Heather’s Style Analysis: Significance, Semiotics and Strata
Known for the uber-relevant teen-lingo, the 1988 classic is more-so known for its costume design and color coding, often crowned as the one to inspire Mean Girls. How very.
Born as near to the first line of Gen Z in a developing country did not expose me to Hollywood movies pertaining to high school and the drama underneath. While me watching Mean Girls when I was 16 was a big feat, I inherently feel embarrassed to say that I watched the original 1988 Heathers last week. Better late than never. (also, spoilers ahead, duh).
While including a psychopath to bomb up the school as a seventeen year old and a high school clique ready to stomp over each other may seem far fetched, for the ’80s I believe even mentioning homosexuality and date-rape was unexpected, let alone suicide and juvenile crimes.
Heathers will give any viewer a slap in the name of revelation of a society which still exists to this day, and as the famous dialogue goes ‘You say to-mey-to I say to-mah-to’, our society boldly chooses to look at the brighter side. Yet I am here to mention how the outer appearance of the two characters justified the stereotype and the era they belonged to.
If you go further you may say I am reading too much between the lines, but considering the thought process that went behind color coding in this whole movie, it’s best to give me the benefit of the doubt.
I am no cinema student, but if anything was right at our faces, it was the deliberate use of colors to represent each character. In no other movie have I seen just the right amount of color symbolism lest it would be too childish to watch.
From (red) Heather Chandler drinking a ‘blue’ colored poison, to (green) Heather Duke announcing to be ‘red’ in croquet near to the intermission of the movie, and finally (blue) Veronica snatching the oversized red scrunchie, we observe how the power dynamic shifts solely through color psychology.
The cafeteria scene has an iconic moment of its own, cleverly synchronizing today’s adult society with the groups of people placed together to consume. We see the four girls in preppy style of the 80s, characterized by shoulder pads resembling those styled by working women as a way to fit in the work culture.
I’ll mention my analysis on Heather Duke and JD, primarily because the former went through the most change, while our psychotic heart-throb frankly shows his disgust for society with his dress. Plus, it’s a great reference to grunge.
Heather Duke: The Jealous Victim
Ah, we all have that jealous, envious friend in the group. With my attraction to villains more than the heroes of a show, Heather Duke caught my eye as the one who went through a striking, almost sudden transformation as the movie progressed.
Being the third-famous girl at Westburg High and part of the renowned junior clique, Duke portrays the backstabbers, opportunists and the victims of the societal strata. Aptly donned in green in the beginning of the movie, she follows the leader with all her plans and problems aside.
Wanting to be popular, she has also shown to be bulimic, yet slowly losing her ‘urge to purge’ when she gains power. With the green monster ever-more evident in our comparisons of the person with that Tik-Tok on your screen, our generation has a big pool of Duke’s who, quite frankly, should save themselves from burning red.
Iconic Looks of Heather Duke
1. The initial scene has Duke wearing a printed green skirt and a summer cardigan, accompanied as a set with a printed white shirt underneath, showing her family’s monetary stability.
Her accessories often include Mary Janes, which were a popular preppy choice at the time, with a golden and black brooch on her collar.
2. The cafeteria look for Duke was the iconic oversized green blazer with peter pan collared white shirt, a grey plaid skirt and an olive sling bag. Accessories included diamond studded earrings with an added fabric on the pocket of the blazer that matched the skirt, showing her wealth and ability to style herself for daily mundane classes.
After Heather Chandler’s death, Duke was last seen in green suspenders in a scene where she eats a chicken piece at the gym room and then throws it, thus leaving her bulimic tendencies.
3. In the midst of the movie, when JD baits her into working upon his discreet plan by giving her the red scrunchie, she wears pastel greens, foreshadowing the transition she is about to withstand.
The attire includes a pastel green blazer with a chrysanthemum flower, silver buttons aligned on either side. Underneath is a white turtleneck, the color often denoting how naïve she is to the working of the society, falling victim to it.
4. Apathetic Duke meets Veronica at the latter’s home, bringing the news of suicide attempt by Martha ‘Dumptruck’ as a moment to laugh about. This is the part where we all unanimously were startled with the sudden change in color depiction for our lovely Duke.
She is sporting a grey mini skirt with stockings, a red corset and an oversized white blazer which could very well be worn as a dress today.
“Is that Pâté?” Her hair is something you’d call curly rather than frizzy, and she has red hoops matched with a pair of ruby Mary Janes. Underneath is a black mock-neck sweater, the color a new addition to her palette besides red.
Although the black could symbolize the infiltration of JD in her decisions, her accessories (sling bag) are still green, a memoir of the path which caused her to be who she has become.
5. Her final look in a series of clips showing her hold over the whole high school portrays her in a red cropped overcoat over a printed red button-up.
The skirt is paired with black (read JD) corset, stockings, heels and of course, the red scrunchie. Even her Mary Janes are gone, which somewhat depicted the schoolgirl innocence she previously had. The costume designer definitely went to observe each last detail to make this outfit as iconic as possible, as this assemblage does not have any green in it, making her unrecognizable altogether.
One thing to mention is that the sequence has her asking for signatures on a petition stating that the students of Westburg High will commit mass suicide, in which she is shown in her regular greens, as if she is trying to appeal her ‘slaves’.
Well, in the end her crowned red scrunchie is taken away by Veronica, the new sheriff in town, leaving her to be a pitiful member of the cut-throat society.
Jason Dean: Harbinger of Demolition
Jason Dean, the chaos-loving ‘bad boy’ taken to the extreme, is associated with James Dean from Rebel Without a Cause. He is observant and sensitive to his surroundings, which is clear with the way he observes how Veronica has her own individuality amongst the Heathers, yet still falling into the trap of pranking Martha at the beginning.
Perceptive to the apathetic nature of adults and how teenagers are often misunderstood, JD’s personality is shown to be heavily influenced by his father, and the subsequent death of his mother, leading him to form his own ideal world, quote “The only place where different social types can genuinely get along with each other is in heaven…the school is society.”
Iconic Looks of JD
- The entrance has him in a dark green shirt with black accents, an oversized worn out black coat, a small earring in his left ear, straight fit jeans and (although not too clearly shown) converse in black.
The trench looms over him like the laid back negativity he carries with himself, that added with everything seemingly worn-out and oversized points parallels to the burned-out, f*ck the society attitude the character portrays.
2. Another look is donned by JD while he is at Veronica’s, switching the overcoat to a blue-black flannel and a grey vest underneath with blue jeans. This is their time discussing the most important kill of the movie: the jocks, and manipulating Veronica into believing that he won’t actually kill them would require JD to be in-tune with her, thus the blues and preppy accents.
Now JD doesn’t have as many variations in his closet as the rest of the characters, but he sometimes switches his all-black attire with shades of blue, so as to match the Bonnie & Clyde aesthetic with Veronica. His uniformity in clothing could show how he has just one view of looking at the world, with no open mindsets to change it.
3. While contemplating how Heather Chandler became even more popular with her demise, he is seen in a maroon shirt, kind of similar to the red scrunchie considering that he is about to give power to Duke.
4. At last, while bombing himself, he is seen in all black, reminiscent of the first ensemble at the cafeteria, swapping the green tee to a graphic black one, letting go of all his observations to commence his solution to the problem. The trench overcoat still depicts how his motto hasn’t changed even a bit throughout the story.
“Pretend I did blow up the school, all schools. Now that you’re dead, what’re you gonna do with your life?” he questions, in the end becoming the only true suicide of the lot.
Was there anything I missed out for these two amazing characters? Feel free to take any information for your own use on credit.