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Mean Girls phone scene
Mean Girls phone scene
Lorne Michaels Productions
Culture > Entertainment

Mean Girls and Fashion Psychology

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UPRM chapter.

Costume design can either make or break a movie, as it plays a crucial role in the story that’s being told to us. It tells us about the characters, how they think and act and what they like or don’t like. It connects deeply with the characters emotions, shows the transgression of time and the evolution that a character goes through. People often think that the only costuming worth recognizing are period pieces; this is where I disagree. Modern costume design, in my opinion, is just as impressive and important as any other period drama set in the 18th century, and I dare say it’s even more challenging to work with. You have to keep in mind what is current, make something that is memorable and hope that it doesn’t come off as more of the same. One great example of this is 2004’s Mean Girls, with costume designer Mary Jane Fort achieving all of the things that I’ve mentioned. 

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Since the movie takes place in a highschool setting, Fort had the mission of scooting around local highschools to see what the teens from the time were wearing and what they considered to be in style. Fort has said numerous times that the main inspiration for the costuming involved what was going on in Europe at the time; she wanted to achieve looks that remained timeless and relevant to our public perception. She wanted the looks to remain realistic, yet fun and exciting. One example I could think of is the now iconic outfit that the girls wear for the “Jingle Rock” number. In this particular costume she made the skirt out of literal plastic as a symbol of identifying who “The Plastics” were but also to signify how their world is synthetic and what you see isn’t what you get.

Now that we’ve talked about the science behind the making of the costumes, I think it’s only fair for me to break down the looks from Mean Girls:

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  1. Cady Heron – she’s not a regular girl, she likes math

Cady Heron, our main protagonist, starts out as a regular fish out of water, having been homeschooled for almost all her life. She serves to us viewers as the perfect vessel of introduction to Northshore High. Having spent 12 years in Africa, she’s completely clueless when it comes to pop culture, high school social norms, and everything that has to do with girlhood.

The very first outfit we see her in consists of a red shirt, a pair of jeans and an olive green jacket. From the get go, Cady’s color palette seems to lean more on the neutral and earthy shades; this we can interpret as her still being connected to her old life back in Africa. She wears her hair up in a ponytail, uses no makeup and only wears a bracelet that her mom made her – aside from that she does not use any other accessories. 

Her clothing, although far from stylish, makes her stand out the most in a world where every teen is worried about impressions and desperately needing the latest clothes – think of the typical time travel movies where the main character goes back in time and they stand out like a sore thumb against everybody else from that time. Her initial outfits also reveal that she has yet to develop any sense of style and just wears clothes for the sake of wearing clothes. Cady begins as a simple girl, who’s interest aligns with the academic side and doesn’t really care about what clothes she wears; but after befriending “The Plastics” we see her slowly adapt her style to what other girls are wearing.

Mean Girls

Out of all the girls, her style evolution is the most drastic, switching from her signature earthy tones to pinks, reds and blues (a more feminine and girly palette). Having been pointed out by Karen that on Wednesdays they like to wear pink, she wears a pink polo shirt that she borrowed from Damian. Although the color might seem fitting with “The Plastics”, the shape or rather lack thereof, makes her instantly stand out and not in a good way. It can also be interpreted in the sense that Cady does not belong in their group. 

We slowly see how her acquaintance with “The Plastics” influences her clothing and sense of identity. In the desire of being accepted, she begins adapting more fashionable and trendy silhouettes of the time, yet she still manages to be fairly monotonous playing only with lighter colors, sticking to jeans, sweaters and sneakers – making her look quite detached from “The Plastics”. 

Her big leap into their world is when she sports a blue and pink mini pleated skirt, a pink tank top, baby blue sweater and some pink pump heels – she also has the iconic murakami bag from the 00’s – her hair is styled down with some soft curls and finishing the look we see her in makeup for the first time. She wears this ensemble in the movie in one of the most recognizable scenes, where the girls are walking down the school’s hallways and Cady makes her debut as one of the “The Plastics” and coincidentally also falls into a trash can (as if it were a warning). If we were to analyze the outfit, it is clear that Cady has finally lost all self identity and now has become exactly one of them; it also reads as her trying too hard to replicate the others looks, seeing as maybe she’s not that sure of herself and wants to fit in.

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Fast forwarding to the black dress with the pink stripe and the magenta pink bra straps showing that Cady wears to her house party. She styles the dress with a black choker, some black tights and heels, her hair looks almost disheveled and her makeup consists of a smokey eye. Here we have Cady at her peak mean girl moment, having dethroned Regina as the queen bee of the school, now she finds herself with a lot of power in her hands and this is reflected by her style choice. The dress makes her look mature and alluring, she shatters her “shy and good girl” persona in the hopes of attracting Aaron Samuels. The outfit represents Cady’s transformation from new girl to mean girl, it purposely looks like something she wouldn’t wear. It is very fitting that she should get her downfall with this outfit, making her yet again stand out like a fish out of water.

Lastly, I want to talk about the mathlete jacket that she wears near the end of the film. After her less than ideal fall from grace, Cady is forced to participate in the mathlete’s competition, here she wears a blue polo shirt, regular pair of jeans and of course the signature mathlete sports jacket. Having faced humiliation, she no longer possesses the need to dress up for a part, it’s almost as if she has returned to her old self again.

