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The enduring style of the Final Girl

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May 5, 2018, 1:01 PM EDT

When the new Halloween movie was announced last September, Jamie Lee Curtis tweeted out an image to accompany this news. The caption carefully notes the intended familiarity of this shot, “Same porch. Same clothes. Same issues. Forty years later.”

The Laurie Strode jeans and button-down shirt ensemble is a classic; even if you haven’t seen Halloween, you probably recognize this outfit. The first Scream lingers on this tension-building scene. It's memorable because it is such a ubiquitous look. Maybe a very similar version hangs in your closet.

The next (and supposedly final) installment of the Halloween franchise wants to go back to the way things were, tripping the story back to its bare original bones and ignoring all the sequels that came after the original 1978 outing. This Laurie did not end up as a school principal with Josh Hartnett for a son 20 years later, with everything else that happened in-between. The outfit plays a part in resetting the narrative. But this is not its only function, as Laurie Strode’s penchant for timeless clothing is the epitome of Final Girl style. As one of the defining characters of this trope, it makes sense that Laurie has the defining look.  

Before there was the Final Girl—a term that entered discourse in 1992 thanks to Carol J. Clover’s book Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film—Curtis was referred to as a Scream Queen, but as Curtis’ mother Janet Leigh found out in Psycho, the Scream Queen doesn’t always make it to the end. The Final Girl does. Her friends get bumped off one by one, but she avoids this fate. By now audiences and filmmakers alike are familiar with the rules, tropes, and archetypes of horror, in part thanks to meta takes on this genre including Scream and Cabin in the Woods. Remakes of classic slasher movies tend to play within convention lines, but regardless of whether it is a knowing nod or a faithful recreation, certain elements stay the same.

No matter what decade the movie is set/filmed in, you can pretty much guarantee the Final Girl will wear a version of jeans and T-shirt/button-down, with a tank or crop top occasionally making it into the mix. Exposing your stomach is not off-limits, but the level of skin on show pales in comparison to the Final Girl's best friend. In I Know What You Did Last Summer, Jennifer Love Hewitt's cleavage and stomach-revealing shirt is paired with a cute cardigan to reinforce her girl-next-door vibe as Julie James, whereas Sarah Michelle Gellar as Helen has a rotation of navel-revealing outfits and dresses that look like they came from the Pretty Woman collection.

The cut of the denim varies, acting as a decade timestamp. In the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) wears white bell-bottom jeans, which definitely proved to be a mistake in terms of keeping clean, although that wasn’t really on her list of concerns. Tight low-slung jeans were very much a mid-'00s style staple when Jessica Biel took on Leatherface in the 2003 remake. The flared shape comes across as a nod to the 1974 version, as does the white tank (Sally wears purple), which is much tighter and knotted to reveal her stomach. This is one of the more gratuitous versions of the Final Girl uniform, in part because jeans sitting on your hip bone was the norm for 2003, but it is also hard to ignore who produced this film; those butt close-ups are a signature shot.   

Final Girls typically say no to sex, drugs, and drink. These are the things that get their best friends killed. The amount of skin on show is one way to note who is going to die early on in ‘70s and ‘80s horror films. Daisy Duke cut-off shorts, cleavage and back revealing tops are all early warning signs. If a teen takes her top off in a provocative way then it is almost certainly game over.

Slasher movies came into their own at a time when jeans and a T-shirt were far from the rebellious statement they had once been when James Dean first appeared on screens. It remains a pretty standard outfit choice for the typical age demographic appearing in these movies, but it is notable that the one who survives wears an incarnation of this look, while her friends are often in clothes that are more trend-orientated. The Final Girl's BFF is more outgoing. Her costuming leans harder into fads. In Scream, Tatum’s (Rose McGowan) bold patterned mini-skirts look far more dated than Sidney’s (Neve Campbell) penchant for denim (whether it's jeans or a jacket). Only one of them ends up in the sequels.

Now, the Final Girl can have sex or a drink and still survive. She is not shamed for her desire with the punishment of death, but she still tends to revert to the same wardrobe choices. Is the Final Girl stuck in a style rut?

Friday the 13th

Paramount Pictures

In 1980, Friday the 13th's Alice Hardy (Adrienne King) looks like she is cosplaying as Laurie Strode. It is an outfit that seems far more suited for October weather than summer camp in June. Four years later, Nancy Thompson (Heather Lagenkamp) takes on Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) wearing outfits that wouldn’t look out of place in Nancy Wheeler’s closet. Stranger Things is set in the same period, and Nancy (Natalia Dyer) conforms to some of the Final Girl tropes, particularly in how she dresses. But unlike some of these other teens from this decade, she removes her bra and lives to tell the tale. Instead, it is Nancy's best friend who pays the price for her sex life, which is still not a good look on the subject of female desire in an ‘80s setting.

The versions of Alice and Nancy in recent Friday the 13th remakes also stick to these sartorial choices. In the 2009 film, Whitney (Amanda Righetti) leans into the unofficial uniform of CW shows—a henley paired with jeans, which is not surprising seeing as most of these films feature a few cast members from this network. The following year Nightmare on Elm Street got another go around, and Rooney Mara as Nancy Holbrook wore cropped jeans in her nightmare (and mine).

While jeans and a shirt is not going to break the fashion wheel, there is something very relatable about this look. The Final Girl is who the audience is meant to cheer on, and this outfit is a reliable staple, much like this horror movie trope. While it is a standard choice for teens, it's also ageless fashion. Just look at Jamie Lee Curtis, standing on that same porch, in the same clothes, waiting to deal with the same monster 40 years later.       

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