“Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?” And with that I fell in love with the highly quotable, hilariously irreverent 1988 film, Heathers. Heathers tells the story of Veronica Sawyer, played by the fabulous Winona Ryder, who finds herself in the cool clique at school with 3 girls who all happen to be named Heather and are all sadistic bullies. Veronica’s dislike of her friends quickly escalates once she meets J.D., the dark and dreamy new kid at school who has some violent tendencies up his overcoat sleeve. It’s one of my three favorite films of all time, it’s packed with amusing but devastating social commentary, and it features 80’s fashion at its finest.
The most obvious aspect of fashion in Heathers to note is the use of color. Each of the three Heathers exclusively wears one certain color—red, yellow, and green—while Veronica wears shades of blue and black. Red comes to represent social power; Heather Chandler begins as red Heather and Heather Duke starts wearing red once she becomes queen bee. Chandler’s red scrunchie is passed on to Duke and is later taken by Veronica to signify the passing of power over each other. Red is also one of their school’s colors.
Clothing is used to signify typical high school cliques. The popular girls dress in the trendy styles that haven’t aged well, but at the time were the coolest of the cool. The jocks always wear their red varsity jackets. The nerds wear less vibrant colors and giant glasses. J.D. (a.k.a. resident badass) constantly wears a long, dark overcoat and one earring. This edgy look shows that he’s completely different from Veronica’s friends (which is exactly the sort of person Veronica is looking for) but also suggests he’s probably bad news. Just look at that stringy hair. I love that J.D. is dressed as the typical bad boy but the viewer is not even ready for the progression of his character. No matter how many times I watch this movie, I’m always suckered into falling for him at the beginning and am, without fail, disgusted with myself by the end. Gets me every time.
The clothing in Heathers is 80s to the extreme—think permed hair, unflattering button-up shirts and blazers with huge shoulder pads—but as J.D. says (in a totally different context) “the extreme always seems to make an impression.” The clothing, like the slang in Heathers is so perfect for the world in the film and so important to the story itself that as a fan of the movie, I find myself wanting to feature shout outs to it in my own wardrobe, in the same way that I often find myself quoting the dialogue. I have a red blazer (with smaller shoulder pads, I admit) that always reminds me of Heather Chandler and I have small round sunglasses that remind me of Veronica (probably because the shape of them reminds me of her unexpected-yet-awesome monocle).
Luckily, fashion is cyclical and always updates styles from the past, so it’s completely possible to work in references to Heathers and the 80s while still remaining stylish by today’s standards. The trick is to take elements of the looks and pair them with more modern styles. A big blazer can still totally work, but it would probably translate better when worn with skinny jeans rather than a knee-length pleated skirt. It’s a fun, extra challenge to update old looks and make them your own rather than just taking looks exactly as they are. Just make sure you don’t spill that wake up cup of liquid drainer on your neo-80s outfit…