Mapping the Music and Style in 'Clueless'
In this new regular style feature we pick apart classic movies and TV shows, dissecting the fashion, characters, and the importance of a sick soundtrack.
Clueless is not just a movie. It’s a guide to life. It teaches you that it was “That Polonius guy” not Hamlet who said, “To thine own self be true.” But you knew that already—you remember Mel Gibson correctly. Over the eighteen (gulp) years since its release it has introduced us to so many things. And done it with fur-trimmed plaid panache. When I watched it for the first time as a wide-eyed preteen, I fell head first in love with everything about it. Including the soundtrack, this was, after all, the first time I heard Radiohead.
I revisited the film a couple of weeks ago and was struck, by the BITCHIN' outfits—versions of which you can pick up right now because 1995 is currently hemorrhaging all over Urban Outfitters—but I was also freshly impressed by its score. In 2013 we're used to teen films doubling up as both entertainment and a musical education, but Clueless was totally ahead of the curve. So let's take some time to give it some snaps. It will be way decent of you.
Cher Horowitz, rich girl with a heart of pure gold (probably covered in swarkovski diamonds), loves pastel hues. She embraces them whole-heartedly: she wears pink high-waisted trousers and when she's deep-thinking in debate class she always has her fluffy pink pen.
Put simply, Cher loves pink. (Also, why is Elton making that girl smell his finger?)
At first glance you'd be mistaken for thinking Cher is nothing more than a vapid puff of blonde Beverly Hills smoke, draped in Fred Segal. In fact she's actually something of a do-gooder, who likes to reach out to those less stylistically fortunate and guide them through the perfumed departments of Westside Pavillion. For example, take her (mostly) selfless actions towards new girl Tai Fraiser, who she gently encourages to re-think her wardrobe.
So it makes sense that the song that accompanies much of Cher's attempts to better herself, her friends, and her family is Cracker's version of “Shake Some Action,” a band form by David Lowery (of Camper Van Beethoven fame) in 1990. It's the perfect go-getter soundtrack for when Cher is strolling around school in her knee-high socks and blazer/skirt plaid/leather co-ordinates.
By the way, this film reportedly features 53 different plaid patterns.
Really bad picture, but that's a matching leather jacket and skirt combo, and on the right is a sleeveless denim jacket and matching skirt. ALWAYS CO-ORDINATE, PEOPLE.
Jeez, this girl is so into matchy-matchy: just look at the color of her gum. Also, please note her pearl bracelet. There is a primness that comes with Cher's style—she's an LA Princess—but she always slips in something unexpected, for example this cream twin-set paired with the shortest leather skirt ever seen.
Or this: a sweet burgundy dress, matching headband, and dubious diet tips. Wasp ahoy! Also, this woman knows her labels. Thanks for introducing Alaia into my vernacular BB.
Speaking of the Valley soiree where she wears this outfit, I just realized it's a frickin' Christmas party. This girl has cuddly reindeer toys in her hair! AND EVERYONE IS WEARING RED. It's like Don't Look Now (Because It's Christmas) in here.
Throughout the movie Cher teaches us a lot of life lessons, but even she sometimes gets it wrong. For example her dismay when her date with uber-babe Christian doesn't go as planned.
But then there are other times when she wows us with her creativity, disposable income, and sassy computer programs.
WHY DOESN'T THIS EXIST YET? APP MAKERS OF THE WORLD, I AM LOOKING AT YOU.
Here are Cher's top five fashion tips for the modern, empathetic, Radiohead-hating woman.
YOU CAN NEVER BE OTT WITH SILVER
DON'T BE AFRAID OF BERETS
Also, is that patterned Starbucks cup bespoke?
FLUFF CUFFS ARE A MUST
MESH OVER A T-SHIRT CAN WORK
SAVE THE FUCKING PLANET
That means sometimes giving away your sports equipment.
We know a lot about Josh even before he appears on screen. He’s introduced through music, specifically “complaint rock,” AKA Radiohead, wafting through the airy Bel Air corridors up to Cher. Without even seeing him we know he is older and serious—a college-age pretentious proto-hipster. He's played by the eternally-youthful-must-have-picked-the-right-cup-when-he-visited-the-Holy-Grail, Paul Rudd. Josh is also kind of a try-hard. He's all about saving the world and watching the news, but in a showy superficial way. E.g. Getting Marky Mark to plant a tree. Or growing this goatee while reading Nietzsche. And he loafs around in grungy plaid and emblematic t-shirts which loudly announce that HE IS ALTERNATIVE AND SENSITIVE AND HAS HEARD OF OBSCURE CLUBS IN ATLANTA.
In fact, most of the time he dresses like a screenwriter for Friends who hasn't been in LA that long and is still uncomfortable when he thinks about how his huge pay check will interfere with his serious artistic sensibilities. But let me reassure you, I don't think this is a bad thing. In fact I think it makes his final pairing with *SPOILER ALERT* Cher, even more lovely. Deep down this boy is Beverly Hills through and through.
Christian just dresses beautifully. There isn't really much else to say. I actually do think the death of Sammy Davis left an opening in the Brat Pack, and I'm so glad he's not afraid to slide straight into it in his blue suede loafers. His look is 50s-vibes, cuffed tees, and high-waisted pleat-fronted slacks, set off with leather accessories. But it's the quiff and attitude that ties it all together.
