The highs and lows of teen TV fashion

If you look back at your teenage years with a myriad of fashion regrets, chances are you have a teen drama TV show to blame. From your late teens onwards, life and its fashion possibilities begin to open up. There are places to shop other than your local Big W, there are other magazine’s besides Dolly, everyday is a ‘free dress day’ and fashion inspiration can be found everywhere. When you’re 13 however and all you have is late night msn chats, Saturday morning Rage, and going to the movies with friends, taking style, and life cues from 20-something year old actors mimicking teenage lives seems like a good idea. Even if what they wear is hardly age-appropriate, outlandish or downright horrifying, what are you to know? You’re a helpless 13 year old with a wardrobe limited to your imagination, hand-me-downs, DIY pieces, and the generosity of your parents. And so, without further ado, let us take a trip down Generation Y’s memory lane to see just who was to blame for those chunky heeled shoes you wore to the grade 10 disco, and why your little sister is a billion times more stylish than you ever were.


The Beginning


Shows: Beverly Hills 90210, Degrassi High


On the exciting cusp of the late eighties and early nineties, a time when fashion was kissing goodbye to shoulder padded excess and entering an era of minimalism and grunge, Beverly Hills 90210 and Degrassi High were shining beacons of teen angst on television for all to see. 90210 pioneered the preppy rich-kids genre with bronzed and beautiful co-stars walking the halls of their high school in the height of teen fashion; baggy t-shirts tucked into high waisted acid wash jeans, flimsy floral dresses and scrunchies. Canadian TV show Degrassi High on the other hand made for more cutting edge viewing, depicting high school students having to deal with adult issues such as pregnancy, alcoholism, racism and AIDS. While the content was heavy, the fashion was not; bomber jackets, fedoras, permed hair and technicoloured t-shirts sought to brighten up the screen.

The Best: The attitude. You can pull off acid wash anything when you’re as confident as Brenda Walsh

The Worst: The hair. Good lord the hair.


The ‘got dressed in the dark’ girls

Shows: Punky Brewster, Clarissa Explains It All

The original kook balls Punky Brewster and Clarissa from Clarissa Explains It Allenjoyed dressing in colourful and alternative styles that complemented their quirky personalities. There was little logic to what they wore, miss-matching prints and colours just made for more fun. For such a young girl Punky dressed well beyond her years, marrying Will Smith as the Fresh Prince of Bel Air’s knack for hyper-colour with geriatric style icon Grandma Yeta’s clueless combinations. Yes, one half black male, one half 80 year old Jewish lady, Punky Brewster had it goin’ on. Clarissa, played by a young Melissa Joan Hart, was a little edgier in her approach. Black chokers, acid denim overalls and midriff tops secured her as the younger, more approachable sister to the 90210 bitches. She didn’t want to steal your boyfriend, she just wanted to explain things to you – apparently.

The Best: Punky Brewster’s hyper coloured jumpsuit.

The Worst: So much denim…..too much denim.


The era of ugly angst

Shows: Dawson’s Creek, Party of Five, Sabrina the Teenage Witch

Well and truly into the nineties now, teen drama shows had taken a wardrobe turn for the worst. You have to keep in mind that during this period Cher from Clueless was dressed in little red Alia numbers, the Spice Girls were wearing leopard print pants and heroin chic starring Kate Moss and Winona Ryder was at its prime. This decade was full of sartorial wins (*nods Alexander Wang with approval), but teen TV shows sadly missed the mark completely, dressing their cast members in clothes as awkwardly constructed and poorly planned as the shows’ plot-lines and dialogue. From Dawson Leary’s corduroy pants to Jen’s butch leather jacket and white collared shirt combo, the supposedly 16 year old characters from Dawson’s Creek dressed more like 30 year old parents struggling with a mortgage. Party of Five’s teen angst was equally mirrored in the show’s wardrobe with a strong focus on brown, greasy hair and ugly shoes. And just when you think it couldn’t get any worst there was Sabrina the Teenage Witch, a “comedy” that was so focussed on Melissa Joan Hart’s impressive rack (to cleavage or not to cleavage?) that it completely forgot about the rest of the show’s clothing choices, resulting in a bad case of the uglies.

The Best: The two aunts from Sabrina.

The Worst: Leather trench coats, all three shows were just suffocating in heavy fabrics. Oh and Jen Lindley’s hair.


The next generation of ‘got dressed in the dark girls’

Shows: Lizzie McGuire, Hannah Montana

After a decade of teen angst and badly-fit clothing, a new generation of bubbly, personality-filled girls surfaced in the form of Lizzie McGuire and Hannah Montana.Both shows took some eclectic style cues from the pioneering Punky Brewster, dressing the cast in clashing colours and prints, but this time round the styles were noticeably down-played, taking mediocre Walmart friendly clothing and adding unnecessary layers in order for everything to appear more ‘fun’ and ‘zany.’ Much like the acting, this was faked incredibly badly, although I say this more with Hannah Montana in mind than Lizzie McGuire.

The Best: Hilary Duff was so adorbs.

The Worst: Billy Ray Cyrus’s hair/denim jackets/everything.


The Hipsters

Shows: Skins

I must first stipulate that it pains me to use the term ‘Hipster.’ I don’t even really know what it means anymore, it’s gotten so caught up in hateful sentences that I’d really prefer to avoid the topic all together, but then again I’ve also struggled to put a descriptive label on Skins, so…what of it? Skins is one of those distinctly British teen dramas that successfully translated to kids throughout the world. None of the shows plots were really realistic nor relatable (although I’m sure many angsty teens would say otherwise – the little liars) but the characters, at least appearance-wise, are far more believable than the tanned model-types you usually find in US shows. When not running around semi-nude, Syd made a habit of wearing hoodies and beanies, Michele wore colourful tights, Effy wore eyeliner and Tony wore striped polos and cardigans. It may seem mediocre but the show’s wardrobe makes theSkins fantasy that little bit more achievable.

The Best: Cassie. While being a crazed character, the girl had her head on straight when it came to her fashion choices. The dress she wore when jumping on the trampoline was a particular highlight.

The Worst: I think we all could have done without the rave-inspired fashion choices.

Published on The Vine 




The Rich Kids


Shows: The OC, Gossip Girl


Where Dawson’s Creek and Skins aim to relate to teens via sexually fuelled story lines and down to earth (read: average) clothing choices, the new generation of rich kid dramas is out to do the complete opposite. This is a genre that takes the fashion budget of a typical teen and adds a handful of 0’s, paving the way to fantasy land, where everyone is rich and teens can wear whatever they want – and do. The OC made out that community balls and fashion parades were just another part of everyday teen life, dressing Marissa and Summer in preppy polos by day and sweet Marc Jacobs cocktail dresses by night. Taking off from where The OC finished,Gossip Girl became a teen-drama-cum-fashion show, taking preppy style to pastel and pearl extremes and inspiring/depressing teens everywhere who loved what they saw but couldn’t afford any of it.


The Highs: The return of dressing like Cher from Clueless.

The Lows: Jenny Humphrey’s transition into Taylor Momsen.

Published on The Vine