“It Was the First Time Someone Mixed High & Low”: How Clueless Changed the Way We Dress

We caught up with Clueless costume designer Mona May when she was in Toronto to talk about how the film has impacted our style


(Photo: Courtesy Mona May)

If you’ve ever tried to emulate Cher Horowitz’s iconic plaid, or basically coveted any ’90s trend ever, it’s time to meet Mona May. She’s the costume designer responsible for every look in the cult classic, Clueless, along with countless other films where fashion plays a leading role, like Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion and A Night at the Roxbury. We caught up with May at the Gap on Bloor Street in downtown Toronto (where they just launched their Gap Logo Remix collection that highlights their classic ’90s logo) to chat about outfitting Cher, Dion and Amber, the ’90s comeback, and how she protected an Alaïa dress from pavement.

On the teeny Clueless budget

“We wanted to bring something fresh to the screen. I think it was really the first time that somebody mixed high and low. Now it’s so common. We had some high-end designers, mall clothes and there was a lot of thrifting, but everything had to be altered to look perfect. Sometimes having less money makes you more creative.”

On the dress Cher hits the pavement in

“They gave [Alicia Silverstone] a mark where she could stand, and we stood right around the mark and cleaned that pavement. We were licking it, practically. There weren’t going to be any black tar marks on that dress, for sure. We borrowed the Alaïa dress, and the designer didn’t know we were going to do that. It was amazing, because we had unknown actors in the film, and you could say you were doing a fashion movie but it doesn’t really mean anything. So we were very lucky to get the designer pieces we could.”

(Illustration: Courtesy Mona May)

On her Clueless research

“We went to high schools and, I mean, it was hideous. It was baggy T-shirts, baggy jeans, plaid shirts. It was a great jumping point, because we knew we needed to make this revolution. I took looks from the runways but really translated them for the film. We made the characters real, and that’s why people love them, and they could imitate them and find themselves in them. If they had just been snooty girls wearing cute clothes, it wouldn’t work.”

On her role in the resurgence of ’90s trends

“I love it, and I am responsible! It was the first movie really about fashion and I think what’s so amazing is how many women are impacted by that film, all over the word, from my friend’s daughter who is 17 in Berlin watching Clueless with her friends, to women who are in their 40s. One thing that I’m so proud of is that it really touched hearts and it’s still being emulated. And there were many others after, like Legally Blonde and Mean Girls, but they never really had that same impact, because Clueless was the first.”

On the unsung fashion hero of Clueless: Amber

“Oh my god, Amber was the best. The Pippy Longstocking look is my favourite. Only she can wear striped leggings like that. And the sailor outfit, and there was the army one with the fake fur coat. It was just endless fun with her, and we would just go ‘OK, what else can we do?’ We had so many more outfits for her in the film, but a lot of them were never seen, unfortunately.”


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