Christian is cultured and he has an appreciation for aesthetics. He, like, totally knows about art. And, of course, he introduced me to Billie Holiday when they cruised out for their first date in his classic convertible. Hey Cher, what do you think of Billie Holiday?
Now. Let's talk about…
DIONNE AND MURRAY
Dionne and Murray are one of the most famous couples of all time. Their names are synonymous with fights in the quad about stray hair extensions found in Murray's car, Adidas (on him) and lime green (on her). Murray's song is, of course, “Shoop” by Salt N' Pepa, an unshamedly lascivious hit where the girls appreciate the boys with lines like:
"Ummm, you're packed and you're stacked 'specially in the back/
Brother, wanna thank your mother for a butt like that (thanks, Mom)/
Can I get some fries with that shake-shake boobie?/
If looks could kill you would be an uzi."
Murray is the apple of Dionne's eye and when he appears he shuffles over to her, hitching up his pants with one hand, and gesturing wildly to his one true love with the other.
The superman necklace. THE SUPERMAN NECKLACE. Also, hello Kangol, my old friend.
Meanwhile Dionne walks much the same catwalk as Cher: co-ordinates, high-waists, and crop tops, but she's just an ounce more adventurous. Where Cher has scrunchies and florals, Dionne has PVC and hats inspired by Dr. Seuss.
She is also way into acid colors, but like Cher, is equally fond of a knee-highs and ass-skimming minis. FYI, here Dionne is working a velvet skirt and matching velvet top with big-ass cuffs, not a dress as I first thought. It’s important for me that I tell you that. #Separates. And here's another teeny skirt, this time in bright, wipe-clean orange. Practical-chic.
Dionne’s also into animal prints, and she’s not above ridiculing her best friend for being a virgin (even though technically, technically, she is one too). She is outspoken and brash in the most wonderful way and that's reflected in her outfits. Including this insane leather skater skirt, floral tie-up shirt and bright pink and green hair braids, which worked when she called Murray's mom to inform her he's shaving his head. Think of the yearbook photos Murray!
Meanwhile, although Murray is a big fan of sportswear, he also knows how to dress up smart in pastels. Bold move, Murray, bold move. NB: he never takes off that necklace. Having a signature is accessory is vital. I love them most when they're together though. This picture is the ultimate in couple-dressing perfection.
Aw. There is no way to introduce Tai without blasting out Tupac and Coolio's “Rollin' With The Homies.” It was this song that was playing when Elton and Tai danced together at Val party, and it was this song which she would later hear in a restaurant (probably California Pizza Kitchen), causing her to repeatedly bang her head on the table in distress. When Tai turns up at Bronson Alcott High she is adorably clueless. She's straight out of the skatepark, drowning in Carhartt corduroy, her hair dipped in mauve.
Cher swoops in to save her, despite Dionne's concerns that their stock will plummet (“That girl is toe up!”). What follows is one of the best makeover montages in film history, and it's made all the more perfect because Jill Sobule's “Supermodel” provides the soundtrack. What a union of sound and image! Tai emerges from her greasy dope-cloud cocoon, transformed into an A-line-skirt-wearing-megababe, much to Cher's delight.
Still, there were teething problems. Example: it’s super-hard to know exactly how to combine a sheer shirt and denim floral overalls. As accompaniment to this quandary, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones perform “Where’d You Go?” They appear skanking too vigorously in the background and it turns out the song is about ADD (I think) and Tai is clearly suffering a fashion freak-out! Do you see how the song mirrors the action? A lot of thought went into this soundtrack.
But sadly her new wardrobe and social status (plus a brush with death courtesy of some mallrats) goes straight to Tai's head. The result is this awful, way-harsh insult directed at Cher (above). She pulls it back though and realizes the error of her ways. Inspired by her love for Travis Birkenstock, the stoner skater that she was supposed to get with all along, her style relaxes into a halfway house between who she was and who Cher showed her she could be. Deep, huh? (It mainly means she starts wearing baggy trousers again, but with tighter tops than she used to).
Amber is strange. She's Cher's frenemy, a full-on Monet, and her style is straight-up nuts. She dresses like an Archie comics character come to life: Cheryl Blossom, but even more cartoonish. She is of course soundtracked by Kim Wilde's young, dumb, fun, party-on anthem, "Kids In America." I feel like Amber doesn't dress in terms of outfits, she dresses in terms of themes.
Check out this completely batshit military inspired outfit. Camo knee socks? Sure. Dog tags? Um, Okay. Leopardtrim? Why not. Or this nautical-TO THE EXTREME look. The audacity of the diamante dollar sign on her sailor hat gives me goosebumps.
But this one is the best: stripey knits, head-to-toe, but with small skin-flashing breaks. Also she’s clearly woven wire through her pigtails. #Inventive. Gaga step aside. Amber is massively overlooked, mainly because she's just awful, but she does sneak away with some of the best lines tucked in her ridiculous themed handbag. "Ms. Stoeger, my plastic surgeon doesn’t want me doing any activity where balls fly at my nose."
Amber knows what you think of her, and she doesn't give a rat’s ass.
I don't really want to talk about Elton because he's a major douche. But he does dress pretty swell.
Especially compared to most teenage boys of the era. It's just... let me put it this way, I would never date a guy who is desperate to leave class because he left his Cranberries CD in the frickin' quad. That, to me, is totally...