The 1988 cult teen film is still as relevant, hilarious and mildly disturbing as ever
Satirical 1988 high school film Heathers has been enthralling viewers for almost 30 years, and it shows no sign of stopping. Not to mention many a catchphrase: “What’s your damage, Heather?” is just one of myriad quotable lines. The Michael Lehmann-directed film follows Veronica Sawyer – played faultlessly by a 16-year-old Winona Ryder – as she navigates high school with her popular and painfully cool friends Heather Chandler, Heather Duke and Heather McNamara. Disillusioned with the shallow hierarchy of her clique, she starts dating mysterious new student Jason Dean, or J.D., a brooding character played by Christian Slater. What starts as a seeming joke between J.D. and Veronica soon escalates into a murderous adventure, disguised as a series of suicides thanks to Veronica’s forged death notes and the popularity of radio hit Teenage Suicide throughout Westerburg High.
Heathers is a hilariously nightmarish vision of the American high school experience, complete with stereotypical friendship groups – the jocks, cheerleaders, nerds et al – and talk of proms and college parties. Undercutting the action throughout are plenty of surreal character tropes and Veronica’s constant quick wit, all of which is outfitted in the most 80s of costumes; shoulder pads, scrunchies and quiffed hair all very much present. Since summer’s out and school has recommenced in earnest, we’re revisiting the film’s sartorial universe.
1. Perfect your eye roll
Veronica’s sheer disdain for her peers’ behaviour is crucial to her character, and manifests in many eye rolls, each one timed to perfection – whether to express disappointment with her mother’s definition of what it is to be an adult (“well I guess I picked the wrong day to be a human being,” she replies, as she whirls her eyes back into her head), or complete boredom with the Heathers as they trawl the cafeteria completing the lunchtime poll in one of the film’s early scenes. In Heathers, when words fail, a well-executed eye roll is all it takes.
2. A red scrunchie is a power move
A symbol of power and popularity throughout Heathers is the red scrunchie, initially worn by Heather Chandler, later by Heather Duke and eventually taken on by Veronica in the film’s final scene. The bright and bold red affords its wearer a distinct confidence; as soon as Heather Duke puts on the scrunchie, she becomes, almost instantaneously, just as entitled as Heather Chandler was (or, as Veronica puts it, simply “a mega bitch”). When Veronica takes the scrunchie from Heather and wears it in her own hair, it gives her confidence without malice – she quickly befriends serial laughing stock Martha “Dumptruck” Dunnstock.
3. Your clothes need not mirror your mood
More often than not the clothes in Heathers belie the characters’ true states of mind and personalities. Take Heather Chandler, for example, waking up the morning after a college party the image of serenity in a pale pink silken robe – offset with her red scrunchie of course – despite her hangover and unshifting foul mood. The irony of her get-up is only exacerbated when she meets her horrific death at the hands of Veronica and J.D., who trick her into drinking drain cleaner and falling onto a glass table. The same can be said for the film’s last scene, when Veronica has put an end to the out of control behaviour of J.D. and Heather Duke. Covered in ash and blood, Veronica looks “like hell”, but in fact is finally happy and in one of her kindest moods, strolling out of school with a new friend in Martha.
4. The bigger the shoulder pads, the bigger the attitude
When we first meet the Heathers and Veronica, all four are dressed in not-quite-matching outfits: a white shirt buttoned all the way up, beneath an aggressively shoulder-padded blazer, each in a different colour or pattern. Heather Chandler, at this point the head Heather, wears a checked jacket which boasts gargantuan shoulder pads, while Veronica’s are slightly smaller but by no means diminutive. It’s in these initial scenes that Veronica and Heather clash, with each reply in their conversation more strained and sassy than the last. Indeed, at one point after Veronica suggests they speak to more of the people in their school for a change, Heather retorts with “Fuck me gently with a chainsaw, do I look like Mother Teresa?” No Heather, that you do not.
5. Accessories are key to conveying your mood
At various points during the film, Veronica turns to her journal to express her emotions and work through her anxieties. In these moments she scrawls furiously in her diary whilst wearing a monocle, which adds a certain air of importance and meditation to her writing sessions. It’s natty accessories like these that Veronica turns to throughout Heathers – despite Heather Chandler’s insistence that she “can’t accessorise for shit” – and become indicative of her character. Think: a straw hat when she argues with her parents about teen suicide; the aforementioned red scrunchie for when she feels confident; a cigarette dangling from her mouth when she’s moody and regretful of her murderous exploits. How very, as the Heathers would say.