-year-old Charlotte is shown to be quite pretty as well, meaning the makeover is bringing out the beauty she already had that had just been lost over the years.
  • Tina as well, who's introduced with messy hair, thick glasses, and braces on her teeth. For her party towards the end, the glasses and braces are gone and her hair is done in an updo.
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I think this trope is at least referenced in some Doris Day movie: somebody asks his female employee to take off her glasses and let her hair down, then is very disappointed when this does not turn her into a stunning beauty.

Don't remember the title, but with Doris Day, it would have been the 60s, and a subversion indicates that the audience would be well acquainted with the trope. 

I'd say by nature, this trope is a theatre/movie trope. If books count, I'd add "Mansfield Park", where Fanny is generally viewed as inferior and beneath notice. Then one character (Henry Crawford), after some absence, claims that Fanny has grown a lot prettier and taller, and other characters remark about her good looks, too. Going by Mary Crawford, Fanny's looks haven't changed at all, but Fanny started being part of formal occasions → evening dress, jewelry, and so on.

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    Please add the Doris Day movie to your answer as soon as you remember it. As it stands, your post does not really answer the question. Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 3:07

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