"Dear Diary, my teen angst bullshit now has a body count."
And so goes the centralized theme and ultimately the tagline of one of my favorite cult classic 80s films: Heathers. It's Mean Girls with a sharp razor's edge, minus all that silly humor that makes Mean Girls so insanely quotable. It's a violent movie. It's creepy. It's crass. It's soap-operatic and it's good, messy fun. Like The Virgin Suicides and Twin Peaks it's a movie rife with visually intricate shots in seemingly mundane settings, vibrant with color and light glares that give the whole movie a dreamy quality while it tackles morbid content.
As the opening credits roll, we’re treated to a fantasy sequence starring the three Heathers of the film’s title. It wouldn’t normally be worth our time dwelling on a short dream sequence playing under the credits, but this one establishes the themes and motifs both of the film and of its costuming. Much is made of Heather Chandler’s red scrunchie, which provides the opening shot of the film and which will serve as its most important totem. Look at how their croquet balls are matched to their outfits, a nod to the strictly conformist lifestyle of these A-list mean girls and the establishment of the film’s strongest visual motif. There's ’80s-esque take on the schoolgirl look, which is taking a lot of its cues from elite prep school uniforms with a heavy dose of female executive power-dressing of the sort you might find in Working Girl, which came out the same year. The film’s themes of status, power, privilege and rigid conformity are all being expressly laid out in these opening costumes.
When Isabel Marant made her presentation in Paris, last week, I couldn't help but notice the similarities between the costuming of the movie (particularly of lead Heather, Heather Chandler). From the plaid skirts, the vibrant red colors and even the distinct red scrunchie signifying her position at the top of the high school food chain.
The other Heather-esque inspo, I spotted was at Moschino's couture presentation in Milan. Never short on theatrics, the collection went from a meditation on glamor and opulence to a steady deconstruction, as quite literally dresses fell apart on the runway as they simulated being on fire. The distressed haphazardness of it all was symbolic of 15th-century Dominican monks who took on the Renaissance, leading a mob through the city of Florence, burning objects of beauty—art, books, furniture, and clothing, of which designer Jeremy Scott was inspired by. Of course, the Renaissance prevailed, but those monks left a trail of ruin along the way. And that ruin left me thinking about the climatic ending of the movie when Winona Ryder's Veronica Sawyer detonates a bomb outside of the school in an attempt to rescue the very establishment she wrestled over to destroy. It's an ending that leaves you with the impression that, "teen angst" really isn't so bad as you make it. I particularly enjoyed (though I doubt this was on purpose) the dress that was shown in Veronica's signature blue.
The themes and fashion of Heathers are somehow cliche and not. The mean girl. The outsider. The girl caught in the middle. All familiar tropes that have been explored and will be again and again. With its sneaky subversiveness and disgust for its characters, Heathers is more ambitious than most high-school comedies. Clueless and Mean Girls focus on the social hierarchy, yet they’re merely coming-of-age tales that affirm the community: Alicia Silverstone’s Cher joins a cadre of women who look forward to long-term commitment, and Lindsay Lohan’s Cady finally declares that she’s normal. Veronica may save the school, but she’s also a self-loathing masochist–at one point, she burns herself with a cigarette later as a means of contrition. More importantly, she’s complicit in the suicide of her ex-boyfriend, and she rejects the social ladder altogether. All of this adds up to one of the most pitiless settings ever found in a comedy. Real high schools are never this bad, although they can feel that way when one’s experience is like Martha Dunnstock, the hapless overweight victim who’s relegated to an ongoing class punch line.