Fashion Film & TV

Clueless Turns 25: Looking Back at A Pop Culture Icon

Artwork by Shubhangi Dua

By Nicole Rees-Williams

AS IF it’s been 25 years since the release of iconic teen classic, Clueless! Amy Heckerling’s 1995 film, which is loosely based on Jane Austen’s Emma, has an undeniable omnipresence twenty-five years after its initial release. But why? 

The 90’s, though forever in our hearts, had a very basic film structure; especially films surrounding teenage girls. Unfortunately, most teen movies surround their central plot around the main female character liking a boy, the conversation around losing virginity, and being ‘not like other girls’ (think 10 Things I Hate About You). But Clueless chooses not to concentrate on main character Cher’s love interest as the focus of its plot, but rather her realisation of what makes a good person. 

Yes, Cher has her fair share of interest in boys through the characters of both Christian and Josh but finding a man has never been her goal. Cher is not ashamed of the fact she has not had sex, and in fact, not many of the characters have – and that is not shown as a bad thing. When the new girl Tai asks, “Cher you’re a virgin?” Cher replies, saying  “God, you say that like it’s a bad thing […] I am just not interested in doing it until I find the right person, you see how picky I am about my shoes and they only go on my feet.” Cher’s interests surround her personal development and her friends, which is a much more powerful message to centre a teen film around, especially when so many others of its time chose otherwise. 

Clueless (1995)

Circling back to the ‘not like other girls’ trope, this was a category that was considered admirable around the film’s release. You could not possibly love shopping and be a good, respectable person. How many times have you seen the boy admire the girl who loves to surf, play football, or do anything typically masculine and smile, saying “Woah, you’re not like other girls,” and this being regarded as the preferred method of girlhood. Why should that matter? Why should we dismiss any type of girl, whether they like books, clothes, or sport? 

This was a trope Heckerling actively wanted to dismantle. You don’t have to neglect things that make you classically ‘girly’ in order to be respected. You can be charitable, caring, and knowledgeable whilst still loving to shop. One thing doesn’t put down the other in Clueless. It defeats the ‘not like other girls’ trope and accepts that you can be any type of ‘girl’ you want to be AND be a good person, (who knew?). Clueless gives us many versions of womanhood, from Cher, Dion, and Tai to Miss Guist. In the film’s conclusion, no woman is thought of as a bad person because of the way they chose to be. 

Regarding Cher’s love of shopping and fashion, the film’s stylist, Mona May, said, “we didn’t want to shy away from being girly.” And in result of the acceptance of the ‘girly’ girl, May created outfits that were true to each character, and are instantly recognisable twenty-five years on. From endless yellow plaid Halloween costumes, to the return of  chunky hair accessories, to Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’ music video, and the recent resurfacing of Tai’s famous tee, Clueless’ iconic looks continue to inspire beyond just film, but in the worlds of fashion and music as well. Even notorious designer Alexander Wang claims that Clueless is one of his favourite films.

Robber: “Get down on the ground. Face down. Come on!”

Cher: “Oh no, you don’t understand. This is an Alaia!”

Whereas various designers were involved in the film’s costuming such as Dolce and Gabbana’s yellow plaid two-piece, and obviously the Alaia, May said when creating many of the films outfits, she often mixed thrifted pieces with designer items as she did not have much budget at the time. The result of this mixture led to some amazing and memorable outfits. (If Dion’s iconic looks were thrifted, there’s hope for us all). To emphasise the outfits, the production designer purposely gave the sets neutral, grey tones for the costumes to really pop.

Clueless is a standout film. Whether you remember it for the brilliant one liners, the music, the message, young Paul Rudd, or the outfits, it’s obvious that Clueless still has an undeniable omnipresence even twenty-five years after its release.