by Zoe Judilla
The famed images of Winona Ryder playing croquet in striking blue, Matthew McConaughey happily stoned in salmon pants, and Kyle MacLachlan admiring some “damn good coffee” are among many that have stemmed from cult classics. Their ability to acquire a passionate following creates eccentric subcultures audiences continually strive to be a part of. Three standouts have remained beloved influences in pop culture and fashion: the deadly black comedy of Michael Lehmann’s “Heathers,” Richard Linklater’s ‘70s-set dream “Dazed and Confused,” and the surrealism of David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks.” Audiences remain drawn to characters whose styles complement the outrageousness swirling around them. They reinvigorate the appeal of testing boundaries in fashion, and preemptively challenge the view of a traditional American ideal. With such images comes the disclosure of a new, subversive Americana, seen in the merge of eras within these beloved works. A closer look into the statements made by these three pieces provides further insight into just how these rebellious messages are portrayed through fashion in cult classics, from colorized cliques to hellish homecoming queens and beyond.
WHAT’S YOUR DAMAGE?
No film attacks the power-hungry state of a young society quite like “Heathers,” the darkly comedic 1988 film fond of shoulder pads, plaid, and velvet power-scrunchies galore. Costume designer Rudy Dillon’s decision to assign each character their own respective color throughout the film — power-red for queen bee Heather Chandler, meek-yellow for Heather McNamara, envy-green for Heather Duke, and bruise-like blue for Winona Ryder’s cynical Veronica Sawyer — even leaks onto the set, adding another dimension of surrealism to the film.
Heather Chandler’s red is the school’s colors, and its noted absences are in the few key moments where she loses her domineering control. Veronica Sawyer, in stark contrast, chooses to interpret her role in retaliation, wearing blue accents in her jewelry, patchwork prints in her suits, odd hosiery, and a more gothic-toned look. The bizarre costuming is united through the pleated skirts and executive-style suits, making sobering points about the film’s predominant themes of a status-hungry society, along with the deadly consequences that come with it.
The form of power-dressing is clearly only seen in the Heathers and Veronica, who roam the school in menswear-style jackets and elaborate brooches, stiffly dependent on colorization and classically ‘80s influences than those modernized around them. No one else in Westerberg High dressed more outrageously than this clique; it was accepted that they were on another level. In combining the cling to the ‘80s with the more progressive ‘90s, the Heathers showcase a fake maturity with stiff dedication to the art of standing out.
Today, the beloved film’s brashness transcends a generation, with the cult classic gaining a musical adaptation and an upcoming television series. Despite the shortening of hemlines and removal of the ‘80s-esque padding for a timelier fit, the key colorization has remained an essential presence in costuming, each reinvention paying tribute to the power (or lack thereof) each individual character holds. Satirizing the idea of tribalism and exposing the danger in lusting for power rebels against traditional American high school tropes. As only Veronica Sawyer herself would say: how very.
ALRIGHT, ALRIGHT, ALRIGHT
Any time “Dazed and Confused” is mentioned, the thought of Matthew McConaughey dressed in a Ted Nugent shirt with bleached-blond hair saying his signature line comes to mind. The ‘90s-made (yet ‘70s-set) cult classic is the perfect example of the timelessness of boho fashion in teen America, its lively arcades and aimless convertible rides making you wish for your own endless night.
Costume designer Kathy Dover aimed to dress the cast in details that defined their character’s position within a clique-y high school. The stoners wore careless layers, creating an almost shapeless effect, where the popular kids had on casual shirts with straight-legged jeans and noticeable pops of color. The outsiders’ quirky demeanors were reflected in their patterned ensembles, and the character stuck in between wore flares and a puka-bead necklace to branch away from the rest.
Though Dover was loyal to time-period accuracy in styling, it was clear that the move to recreate a ‘70s world during the ‘90s still translated well; the fashion of the time clearly remained relevant and timely. The freeness in clothing served as a reflection of psychedelic counter-culture, whose values have remained consistent to this day. The inclination towards a more casual presentation in layering and patterns showcases the new social deal: these teens are careless, yet self-expression in its varying forms is still foremost. The effortless vibe, present in both fitted and flared pants, distressed leather, bohemian throws, and western influences aren’t anything you would find out of the ordinary today, oddly enough, because this style has greatly influenced liberation and individuality — values that were appealing to both the ‘90s culture, and that of the current generation.
