In The Devil Wears Prada, the protagonist, Andy Sachs, gets the kind of opportunity people dream of. But in order to benefit from it, she needs to give up part of herself. In this spin on the Faustian bargain, Andy’s transformation from a poorly-dressed, out-of-work journalist to a jet-setting, high-fashion working girl is more cautionary than aspirational. Eventually Andy rejects the Girl Boss fantasy and the earthly pleasures of her deal with the devil of the fashion world, choosing a path more true to her core values. So what is it about Miranda Priestly’s Girl Boss, Lean In-style path to success that is so tempting to our onion-breathed heroine, and how did Andy’s final decision prefigure today’s scorn for the false promise of the whole Girl Boss myth?
What would it cost to buy your soul? In The Devil Wears Prada, the protagonist, Andy Sachs, gets the kind of opportunity people dream of. But in order to benefit from it, she needs to give up part of herself. In this spin on the Faustian Bargain, Andy’s transformation from a poorly-dressed, out-of-work journalist to a jet-setting, high-fashion working girl is more cautionary than aspirational–and this separates Andy from many other “Girl Boss” protagonists. Andy’s bargain is with the devil of the fashion world herself, formidable Runway editor-in-chief Miranda Priestly. In exchange for becoming “Andrea,” Andy is given gifts of excess and delight, granted entry into exclusive and faraway places with influential people, and guaranteed a seemingly unlimited selection of opportunities in her field of choice–all in less than a year. The catch is it will cost her, well, everything: her family, friends, integrity and even herself. Eventually Andy rejects the Girl Boss fantasy and the earthly pleasures of her deal with the devil, choosing a path more true to her core values. So what is it about Miranda Priestly’s Girl Boss, Lean In-style path to success that is so tempting to our onion-breathed heroine, and how did Andy’s final decision prefigure today’s scorn for the false promise of the whole Girl Boss myth? Here’s our take on what Andy’s character arc says about selling your soul – and how to get it back.
Emily: “Face it, Andy, you sold your soul the day you put on that pair of Jimmy Choos.”
- The Devil Wears Prada
A Couture Faustian Bargain
Dr. Faustus is the main character in a classic German folk legend, famously dramatized by Goethe and Christopher Marlowe. The protagonist is a smart man who, frustrated by the limitations of human knowledge, strikes a deal with Lucifer. Faustus will get 24 years of unlimited magical power and, once the party is over, the devil will collect his soul. The story’s core idea has been revisited and reinterpreted throughout the centuries. Take Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, where a man doesn’t age for 18 years in exchange for his soul, or the legends that famous musicians like Robert Johnson and Bob Dylan sold their souls to the devil to achieve their success. And when you mix that story with the tale of the plucky office girl, like Peggy Olson, Tess McGill, or Mary Richards, you get The Devil Wears Prada.
Unlike the traditional Faustian tale, The Devil Wears Prada is centered around female ambition. Andy is a young woman working for a fashion magazine, and her closest colleagues are two other women who become the most important relationships in her life. Andy makes her Faustian bargain early in the film, when she decides to conform to the fashion-forward aesthetics of Runway. While Andy initially thinks caring about fashion is dumb, she makes this change as a calculated trade: she compromises her identity and values, so she can have the material and career success she’s after. The film leans into the Faustian nature of this deal: Nigel’s razor tongue, Emily’s flaming red hair, and Miranda’s sadism all make Andy’s workplace a hellscape. Miranda in particular strikes fear in the hearts of everyone. Like many other Faustian characters, Andy becomes unrecognizable to the people who knew her before her deal with the Runway devil. But it pays off: after choosing to give up her own identity, Andy is accepted into the influential high-fashion world of the magazine. From that moment on, Miranda calls her by her name and she’s invited into Miranda’s inner circle. Andy gets exactly what she wanted…but once you make a deal with the devil you’re at risk of becoming one yourself.
Lily: “For the last 16 years, I’ve known everything about that Andy. But this person?…“I don’t get her.”
