These days, people give the middle finger to arbitrary fashion rules (socks and sandals were even on the runways at Fashion Week), but some of us would still be seduced into following the strict style guidelines in Mean Girls. Who needs sweatpants, if a candy-colored miniskirt would secure an invite to the Plastics' exclusionary lunch table?
Mean Girls, written by Tina Fey and inspired by Rosalind Wiseman’s book Queen Bees and Wannabes, was released in theaters exactly 15 years ago today. In the beloved teen comedy, we follow Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan), a previously homeschooled student from Africa, as she gets a lightning-speed lesson in high school politics. With help from her friends Janis Ian (Lizzy Caplan) and Damian (Daniel Franzese), she goes from an awkward outsider to a member of the Plastics, a group of highly fashionable, popular girls that rule the school, led by Regina George (Rachel McAdams).
Along with its memorable quotes (“You go, Glen Coco!”) that are still uttered and meme’d today, Mean Girls is treasured because of its fashion. We will always remember the pastel cardigans and miniskirts the Plastics wore while roaming the halls, Damian’s oversized pink Lacoste tee, Regina’s cut-out boob tank, Cady’s fabled army pants and flip-flops, the countless going-out tops and flared jeans…the list goes on.
Mary Jane Fort, the movie’s costume designer, says that in order to visualize the outfits in Mean Girls, she had looked at what teens were wearing and tweaked it to create the “timeless” yet “heightened reality” that she, Fey, and director Mark Waters had aimed for. Because movies are shot a year or two prior to release, Fort has to act like a sort of fashion Nostradamus, forecasting what trends will lie ahead. “I go to what people are wearing in Europe because then it comes here later,” she says.
Because Fort had studied as a painter, she was able to infuse that artistic training into her work. “If you’re ever looking to recreate a subject, you look first at what the real subject looks like and then change it and make it yours,” she explains. Fort says the overall vibe of the Plastics’ fashion paid homage to the era of the late 50s to early 60s, when students made an effort to look nice at school. “Everyone dressed up, nobody just threw on blue jeans and a t-shirt and ran out the door,” she says. “It was almost calculated like a fashion show to go to school — what you were going to wear and how you were going to do your hair. We pulled that into what we wanted to do [for the movie].”
According to Fort, the Plastics’ color palette was curated to look and feel like you were tempted by candy. “You wanted it. You wanted to have a handful of it. If [a kid] goes into a candy store, and looks at the brightest, shiny one, it may taste horrible, but they will be attracted to the thing that looks the best. So that played into how they were plastic, so to speak,” she says.
To differentiate the HBIC from her minions, Fort made sure Regina’s outfits had a little more oomph. “Regina was the queen bee so she needed to shine and stick out,” she says. “Things she wore were a little sexier. Her heels were a little higher, her décolletage was a little lower.” The other girls, Gretchen Wieners (Lacey Chabert), aka the heir to the Toaster Strudel throne, and space-case Karen (Amanda Seyfried) were milder, if only just a tad. “Gretchen was just sweeter and a little more prim, and then Karen sort of haplessly followed along, but given that she's unconsciously beautiful, everything just looked great on her,” Fort says. “And then, of course, Cady comes in and begins to emulate them all, and starts looking as wonderful as they do.”
Sadly, we only got a glimpse of Cady’s Plastic princess makeover. She quickly becomes brainwashed into her own long con that she fully immerses herself into the Plastics' modus operandi, and is consumed by her own vanity, jeopardizing her friendships with Janis and Damian. But while she’s able to look just as good as Regina, she doesn’t completely manage to nail it. For example, when Cady’s parents go out of town and she throws a house party, she debuts a Regina-esque, satin strapless tube dress, but it’s done clumsily, with visible hot pink bra straps peeking out.
To mimic the shopping habits of actual teens from that era, Fort says that most of the clothes were sourced as a teenage girl would shop, from different stores all over. “To me, that's what makes the most sense. We put it all together as they would have put it together. That’s what grounds it in reality,” she says. “When we did Mean Girls, you didn't have all the online shopping or Net-a-Porter. None of that existed, so it was all combing many, many stores.”
Some of the outfits were custom-made, such as the Halloween costumes and the girls’ prom dresses. And despite what you may have thought, Regina’s “a little bit dramatic” tee and the other sassy slogan shirts were not from Juicy Couture. Fort says they were made by the team. “We printed a lot of things, and clothes were majorly altered and dyed different colors,” she says.
The sexy Christmas outfits the girls wore in the “Jingle Bell Rock” scene were also made by Fort. And in case any Mariah fans were curious as to whether the looks were a lowkey homage to Carey’s legendary sexy “All I Want for Christmas Was You” Santa outfit, they were simply a coincidence. (Though, fun fact: Carey is a fan of the film and her 2009 single “Obsessed” was apparently inspired by it. She even quotes Regina’s “I was like, why are you so obsessed with me?” line at the beginning of the track.)
Watching Mean Girls today, it’s evident how much faster trends are recycling. We’ve already seen so many of the aughts-era’s fashion come back to life — tiny purses, monogram prints, flared jeans, and the return of the Juicy Couture velour tracksuit (worn by many in the film, but most recognizable as the house uniform of Amy Poehler’s “cool mom” character ). Fort, however, isn’t too shocked by the return of these trends.
“Costume and fashion are very different things,” she explains. “But, in the world of what fashion is, historically, everything circles back around in some way, shape or form. I guess it doesn't really surprise me.” There are, of course, still many trends from the era that we have yet to meet again. For example, the Plastics’ signature micro mini plaid skirts, which until now have mostly been reserved for Leg Avenue Halloween costumes and cosplay outfits. (Though, who's to say we won’t see a teeny-tiny Burberry skirt on our favorite Instagram influencer next week?)
As for the legacy of Mean Girls, Fort says it makes sense why the film still resonates with people. “I think it's the same old story for every teenager. The girls who watched it 15 years ago, who are now 30, remember it because it struck a chord to them when they were that age,” she says. “And now, for younger girls that see it, it’s a timeless story, in sort of the most human way of how you feel when you are younger. I'm personally glad that it visually holds up.”
We are, too. That’s why on Wednesdays we will always wear pink.