This year Amy Heckerling’s cult rom com Clueless, like, totally turns eighteen. Last Friday Tee’s and Cee’s screened the movie as part of their We Love the 90s Film Fest: four nights of classic 90s flicks at Portobello Pop Up outdoor cinema. When better then to look back at the on-screen style of the main character in Clueless, Cher Horowitz.
Set in California in the early 90s, the film re-imagines Jane Austen’s Emma. The microcosm of upper class Regency England is replaced by that of a Beverley Hills high school. Here, fashion choices are less about muslin frocks and dashing breeches, more about Calvin Klein minis and backwards caps. But while the situation might be different, Heckerling’s adaptation is pretty faithful to Austen’s story. Fifteen-year-old Cher is just as we would imagine Austen’s eponymous heroine fast-forward 180 years: beautiful, smart, really quite lovable, but also superficial and a touch selfish.
In a world where even the most admired Bettie (hot girl) can derail her social status by hanging out with an inappropriate Barney (unattractive guy), Cher understands the importance of appearance in the popularity stakes. To say she likes clothes is an understatement. The mall is her Mecca and shopping her therapy. When it comes to decisions on what to wear, Cher has it down to a finely-tuned science. In one famous scene, she picks out her outfit for school using a computer which analyses her wardrobe. To the soundtrack of David Bowie’s Fashion, a virtual Cher wearing a yellow tartan skirt suit flashes on the screen, indicating a match made in fashion heaven.
Like any coming-of-age high school movie worth its salt, Clueless follows the highs and lows of the teenage cast along the way towards personal growth. Scenes linked to clothing and appearance define Cher’s journey to becoming more grounded and self-aware. The arrival of Tai, a skater girl with a predilection for alien cartoons and herbal highs, initially seems to represent the perfect opportunity for Cher to use her love of fashion for the greater good. But Cher’s makeover project goes seriously awry, nearly ruining the mutual attraction between Tai and a fellow pot-head and talented skateboarder, as well as her own love life.
As she starts to realise she’s been as clueless as she originally supposed her protégée to be, Cher takes on a new look that reveals her growing clarity about life and love. Her usual glamorous wardrobe is ditched for more paired-back ensembles, reflecting her aspiration to make-over her soul. Lonely and overwhelmed by self-doubt, Cher is the picture of vulnerability as she cuddles up to her father wearing pink flannel pyjamas. When she takes a leading role on the school’s disaster aid team as the first step towards a more worthwhile life, she even wears jeans while gathering emergency provisions. Yes, jeans.
Before we experience niggles of shame at mourning the loss of the not-so-nice-but-better-dressed Cher, Heckerling offers up a get-out by showing that Cher is still as fashion-conscious as ever. The final scene sees Cher in full-on babe mode as bridesmaid at the wedding of two sweet but nerdy teachers from her school, her one successful match-making attempt. Working tumbling curls and cappuccino satin, Cher is a vision of fresh-faced beauty that would make even the most benevolent of brides spit feathers.