Fashion & Beauty / Lessons to Learn

How to Emulate Gwyneth Paltrow’s 1990s Minimalist Style

Her character in 1998’s Sliding Doors sports some seriously chic Calvin Klein ensembles. We examine the film’s lessons in life and style alike

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Sliding Doors, 1998(Film still)

What could possibly be better than one Gwyneth Paltrow? Well, two of course, both dressed head to toe in full-look Calvin Klein. Fortunately enough, this is exactly what the audience is treated to in the 1998 film Sliding Doors, where Paltrow plays Helen Quilley, a woman whose life splits into two parallel paths depending on whether or not she misses the tube, after being fired from her job in Public Relations for stealing vodka. (Relatable.)

Alongside some highly profound commentary on serendipity and self-preservation, Sliding Doors is a filmic journey into the depths of the late-90s. From the mention of ‘mad cow burgers’, in reference to the era’s BSE outbreak, to a soundtrack courtesy of Dido, Aqua and Jamiroquai, it really couldn’t be more of-its-time if it tried. Despite the terrible ‘London Ladette’ accent that Paltrow bestowed on her character – we’re talking dropped Ts and the use of the word ‘shagging’ as an adjective, here – it’s hard not to fall in love with her. We explore why Helen’s over-plucked eyebrows and questionable choppy pixie cut should really be making a comeback 20 years on.

1. Go monochrome or go home

The film’s end credits state “GWYNETH PALTROW’S WARDROBE PROVIDED BY CALVIN KLEIN, INC.”, as if it weren’t obvious enough just from looking at what she wears throughout. In an ode to Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, Helen sports monochromatic looks from start to finish, with clean lines and simple silhouettes offset by her blonde hair and minimal make-up. In fact, Ms Quilley is so chic that we can even forgive her for irritatingly hurling the dated insult “tosser” in an Anglo-American drawl practically every five minutes. 

2. Don’t be afraid to overpluck (if you have the bone structure)

The overplucked brow is considered the beauty scourge of the 90s, with many still paying for their teenage abuse of tweezers years down the line. With a bone structure like Gwyneth Paltrow’s, however, a skinny brow can really work in your favour, with Helen often looking more like Jean Harlow than Claire Richards from Steps circa 1997. 

3. Changing your hair will change your life

Arguably, the most dramatic and memorable moment in the film is not when Helen discovers her fiancée in bed with another woman, or even when she get hits by a car and – SPOILER ALERT – dies. Instead it is when she chops off her mousy locks, eschewing the three strands of wispy fringe emblematic of her timid former self, and transforms into the empowered PR bitch she always dreamed of, replete with a blonde, choppy pixie cut. Girl power at its finest. 

4. Date out-of-work writers, actors and musicians at your own peril

The aforementioned cheating incident is the dastardly work of Gerry, a narcissistic, out-of-work writer sponging off Helen while he composes his ‘literary magnum opus’. The version of Helen who catches the tube instantly discovers just what a waste of space he is. But mousy Helen, who unfortunately missed the train on the way home, continues to have the wool pulled over her eyes, despite her many suspicions. The moral of this tale is: don’t touch any of the above with a barge pole in the first place.

5. Let fate decide

Ultimately, Sliding Doors ends with the following sentiments: 1. True love will find you if it is meant to be, and 2. There is very little we can control. But one thing is certain whilst we navigate through the trials and tribulations of life and love: we could all use a dose of Helen’s 1990s minimalist style along the way. 

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