One Memorable Look: How Dazed And Confused Reinvented The 1970s For The 1990s
Mr Matthew McConaughey in Dazed And Confused, 1993. Photograph by Universal Pictures/Alamy
“You talk about things that nobody cares / Wearing out things that nobody wears.” Never mind that Dazed And Confused takes its name from a Led Zeppelin track that, for licencing reasons, doesn’t even feature on the film’s soundtrack. The manifesto behind Mr Richard Linklater’s coming-of-age period piece, which turns 30 this year, is right there in the opening scene, in the first verse of Aerosmith’s 1975 hit “Sweet Emotion”.
“Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing,” Linklater warns, himself looking back in Alright, Alright, Alright, Ms Melissa Maerz’s 2020 oral history of his 1993 film. “People are nostalgic for times that never fucking existed.” Dazed And Confused was supposed to be an antidote to this, a document inspired by Linklater’s own life growing up (classmates of his even sued him for using their likenesses). But it didn’t turn out that way. “It’s like trying to make an anti-war movie,” the director told The Guardian in 2019. “Just by depicting it, you make it look fun.”
Get the look
Set on the final day of the academic year and the start of the Bicentennial summer of 1976, the film follows the overlapping social circles of students spilling out of Lee High, a fictional school on the suburban fringes of Austin, Texas. The plot, if that’s what you call it, is a haze of smoke, cod philosophy and, er, hazing.
Nostalgia isn’t the existential threat here; even the future is only mentioned in passing. The biggest concerns are avoiding a lick from a paddle, getting hold of booze for the moon-tower party and whether the star quarterback will sign his no-drugs pledge. “We don’t get a story, but we do get a feeling,” Mr Roger Ebert said in his review of Linklater’s 1990 debut, Slacker. Dazed And Confused is like: hold my beer.
“Mr Jason London says that director Mr Quentin Tarantino tried to buy his belt from the film for $200,000”
“I kind of want to capture the moment-to-moment reality of being a teenager,” Linklater had said going into making the film. “Everything is a big deal.” Music, especially. The director had made detailed, individual playlists for the cast, a who’s who of the day’s up-and-coming actors – including Messrs Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck and Ms Renée Zellweger in early roles. And he’d earmarked a 10th of the film’s budget for the soundtrack – although this would reportedly balloon to a full sixth, even without Led Zep.
Fashion, too, was important, but the costumes were considerably easier to source. The wardrobe team hit up thrift stores in the outskirts of Austin, where they found no shortage of mid-1970s clothing, sometimes new, still with tags. But crucially, this was mixed in with pre-worn pieces.
Messrs Sasha Jenson, Matthew McConaughey, Jason London, Wiley Wiggins in Dazed And Confused, 1993. Photograph by Universal Pictures/Photofest
“The costume design was superlative,” the movie critic Mr Michael MacCambridge told Maerz. “It got one of the things right that people so often get wrong in period pieces, which is that not everybody went out and bought new clothes at the same time. There was older stuff.”
“The most popular kids were very downplayed; they looked cool no matter what they had on,” Dazed And Confused’s costume supervisor Ms Katherine Dover told Vogue back when the film turned 25. “So, I didn’t put anything on them to distract from that.”
The clique of stoners, meanwhile, were made to look a bit slapdash. “Their clothes were a little more layered just to make it look not sloppy, but comfy,” Dover said. “They were a little more relaxed and shapeless.”
“The belts the cast wore with bell bottoms were unique to Texas,” the additional costume designer Ms Kari Perkins told Maerz. “There was more regionality in that time period.” (Actor Mr Jason London, who plays the quarterback Randall “Pink” Floyd, says that director Mr Quentin Tarantino later tried to buy his belt from the film for $200,000.)
“The actors were so young, and really didn’t understand the way people wore their clothes back then,” Perkins said. “In the 1970s, it was all about tight, and in the 1990s, it was loose and baggy.”
“Every generation sucks in a different way when you’re a kid”
“Once they got past the ridiculous costumes, everyone thought the 1970s sounded kind of great,” Maerz reports.
That’s not how Linklater recalled the decade, first hand. “I remember in the 1970s, I couldn’t wait for the 1980s,” he has said, echoing Cynthia Dunn’s “every other decade theory” from the film, with the kids left feeling cheated for missing the 1960s. “But every generation sucks in a different way when you’re a kid.”
So, what do we see, 30 years and several generations on, when we watch Dazed And Confused through more experienced eyes – the music and style of the 1970s or the filmmaking of the 1990s? And knowing what came next for both. In the words of Wooderson, the film’s creepy, older guy, still lingering around school in his Mr Ted Nugent T-shirt, only supercharged by the charisma of McConaughey, who plays him: “I get older, they stay the same age.”
Wait, does that make us Wooderson? All we know is we gotta get Aerosmith tickets. Top priority of the summer.