The September 1982 issue of Texas Monthly reviews The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas shortly after its release: “Nearly every lingerie ensemble whipped up by costume designer Theadora Van Runkle is a frilly, plunging horror.”
Doug Tomlinson writes in the September-October 1991 issue of American Film, of Thea’s
‘romantic’ style: sensual satins, furs, lace, and velvet. With The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, she was allowed to indulge that latter penchant to great effect, director Colin Higgins agreeing with her that costumes are an effective shorthand to character. In that film Dolly Parton was never more appropriately, nor more lavishly attired: one costume, dubbed ‘Miss Mona Aflame with Passion,’ cost $7,000.
I’m assuming the above drawing is of that $7,000 piece, as fiery and passionate as it is. Theadora, who went on to dress Parton again in 1984’s Rhinestone, was really allowed to let the camp loose in Whorehouse, giving Miss Mona and her chorus of hookers the full “romantic” style treatment. Maybe it took critics nine years’ worth of perspective to fully appreciate the designer who twice packaged that Tennessean gem, swathing her in dazzling blue-streaked crimson with taffeta sleeves that morph into a boa.
Theadora Van Runkle passed away this last November. Lucky for us, her wide array of clever wardrobe creations have all been captured on film. Her energetic sketches are a little harder to track down, but there are a few posted here. She is much missed.