People gravitated towards these iconic looks because the merging of the two decades reminds them that along with the fashion of the time, the advancement of American values is visually and idealistically inevitable — so it’s no surprise that Linklater’s aesthetics eventually inspired the creation of one of the most influential independent magazines in the world, “Dazed and Confused,” with an emphasis on alternative style and cultural provocation.
At the end of the day, no matter which clique each character belonged to, they were all invited to the party; this large celebration showcased the shift to liberal values and freer fashion. A newer, more progressive sense of America was exciting — McConaughey would be proud.
THAT GUM YOU LIKE IS GOING TO COME BACK IN STYLE
David Lynch’s groundbreaking ‘90s murder-mystery “Twin Peaks” remains widely acclaimed, setting a high standard for television that transcends the test of time. It was revived on Showtime 27 years past its conclusion, also having served as inspiration for many designers, including Hedi Slimane’s A/W show for Saint Laurent in 2013 and Raf Simons’ first post-Dior show in 2016. The beauty of its surrealism reminds the observer nothing is ever as it seems—the same idea extended to its fashion.
Costume designer Patricia Norris, who won an Emmy for her work in the series’ pilot, and later, Sara Markowitz, aimed to balance the surreal world with realist fashion. The fictional town of Twin Peaks, Washington was, on the surface, innocent; the town diner’s waitresses were dressed in crisp, powder-blue uniforms, while schoolgirls wore layers of knits, turtlenecks and plaid. The “bad boy” dressed himself in leather and Levi’s while self-made men wore variations of tweed and flannel. Yet a closer look beyond the slices of cherry pie and warm, old-fashioned lodges revealed the costumes slyly extended the narrative of the show—an unspoken evil loomed in the grunge, shabby-chic exterior, often marked with the colors red, white, and black.
Where “Twin Peaks” archetypes of the homecoming queen, the agent and more were present, their looks came underlying with jarring details — such as a cheerleader wearing an eyepatch or the town “good girl” wearing black designer glasses with her moth-eaten sweaters — as characters generally associated with stylistic perfection were gradually revealed to be those harboring misery.
A prominent factor in their influence was the integration of ‘50s noir elements into the ‘90s setting. Beloved character Audrey Horne, whose style remains at the forefront of pop culture, wore knee-length pleated skirts and monochrome sweaters, complete with saddle shoes eventually replaced with striking red heels. Her femme fatale reputation reminisces the morality of the ‘50s yet is counterbalanced with patterned accents unique to the early ‘90s; the merged decades’ styles even extend to her personality.
With strategic costuming, the stylist forces the viewer to look beyond the seemingly perfect world they live in. The quirks in these costumes exposed a preferred reality, one in which the archetypal clothing almost retaliates the roles they were meant to play. Within every character’s prescribed look, an unshakable feeling was constant: the morals reflected by these costume choices denounced a vapid American lifestyle. In the town of Twin Peaks, Washington, the iconic stylings of who resided there reflected distorted versions of the stereotypical, classic Americana — because, again, nothing is ever as it seems.
Each work defines cult fashion as an incessant merge of classic and modern heavily ingrained into pop culture. With their lasting power comes excitingly rebellious thoughts, as these stylings serve to purposefully transcend not only images, but ideals. The likening towards this fashion in pop culture reflects a growing acceptance to a subversive Americana — rather than confining to set ideologies in specific time periods, cult classic fashion reflects the modern age appreciating a hodge-podge of values into a more liberal reality. Their stylings have attempted to achieve more than just looks that will last the test of time — they will continue to influence perceptions of the ideal American image as it develops, changes and transitions into a more integrated version of itself, with a newer cult classic always just around the corner to push the narrative once more.
Stylist Emma Raney / Photographer Skyler Goodman/ Model Bonnie McEnnis / HMUA Jenna Campbell & Angela Chastain
Read the full digital edition of Issue No.9 here.