In Educating Rita, Rita’s habit of buying dresses symbolizes her desire to bring about meaningful change in her life. In a discussion about her educational background and her experience growing up in the working class, Rita tells Frank that she always wanted to apply herself in school but felt like she couldn’t because everybody around her considered academic pursuits as worthless. “Not that I didn’t go along with it because I did,” she admits. “But at the same time, there was always somethin’ tappin’ away in my head, tryin’ to tell me I might have got it all wrong. But I’d just put the music back on or buy another dress an’ stop worryin’.” Whenever she started to consider the fact that she wasn’t living up to her full potential, Rita went out to “buy another dress.” One day, though, she finally asked herself, “Is this it? Is this the absolute maximum that I can expect from this livin’ lark?” As she details her change of heart to Frank, she says, “Because that is when you’ve got to decide whether it’s gonna be another change of dress or a change in yourself.” As such, she likens her obsession with dresses to a superficial kind of “change” that doesn’t give a person a true sense of fulfillment, but rather a temporary feeling of contentment. Rather than embracing external transformations, Rita seeks true personal growth by telling herself that she can’t buy another dress until she passes her first exam, thereby turning the idea of a new dress into an incentive for self-improvement rather than a fleeting thrill.
Dresses Quotes in Educating Rita
Rita: See, if I’d started takin’ school seriously then I would have had to become different from my mates; an’ that’s not allowed.
Frank: Not allowed by whom?
Rita: By y’ mates, y’ family, by everyone. So y’ never admit that school could be anythin’ other than useless an’ irrelevant. An’ what you’ve really got to be into are things like music an’ clothes and getting’ pissed an’ coppin’ off an’ all that kind of stuff. Not that I didn’t go along with it because I did. But at the same time, there was always somethin’ tappin’ away in my head, tryin’ to tell me I might have got it all wrong. But I’d just put the music back on or buy another dress an’ stop worryin’. ’Cos there’s always something that can make y’ forget. An’ so y’ keep on goin’, tellin’ y’self that life is great—there’s always another club to go to, a new feller to be chasin’, a laugh an’ a joke with the girls. Till one day, you just stop an’ own up to yourself. Y’ say, ‘Is this it? Is this the absolute maximum that I can expect from this livin’ lark?’ An’ that’s the really big moment that is. Because that is when you’ve got to decide whether it’s gonna be another change of dress or a change in yourself.
There is no contentment. Because there’s no meanin’ left. (Beat.) Sometimes, when y’ hear the old ones tellin’ stories about the past, y’ know, about the war or when they were all strugglin’, fightin’ for food and clothes and houses, their eyes light up while they’re tellin y’ because there was some meanin’ then. But what’s…what’s stupid is that now…now that most of them have got some kind of a house an’ there is food an’ money around, they’re better off but, honest, they know they’ve got nothin’ as well—because the meanin’s all gone; so there’s nothin’ to believe in. It’s like there’s this sort of disease but no one mentions it; everyone behaves as though it’s normal, y’ know, inevitable, that there’s vandalism an’ violence an’ houses burnt out and wrecked by the people they were built for. But this disease, it just keeps on bein’ hidden; because everyone’s caught up in the ‘Got-to-Have’ game, all runnin’ round like headless chickens chasin’ the latest got-to-have tellies an’ got-to-have cars, got-to-have garbage that leaves y’ wonderin’ why you’ve still got nothin’—even when you’ve got it. (Beat.) I suppose it’s just like me, isn’t it, y’ know when I was buyin’ dresses, keepin’ the disease covered up all the time.