Your less than stellar sixteenth birthday. A never ending detention. An over the top ditch day. The ups and downs of prom.
All of these right-of-passage experiences are undoubtedly seared in your mind, and thanks to recently deceased director John Hughes, they have been memorialized in the collective American consciousness. The auteur, directed a number of 1980s teen films that went on to set the standard for teen cinema to follow, built a celluloid world filled with the kind of realism that every teen growing up circa 1984 to 1987 could relate to. Hughes was a director with detail on the brain, paying enormous attention to everything from the dialogue his heros used, to the music they listened to. But perhaps the most meticulous attention was paid to the clothing they wore. Hughes’ characters were decked out in their 80s finest, whether it was preppy chic or new-wave geek. From Duckie’s dopey-lovable pair of creepers in Pretty in Pink to Sam’s hideous classic 80s bridesmaids’ dress in Sixteen Candles, the costuming in these films captured the importance of fashion in teen cinema.
Starting with his directorial debut, 1984’s Sixteen Candles, Hughes’ fashion resonated with his teen queen audience. The awkward red-head Molly Ringwald, playing the lead of Sam in a way that can only be described as “adorable”, went on to become the obsession of every 80s teenage girl who felt out-of-place in high school. Her hobo style set Sam apart from the other cliques at school. She wore plaid knee length skirts, slashed off-the-shoulder tops and billowy floral drop-waist dresses with as much pride as she could, even if she thrifted them while the rest of the “popular” girls wore designer duds. Sam’s accessories, a straw-brimmed fedora, a slew of chunky bangles, and chain-strap handbags caused fashion waves. Soon every teenage girl who bought a ticket to the film was running to the mall immediately afterwards to find a belt just like Sam’s. The guys of Sixteen Candles weren’t to be left out either, though! The film would be nothing without brilliant turns in geekdom from Anthony C Hall, whose untucked pastel button down became the uniform for every dork-in-training throughout the 80s. And who can forget Jake Ryan! What is a 16th birthday without your very own Jake Ryan, I ask you! With his stylish fair-isle sweater vests tucked neatly into his perfectly creased Dockers, the heartthrob couldn’t have looked hotter waiting outside his red Porsche for Sam, his princess in a bad bridesmaid dress. Fashion fairy tale, much?
Hughes’ next film, 1985’s The Breakfast Club, was his most famous feature to date. There was no shortage of stylistic magic in this hit, with Hughes using fashion to paint candid pictures of the high school scene. There was Andrew the jock, a young Emilio Estevez who wore his varsity jacket as if it was going out of style! Brian the geek, still Anthony C Hall (in the archetypical role that has haunted him throughout his career) in an even geekier crew neck sweater that looked like it came straight out of the Lands’ End catalog. Claire the prom queen, an effortlessly chic Molly Ringwald trying on popularity for size in a pair of diamond studs that probably blinded half the student body. John the standard troublemaker, played by Judd Nelson as a pre-cursor to the grunge movement with ripped flannel and combat boots. And let’s not leave out Allison, the psycho played to perfection by Ally Sheedy, whose’ arguably finest moment involves her simple black turtleneck and a snowstorm of dandruff. As you watched their day-long detention unfold, you realized that each of these characters dressed just like someone who went to your high school. And therein lay the brilliance of John Hughes! He outfitted his heroes so basically that anyone could relate, but as they told their respective stories you began to understand why they dressed the way they did, and more importantly why they felt the way that they did. Peep Allison’s hilarious lunch scene below for some instant laughs!
The director followed up with a more complex teen tale, my favorite Hughes flick Pretty in Pink. A fashion goldmine, the film followed a teenage love triangle of epic proportions. Going back to her poor-girl roots, Molly Ringwald was cast yet again as Andie Walsh, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who catches rich boy Blane’s eye (a babyfaced Andrew McCarthy). But Blane has to contend with Andie’s best friend Duckie (John Cryer in a performance that in my humble opinion, has gone unparalleled for years), a new-wave heartthrob that the popular kids viewed as a “weirdo”. But for any 80’s emo-kid, Duckie was the epitome of style. His hair was perfectly coifed in a ‘do similar to Morrisey’s of The Smiths. His layering of a bright red button down with upturned collar, under a printed vest, under an oversized yellow blazer littered with pins and pocket kerchifs was sheer perfection. And his super-slick teashades? Swoon! Andie’s style was DIY based and new-wave influenced. A fan of leggings, layering, and floral print scarves, Ringwald’s character even stitched her own asymmetrical shoulder baring prom dress that many a fashionista has copied over the years! Her bowler hats, draped beaded necklaces and menswear-inspired ensembles made her a fashion icon. In fact, take one look at the hipster trends of today and you’ll get an idea of where their inspiration comes from (even if it isn’t always in the hue of pink)! This clip from the film gives you a good idea of Andie’s fashion risk-taking, Duckie’s emo-pop look, and Blane’s yuppie diggs!
and who can forget this INCREDIBLE scene of an Otis Reading channeling Duckie? Priceless!
Hughes most stylish character came in the form of the Converse-skinny jean-and Rayban wearing title character in 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. THE jokester of the decade, Ferris’ style was just as playful. A leopard vest layered under a bad-ass Memebers’ Only inspired jacket were his trademarks, along with that boyish grin. His lady friend Sloane (button-cute Mia Sara) was the funky version of a yuppie– couldn’t you see her white fringed jacket and belted shorts fitting in perfectly with Harvard hipsters and the like? And although less adventurous than Ferris, Cameron (the thinking-girl’s hottie Alan Ruck) owned his own slick updated yuppie look, consisting of his favorite jersey paired with some unlikely slacks. Fun and free spirited, these teens ditching school were the best representation of all that Hughes had worked so hard to create– a world of characters who were individuals that each and every student in the audience could relate to. Check out the infamous “museum scene” from the film below.
Hughes legacy will be long-lasting. Besides his popular teen fare, he directed other family-fun classics such as Home Alone and Uncle Buck that everyone in their 20s can quote with ease. The director set out to capture a particular moment in time, and ended up defining a generation and a genre of film. His contributions to the world of film, and fashion, cannot be overlooked and will certainly never be forgotten. We offer our condolences to his family, and pay tribute to the man who knew that “the last thing Hollywood wanted in their teen movies was teenagers”, and filled his films with them anyways!
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