Famous for the glamorous gowned image she has portrayed for more than 25 years on “Wheel of Fortune,” Vanna White has become synonymous with over-the-top decadence in dress. She has worn more than 7,500 outfits on the show without ever repeating.
Referring to her job as 50% letter-turning and 50% fashion, White has a keen sense of how her wardrobe helped build the “Wheel of Fortune” brand.
“I think a lot of people watch the show to see what I’m wearing,” she says.
There’s considerable evidence to back that assertion. In 2005, Woman’s Wear Daily listed her as one of TV’s biggest style icons. “Wheel” has its own popular mini-website, Vanna Style, dedicated to tracking her every outfit.
Even now, with above-the-knee cocktail dresses and formal pantsuits among her “Wheel” fashion repertoire, White’s image is practically an American institution. Fan letters describing bets on what color she’d come out in have been common.
“You never know if I’m going to come out in a prom dress, a slinky thing or a pantsuit — it’s part of the fun,” White says. “In 25 years, I’ve worn everything — every color, every design, short, long, taffeta, beaded, you name it.
“I once wore this yellow dress with feathers on it, and Pat (Sajak) called me ‘Big Bird,'” she adds. “I’ll put on something and say, ‘Should I really wear that?’ Then I’ll think, ‘Why not?’ There’s something for everybody.”
It takes a small team to create White’s iconic image. Stylist Roberta Wagner coordinates with the star along with costumers Kathi Nishimoto and Alan Mills to dazzle audiences. Wagner calls in 18-20 looks for every 12 that are aired, pulling clothes from designers in California, New York and Europe.
Referring to White as “a very sophisticated woman who is also very down-to-earth,” Wagner aims to incorporate White’s preference of “clean, sleek and modern” into the ensemble. Then the team judges the color against the backdrop, making sure hues pop for the camera — particularly important since the show’s transition to hi-def. Finally White joins the group, and the final lineup is chosen.
While she prefers classic, simple gowns with pearls for the show — something Grace Kelly or Jacqueline Kennedy might have worn — she admits that her job is to please everybody. As a result, she often dons items that she wouldn’t necessarily wear in her personal life. (She calls herself a “blue jeans person — very casual, no makeup, and tennis shoes.”)
“Those gowns are not who I am,” she says. “I am more the girl next door with a ponytail. I am portraying an image.”
Ultimately, White feels that onscreen fashion is merely an element of her job, not the reward. She says that what she loves is making people happy and seeing contestants win.
“It brings such joy to them,” she says.