We all had them, those all-consuming crushes that took over our teenage lives. In our series The Objects of Our Obsession, writers explore the deeper meanings behind those fixations, and pay tribute to the people who we found totally crush-worthy.
When Clueless came out, I was only five years old—not exactly old enough to fully understand the jokes or appreciate the fashion. But like any self-respecting millennial, I eventually got around to watching the classic movie and then continued to re-watch the film throughout my teenage years and into my 20s—to say nothing of how much I listened to the soundtrack (Clueless had the best soundtrack). And with every re-watch, I remained as hypnotized as ever by one character in particular: Dionne, my ultimate It Girl.
An It Girl, in my mind, isn’t the person who's most obviously cool, but is instead the person who is low-key the coolest; it's never the main character, it's always the best friend, the one who's effortlessly bolder, cooler, and more elevated than the hero. It's not Carrie, it's Miranda; it's not Sandy, it's Rizzo; or, in the case of Clueless, it's not Cher, it's Dionne.
When we’re first introduced to Dionne, she’s running out of her mansion in Beverly Hills. Her outfit is a carbon copy of Cher’s except she’s added one standout accessory: a black-and-white plastic top hat. “So, what do you think?” Dionne asks her friend when she gets in the car. “Been shopping with Dr. Seuss?” Cher quips. Dionne, though, is unfazed. Like all truly cool girls, she knows she looks good no matter what anyone else says.
And that's why, in true crush-worthy fashion, Dionne's skirts are always a little bit shorter than anyone else's, her style a little more daring. This was intentional, as Clueless costume designer Mona May would later explain in an interview tied to the 20th anniversary of the film. “Dionne is sassy and a little bit more experienced,” she said. “Cher was very innocent and classic; Dionne was very sexually forward. With her, I took designer clothes from the runway and mixed it with vintage fashion, so we would have, let’s say, a Dolce & Gabbana top that goes with a vinyl skirt that’s super short and then we’ll add a 1950s clutch to it, but on top of it we would add a funky, crazy hat and really make it work. We wanted to make sure she didn’t look like a clown. We could push the envelope with her on every level.”
This envelope-pushing was something that teenage-me not only noticed but appreciated—a lot. Though I wasn’t about to wear a gradient of pink flowers in my micro braids (too shy!), a girl who did and was able to pull it off was someone I wanted to know.
But there's another reason I was fascinated with Dionne: the whole "token" thing. Like Dionne, I grew up surrounded by mostly white people, and it was my white friends who were reflected onscreen in teen comedies; other than Dionne, there just weren’t many people that looked like me that also got significant screen time. Dionne wasn’t an afterthought, she was a fully formed character—her personality was her own, not just a response to someone else's.
And while stereotypes run rampant in the movie (the baggy jeans and “street slang” by way of Dionne's boyfriend, Murray), Dionne's “sass” reads as pure confidence, and was especially captivating to a younger me. Dionne was the kind of girl who was willing to have an argument in front of the whole school about finding a polyester braid in her boyfriend’s car; she didn’t care what people thought, she had something to say, so she was going to say it. Dionne had the kind of self-assuredness that only comes when you really respect yourself—and there's nothing more compelling than that.
Also compelling was her relationship with Murray; sure, their explosive love is troubling in retrospect, but it was all I wanted growing up. I craved the kind of connection where you have your boyfriend's mother on speed dial just in case he does something stupid like shave his head in the middle of a party. I wanted a partner who was willing to teach me, a horrible driver, how to drive properly, and who would still love me after almost killing him on the freeway. Swoon!
Dionne, then, is kind of the perfect teen crush. And yet it must be mentioned that the image of Dionne has become somewhat sullied over the years by Stacey Dash, the actress who played Dionne, who has revealed herself to be a hard-core conservative and Trump-lover. But, while I might not be a fan of Dash at all, I have an easier time separating the art and artist in this case. No matter what awful policies Dash supports, I know Dionne well enough to know she would never support a pussy-grabbing president or shame women for complaining about wage inequality. Dionne wouldn’t skin a collie to make a backpack, so she definitely wouldn’t betray teenage-me.
And if she would? Well, lesson learned: Sometimes (oftentimes) the coolest people in high school end up being the biggest disappointments.