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TV/Film 9 cult indie films and their style inspirations

Oct. 7, 2020
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Whether you’re into cult films or not, these movies always offer some of the best, most iconic style inspiration. These are the films that flopped upon their initial release but have gradually gathered a cult following of both cinephiles and mainstream viewers.

The Craft (1996)

From its beginning, The Craft feels like any other ‘90s teen drama. A troubled teenage girl starts at a Catholic prep school, where she meets three outsiders who call themselves witches. She soon joins their coven to practice black magic. 

The Craft embodies fantasy, horror, and the grunge-goth aesthetic like no other. Everything is stylized and a tad campy, from characterization to wardrobe. The erratic Nancy Downs, whom Fairuza Balk gave a spellbinding performance as every Catholic school parents’ worst nightmare, rocks black on black, spike chokers, layered chains, and cross earrings—a favorite among modern e-girls. 

In contrast to mainstream chick-flicks of its time, The Craft’s wardrobe features Catholic school uniforms with a personalized touch, platform Mary Janes, paisley midi dresses, and pearl rosaries. 

Clueless (1995)

After over two decades, Clueless still remains one of the most iconic ‘90s classics. After consecutive eras of flower power, disco, and grunge, the film’s wardrobe brought back a feminine, preppy aesthetic. 

Before production, director Amy Heckerling and costume designer Mona May visited schools in Los Angeles to get a sense of what high schoolers were actually wearing. “It was just dreadful,” May said of what she saw. So instead, they took creative liberties to opt for something more whimsical.

The film’s fashion has inspired high-end designers like Alexander Wang, Rochas, and Maison Margiela. Cher Horowitz’s Dolce & Gabbana yellow plaid pleated miniskirt and matching blazer have become iconic style symbols for the film. Even now, Clueless’ influence is scattered across fashion lovers’ Instagram feeds, from Cher’s fur-trim shrunken cardigan, to Tai’s sweater vest, to Dionne’s mini skirt styled with a cropped tee. 

13 Going On 30 (2004)

On more than one occasion, the internet’s bestie-slash-influencer Devon Lee Carlson has name-dropped 13 Going On 30 as her favorite movie and ongoing fashion inspiration. 

In recent years, childish nostalgia has appeared in the work of contemporary designers like Sandy Liang, Lou Dallas, and Dom Sebastian. It’s reflective of the style in 13 Going On 30, which bounces back and forth from ‘80s teenagers to early ‘00s closet essentials. Think slip dresses, pastel cardigans, spaghetti straps, baguette shoulder bags, and plastic claw clips. As an adult, the film’s protagonist (Jennifer Garner) dons complementary color combinations, clashing patterns, and childlike jewelry—“the next big fashion trend in 2020,” said NYLON. 

Twin Peaks (1990)

In the early ‘90s, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks changed the game for television. 

Long before Alessandro Michele made it a Gucci thing, Twin Peaks’ wardrobe favored oversized knit cardigans, geeky glasses, long skirts, and androgynous fits. The show’s characters are dressed in a style now referred to as “grandma chic.”

In Twin Peaks, clothes actually help tell each character’s personal story. James Hurley is dressed as a cliche symbol of American teenage rebellion in his biker jacket; Agent Cooper, a detective with a dry sense of humor, wears the same dark suit in almost every episode; Audrey Horne, a businessman’s daughter, is first seen in a sweater and pleated kilt, but later reveals her sexuality when she dons an off-the-shoulder little black dress. 

Pierrot Le Fou (1965) 

Every Goddard movie creates a version of the modern Parisian woman: often free-spirited, sometimes spontaneous, and never without a cigarette between her fingers. Although Pierrot Le Fou is more stylized than realistic, Marianne Renoir’s character still gives off effortless cool. For better or worse, Goddard’s characterization of Renoir likely paved the way for our modern-day manic pixie dream girl. 

Showgirls (1995)

Aside from its occasional full-frontal nudity, Showgirls showcases many outstanding costumes. The main character’s off-duty style consists of V-neck crop tops, tiny, flamboyant dresses, and tie-front long sleeves. Her rhinestone eyes, sharp liner, and sleek hairdo bear a lot of resemblance to Maddie’s (Alexa Demie) looks in HBO’s Euphoria. It’s been 25 years and Showgirls remains a beloved erotic thriller amongst fans. It even inspired a less campy remake, Burlesque, which starred Christina Aguilera and Cher. 

Almost Famous (2000)

If Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous is a snapshot of the American rock-and-roll scene in the ‘70s, its free-spirited groupies give a glimpse of what fashion was all about during the time. The movie’s style inspiration was largely drawn from thrift stores in West Coast cities, from San Francisco to Los Angeles, where the hippie movement was prominent in the ‘60s and ‘70s. 

Almost Famous transports viewers to a decade famous for worn-in band tees, flared jeans, suede jackets, and bohemian flair. In order to create the perfect wardrobe, costume designer Betsy Heimann and her team designed every single garment except the blue jeans. They looked at old photos from rock tours, tracked down a ‘60s air hostess, and often referenced Bianca Jagger’s vintage aesthetic. 

Penny Lane’s iconic fur-trimmed coat is almost as famous as the movie itself. Inspired by a 1920s opera coat, Heimann crafted the enigmatic groupie’s self-defining fashion armor. Known for her golden curls and round hippie shades, Penny Lane is a symbol of romantic bohemianism. She doesn’t do her hair, wears mini skirts and peasant blouses, opts for platform wedges, and lounges in her underwear and fur coat. 

The Fifth Element (1997)

Don’t we all love a campy sci-fi? Yes, we do. Especially when avant-garde designer Jean Paul Gaultier is in charge of costumes. 

The Fifth Element’s wardrobe is bold and colorful, with emphasis on the color orange—from hair to retro dungarees to ribbed tanks. Adored for its absurdity, fast pace, and fierce fashion, Gaultier’s work pushes the film’s visual boundaries even further. 

In 2018, Jeremy Scott brought back The Fifth Element’s iconic orange in his fall collection and offered metallic dungarees, futuristic sets, and bright orange bobs. The movie still inspires countless Halloween costumes and cosplayers around the world, even an outfit as unwearable as the cream bondage-style dress. 

Tank Girl (1995)

Out of many ‘90s favorites, Rachel Talalay’s Tank Girl must be one of the most underrated. Straight from the pages of comic magazine Deadline, Tank Girl (Lori Petty) is the film’s iconic feminist anarchist, a visual embodiment of the ‘90s riot-grrrl movement. She drives an army-grade tank while rocking platinum blonde hair, pencil-thin brows, ripped tanks, and utility vests. As comic creator Jamie Hewlett once put it, “she [is] Mad Max designed by Vivienne Westwood.”

The movie’s wardrobe is punk-inspired and post-apocalyptic, with standout pieces like her horn helmet, slashed tees, and bovver boots.

Tank Girl’s rebellious punk style is seen nowadays in the works of designers who embrace the post-apocalyptic aesthetic, such as Marine Serre and Demna Gvasalia for Vetementes. Or even up-and-coming Fashion East designer Gareth Wrighton, who sent a Tank Girl doppelganger down the runway this year.