Home Course Costume Designer Mona May On ‘Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion’s Fashion,...

Costume Designer Mona May On ‘Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion’s Fashion, 25 Years Later

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When we first meet fashionable Valley girls Romy White and Michele Weinberger (played by Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow) in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, they’re sitting in their beachfront apartment, eating popcorn while watching Pretty Woman. “I just get really happy when they finally let her shop,” Michele says. The two friends get ready for a night of fun by standing in front a closet full of candy-colored garments made with sequins and beads. It’s a maximalist’s dream come true.

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The film, which debuted in theaters April 25, 1997, follows two friends as they discover their 10-year high school reunion. They decide to attend the reunion after a failed attempt to lose weight, get new jobs and find boyfriends. However, there is a little white lie: they invented Post-its. Naturally, there are many hijinks. And while the movie is ultimately about friendship, it’s also about clothes. It’s a fashion movie wrapped up in a feel-good, female buddy comedy that still hits the mark 25 years later. (This was evidenced by the response Kudrow and Sorvino got when they presented at the 2022 SAG Awards, wearing matching blue and pink suits that referenced their characters’ iconic reunion dresses.)

Fashion lovers old and young can appreciate Romy and Michele’s unapologetic style, but there’s more to it than just sartorial eye candy. Mona May, the film’s costume designer who is also behind the looks in Clueless, House Bunny, and Never Been Kissed, created the rainbow-colored world of Romy and Michele, channeling the characters’ bond into their outfits. “I love when they’re getting dressed and there’s this whole camaraderie of friendship and girliness. It adds to the whole understanding of their friendship and how close they are,”She explained to NYLON during a Zoom Interview.

Ahead, May spills 14 fashion facts and fun memories from Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion that will make you want to put on some platform heels and order a businesswoman special, immediately.

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The beginning credits offer a glimpse at what fashion to expect.

From the get-go, we know that Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion is going to be a fashion film. The opening credits depict outfits that Romy and Michele wear throughout the movie, from the baby-blue marabou jacket Michele puts on for a night out clubbing to the yellow snakeskin blouse Romy wears when she tries out for (and gets rejected by) MTV’s ’90s-era dating show, Singled Out.

Romy and Michele had at most 40 costume changes.

When you think about the fashionable duo, some outfits may come to your mind. For example, the iconic reunion dresses or The “businesswoman special”Blazers are one of the most sought-after pieces, but there are many more. Your eyes must be quick! “In the beginning it was like a kaleidoscope. You have the club looks, then all the flashbacks, and the gym looks, then when Michele’s going to interviews. It was endless,”May. “It was a lot of clothes.”

Their workout looks predicted the fashion-meets-athleisure trend.

In the ’90s, spandex legging, leotards, and bike shorts were the norm for fitness gear. But May knew that it didn’t make sense for fashion fiends like Romy and Michele to settle for the status quo, even during a sweaty gym session. She instead put the girls in matching holographic skirts, halter crops, as well as stacked sneaker heels, for their spinning sessions and treadmill workouts. Although high-heeled sneakers aren’t worn by the fitness team (Mariah Carey would undoubtedly co-sign), exercise skirts and skorts are becoming more popular, especially with brands like Girlfriend Collective, LululemonOutdoor Voices, Athleta, & Athleta helped popularize the style in 2018.

“There was no cool gym clothes at the time, just like, hideous stuff in the store. It was pre-Kardashians,”May. “So I created all the gym outfits. And I was like, ‘OK, we got to have something fun.’ Because they would have done the same thing; they would have created and made their outfits. And I loved the high-heeled tennis shoes. Always going the extra mile in every detail was super, super important.”

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Romy and Michele are “weird”Accessory that is practical and popular are now more popular.

