“Okay, so you’re probably going, ‘Is this like a Noxzema commercial or what?’” starts Amy Heckerling’s Clueless. The classic teen flick, which stars Alicia Silverstone as the charming yet completely oblivious Cher Horowitz, has entertained and inspired generations since its release in 1995. It follows Cher and best friend Dionne as they give the “so adorably clueless” new girl Tai a makeover. But when Tai becomes more popular than her, Cher realizes how misguided she’s been and undergoes a spiritual makeover of her own.
Even with a cast lineup that includes Paul Rudd, Stacey Dash, and the late Brittany Murphy, Clueless’ most memorable character is arguably its fashion. Under costume designer Mona May, the styling in Clueless not only reflected the fashion of its time but reshaped it. While a number of students at the fictional Bronson Alcott High School are shown wearing standard flannels and Dr. Martens, Cher and company traipse around in fitted sweater vests, skirt suits, and Mary Janes, flouting the trends of the time in favor of a much preppier aesthetic.
Although the film celebrated its 25th anniversary back in July 2020, its sartorial influence has withstood the test of time. The trends started by the film are still relevant decades later, with runways and street style alike continually informed by its iconic fashion.
In the film’s opening scene, Cher uses the computer app of every fashion lover’s dreams—a virtual paper doll version of herself surrounded by revolving outfit combinations—to choose the perfect first-day-of-school outfit. After one “mismatch,” she lands on a yellow plaid Dolce & Gabbana skirt suit that she pairs with a matching cardigan, knee-high stockings, and silver Mary Janes. A high-fashion take on the quintessential schoolgirl outfit, the iconic ensemble has long inspired Halloween costumes, but, more recently, colorful Clueless-inspired plaids have been spotted in a number of high-fashion collections.
Yellow plaid first started making a comeback in 2018, when Versace sent an oversized blazer and skirt combo down the runway, offsetting the yellow with blue and red plaid panelling. Similarly, Michael Kors, Rick Owens, and Nicopanda adopted colorful plaids for their AW18 collections. Plaid was later reported as a key trend for AW20 after being spotted at the likes of Dior, Dries Van Noten, and Miu Miu.
Elsewhere, teeny-tiny purses like BY FAR’s mini bag, which closely mirrors the sage crocheted number Cher carries at the mall, are having a moment. Barely big enough to hold a credit card—and certainly not a smartphone—Jacquemus’ Le Chiquito mini bag debuted on the SS18 runway and quickly became the season’s “it bag,” spawning waitlist after waitlist for the most popular colors and accounting for 30-40% of the brand’s sales.
And who could forget Cher’s exchange with her father over the dress he famously refers to as “underwear?” When Mel asks his daughter, “What the hell is that?” Cher answers, “It’s a dress.” “Says who?” Mel exclaims. Ever so nonchalantly, Cher responds “Calvin Klein.” The matte white spaghetti-strap slip dress in question was copied endlessly. In 2012, Rihanna showed up to the GQ Men of the Year party looking like a “total Betty” in a red version of the dress. It was so popular amongst fans of the film that Calvin Klein re-released the original in limited numbers in 2010 with L.A. boutique Confederacy.
The fashion industry’s love for hair accessories has also been reignited over the past few seasons. For her misguided attempt at a date with the “brutally hot” Christian, Cher sweeps back part of her hair with a sweet floral barrette. And throughout the film, she’s spotted in a selection of slides, scrunchies, and headbands. It was arguably Prada’s SS19 collection that sparked a comeback of more decorative hair accessories, with padded headbands gracing a number of models on the runway and selling out immediately once available to purchase. On TikTok, users are going wild for similar ‘90s-inspired butterfly clips. And as the pandemic hits full force, a number of us are turning to the trusty scrunchie to keep our locks in place.
Fun, endlessly quotable, and featuring a cast of charming characters, Clueless is undoubtedly a comedy classic. In 1995, it provided light-hearted relief from the likes of the Oklahoma City bombing and the ongoing O.J. Simpson murder trial, becoming an instant box-office hit and catapulting the careers of many of its cast members. Mona May’s iconic costuming reshaped the aesthetic direction of ‘90s fashion, introducing a number of styles to the mainstream which have permanently become associated with the decade and remained tenets of our wardrobes.
But more interesting is Clueless’s enduring presence in American culture. It’s referenced on a regular basis by articles, on social media and, of course, in fashion, and remains one of the most-streamed films on Netflix. Like a family heirloom, the film has been passed from one teen generation to the next. While everything that makes it iconic is completely bound up in ‘90s culture, it’s just timeless enough for each new generation to connect with it—and it feels just as relevant in 2021 as it did 25 years ago.
By Bec Oakes