On its 25th birthday, Maria Henry explores the ‘fashionable legacy’ of Clueless.
Clueless is a film that everybody seems to know. Its popularity has only grown stronger over the 25 years since its release in the US on the 19th July 1995, with more teens turning to its colourful array of 90s outfits for fashion inspiration. It’s even become a trend on the social media app ‘TikTok’ to dress up in Clueless inspired outfits, showcasing clothes inspired by the film’s characters.
What makes the film so good? Why are people just as invested in this film as they were over two decades ago? Well, to begin, the female-led film was written, researched and directed by Amy Heckerling. Heckerling wanted to create an adaption of Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’, however, she wanted to create a modernised version, using the same themes of romantic mishaps and youthful ignorance Austen writes about but adapting it for a modern teenage audience.
Heckerling took the realism of the film very seriously and spent months in real American high schools, analysing and observing the language and the trends of Californian teens. She wanted to write characters that would accurately reflect the world that 90s teenagers were living in. She noted that a big part of replicating this vision of teenage life was always going to be the fashion, but she also knew that to create individual looks for the characters she would have to carefully seek meaningful fashion inspiration for each individual.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Heckerling stated that she went to an art school where she noted that, though she wasn’t particularly interested in fashion herself, to her fellow students “what they put on meant a lot to them. There is a very creative element to what a young person feels like they can do and wear”. This showing that she understood the value of creating a unique aesthetic for each character and how it would add to our impression of them, as well as represent their impression of themselves.
Whilst characters like Tai (played by Brittany Murphy) and Travis (Breckin Meyer) chose a more commonly seen 90s aesthetic inspired by the wave of 90s grunge that was sweeping the west coast, Heckerling offered the idea that Cher (Alicia Silverstone) and Dionne’s (Stacey Dash) clothing was more inspired by runway looks – offering them a greater opportunity to experiment with their clothing choices and incorporate designer pieces.
In the absence of social media, teens would look to runway shows to understand fashion, to see what was new and trending. So, although Dionne’s fabulous hats and Cher’s all plaid looks may have not been common in 1990s American schools, the film in many ways did what the characters claimed to do and set the new trends. The outcome of this being that audiences wanted to replicate and borrow from their sense of style. Cher’s yellow Dolce and Gabbana plaid co-ord has become a prime example of this, with dupes being sold all over the internet today, showing that people still want to achieve Cher’s iconic look.
Clueless is a wonderfully made film, a great rom-com and a fascinatingly modern adoption of a classic novel. It is easy to see how it’s held popularity over the years and is just as enjoyable now than ever. It is also clear to see how the film’s fashion is so integral to its legacy and popularity with modern audiences. It stands as a perfect example of how 90s fashion continues to influence today’s youth culture and how a great outfit, much like a great film, never goes out of style.
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