Keep an eye out for water bottle holders, one of the most underrated accessories. You can see them in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene when the girls are at the gym. Karl Lagerfeld was the first to use metal water bottle holders on Chanel’s Fall 1994 runway. May created her own version. First for Cher and Amber in Clueless. Then for Romy, and finally for Michele. Water bottle holders, like the workout clothes, are more accessible today than in 1997. You can find them for everyone. FendiTo Givenchy, Susan AlexandraTo Claire’s. (The OG Chanel oneIf you have $13K spare, it is also possible to purchase.

Their final reunion look was going be a little bit different.

During the film’s finale at the reunion, Romy and Michele kick off their sensible pumps and change out of their all-black, businesswomen suits into shiny, colorful dresses that are much more representative of their true selves. Romy wears a blue and silver, empire-waist mini dress complete with Star Trek-esque emblem (more on that later) while Michele’s is pink with marabou trim. However, Michele’s was originally going to be made of chiffon, and a little more flowy, but that idea went out the window during Kudrow’s fitting.

“Lisa asked what Mira was wearing, so I showed her the dress and she was like, ‘You know what, I feel like we should be very similar’ and started discussing it,”May explains. “And I felt it was really smart, because we concluded that you don’t want them to be too different. They’ve grown up, and they are the best friends. And it’s about them coming to their power in a way. Like, screw it, ‘we can be ourselves!’ So it was less distracting, more uniform, and really kind of connecting them together.”

When she made the new version of Michele’s dress, May knew that the change was meant to be. “It’s a good story, because it really tells you how a costume designer needs to be part of the process, and how it can all come together in the fitting. You have to listen to the other artists,”May. “Lisa’s got good instincts because she’s been a comedian for so long. It was phenomenal to work with someone like that because in her comedy, the way she delivers the lines, she’s perfect. She knows the tone, she doesn’t go too far or too low, and I think this was the same thing I learned with her in the costumes, too. You never want to go too high and too far where the costume is wearing her. And you want these characters to be so authentic and real. That is much more important than making the splash.”

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There’s a Friends connection with Michele’s red Moschino jacket.

We talked about this before, but it’s worth a repeat. In the scene where Michele goes to her job interview at the discount store, she’s wearing a cropped red jacket with white buttons. That same Moschino jacket popped up in Scream, on Kudrow’s co-star, Courteney Cox. NYLON’s Cynthia Bergstrom, costume designer for Scream, recalled that May and May met while sourcing clothes for their films. “We were all doing the same thing, running around Saks, Neiman Marcus, and all the different stores,”May. Total moment of Friends fashion fate

Mona May was allowed to design the costumes with a lot of freedom.

Despite the movie being fashion-focused, there surprisingly wasn’t much in the script when it came to Romy and Michele’s clothing, except that it should be colorful. May says that the director, David Mirkin, wholly entrusted her with the characters’ aesthetic. “It was really fun because it gave us a more of a fluid opening for me, Lisa, and Mira to be in the fittings and get into it together, and really create these characters,”She said.

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This led to the Madonna-inspired prom looks and the businesswoman lunch looks. These were both visually funny but still fun. “the language”These are the characters. “It was very important to stay in the line of each of the characters,”She said. “Lisa’s suit was very feminine with a rounder neckline and miniskirt, and Mira’s was pinstriped and still feminine, but had a masculine shape with a straighter jacket and longer skirt.”

There’s a fun Star Trek reference.

On Romy’s silverAnd blue reunion dress, there’s a silver arrowhead emblem painted on the front that’s inspired by the Starfleet insignia from Star Trek. May wanted Romy’s outfit to look “slick” and “futuristic”The symbol was thought to add the perfect amount sci-fi vibes. “I didn’t want to make it too plain or put stars all over it or anything weird, so it was just enough,”May. Sorvino is also a self-proclaimed TrekkieKudrow told it InStyleSorvino “had imagined that Romy is kind of a Trekkie, even though it’s not anywhere in the script.”

Romy and Michele’s outfits had a mix of designer and vintage.

