By Sarah Spellings, from https://www.vogue.com
The most memorable character in Clueless is the costume design. It’s everywhere, driving the plot, setting up some of the best lines, and one of the reasons the movie is so indelible that the 25th anniversary of its release (which is Sunday!) is cause for celebration. Cher Horowitz is a ditzy but well-meaning 16-year-old based on Jane Austen’s Emma, who was famously “handsome, clever, and rich.” And though Cher says she has a “way normal life for a teenage girl,” her closet has sparked a fashion fantasy that’s now older than Instagram.
In one of her first scenes, Cher flicks through a computer app that shows a paper doll version of herself and various combinations of outfits. After choosing one “mismatch,” she settles on a sunshine yellow suit, and the app happily responds with an image of Cher in knee-high stockings, silver shoes, and a matching cardigan. The clothes in the app, as well as the other 59 outfits Cher wears, were put together by Mona May, the costume designer of Clueless, (as well as Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, Cheetah Girls: One World, Enchanted and many more). But even though it is implied that Cher is wearing designer clothes (she name drops Alaïa, famously), May didn’t have a ton to work with at the beginning of shooting. “I had maybe $200,000 for the costumes, which isn’t a lot,” May says. “I shopped everywhere. I went to the mall, I went to thrift stores. I had to be resourceful to make this happen.” She estimates that she made hundreds of costumes for the film because her team dressed every kid in the background of a party or in class. May discussed nine at length, from the famous yellow suits to the most fabulous gym uniforms in cinematic history.
The Two Plaid Suits
The yellow suit was off-the-rack. We really wanted to do the plaid because it was the quintessential schoolgirl outfit. When I was shopping, I had some other suits from the mall and different stores. I had a blue one and a red one. The blue didn’t have the oomph. The red felt too risqué—it didn’t feel like Cher. I wasn’t sure about the yellow. It’s not a great color for blondes. But when Alicia put that on, we all went, “Oh my god, this is it.” She looks like a ray of sun and the queen of school. The fitting is when you find things really gelling and watch the actor become the character. The safety pin on both outfits is a play on grunge, but also the traditional Scottish kilts have pins on them. It’s very punk rock. Those socks are also inspired by Cabaret and the beautiful over-the-knee stockings they’d wear in the 1920s.
There were 60 costumes for Alicia. The process of really trying the costumes and teaching her how to wear the clothes was interesting. There’s a line in the film, “The shoes are so binding,” and that’s really kind of Alicia. It was really cool to see the process of her becoming Cher in the fittings.
We decided on Alicia’s outfit first because everything revolved around her outfit. I designed the black-and-white suit for Dionne to complement Cher but not overpower her. The fabulous hat was from Kokin, a designer in New York. I added the vinyl lapels on the suit to go with the hat. I knew I wanted to keep red, black, and white for Dionne because she was sassier and edgy. Dionne had such a fabulous sense of style. She probably has the same closet as Cher with the computer. We still all want one, right?
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