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

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

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 then get ready for a night out, standing in front of a closet filled with candy-colored garments constructed with sequins, beads, and feathers. It’s a maximalist’s dream come true.

The film, which came out in theaters on April 25, 1997, follows the two friends as they learn that their 10-year high school reunion is coming up and realize their lives are not that impressive. After a failed effort to lose some weight, get new jobs, and gain boyfriends, they decide to attend, albeit with a little white lie: that they invented Post-its. Naturally, hijinks ensue. 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 explains 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 are a peek into what kind of 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 least 40 costume changes.

When you first think of the fashionable duo, certain outfits might come to mind, like the iconic reunion dresses or the “businesswoman special” blazers, but there are tons more to covet. Your eyes just have to be fast! “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 says. “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. Instead, she put the girls in matching holographic skirt sets, halter crops, and stacked sneaker heels for their treadmill workouts and spinning sessions. While high-heeled sneakers have yet to be worn by the fitness set (Mariah Carey would no doubt co-sign), exercise skirts, skorts, and dresses are more common, especially thanks to brands like Girlfriend Collective, Lululemon, Athleta, and Outdoor Voices, the latter of which 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 says. “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.”

Moviestore/Shutterstock
Moviestore/Shutterstock

Romy and Michele have “weird” accessories that are practical and more popular now.

Keep your eyes peeled for one of the best and most underrated accessories: water bottle holders. You can see them in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene when the girls are at the gym. Karl Lagerfeld first put metal chain water bottle holders on the Chanel Fall 1994 runway, and May made her own versions. First for Cher and Amber in Clueless, then for Romy and Michele. Like the workout dresses, water bottle holders are much more accessible today than they were in 1997. You can find versions of them by everyone from Fendi to Givenchy, and Susan Alexandra to Claire’s. (The OG Chanel one is also available to purchase if you have a spare $13K.)

Their final reunion look was going to be a little 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 says. “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. As Scream costume designer Cynthia Bergstrom recalled to NYLON, she and May ran into each other while sourcing for clothes sometime before filming their respective films. “We were all doing the same thing, running around Saks, Neiman Marcus, and all the different stores,” May says. Total moment of Friends fashion fate.

Mona May had a lot of free rein when it came to the costumes.

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 says.

This led to the hilarious Madonna-inspired prom outfits and the businesswoman lunch looks that were visually fun but still held “the language” of the characters. “It was very important to stay in the line of each of the characters,” she says. “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 silver and 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” and thought the symbol would add the perfect amount of 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 says. Sorvino is also a self-proclaimed Trekkie, and Kudrow told InStyle that Sorvino “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 says. She got her hands on anything that was “exuberant, fun, and had colorful patterns” and then supplemented with cool vintage pieces, like the cherry jewelry that Michele wore.

Moviestore/Shutterstock
Moviestore/Shutterstock

Adjustments were made to the clothing to give a “homemade” look.

Since Michele sewed their outfits, it made sense for the clothes to have that DIY feel. May would switch out buttons for funkier ones, take apart designer jacket-and-skirt sets and mix and match them with other pieces, and bedazzle cheap shoes she found in downtown LA or pair two different-colored shoes 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 says. “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.”

Romy and Michele look like they dress the same, but they embody different styles.

Even though the girls coordinate their clothing, May made sure each of their looks corresponded to their personalities. For example, Michele was the creative one, and super girly and fun, so she wore a lot of pink, feathers, and glitter, whereas Romy was a little more serious and streamlined since she was the “brains in the family.” May gave her a cooler-toned 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 explains. “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. Favoring all-black ensembles, you could describe her look as goth-lite. This made things a lot easier when it came to her costuming. “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 says. “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,” adds 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.”

Moviestore/Shutterstock
Moviestore/Shutterstock

The popular girls all wear the same preppy pastels throughout the movie.

The girls who bully Romy and Michele, also known as “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 says that it was a way to show them as being “very provincial” and stuck in the suburbs. “You can think of them as bad bridesmaid dresses,” she says. “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” girls is different from the others.

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. For the reunion, she wears a chic cream pantsuit.

“I loved her pantsuit. It was like something Marlena Dietrich would have worn,” May says. “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.”