All Photos: Paramount Pictures/All GIFs: MTV/Jenny Shafei
Happy Mean Girls Day! It’s been a whirlwind of celebrating the 10th anniversary of the early-aughts teen classic—serendipitously on a Wednesday—but before you tuck the Plastics and Cady away, presumably until October 3 (if not earlier), we caught up with the film’s costume designer Mary Jane Fort to discuss the wardrobe that launched a thousand (or more) flippy plaid miniskirts. We chat about pulling inspiration for the fashion-heavy film, collaborating with Tina Fey, and what a 10-year high school reunion might look like for Cady and company.
MTV STYLE: Well, first of all, I’m just super excited to be talking to you. This movie’s wardrobe is responsible for 100% of the skirts I bought in my teens. How did you go about researching for this project?
MARY JANE FORT: Well, for Mean Girls, we started with—and I always start with—what is real. And then you take it to wherever it needs to go. We started with real high school students, real schools, real yearbooks, going to a couple of high schools and seeing what people really look like.
Oh, wow, you actually went to schools! Where were those?
It originally started with high schools on the East Coast. It changed because we went to Canada [to film] and decided to make it a kind of anywhere high school. But then, I ordered yearbooks from all over the country, and we decided after looking at real schools, we wanted a little more of a fantasy-real.
I started with the Plastics. They’re the prettiest, most-beautiful artificial thing around, so the best way to do that in the world of clothing, no matter what, is to look a little bit into future. In this country, that means looking to European fashion trends. It’s a little more of what’s to come.
So, then, where does the process go from there, after you accumulate all of this research?
Well, then you start breaking it down into the overall look of the film as far as colors and shapes, working with production designers and starting to look at the environment. And then it becomes a character profile. Within the realm of the girls, although they are similar and they all follow Regina, I wanted to create a little bit of individuality to each one. Also with girls, you borrow your friend’s sweater, or you see your friend bought something, and you think, “Oh, I want one,” you know? So, there’s a real similarity to everybody, but then subtle distinctions.
Then, Cady comes in and tries to follow along behind the others. Watching her catch-up process was also broken down into stages. We started trying things on and introducing new necklines, seeing what lengths of skirts work well, and sort of melding them all together.
Totally. So, how would you describe those individual style profiles you assigned to Regina and Gretchen and Karen and Cady?
Well, again, it’s a little bit into the future and a little bit into the past because they are very dressed. If Regina put on a T-shirt, it was a fitted T-shirt and she had the belt and the shoes and the sweater. It wasn’t just, throw on a T-shirt and a pair of boots and run out the door. There was no casualness to the way she dressed. She thought about every single solitary element that she put on.
And then Gretchen, because she was sweeter, I went back to a more nostalgic time, almost a ’50s style, with her little skirts and kept her not quite as provocative as Regina. And then Karen was just sort of the doe-eyed one who was caught in between. She was truly the follower. I imagined if they went shopping, the other girls would say, “Ok, you get this. You get this.” Regina would have an idea and Gretchen would have an idea and then Karen would do it. And again with Cady, because she came from the outside world…
She starts off with a very different style.
Yes, yes. She was a little more worldly. She had a little more of a reference to where she wanted to go. Then, she sort of blatantly surpasses Regina and comes out as the shining star. From that description, I would start looking for images that would explain that, and hopefully, what you saw in the film did. It’s a lot of discussion. My part of it is to give a visual look and feel to the characters and their personalities.
So, did you also collaborate with the actors in developing their characters’ looks?
Oh, absolutely! It’s important that everyone understood who the character was. We had a lot of discussion over: Would she do this? Would she do that? And if so, would she wear these heels? As a costume designer, you’re defeating your purpose if the actor is not comfortable in your costumes because as much as I’m so happy that everyone likes the clothes, hopefully, they’re a part of the story, not the story.
Right. Well, I think that’s why people love it so much. It’s such a fabric of the movie that it doesn’t feel like this alien extra thing.
Good! And I appreciate that because that’s my goal.
Totally. And the script has so much fashion material anyway! Did you collaborate with Tina [Fey] in coming up with wardrobe ideas?
Oh, absolutely. We all talked extensively about where she wanted to take it and what she wanted to do and see, and again, she told a great story. We just had to strike a balance with the costumes as to support the story.
Yea, and there are also a lot of non-dialogue fashion bits like the flowers in Regina’s back brace at prom or when Karen puts the rhinestone “K” on her chest and it’s backwards.
The flowers in Regina’s brace! That actually wasn’t in the script, I just had to come up with what that would look like.
But the “K” was in the script.
What would you say were some of the most memorable outfits you put together for the film?
Well, now that you mention, I had forgotten about Regina’s prom dress, and that was fun to do. In the world of the costumes, we have changes and they’re documented and they’re photographed and they had a lot of costume changes. This took place over a calendar year. So, I know that Cady had the most. There were 39 changes, I believe, for Cady and the rest had about 30. A lot. And then, there’s the whole classroom that surrounded these girls. It was a lot of clothes and I had a lot of really good help. If I had to pick, I loved Halloween. Those Halloween party looks were a lot of fun.
Were those costumes explicitly described in the script?
No, they weren’t explicitly described, but Tina did have Karen as a mouse and Regina as a bunny and Cady as the zombie bride. But the way they turned out in the end was my interpretation. Tina has a plan, and her ability to portray an idea and make it funny is what she’s so wonderful at. So, she had this plan, and she would say, “What should this look like?” and that’s when we started sketching and coming up with what it should be.
There are also some interesting style choices with the peripheral characters, too, like my personal favorite: Amy Poehler as Regina George’s mom.
Yes! Regina’s mom! Again, with somebody like Amy, when you’re an actress and comedian of her talent and her ability, she knows what’s funny, too. And so, with Amy, we constructed a giant chest for her.
And fake erect nipples.
Oh yeah, all of that was built and created. And she’s so petite and little that it was easy to push the envelope with her.
So, where are all these clothes living now?
Well, they’re probably in a box at Paramount. After a film is completed, you wrap it all up and pack it all up and they go back into the archives of the studio. I have no earthly idea where those Santa suits are.
You mean they’re not posted up in a museum somewhere? They should be!
Oh, you’re sweet, but no, they’re not. Maybe forever etched in somebody’s mind, but I really don’t know where they are now!
Dangit. Well, to wrap this all up, since this is the 10th anniversary, if there were a 10-year high school reunion for the Mean Girls cast, what do you think the four main girls would wear?
Well, I think Regina would be dressed like one of the Real Housewives of wherever she’s from. Maybe she moved to Orange County, and she’s one of The Real Housewives of Orange County. I think Karen probably left their hometown and the group, married a nice guy, and maybe she moved to the suburbs in Connecticut or something.
She’s likely a budding local news meteorologist.
Yes! And I think Gretchen might be working for a fashion magazine. I think that Cady perhaps went back to Africa to teach, following in the footsteps of her parents. And maybe she imports some of the clothes and jewelry that the local women in Africa make and she brings them to Gretchen’s attention for the magazine. She became more altruistic.
I love that! That’s perfect, I can totally see that happening.