Clueless and 90s Teen Magazine Style

Curator's Note

I remember purchasing this July 1995 issue of Seventeen magazine, and reading it over and over while on vacation with my mother. I saw Clueless multiple times that summer with my friends (at the Mall of America, no less), and I marked many pages in Seventeen and YM that pointed the way to that perfect pair of patent leather mary janes to complement my back-to-school wardrobe. I spent countless hours on the phone with friends giggling uncontrollably while reading the “Trauma-rama” stories aloud and giving each other quizzes from stacks of magazines. In my essay for In Focus, I describe the relationship between Clueless and teen magazines, arguing that the two media share a similar mode of address, visual style, and topical concerns, especially the makeover. The makeover is central not only to the film and teen magazines, but to teen culture more broadly, as Clueless helped usher in a shift from early 1990s grunge culture to ultra-girly culture of the late 1990s and early 2000s, epitomized by the Spice Girls’ rise to popularity a year after Clueless’ release.

Alicia Silverstone’s appearance on the cover of Seventeen spearheaded Clueless’ marketing campaign. Interviewed on the Clueless set, Silverstone repeatedly proclaims her difference from her character, Cher, going so far as to suggest that she identifies more with outsider Tai. The interview stresses the makeover that Silverstone had to undergo to become Cher, noting, “she had her hair highlighted for the part.” Silverstone’s professed discomfort with the feminine trappings of her character (Cher’s uniform of thigh-high stockings make her feel “self-conscious”) aligns her with the ideal reader of teen magazines who is searching for guidance in the areas of fashion and grooming, and advice for navigating social, romantic, and familial relationships. The cover layout reveals this address, asking the reader to reflect on her social identity (“are you a snob?”) while simultaneously promising to reveal the secret to “cool hair.” Indeed, the cover’s promise to point the way toward positive self-image (“do you hate your body? How to stop”), dovetails with Silverstone’s discussions of her own insecurities. Silverstone’s ability to transform herself into Cher endorses the sort of makeover teen magazines promote, assuring teen girls that they, too, can achieve the idealized girly femininity on display in Clueless and the pages of their favorite magazines.

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