The costumes in Mean Girls run the gamut from high-end boutique to hand-me-down plaid, animal feather chic to quotable tees.
Costume designer Gregg Barnes rarely looked to the film for inspiration for his looks, instead involving the actors and collaborating with them to find the right outfits for their characters.
"We got the actors to write a little blurb about who they were and how they functioned in their high school and their status and their aspirations and then we bought a bunch of stuff; just racks and racks and racks of stuff," said Barnes, who won two Tony Awards for his costume designs, one for The Drowsy Chaperone in 2006 and another for Follies in 2012.
The actors' input really helped drive the success of the costumes, Barnes admitted, adding with a laugh, "I mean, they should get co-design credits."
Playbill spoke with the acclaimed designer about several of the costumes, pictured below.
Artwork by Janis
For Janis, it was important to create clothes that suggested the character had bought the outfits and then made them her own. It’s an homage to Janis' distinctiveness, passion, and heart.
The two jackets that she wears for most of the show were worked on by fabric painter Jeff Fender, who added the drawings and patches. And there was collaboration on the jackets between Fender and Barrett Wilbert Weed, who plays Janis.
Of the pieces, Barnes says, "I love it when there's a mix of childlike imagery and things are more political," Barnes explained, pointing out the mixture of feminist messages, Frida Kahlo portraits, and a Snoopy patch.
And then there's the lion’s head. At the start of the show, the audience is transported to a savanna complete with "animals" roaming the land—including a very unique-looking feline.
If it’s not exactly clear, here are some of the materials used: caution tape, ribbon, burlap, straw, and red-painted acrylic nails (for the teeth).
Introducing With Purpose
At the beginning of the musical, we meet Cady Heron in Africa with parents. She’s wearing plaid and a patched vest—an evolving trend that she’ll have throughout the show (she ends up wearing four different plaid shirts). Halfway through the song, Cady arrives at North Shore High in the Chicago suburbs and her clothing changes along with the scenery.
"We bought 50," said the designer speaking about the shirts. "When we had Erika [Henningsen, who plays Cady] in for the fitting, we starting to put them on her and I said, 'If you feel a little chill or a little thing of oh, that's her, you let me know.'" Henningsen and Barnes had the same instant positive reaction with the shirts that ended up on stage, a sign of the successful collaboration that took place as Barnes finalized costumes.
And what about these patches? All of them were found online by Barnes' team and needed to be focused not just on Africa, but animals too. "The family would have traveled around the country and observed different kinds of animals and cultures and how do local communities interact with animals," said Barnes. "In the way that old ladies go to Europe and collect spoons, Cady is a kid who collects these patches."
Damien’s look might seem more simple but there's the same amount of thought behind it. When Grey Henson takes the stage singing "A Cautionary Tale," audiences might notice a familiar face on his T-shirt: RuPaul's Drag Race contestant Alyssa Edwards, complete with her iconic phrase "BEAST."
"I thought, 'Well, we can be bold here," Barnes said. "We can choose things without the fear that they're going to become ostracized or bullied, because the two of them obviously stand up for themselves' and I thought [the T-shirt] helped tell that story."
While Barnes tried to stay away from recreating any looks in the movie, he did let one iconic look slip in: Damien’s sweatshirt and sunglasses costume from the gym scene, right down to the same color blue.
The Plastics Are Flush with Cash
And what of the Plastics? Their costumes exude money in their detail and fabrics, which makes sense given that Barnes believes Regina George and Gretchen Wieners are likely the richest families at North Shore High.
The goal was to create pieces that the girls would’ve bought on a shopping spree along Fifth Avenue.
For example, a skirt worn by Gretchen in a mall scene is actually a piece created by Missoni for children. "We got the biggest one we could find and we thought that was kind of funny, that it was a kids thing."
And then of course, there are the Halloween costumes. While Regina's took a few attempts (including a few nights in a red velvet catsuit), Gretchen's was always a high-end black cat. "We thought the cat, especially the bustier, it could be something that's like her mother's been to Thierry Mugler, it's elevated beyond the party store," says Barnes.
Using the audience
The goal, ultimately, is to create costumes that not only make sense for the character but also get a response from the audience.
One example: "The other day a friend of mine saw the show and a teenager next to him said, when Cady came out in her sandals, 'Oh my god her shoes are horrible!' And of course, then the lyrics are 'make sure you pack your homemade sandals.' Of course, the thing that the parents treasure, a handmade thing, the high school kids in the Midwest think is terrible. That woman that noticed how bad her shoes are, she's going to get a payoff in two minutes."
To see the looks Barnes describes above—plus more stories about them—click through the gallery below: