A Style Anatomy of the On-Screen Mean Girl.
Updated: Mar 6
Part one of the style on-screen series. I'll be taking a look at how popular media archetypes are expressed in your favourite TV shows and movies through fashion.
BEWARE: Mild Spoilers for the movies and TV shows featured: Heathers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Mean Girls, Gossip Girl, and Scream Queens.
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"An Outfit to Rule In."
Mean Girls and the Power of Clothing
A strong leader understands the power of clothing. They know how to use different silhouettes, colours, and trends to their advantage, cultivating an image of stylish supremacy. By doing so, they can subconsciously influence anyone who comes into their presence - followers and enemies alike.
For one, it’s impossible not to imagine Elizabeth I of England without visualising her draped in heavy jewels and sitting on a throne with a prominent ruff around her neck. It’s equally impossible not to imagine first lady Jacqueline Kennedy looking immaculate in a bold two-piece set and a matching pillbox hat.
If words are not your strong point, clothing has got your back. A tailored suit or polished heel says so much about a person without them needing to open their mouths. That is why first impressions are so vital. Nothing says status better than someone who can waltz into any room and instantly look like they have their shit together.
Who could sum up the power of clothing any better than the on-screen mean girl? Also known as the queen bee or the alpha bitch, this popular media trope - most commonly found in American pop culture - recognises that appearances play a crucial part in maintaining power.
Although the mean girl archetype is usually portrayed as passive-aggressive, bitchy, and cruel, some audiences, whether they’d like to admit it or not, can’t help but admire them from time to time.
If you rule out the negative traits, the mean girl possesses a few characteristics that shouldn’t be looked down upon. They are bold. Ambitious. They know how to influence a room. They’re also the consistent rulers of the social sphere with an enviable wardrobe to boot. What we have here is a love-hate situation.
The mean girl has to look untouchable. Every single day, expect to see her bouncy blonde locks coiffed to perfection, her pastel pink manicures proudly on show, and watch her strut down the school corridors in outfits that are always on trend. Let’s face it, the mean girl aesthetic is a look that most people would struggle to maintain in real life; let alone at school or university.
A mean girl must not only follow trends, she must set them. God forbid that anyone is seen holding the latest designer handbag before she is! Thankfully, her group of faithful followers are there to make sure that no one outshines their leader. They probably dress in a uniform manner, making sure not to wear anything that the lead mean girl doesn’t approve of. After all, power is a fickle thing. It can be taken away from you in an instant.
Heather Chandler - Heathers.
“Well, fuck me gently with a chainsaw. Do I look like Mother Teresa?”
Heather Chandler is anything but a saint. In this 1980s black comedy, this alpha bitch is cold and calculated with a fierce wardrobe to match. She leads the Heathers: Westerburg High School’s resident group of popular girls. Their typical school look consists of boxy blazers with huge shoulder pads, pleated mini skirts, and knee-high socks in their individual colours.
This power-dressing aesthetic might sound too high-maintenance for high-schoolers, but it’s there for a reason. The 1980s yuppie silhouette was all about dressing for success. Getting suited and booted was a way of showing off your wealth and status, or, if you hadn’t quite made it yet, a way for ambitious individuals to dress as the person they wanted to become.
A queen bee cannot rule without her crown. And, in this case, Heather Chandler’s bright red scrunchie is the pièce de résistance. The perfect finishing touch for her everyday ensemble. Neatly keeping her permed-to-perfection hair out of her face, this everyday hair accessory is a sign of royalty. It lets everyone know just who is in charge.
Signature look? Heather Chandler’s all-red ensemble. Here, the colour of aggression and energy stands out in this near-monochromatic outfit. It’s a look that screams “no one can cross me.”
Cordelia Chase - Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
“Willow… nice dress! Good to know you’ve seen the softer side of sears.”
Cordelia Chase from Buffy has to be one of the most beloved on-screen mean queens. You hate her at the beginning. She’s rude, way too honest, and judgemental. But, as the show progresses, you can’t help but begin to appreciate her bluntness and, as Xander puts it in season three, “can she cram complex issues into a nutshell or what?” Doubtless to say, her people reading skills are incredible. And there’s also her amazing outfits…
Being a wealthy Sunnydale girl, Cordelia is always wearing the latest 90s trends. Her outfits can get preppy, but this is without looking too stuffy or old-fashioned. The stunning brunette blends miniskirts with turtlenecks, wears v-neck collars with sleeveless jumpers, and puts leather jackets over simple slip dresses.
Even though the school is in the middle of a hellmouth, it’s imperative that she looks put-together at all times. She may not have Buffy’s superhuman strength but she does have a fearless attitude. Vampires, try and attack all you want, just don’t mess with the hair.
Signature look? Behold the Halloween episodes of an already spooky show. In one of them, Cordelia appears in a leopard print catsuit, furry cat ears, and whiskered face paint. She wears this whilst taking a few of the local kids trick or treating as part of a school volunteering program. Maybe not the most appropriate look for the job, but it sums up her fierce temperament, that’s for sure.
Regina George - Mean Girls.
“Get in loser, we’re going shopping.”
The plastics. Glamorous but back-stabbing. A dangerous kind of mean girl that smiles and compliments you in person, yet proceeds to gossip about you as soon as your back is turned. Regina George is the leader of this pack. She keeps her followers under her control with an authoritarian approach.
The rules for dressing are clear. Get out of the group if you dare to wear a tank top two days in a row, wear your hair in a ponytail more than once a week, or ignore the most important rule: that you must wear pink on Wednesdays. Anything that strays outside of these rules is considered a threat and, face it, you don’t want to end up on Regina’s bad side.
This mean girl is always on trend. If she comes into school wearing something new or exciting, it’s likely that many of the girls at North Shore High School will follow suit. Even if it’s a tank top sabotaged by Janis and Cady. Yes, Regina could even make a boob-cut out tank top look good, so good that’ll she’ll happily wear it around the school. Let the copycats commence.
Signature look? It has to be this one. This statement “a little bit dramatic” white tank top is an utter gem, whilst the matching pastel pink cardi and pleated tennis skirt are adorable. All-in-all, a much loved throwback to 2000s fashion. Just don’t call it fetch.
Blair Waldorf - Gossip Girl.
“You know how torturous it is for me to find shiny things that aren’t intended for me.”
Every outfit counts when you’re the it-girl of the Upper East Side. Blair Waldorf knows she must look the part at all times to maintain her affluent reputation. Even more important when the omnipresent gaze of the mysterious Gossip Girl is close-by. That’s probably why her sense of style is so faultless. The Audrey Hepburn enthusiast never fails to look classy wherever she goes.
Born into wealth and privilege, Blair attends the private Constance Billard School for Girls. Despite the old-school uniforms its pupils have to wear, this socialite adds stylish touches to stand out. She adds interest to her uniform via colour blocked tights, cute collar bows, and an unlimited range of Alice bands. The perfect look to rule the school in.
Outside of school, Blair loves a designer piece. There is never a shortage of designer gowns or tailored coats in her wardrobe. Whether she’s hanging out with Serena or carrying five different shopping bags down Fifth Avenue, expect to find her in classic silhouettes mixed with feminine details for some extra fun. This means elegant a-line dresses in a range of floral or plaid prints and sleek autumn coats paired with berets, bright pumps, and boxy handbags.
Signature Look? This one’s easy. In a series of episodes set in France, Blair’s fashion game was everything. An incredible Oscar de la Renta gown is just what you should wear whilst wandering the streets of Paris to go and meet up with your beau.
Chanel Oberlin - Scream Queens.
“Your leathery excuse for a mother looks like an ostrich hide clutch from last season that somehow learned to talk.”
The pastel colour palette found in the comedy horror Scream Queens is downright deceptive. Chanel Oberlin is the head of the Kappa Kappa Tau Sorority at Wallace University. They’re an elite group, only accepting a privileged few within their ranks. However, when the college dean forces them to accept outsiders into the sorority, all hell breaks loose - a masked serial murderer included.
Don’t be fooled by Chanel’s propensity for whites, baby blues, and pastel pinks. She is one alpha bitch who is not afraid to speak her mind. Her underlings - the Chanels; aptly named after the classic french fashion house - put up with her verbal abuse on the daily. They also dress in the same saccharine way.
Chanel Oberlin has to be the most unrealistic mean girl here. I mean, it’s college! With all that reckless partying and all those nerve-wracking exams do you really expect to see no coffee stained joggers or varsity logo hoodies?
Faux fur jackets, tweed two-pieces, pearl accessories, and cat-eyed sunglasses are just a few staples of the Kappa Kappa Tau dress code. I can’t help but find it terrifying that they still wear these pieces even when a masked killer is on the loose. No one wants to wash blood splatter out of their crisp, white pussy bow blouse. But, alas, the Queen Bee always manages to make it out in one piece.
Signature look? Even when Chanel Oberlin is being hounded by the press and followed by an angry mob, she still brings out the best looks. This strapless, satin dress with a floral applique skirt is incredible. Even better when paired with the pearl choker and pink sunglasses.
Mean Girls IRL??
If you’ve ever known a ‘mean girl’ in real life, you’ve probably imagined their future. They leave school with poor prospects having prioritised their looks and social life over their grades. They’ve peaked early, that’s all. Everything afterwards will begin to go downhill, like some kind of poetic justice.
First of all, cut it out. Don’t stay bitter over the past.
Second of all, nothing in life works out in a set pattern. Maybe the girl you’re thinking of is successful or living a comfortable and happy life. Maybe they’ve changed for the better. Maybe they’re still mean. Whatever the case, the ‘mean girl’ is merely an archetype and no real person fits into these labels neatly.
You can be popular and kind. (Cher Horowitz from Clueless and Elle Woods from Legally Blond both come to mind).
You can have geeky interests but also be an absolute asshole. (Liz Lemon from 30 Rock was a mean geek, only realising this after attending a high-school reunion years later).
Even in the movie Booksmart, the two studious protagonists realise that they’ve wasted their high-school years by spending all their time studying. Yeah, they got into great colleges, but so did some of the kids who were popular, partied, and studied. None of these things are mutually exclusive.
The mean girl is an ambivalent archetype. As I’ve said before, we hate their cruelty but secretly admire their ambition. So, let's take that ambition out for a ride. I'm not someone who dislikes the thought of putting on my most sleek outfit, going outside, and motivating myself to go and get what I want for once. So, with a hearty mixture of ambition and compassion, let’s go grab the matching two-piece and party.
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