For Romy and Michele’s outfits, May used a mix of high and low fashion, combining Moschino, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace Versus, and Blumarine with T-shirts and vinyl jackets from raver shops on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. “The costumes have to be informed by the characters — who they are, where they come from, their socioeconomic place — so you can’t be dressing them head to toe designer, because where would they get the money? It doesn’t make any sense,”May said. She had every item that was in her possession. “exuberant, fun, and had colorful patterns”Then, add cool vintage pieces like the cherry jewelry Michele wore.

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To give the garment a more comfortable fit, adjustments were made to the clothing. “homemade” look.

Because Michele made their clothes, it was natural for them to have a DIY look. May would swap buttons for funnier ones, take down designer jacket-and skirt sets and mix and match with other pieces. She would also begazzle shoes she bought in downtown LA or pair two shoes of different colors together for a whimsical look.

“It was really important for me to create a look that showed they were self-made girls. Every detail was so important, but it was customized to feel like it was homemade or created together,”She said. “I never wanted it to feel like it was a runway show or posh. Nothing should really feel posh. They have great style, and they were smart. They had every Vogue magazine for 10 years, so they studied, they knew what was going on.”

Although Romy and Michele appear to be wearing the same clothes, they have different styles.

May made sure that their outfits matched their personalities, even though they wore the same clothes. Michele was the creative one. She wore lots pink, feathers, glitter, and was super girly. Romy was more serious and straight-laced since she was the one who wore the most. “brains in the family.”May gave May a cooler palette.

“I always tried to stay in the color palettes to show that there’s a very strong distinction between the characters and to help people emulate them,”She elaborates. “They can say, ‘I’m more Romy,’ or ‘I’m more of a Michele.’ I think it’s really important to have their outfits kind of reflect their inner world.”

Janeane Garofalo’s fitting was super quick.

Heather Mooney, Garafolo’s classmate-turned-actual successful businesswoman (she invented quick-burning cigarette paper), was the anti-Romy and Michele, in terms of style. Her preference for all-black outfits could be described as “goth-lite”. This made it much easier for her to dress. “She just walked into the fitting and was like, ‘I just want to be all black and no nonsense,’ and then, we started thinking about this whole thing of her smoking cigarettes and having the ash everywhere. I think she wore galoshes. She didn’t want to have her hair done… I just really loved her instinct,”May. “I think our fitting was so quick, because we just went right into that little black section on the rack.”

Heather’s look was entirely made up of vintage pieces. “It was no muss, no fuss. I loved it,”May. “Justin Theroux had the same thing. It was just like a pair of jeans, a T-shirt, and a cowboy hat. And it was done.”

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The movie features the same preppy pastels worn by all the popular girls throughout the film.

Romy and Michele bully girls, also known by “the A group,” always wear the same color palette, all the way from the high school lunch scene (where the leader, Christie, in head-to-toe lavender, puts banana and carrot magnets on Michele’s back brace) to the reunion dream sequence where they’re in Easter egg-colored satin outfits. May said that it was a way of showing them how they are. “very provincial”and stayed in suburbia. “You can think of them as bad bridesmaid dresses,”She said. “And if you look at them at prom, it almost mirrors what they will be wearing later. It’s very typical Americana, suburban dresses made out of shiny material that is not very forgiving and looks kind of cheap.”

But there’s a costume clue that one of the “A group”Different from the rest, girls are different.

It’s not as obvious at first, but May puts Lisa, the one who ends up becoming a Vogue editor, in non-pastel outfits. At prom, she’s wearing white and black while the other girls are in the tacky, bridesmaid-looking dresses. She wears a chic cream pantsuit for the reunion.

“I loved her pantsuit. It was like something Marlena Dietrich would have worn,”May. “It was Ralph Lauren and very timeless, very boss-lady and supported that line where [Christie] says that she’s jealous and calls her a [ball-busting] career woman. It was perfect, and again, timeless.”

Of course, it was Lisa who helps validate Romy and Michele’s fashion expertise when she defends their reunion dresses to a still-bullying Christie: “They have nice lines. A fun, frisky use of color. All and all, I’d have to say they’re really… not bad.”


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