- The Devil Wears Prade
#GirlBossing With the Devil
The Devil Wears Prada came out 8 years before the term Girl Boss was coined, and 10 years before its disgraced coiner (NastyGal founder Sophia Amoruso) declared bankruptcy. But the movie anticipates the rise and fall of #GirlBoss ideology as we follow Andy’s dealings with the devil. Miranda Priestly is the archetypical #girlboss. She’s a powerful businesswoman whose whole identity is rooted in her work. She hustles and fights to stay at the top, facing off against powerful men who do not value her. And much like the Girl Boss CEOs of the 2010s, she frames her work as providing a necessary service to meet the needs of her overlooked feminine clientele. Over the course of the movie, Andy becomes more and more enchanted by Miranda’s power and talent, and she becomes more and more like her role model. They share a single-minded ambition and a commitment to their career over everything else. Andy begins to dress like Miranda in moments that are pivotal to her climb. They both even have last names that invoke power and prestige: Sachs like the bank and Priestly like the minister of a church.
Miranda: “I see a great deal of myself in you.”
- The Devil Wears Prada
But as glamorous and magnetic as Mrs. Priestly is, the movie’s representation of Miranda also exposes the more devilish aspects of being a Girl Boss. Her power emboldens her to be abusive, sadistic, and needlessly cruel. She creates a toxic and demanding work environment: Andy is on call 24/7, the pay is terrible, and the cutthroat culture means her co-workers don’t exactly balance the scales. This echoes many real-life complaints about iconic 2010s #GirlBosses–CEOs who ran companies that promoted themselves as shining beacons of feminist empowerment, only to be subjected to lawsuits accusing gender-based discrimination, sexual harassment, and toxic work environments. The Devil Wears Prada gets what Girl Bosses a decade later seemed to forget: that the patriarchal structure of capitalism creates an oppressive system, even when it’s being led by fabulous women.
As Andy gets closer and closer to Miranda, she becomes similarly manipulative. She makes choices to put herself first and doesn’t prioritize the people in her personal life, and when asked to defend those choices, Andy feigns powerlessness. She uses her mantra of
Andy: “I didn’t have a choice.”
- The Devil Wears Prada
to absolve herself of responsibility – she chooses to give up part of her identity to fit in at Runway, and she chooses to stay in a job she could easily quit. As the movie progresses, people start holding her accountable for her manipulation. Miranda even acknowledges that Andy revealed her true colors in accepting the trip to Paris, essentially stealing that opportunity from Emily. Andy’s deal with the devil put her on a path towards the abusive capitalism she despised at the start of the film. But fortunately for Andy, the biggest difference between her and Miranda is that she makes the choice to leave behind her Girl Boss ambition.
How the Girlboss Got Her Soul Back
As Andy becomes increasingly wrapped up in the power and prestige of Runway, she starts to make excuses for Miranda. Just like the adherents to #GirlBoss at the height of its movement, Andy excuses toxic behavior under the guise of feminism. But Andy’s too smart and too close to Miranda to delude herself forever–she sits right next to Nigel when Miranda gives away his new job to save her own and she sees how it hurts him . She sees the full extent of the price she’ll have to pay to be a true Girl Boss, and she asks herself an important question:
Miranda: “But what if this isn’t what I want?”
- The Devil Wears Prada
And so Andy chooses to walk away from the power and influence she was previously willing to compromise herself for. She fundamentally rejects the idea that we should kill ourselves for work and realizes the allure of girlboss culture is fake. Putting women at the top of unequal and abusive corporate structures built by men isn’t how we end deeper structural problems. Just like Dr. Faustus, Andy sees that parties, fancy clothes, and material success will not bring salvation. These things don’t bring Miranda salvation, either–her life outside of work is just as dysfunctional as her corporate culture. The lesson Andy learns is that our jobs will not save us–because they aren’t supposed to. And just as The Devil Wears Prada predicted, the #GirlBoss didn’t save us either. Thankfully, in the end, Andy sees through the tempting veneer of the Girl Boss before she’s past the point of redemption–and our girl saves herself.
“You must have done something right.”
- The Devil Wears Prada