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‘Jawbreaker’ is turning 25, but the film’s costumes still represent iconic teen fashion

From left: Julie Benz, Rose McGowan and Rebecca Gayheart, whose
Columbia TriStar/Kobal/Shutterstock
From left: Julie Benz, Rose McGowan and Rebecca Gayheart, whose "Jawbreaker" characters turn the hallways of their high school into high-stakes runways.

By Scarlett Harris, CNN

(CNN) — “A makeover can’t hide the truth,” laments Rebecca Gayheart’s character Julie in the cult classic “Jawbreaker,” which celebrates its 25th anniversary on February 19. But the film’s candy-colored fashion certainly hides the rot at the core of its plot, which follows members of “the Flawless Four” — high school Queen Bee Courtney Shane (Rose McGowan) and her underlings Marcie Fox (Julie Benz) and Julie Freeman (Gayheart) — in the aftermath of a birthday prank gone wrong. Horribly wrong, that is, in that it results in the death of the “Four’s” fourth member, Liz Purr, by the titular jawbreaker.

“We wanted it to be sweet and sugary-looking,” the movie’s costume designer Vikki Barrett told CNN. “And then it takes a turn. We tried not to use any dark or moody colors at all, and keep it really light, festive and fun, so that the element of darkness would be a surprise.”

Another surprise for Barrett, who’d previously worked on other stylish 90s teen movies “Clueless” and “Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion,” was how iconic the fashions of “Jawbreaker” have become in the 25 years since its premiere. Take the iconic scene in which Courtney, Julie and Marcie strut down their high school’s hallway in their tight pencil skirts, “uncovered bosoms” and clutch purses is at once the clear influence for a similar scene in the original “Mean Girls,” while also hearkening back to “Grease,” which Barrett says was her main inspiration.

Sartorial lines can also be drawn from “Jawbreaker” to “Gossip Girl,” “Euphoria” and “Do Revenge,” to name just a few.

Retro motifs — that are simultaneously fashion-forward — are clear throughout the movie. Barrett thrifted or made most of the costumes on “Jawbreaker” herself, because the look she and her costume team were going for was not available in stores at that time.

She remembered sewing exposed seams into the characters’ stockings because she couldn’t find them anywhere: “You can’t even see it in the movie, but it was one of my favorite things!” she said of the detail. “If you pay close attention you’ll see it, but it’s hard to spot.”

There’s a clear color palette for each character, Barrett explained. Courtney is often seen in ice blue, to reflect her regal status, including at the climax of the movie in which she’s crowned prom queen and her hair is knotted with blue ribbon to resemble a tiara.

The other characters are outfitted in “colors you would find on a jawbreaker,” director Darren Stein told CNN: Marcie in lighter shades of green because she’s “green with jealousy,” while Julie transitions her fabrics from a dark blue pleather to all-American denim after leaving the Flawless Four. “We wanted her to not look like the other girls anymore… we felt (sorry) for her,” Barrett said.

Leaving a bad taste

In a fantastical makeover sequence, Courtney revamps the painfully awkward Fern Mayo (Judy Greer) into “Vylette,” to take the place of her clique’s deceased member.

This transformation co-opts the deceased Liz’s cotton candy hue into an overripe and eventually putrid rotten hot pink, a color all Vylette’s own. “She’s Courtney’s Frankenstein, in a way,” said Stein. “And the monster usurps the creator and goes haywire.”

Notably, none of the other characters wear magenta, and actively eschew it. “If we had used pink on other characters, it wouldn’t have been so show-stopping when (Fern) shows up as Vylette. It wouldn’t have made as big an impact,” Barrett said of the makeover reveal. “The first time you see her as bad Vylette, she’s in full-on hot pink.”

Why not purple like the flower she’s named after? Stein originally wanted a pink Corvette as Vylette’s new ride — in an homage to the Los Angeles icon Angelyne — and crafted Vylette’s whole look around it. Ultimately, they ended up with a red sports car, but the effect is the same: Vylette lounging on its hood in front of the school while her admirers look on, her ascension from Courtney’s creation to full-blown Head Bitch (as per her license plate) in Charge now complete. Sandy Olsson, eat your heart out.

“When Fern becomes Vylette she’s not a straight man’s fantasy… She’s essentially dressed like a drag queen!” Stein laughed. “We wanted the fashion to look over the top and disturbing, in that it was not something that anyone would wear to go to high school!”

Twenty-five years later though, it’s turned out to be an aspirational aesthetic nonetheless.

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