'Charlie's Angels' Embraced Humor (And Low-Rise Jeans) To Fight Crime With Fashion
By Sara Radin
Low-rise, boot-cut jeans adorned with paisley embroidery and studs; candy-colored halter tops; ombré-tinted sunglasses dotted with glittering rhinestone hearts. These are just a few of the iconic, Y2K pieces that make up the ass-kicking wardrobe of McG’s 2000 take on Charlie’s Angels. Small details, like stitching and tapering, were key to telling the story of Charlie’s three powerhouse ladies Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu, who played private investigators Dylan, Natalie, and Alex. “The clothes also had to be very functional because they did all these karate kicks and had to fly through the air and stuff,” costume designer Joe Aulisi tells MTV News.
From stretchy fabrics to knee-high boots, whether they were fighting evil with high-flying martial arts moves while cheekily disguised as yodelers or dancing on stage at Soul Train on a first date, the angels always looked put together. But their clothes also matched their distinct personalities while still complementing each other and looking fierce on-screen. Take the jam-packed finale: In a fight against the villainous Eric Knox, Diaz’s Natalie, who is quirky and sporty, rocks a body-hugging top with a sheer, mesh back and tight black pants; Barrymore, who plays a free spirit and dresses more casually, wears a vintage T-shirt with jeans; Liu, who plays the bookish yet bossy Alex, wears an all-leather ensemble layered over silver chainmail. Naturally, it’s an iconic celebration of female empowerment.
The film, originally based on a sitcom of the same name from the 1970s, debuted 20 years ago this month, followed by a sequel in 2003 and a remake in 2019, but it has never felt more relevant to this moment. Plenty of trends from the early aughts have come back into style thanks to Gen Z’s growing interest in secondhand clothing along with the rise of reseller platforms like Depop and Etsy, while remakes of movies from that era have become increasingly commonplace. Nowadays, nostalgia in fashion and film offers a sweet escape to the past. That’s why MTV News spoke with Aulisi to learn more about how he toed the line between humor and sexiness to create standout wardrobes for everyone’s favorite three angels.
MTV News: When I was rewatching the movie I noticed a lot of ombré sunglasses, which was amazing. What were some of the references for the costumes?
Joe Aulisi: We covered a lot of bases in terms of some retro-looking stuff, some more contemporary. Some of those little things were important even earlier than, obviously, 2000. But all of that was planned, and then small little bits of jewelry were sometimes specific to a character. We also tried to do a little nod to things at the time the movie came out so there was a larger frame of reference.
A lot of it was influenced by the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. One of the objectives with the costumes in general was they should be fun as well as being sexy, that they should have a playful look to them. California style was also part of it, as in the palette of all the bright colors and sunshine and all that stuff that comes with Los Angeles.
Ninety percent of the clothes I designed and had made, just to get a different look or to get multiples, because sometimes we needed six of the same thing with all these stunts they were doing and stunt people and photo doubles. That was a very heavily stunted show, so that requires more costumes that are designed so that you can raise your arms and you can do high kicks and you can do all these things that they had to do constantly throughout the whole movie.
MTV News: What was some of the inspiration behind each of the girls' looks? How did you build out this narrative of who each of them were through the clothing you designed?
Aulisi: I think Cameron and Drew's characters, and in real life, are equally free-spirited. They love the outdoors and are extroverted, so they wore lots of color and patterns because they were not afraid to take chances. But Lucy’s character was much more introverted and scientific. She was more uptight and, consequently, she had a more neutral palette and lots of black. There was just a more serious tone to her clothes compared to the other two girls.
MTV News: Cameron Diaz’s character wears a lot of halter tops and skinny, spaghetti-strap tank tops whereas the other two don't.
Aulisi: Right. Cameron was very athletic, as well, and did a lot of dancing, so that was more freeing in terms of things like showing more skin — because it was also 2000. Now it's just a much more sexually liberated period of clothing and what people are willing to wear and what you see on the runway. It's very different than 20 years ago in terms of what was acceptable by the public and what they expected to see.
We wanted the clothes to look sexy but it wasn't the overt sexiness that I see today with totally nude tops or sheer things with very little underneath. It was meant to be playful, fun-loving, youthful, spirited. All those things went into consideration of designing the costumes, and it was especially fun to do the disguises.
MTV News: Seems like humor also played a part.
Aulisi: Yes, the belly-dancing outfits were meant to be sexy but also humorous; it wasn't meant to be taken seriously, which I think the audience got. But the clothes also had to be very functional because they did all these karate kicks and had to fly through the air and stuff. But that all had to be figured out ahead of time, before the clothes were made. We used a lot of stretch fabrics. Sometimes they had to wear special shoes because they needed to be covered more, or they had gloves on, because they had gear on.
MTV News: I noticed the color black became really prominent towards the end. What did the color black represent for the characters?
Aulisi: They were undercover many of the times. They were working at night and all these things helped them disappear. It was also very magical on camera and we added details so it wasn’t just plain black ensembles. There was black leather and chainmail so you could get a flash of skin.
MTV News: Will you tell me more about the beautiful red gown with the crystals Lucy Liu’s character wears at the cocktail party?
Aulisi: I wanted to do something flattering and something that would really catch your eye. She is the only one in red fabric, which really picked up the light, and then it was heavily embellished with jewels. That was because there were quite a few people in that scene and they were, you know, background people for the most part. So to make her pop, I put her in red.
MTV News: There was a lot of embroidered denim. I noticed Drew was wearing an embroidered and studded denim jacket at one point.
Aulisi: That was a throwback back to the ‘70s. She had to have a slight hippie vibe to her character, she was more Bohemian and had that second hand store kind of thrown-together look. She was probably the most casual of the three. She loved vintage T-shirts and she played in a rock band at one point.
MTV News: Boot-cut jeans were big throughout the film.
Aulisi: Not all of them but some of them, because what it does is it gives you a little move. I think bell bottoms would have been OK, but it had nothing to do, again, with when we shot the movie in 2000, but the idea of a flare-cut thing when you're running and if you're flying through the air, you get that motion at the bottom. The girls just looked good in it.
MTV News: What were some of the challenges you ran into when building out their looks?
Aulisi: They're three very different sizes but we tried to make them appear the same. But the same outfit on three people very seldomly works, even though they're similar. So that was always a consideration, to make them an ensemble without putting the three identical outfits. All these things that go into the considerations of the design and then the way something is executed in terms of the way there's some fabrics that were used.
As the designer, you have to always consider, especially when you've got three people that are always on screen together, that you have enough differentiation between the three actors and can still make them look like they're part of the scene even though they’re not wearing the same exact thing. Often they're not colors that necessarily complement each other, but they still have their own life to them. As you could imagine, it was a really fun job and everybody had a good time. It was fun to dress the characters.
MTV News: There’s a lot of joy radiating through the characters.
Aulisi: Yeah, it sort of sparkles. It's tongue-in-cheek humor and it moves very quickly. And the clothes got a lot of recognition, which I really enjoyed.
MTV News: Did you notice how the film impacted fashion trends after it came out?
Aulisi: I am a costume designer and not a stylist, so my head is much more focused on the characters and how things look on film and that kind of thing, as opposed to trying to make some fashion statement or keeping up with the fashion trends. What happens is that by the time the movie launches nowadays, the trends are already yesterday.