Monday, 16 July 2012

My So-Called Life

My So-Called Life is not technically a film - it’s a television show from the early '90s – but the fashion is just so worthy that I’m prepared to let this one slide. I’ll also start with the confession that, as much as I’d like to pretend, I didn’t watch this show as a super-dour five year old in 1994 when it originally aired. Instead I find myself stumbling upon its greatness just this year, as a post-teen wannabe longing to relive the heady days of my own self-imposed adolescent suffering.

Claire Danes is Angela, a sullenly beautiful/beautifully sullen fifteen year old high schooler on the precipice of all things adulthood. The show follows her woes as she struggles her way through teenage heartbreak and wrestles for independence from family suffocation. Teamed with partying friend Rayanne, brooding teen idol Jordan and Ricky, only to be described as Prince-does-suburban-high-school, the show’s characters exhibit a wardrobe of alternative '90s perfection.

Five minutes into the pilot episode and you’ll be lacing up your Doc Martens and wishing you lived in America so that you could refer to your local British Heart Foundation as a ‘thrift store’. The show is grunge galore, with an onslaught of flannel shirts thrown over floral midi dresses and the sort of un-stretchy and high-waisted denim that’s now considered vintage. In a tribute to the morose nature of teen life, colour palettes are sombre with lots of dark patterns and heavy layers. The show fully embraces that teenage struggle to find yourself, an experimentation with personal style playing a large role in this. Long before Marissa OD'ed in TJ or Serena used boarding school as her own personal drugs haven, there was Rayanne. Her wild ways are an attempt to hide her insecurities, with a barrage of mismatched earrings, a vast collection of scrunchies and a penchant for crimps and plaits her physical attempts at this. However, this idea is forever encapsulated when Angela dyes her hair Manic Panic red, her voiceover bestowing her inner thoughts upon us in the ultimate style microcosm: 
“When Rayanne Graff told me my hair was holding me back, I had to listen. ’Cause she wasn’t just talking about my hair. She was talking about my life.”

One of the (many) great things about My So-Called Life lies with its sense of reality - not only with regards to the issues portrayed in the storyline, but also the spilling over of this into the show’s fashion choices. Unlike the wholly unobtainable but equally aspirational wardrobes of Sex and the City or Gossip Girl, items of clothing in My So-Called Life actually reappear throughout the series as the characters demonstrate that it really is possible to wear things more than once. Instead, perhaps the hardest thing to recreate is the air of complicated beauty and struggle, tied up in a desire to be taken seriously with a penchant for ripped fishnets.

Whether you’ve seen the show or not (shame on you my pre-2012 self), we all know that grunge is big news this season, so take inspiration from the real deal and start channelling the angsty '90s icon Angela, whose wise-beyond-her-years wisdom hits hard.

1994-95, USA
Costume Design: Patrick R. Norris

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