These outfits come from one episode. ONE. Amazing.

When I was growing up, there were a lot of things that influenced the person I became. Family, friends, my teachers‚Äìand, to be honest, TV. Most of us can in some way relate to Homer Simpson‚Äôs assertion that TV is a ‚Äúfriend, mother… secret lover.‚Äù

Well, okay, maybe that’s taking it a bit far. But still, TV has an impact, certainly on our developing taste and sense of what’s cool. One of the TV shows that did that the most for me was Clarissa Explains It All.

Clarissa (played by Melissa Joan Hart, later to play Sabrina in Sabrina, the Teenage Witch) starts the series as a 13 or 14 year-old, a “typical” teenage girl who talks directly to the camera to explain her life. I say “typical” because although there was a lot about Clarissa that was recognisable–her conflicts with her younger brother and parents, her teenage worries about school, friends, and pimples–she was also a girl who had a pet alligator called Elvis, a male best friend called Sam who climbed in through her window rather than using a door, and the ability to create elaborate computer games by herself in order to illustrate a point or a plan.

I remember her as a perfect teen role model. While I could understand and relate to some of her problems, the more outrageous parts of her life–especially her fashion sense–were alien to me. I loved it. I could only wish to be as cool as Clarissa.

So now, about 20 years since Clarissa Explains It All stopped filming (ugh, I just made myself feel so old), would I still find Clarissa so cool? I heard that Poundland were selling some Clarissa DVDs and so, of course, I hot-footed it down there. I’m always curious to know how the things I loved as a child or a teenager stack up to adult eyes. It’s usually not well, so it’s kind of a masochistic hobby, I admit.

How did Clarissa shape up? Well, it was cheesy, predictable, and much more neon coloured than I remembered (maybe that’s just the DVD, though)–but also, still pretty fun!

Clarissa was an unusual character at the time. She was the first female lead in a Nickolodeon show, and because it was rare to see a boy and a girl allowed to remain friends as Sam and Clarissa were without a romance blossoming (though I vaguely remember an episode where they considered getting together but then decided against it). I suspect she may also sadly still be a bit of a rarity in that she not only had an interest in engineering (as evidenced by her video game building and the episode where she tried to turn her computer into a TV) but was also passionate about fashion. Not in keeping up with trends, of course–Clarissa Darling wanted to stand out from the crowd and her clothes are her way of doing that. Her inspiration came from diverse sources–from Winona Ryder to Chairman Mao.

In the few episodes I have she quoted Karl Marx, hip-hop trio Salt-N-Pepa, and court judgments from the 1960s, all used to try and explain her viewpoint to both us and her parents. She didn’t always get her way but Clarissa definitely knew how to stand up for what she believed in–and argue it as best she could.

I think I might love her more now. Smart, opinionated, and an amazing wardrobe. Clarissa, even now I’m nearly 30, you’re still the teenager I want to be.

Do you remember Clarissa? Who was your teen TV role model?

-Sarah Jackson
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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