Explore clothing like costume and armor in STUDENT BODY: Threads of Fear


She wore a black Abercrombie & Fitch polo shirt with the collar turned up. The jeans were American Eagle: dark wash, low rise, held up with a pink ribbon-like waistband. Her brown hair had all the natural hair mine could ever muster. The shoes were leather ballet flats from Bloomingdale’s; her bracelet, a Vera Bradley. In fact, she really wore Chanel perfume. And she terrified me.

“She” was one of the popular girls I agonized to impress in middle school and high school in the early/mid 2000s. But the devil was in the details, and the only brands I could afford Aeropostale, Old Navy and Payless, not their expensive upgrades. I couldn’t rely on labels or looks to create a cool identity, so my personality had to do the heavy lifting. I gave all the power to these girls and left none for me. They could smell my desperation. You can guess how well it turned out.

So, from twelve to sixteen, I was scared almost every day at school. I was afraid that I was, in fact, just as lame as my clothes, and that like the lameness of my clothes, my personal lameness would never change. I was afraid that I would never have real friends, and I would always be on the outside. It was like my life was happening in an audience, constantly watching someone else’s teen movie.

Many years later, I decided to reclaim the girl-centric coming-of-age movie of my helpless former self. The result is my first feature film, Student Council, a teenage horror movie that I wrote and directed. To me, the genre mashup is an oxymoron. I couldn’t have separated my constant fear over those years any more than I could have acquired hundreds of dollars to buy Abercrombie and Chanel. With this film, I tried to dive into the darkness of being a young woman: the anguish of not knowing if her friends are really are your friends, the smothering of male authority figures demanding constant perfection, and the swirling carousel of trying to please both parties at the expense of staying grounded in your true self. From the start of the screenplay-writing process for Student Council, I knew the characters’ wardrobes would be key to telling this story. In my memory and on the page, high school was a place of fear, born of a (perceived) unworthy identity. Your identity is never more closely tied to your style than when you’re young.

In the Student Council storyline, I wanted to evoke a first impression of each main character with quick yet impactful visual brushstrokes. In the opening scene, main character Jane Shipley wears an ill-fitting school uniform, dusted in dirt after her walk through the woods to class. In the hallway, Merritt, her impeccably dressed childhood best friend, who wears large purple lightning bolt earrings, picks a leaf out of Jane’s hair. She even reports a large globe of Something on Jane’s backpack – a dead bug, maybe. I then specified other wardrobe-adjacent accessories on the page for the other main characters, such as hot pink headphones for French, a neon orange gym bag for Nadia, and a vintage camera with a green shoulder strap. keen for Ellis. I wanted the audience to feel like they had quickly “understood” who each character was from those details. “Oh, Jane is the innocent outsider, Merritt is the princess, French is the class clown, Nadia is the brash athlete, and Ellis is the rebellious artist.” Each character begins with a “brand”, a way in which they present themselves to their peers and, on a meta level, to the public. As the story progresses, however, the characters lose this top layer, revealing the incongruities and insecurities that lurk beneath each character’s “brand”. Amid escalating uncertainty and danger, their constructed personas unravel, exposing their threads of fear.

This detangling process was brought to life by my talented costume designer, Lauren Oppelt. While the initial impressions of the five main teenagers in their school uniforms were more clarified in the script, their main looks were a blank slate. In the story, the group breaks into their school on a Friday night, wearing street clothes. I wanted these looks, which they would wear for the majority of the film, to be their signature silhouettes. These teenagers were to become a new Breakfast Club for this generation. Lauren carried out this goal and crafted her costume designs to subtly exteriorize the emotional unfolding of the characters.

The main looks Lauren designed for Ellis involved several layers of clothing, the topmost being a cool rebel-style jacket. As things get scarier within the school, Ellis loses a layer of it – until all that’s left is a v-neck t-shirt, echoing his vulnerable state. Likewise, Merritt starts the night off in a shiny purple jacket, its reflective sheen evoking the mirrors she uses to inspect her complexion. But as chaos erupts in the hallways, her jacket is left behind and she finds herself in a sweaty plain white t-shirt. Her shiny, glamorous polish is peeling off and she has to deal with her anger and sadness underneath.

For French, Lauren created a graphic t-shirt with the poster of a vintage B-movie horror movie. really himself in a horror movie. When he finds himself in just this shirt and a pair of goofy boxers, partying, we get the uncomfortable feeling that he doesn’t know how exposed he really is. Lauren also created a ‘punk rock’ aesthetic for Nadia, with ‘tough’ materials like rhinestones, fishnets, chunky black boots and the word ‘NOPE’ on her animal print shirt (a detail I really like). Nadia wears this look like it’s her armor – until she swims with French in the school pool. In this scene, she leaves her “armor” by the pool. She opens up to him, revealing her vulnerabilities and insecurities.

For the central character of Jane, Lauren chose cute overalls with a custom-sewn flower, making her look both younger and more innocent than the other members of the group. Jane’s journey, however, takes her to some very dark places. The juxtaposition between her girlish overalls and their eventual bloodstains represents her loss of innocence and transformation into someone darker. She becomes someone, like Merritt, who cannot remain neatly categorized as “victim” or “villain”. Jane’s “mark” also comes to light, revealing the emotions hidden within, shocking both herself and the audience.

Lauren created iconic silhouettes with the five teenagers that show how each character wants to be seen by others and peeks into aspects they don’t want others – or even themselves – to see. Beneath their tightly stitched “brands” – Ellis as a rebellious artist, Merritt as a queen of glamour, French as a classy clown, Nadia as a badass, Jane as an innocent – ​​lie vulnerable children. Angry children. Scared children. Their style is intimately linked to their sense of identity. But really, what they’re wearing is just a costume.

I wish I could tell back in my teens that those girls wearing their Abercrombie and Chanel suits were probably scared too. They had an image to maintain, after all. Everyone was still staring at them, expecting a constant level of composure. I bet it was a lot of pressure.

I wish I could tell my teenage years that those clothing brands didn’t empower those girls. I did. I gave them the power I needed to give myself.

I wish I could tell my teenage self that those fears that I had – the fear of inadequacy, the fear of being alone – that those threads run through everyone.

I wish I could, but I can’t.

That’s why I made a movie out of it.

More Lee Ann Kurr on leeannkurr.com and on Instagram @laanwho

Student Council is available now, click below to stream:

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