‘Do you prefer “fashion victim” or “ensemble-y challenged”?’
When Clueless burst onto our screens in the mid-90s, it left us with a bucketful of sarcastic put downs to try out in the school hallways and a penchant for plaid we never knew we had. Alicia Silverstone’s Cher Horowitz became an overnight sensation. Girls identified with her heartbreak and social worries, simultaneously envying her revolving wardrobe and online outfit chooser. Loosely based on the plot of Jane Austen’s Emma, this is a High School film at its finest. Set in sunny Beverly Hills with a free rein of Daddy’s credit card, the fashion is of utmost importance and social acceptance. The overriding sense of the film is that these are girls on the precipice of adulthood, their levels of sophistication undeveloped and gaudy. Inwardly, they are desperate to be taken seriously and their garishly matched designer uniforms are their outward attempts at this.
Cher’s style is ‘ and her signature patterned , and became emulated by girls the world over. The look is all about tasteless colour and texture, with Crayola brights adorning the pleats and pinstripe patterns. When more is more, accessories are bountiful; the tackier the better. The girls are drowning in faux-fur handbags, feather-trimmed coats and velvet headbands, with Cher’s best friend Dionne exhibiting a penchant for freakishly flamboyant hats. This is a world where berets appear to be not only socially acceptable, but actually fashion forward.
When new girl Tai, a then relatively unknown Brittany Murphy, arrives on the scene she is quickly shunned for her Nirvana-grunge appearance, probably the most realistic portrayal of how teens dressed at the time. The contrast is so extreme that it is Tai who looks wrong and costumed, while the other clownishly dressed students are the ones that appear acceptable. It is up to Cher and Dionne to transform her, cladding her in preppy shift dresses and oxford collars until she becomes another Beverly Hills clone.
The west coast preppy flair of the film delves us into a world of pure fantasy, far removed from the sloppy grunge style of its 1995 release. As a result, Clueless provided a fashion revelation, with girls everywhere longing to shop on Rodeo Drive. In the words of Cher, they would strive for “courageous fashion efforts” and work to makeover their wardrobes. Hopefully, like Cher, they were also inspired to make over their souls in the process.
Directed by: Amy Heckerling
Costume Design: Mona May