Jennifer's Body
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Credit: 20th Century Fox 

Look of the Week: The horror of dressing for high school in Jennifer's Body

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Sep 20, 2019

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!

A lot can be gleaned from the market campaign of a movie, including who the target audience is. As a snapshot, it should indicate the overall tone of the project so audiences aren't blindsided. However, this is not always the case, and Jennifer's Body is a prime example of how a marketing campaign can effectively tank a project by dressing it up as something it is not. Everything about the poster image misrepresents the tone and theme of the teen horror-comedy from writer Diablo Cody and director Karyn Kusama.

In a recent interview with Variety celebrating its 10th anniversary, star Megan Fox summed it up best: "A lot of the marketing hinged on 'Megan Fox is sexy, come see this movie.' And the movie wasn't about that." Billboards and posters featured Fox dressed as the stereotypical sexy schoolgirl in a plaid mini-skirt, red tank, and strappy red sandals, a costume Jennifer doesn't even wear. Of course, just because an outfit appears on the poster, it doesn't necessarily mean it will get any screen time, but in this case, it is the first of many marketing red flags.

Jennifer's Body

Credit: 20th Century Fox 

Jennifer does favor provocative attire, but this 2009 version of the Britney Spears "... Baby One More Time" video ensemble of the poster is winking at a specific demo that Cody and Kusama weren't focusing on. It is an outfit that is all suggestion, but Katia Stano's costume design is more nuanced than this blatant image.

For starters, denim is Jennifer's preferred choice of mini-skirt, paired on one occasion with a yellow striped hoodie and white Keds. It is a lot more playful than the Maxim-adjacent shot of Fox on the poster. This was an era when clothes were tight and the jeans trend — currently threatening to make a comeback — dictated that you wore them low, resting on the hip bone. Gravity would (hopefully) ensure they didn't reveal too much. Tight tanks, tiny hoodies, and everything in velour was part of the less-is-more style of the late '00s. Jennifer plays into this bracket, but it is worth noting that even when she wears mini-skirts and barely-there tanks, sneakers and booties are her preferred choice of attire. There is also always some sort of layering with her shirts.

Jennifer's Body

Credit: 20th Century Fox 

Before the demon transformation, she wears a white puffer hooded jacket, a cleave-enhancing top, and red tights — these already give an illusion of bloody legs. As Anita "Needy" Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried) remarks early on, "Tits were her trademark." Even her cheer outfit is far less alluring than the promo shots suggest — she wears tights and her stomach is covered. Her look doesn't seem all that different post sacrifice; the rotation of jeans, hoodies, and tanks falls into a similarly tight and low-cut category.

As the side effects of her hunger impact her glowing skin, she leans into slightly baggier Devil's Kettle High School apparel (that I would buy in a heartbeat). Our initial introduction to Jennifer is when she is going through this "rough" stage; a shot of her lying on her bed, watching aerobics infomercials in leg warmers lays the foundation of body perfection issues. Being a teenager is hard, but being a teenage girl is hell.

Jennifer's Body

Credit: 20th Century Fox 

The BFF matching necklace as worn by Jennifer and Needy is a visual tether between the two. Their codependence stretches back to the sandbox when the push/pull dichotomy was born. Needy's entire normcore beige cardigan style is the opposite of Jennifer's colorful and cleavage-enhancing attire. When Jennifer tells Needy to wear something "cute" to the Low Shoulder gig, she knows this comes with a certain set of rules and expectations. Employing the classic teen movie trying-on-different-outfits montage reveals a lot about Needy, Jennifer, and the boundaries of this friendship. As per Jennifer's rules, Needy is allowed to bare her stomach, and her boyfriend Chip Dove (Johnny Simmons) quips, "Your jeans are hella low. I can almost see your front butt." Yep, definitely the late '00s.

Settling on a lace-trimmed tank and layering it over a long-sleeve shirt underscores Needy's desire to avoid the ire of her bestie. Only Jennifer can wear low cut tops that showcase her chest. The specificity of this scene caused me to flash back to the now ridiculous-sounding clothing policies as dictated by one of my high school friends (only she could wear Levi's jeans). Jennifer appears to be incredibly confident, but her interactions and demands of her closest friend reveal the opposite.

Jennifer's Body

Credit: 20th Century Fox 

Pop culture weaves its way through Jennifer's Body, from the overt nod to The Evil Dead on Jennifer's shirt (that she stole from Needy) when she stops by for an impromptu post-killing sleepover. This top is paired with blue and white star underpants giving off a Wonder Woman vibe before Needy kicks her murderous best friend out. Diablo Cody notes that Carrie influenced the look of the movie, which is evident in the prom sequence. In a pink puffed-sleeve princess style gown, Needy looks like she stepped off the set of a John Hughes movie, but the setting quickly descends into Stephen King territory. Meanwhile, Jennifer's cotillion-ready white taffeta gown (complete with long gloves) is quickly trashed in the disused pool before getting covered in blood (a mixture of her own and Chip's, RIP). Needy even wears her dowdy (but super cozy) cardigan over her hot pink prom dress before ditching it as she runs to save her boyfriend.

Teen movies and horror both follow certain costume conventions that Jennifer's Body purposefully leans into, one particular pattern being the clothing rules of the Final Girl and louder best friend (who always dies). The best friend dresses in the latest fads that define the period and nothing is more on-trend in the late '00s than the belly-baring low-rise jeans and the pink velour hoodies as favored by Paris Hilton/Lindsay Lohan/Nicole Richie.

Meanwhile, everything Needy has in her closet is a sensible staple. It isn't provocative or leaning into what's hot and because her clothes are mostly timeless, she gets to live. (I didn't make the rules, I just observe them.) Jennifer is punished for dressing like she does, whereas Needy is rewarded for covering up. It is a striking message about slut-shaming that was missed by most when Jennifer's Body debuted.

Jennifer's Body

Credit: 20th Century Fox 

Over the last few years, Jennifer's Body has stepped out of the shadows of the marketing campaign that misrepresented what this movie was about. Don't judge a book by its cover or a woman by the length of her skirt. In the Variety retrospective, Fox underscores the irony of this particular campaign and key art: "The movie was actually about mis-marketing, about people focusing on something and missing the point, about sexualizing somebody who doesn't want to be sexualized, about all of these other things, about powerlessness as young girls and women and nobody was ready to hear that." She also discusses in a lengthy interview with Cody for Entertainment Tonight how this campaign was detrimental to her mental health.

A lot has happened in the last 10 years, including Fox getting credit for how funny she is (if you haven't seen her guest arc on New Girl, it is worth checking out). The entertainment industry has faced a reckoning of its own after the Weinstein story broke nearly two years ago, but this movie would be relevant regardless of this new-found Hollywood enlightenment. Clothing and costume design is a visual language open to a variety of interpretations, and in revisiting Jennifer's Body it reveals how it can be misunderstood.

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