Riverdale

Look of the Week: Riverdale's nod to the '90s

Contributed by
Nov 11, 2018

Welcome back to Look of the Week, celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence, past and present across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics!

In the town of Riverdale, the cheerleaders have a specific funeral-themed uniform and their duties extend beyond pep rallies for the school team. They also perform an impromptu rendition of “Jailhouse Rock” at a football game being played at the Leopold and Loeb Juvenile Detention Center, Archie’s (K.J. Apa) current residence. Weeks after the Season 3 premiere and I am still finding this name amusing — Leopold and Loeb are real-life killers who tried (and failed) to commit the perfect crime in 1924 and were the inspiration for Rope. This reference is so perfectly Riverdale, particularly after last season’s serial killer homage.

Riverdale

The CW 

Anything from the last 100 years in pop culture and true crime is up for grabs, and much like Chilling Adventures of SabrinaRiverdale is going to play pick and mix with the decades. The clothes these characters wear also fall into this category. Riverdale does not strive for realism and it is all the more fun when it leans into the outlandish. How do they top ‘70s costumes and Carrie: The Musical? Well, we’re only four episodes into Season 3 and the fun gimmick episode switches out songs — okay, there is still singing, because Riverdale — and delivers a fun twist on the flashback narrative device.

This week’s very special episode goes back to the early ‘90s in a series of flashbacks when Alice (Mädchen Amick), Fred (Luke Perry), F.P. (Skeet Ulrich), Sierra (Robin Givens), Hermione (Marisol Nichols) and Penelope (Nathalie Bolt) were at high school together. It helps for storyline purposes that these characters didn’t make like the Dixie Chicks; instead, they stayed in the same zip code where their parents lived.

Riverdale

The CW

In “Chapter Thirty-Nine: The Midnight Club,” Alice reveals why both her and F.P. were so concerned about kids playing Gryphons & Gargoyles —  G&G, as the Riverdale kids are now calling it. Instead of casting new actors, Betty (Lili Reinhart), Jughead (Cole Sprouse), and the rest of the gang played their own parents in the flashback sequences. And because this is Riverdale, there are some fabulous costumes to differentiate the kids from their parents, thanks to costume designer Rebekka Sorensen-Kjelstrup.

“It was junior year. Phones had cords, Winona had Johnny, and everything smelled like teen spirit.” Alice starts her story with some very Riverdale references as she struts down the corridor to an ‘80s soundtrack. Yep, this might be the early ‘90s but the songs are not adhering to these rules. Reinhart’s hair has been freed from the ponytail and straighteners and is indeed “enviable” as her mother’s voiceover notes, part-Madonna, part-Courtney Love with a dash of Mädchen Amick when she was starring in Twin Peaks. And just like Shelly’s tumultuous love life in Twin Peaks, Alice Cooper (née Smith) has pretty terrible taste in dudes, bouncing from F.P. to a quick smooch with vanilla Fred — K.J. Apa is delivering an all-star performance as his dad — followed by the union with future serial killer Hal Cooper (Zachary Hayden).

Riverdale

The CW 

At the end of the episode, Alice switches the leather jacket, plaid shirt, ripped Levi’s, array of cross necklaces and stomach-baring tops for... well, more stomach-baring tops, but with a Chanel-esque blazer. Her journey from Southside Serpent to her present-day style takes place before our very eyes. Reinhart very much looks the part as Amick and gives one of the standout performances of the episode as she grapples with her pregnancy secret.

There is a distinct sartorial difference between what is worn in the flashbacks to what we see in the present day timeline; however, a lot of these early ‘90s looks wouldn’t look out of place in 2018, because this era is in the midst of a comeback. Sure, teen Penelope and Hermione’s spectacle frames are huge, but Penelope’s turtleneck, pinafore dress, and plaid blazer look a lot like some of the best contemporary go-to fall outfits.

Riverdale

The CW 

The closest in past and present wardrobe comes courtesy of Hermione’s prim attire, which isn’t that far off what Veronica wears in the present day; that plaid skirt is in V’s taste wheelhouse. Riverdale High doesn't have a uniform, but Hermione looks like she wishes she went to school with Gossip Girl's Blair Waldorf or Kathryn in Cruel Intentions.

Riverdale
Saved by the Bell sneaks in via the alt title card, and Sierra McCoy’s denim and floral patterned pastel ensemble is something I could see Kelly Kapowski or Lisa Turtle wearing.

Meanwhile, both Perry and Ulrich starred in iconic high school set TV shows and movies in the ‘90s, which is part of why the adult casting on Riverdale is so good. When a young F.P. ditches his Letterman jacket, the light tee is a full homage to Billy Loomis in Scream, right down to the way his hair is styled. 

Riverdale

The CW

And there is nothing more Beverly Hills, 90210 styling than Fred’s denim shirt, tee, jeans, and white sneakers combo. The way he lies on the ground is full Dylan McKay cockiness. Other high school pop culture references are more overt; at one point, Penelope mentions the film Heathers.
Riverdale

The CW 

The ‘90s is where the style notes sit, but it is John Hughes that gives the episode its title, structure, and soundtrack. The Breakfast Club is a tried and tested format for a TV episode, with everything from Dawson’s Creek to E.R. dipping their toe in this well.

Archie’s mom is already played by Hughes teen icon Molly Ringwald, but the direct link in "The Midnight Club" comes in the form of her former co-star Anthony Michael Hall, who meets a grisly, blue-lipped end as Principle Featherhead.

Riverdale

The CW 

If Season 2 was about vigilantes and a Zodiac-inspired serial killer, then Season 3 is returning to those Twin Peaks notes from the Jason Blossom murder mystery and adding some True Detective for good measure. Again, the writers' room turns to a variety of pop culture and IRL cases, throwing them against the wall to see what sticks. And as with the rest of the show, these ‘90s costumes are more pastiche than an attempt at complete accuracy.

There is also the full dress up moment when they play G&G in the school at night complete with capes, sparkly bodices, and a very Jughead-looking crown. When we return to the present day, Betty even looks like she has grabbed an outfit from last season’s Carrie episode, as the rainbow Elizabeth and James tee and flared FRAME overalls are very 1970s in appearance.  

At the end of her mother's story, Betty learns that either a killer has returned or someone is playing copycat to a crime committed nearly 30 years ago. Everything is referential in Riverdale — whether it is fashion, pop culture, or murder.

Make Your Inbox Important

Get our newsletter and you’ll be delivered the most interesting stories, videos and interviews weekly.

Sign-up breaker
Sign out: