Miss Geist Was the Real Fashion Icon in Clueless
“Something told me not to discount Miss Geist,” narrates Cher Horowitz, the saucer-eyed heroine of 1995’s iconic teen movie Clueless. “Sure, she has runs in her stockings, and her slip was always showing, and she always has more lipstick on her teeth than her mouth. God, this woman is screaming for a makeover. I'm her only hope.”
Miss Toby Geist, played brilliantly by Twink Caplan, is Cher’s teacher—but she quickly becomes one of her pet projects. Throughout the movie, which celebrates its 23rd anniversary on July 19, Cher orchestrates an elaborate plan to matchmake Miss Geist with another teacher, Mr. Wendell Hall (Wallace Shawn). Cher enlists the help of her best friend Dionne (Stacey Dash) to bring the pair together, and they start by doing their best to upgrade Miss Geist’s look.
When I first saw Clueless at the ripe old age of 10, I agreed with Cher and Dionne’s choice to overhaul Miss Geist’s look. After all she was old, she was single, she was frumpy. By contrast, Cher and Dionne were fashion icons, with closets that my friends and I spent years trying to recreate.
Twenty-three years later, though, I’m convinced that Miss Geist was the unsung fashion hero of the entire movie. In 2018, Miss Geist’s wardrobe isn’t that of a struggs to func middle-aged woman: It’s a collection of pieces that a generation of fashion-focused women, myself included, would love to have in circulation—even those who are too young to remember Miss Geist or Clueless in the first place.
Take, for instance, the first time we lay eyes on Miss Geist, hastily scrawling on a chalkboard and orating to her disinterested students. Her hair is frizzy, and she is wearing a pair of round, wire-rimmed glasses. She’s wearing a white button-up shirt with a dramatically oversized collar, the kind of thing I can imagine myself searching desperately for at Helmut Lang. She layers a chunky cardigan on top, just like the one you bought at Free People last fall. Her lace slip is peeking out from her tweed skirt, which Cher sees as a disadvantage.
I see it as prescient anticipation of the smart layering spotted at Miu Miu S/S 2018.
Miss Geist doesn’t have a ton of screen time in Clueless, but every time she pops up, she’s the quiet, frazzled fashion hero of the scene. When we first see her kiss Mr. Hall, she’s wearing a skirt suit with an dramatic contrast lapel and oversized cuffs. When a scene cuts to her writing on a chalkboard, she’s serving us on-trend tortoiseshell frames and a floaty olive green summer dress. At one point, she tells a savagely strong color story, pairing an oversized floral patterned skirt with a fucshia jacket to match. In the ‘90s, these looks presented as stuffy and out of touch. Today, Miss Geist could be a fashion influencer living in Bushwick.
Her finest fashion moment, though, comes at the end of the film when she marries Mr. Hall. In that short scene, Miss Geist gives us everything we need: a simple white gown with a square neckline and a high bolero collar, along with a casual updo that perfectly encapsulates the intentional messiness of 2018 hair (piecey, unkempt, but chic all the same). She is, in a word, magnificent.
If you have the time to watch Clueless in honor of its 23rd birthday, do: The movie is a candy-sweet snack that somehow both lovingly embraces the spoils of late capitalism while also dragging it through the mud. Cher and Dionne are still exactly the girls you remember them being, and are probably some version of people you know today. Miss Geist, though—she’s the sartorial star, and the one so many of us happily (or unwittingly) emulate more than two decades later. To anyone who says otherwise: As if.