Mean Girls
  1. Regina George – the Barbie doll you never had

Leader of the “Plastics”, queen bee to the school and part-time worker for the devil, Regina George is no stranger to fashion and style. She has garnered a reputation of being a fashion icon and a person who knows all the current trends. She is best known for always looking polished and her heavy reliance on romantic colors (like pinks, purples, reds, etc.); she is first introduced by arriving on the literal shoulders of the gym guys (asserting her well-known dominance).

Her gym uniform, although memorable, is not worth discussing, so instead I’m going to talk about her look when she first meets Cady. She wears a pink striped button up shirt layered with a black sweater and her defining silver jewelry, which include her “R” letter diamond necklace and a pair of hoop earrings. The outfit gives her a preppy look and one could say it’s the teen version of a woman’s power suit. The very next day she sports the now infamous “little bit dramatic” tank with a pink cardigan, black mini skirt, the legendary cherry blossom purse and some black high heel flip flops. Her outfit is not only fashion forward, but also appears a direct projection of who Regina is (almost as if it were a walking sign for what’s to come).

Regina’s Halloween look is legendary to say the least, dressing up as a bunny. The look from the stockings, to the lingerie suit and ears can only be a direct reference to the typical Playboy bunny outfit. The rest of the movie she sports similar clothing, which is when we get the iconic purple bra tank with holes look. Having been victim to a practical joke, she notices it and confidently flaunts around the school without a care in the world and inevitably starting a new trend. 

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After she’s dumped by Aaron, we see Regina in some pj pants with shopping bags as the print, being by far the most child-like look we’ve seen her in. Revealing that although she cheated on him, her feelings were still hurt and shattering her ultra perfect image. When she gets together with Shane Oman, her style begins to be more casual and down to earth, replacing her usual tight skirts with denim ones. As Cady starts gaining more power, she begins losing her sense of polishness and this is evident in her style choices. She adopts more sweat suits and looser fitting clothing, as if she were fading into the background.

The outfit she wears when she wreaks havoc on everyone and releases the burn book is no less important. She wears a black off the shoulder blouse with a pair of jeans and some sneakers, her hair is tied in a braid and the only accessories she has are the cherry blossom purse with a matching belt and her “R” necklace. Regina purposely dresses down in order to appear non threatening and almost innocent like, while the world is set up in flames.

The last look that I will be discussing is her Spring Formal look where she wears a short strapless pink satin dress and her back brace is accessorized with matching pink flowers.  The dress serves as a reminder of her Plastic essence and her public perception and the brace acts as a warning of sorts to that type of behavior. In the end of the movie we see Regina in a pair of black pants and a gray sweater with a pink heart, symbolizing that she’s embraced her new life while still being conscious of her past. 

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  1. Gretchen Weiners – Brutus #1 fan

Gretchen, always a follower and never a leader, makes up the second part of “The “Plastics” clique. Like all the girls Gretchen has her own distinct color palette, with her being oranges and browns. While she may try to directly copy Regina’s style, she still manages to make hers seem more prep-like, with the character sporting on numerous occasions argyle sweaters and pleated skirts. Out of the three, Gretchen is not afraid to flaunt designer items frequently wearing Burberry – which also ties to her love of British slang and its pop culture. She often wears silver jewelry and can be seen plenty of times with a pair of pearl earrings, other notable accessories include the 00s staple Tiffany & Co Charmed bracelet.

Gretchen is probably the most insecure out of the three and this can be shown in her wardrobe, with her relying on Regina’s approval and habit of mimicking what her leader wears. Like a true “plastic” on Halloween night she dresses up as a sexy animal costume, wearing a black vinyl catsuit with some cheetah print ears. She might not show a ton of skin, yet it still manages to be sexy with the catsuit being figure hugging. This directly coralites with her somewhat hypocritical views.

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The only time Gretchen strays away from her uniquely preppy aesthetic is for the Spring Fling Formal, wearing a purple tulle gown with a magenta pink satin ribbon and a flower corsage. This look contradicts everything that we’ve seen her throughout the movie. I do think in a way, it is both a conscious choice by Gretchen and the costume designer, by making her dress in a stereotypically girlie ensemble because she hopes to win the crown.  

The last we see of her is once she’s switched cliques and now is part of the rich asians girls. Everything about her has changed with her hair being straightened, her wearing hoop earrings and her clothing leaning more towards darker hues with silver embellishments – think of the bling bling style of the 00’s. Demonstrating that Gretchen will always be a follower and not a leader, she will modify herself and identity to fit into the group she desires to be a part of. 

Amanda Seyfried
  1. Karen Smith – she has a fifth sense, duh

And with sweet child-like Karen making up the last member of  “The Plastics”, she unlike her other counterparts appears to have the true follower mentality, yet her intentions are never cruel or meant in any way to harm others. Karen’s style, like the other two, stays true to the quintessential “Plastics” palette, she often wears pinks, blues, whites and any other light/pastel colors. Where she diverts is in the way she pairs up clothes: if you were to pay attention she often wears bows or bow modified clothing, sports fun caricatures in her wardrobes and has the most pink in her clothing all the time – we can read this as her literally interpreting “Wednesday we wear pink” rule with her wearing the color from head to toe. It’s almost as if a young girl plays dress up and that’s how she ends up with those clothes. 

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Another great example is Karen’s Halloween costume, in which she wears a black babydoll with a pair of mouse ears. In the movie, it is implied that out of the three she’s the most promiscuous and even if it isn’t by deliberate choice on her part, her clothing reflects it, who on regular occasions wears tight and short clothing (note, this is observation, it is not to shame her in any way and I’m glad to say that the movie does not do so either). 

The last memorable look we see her in is for the Spring Fling Formal where she opts for a blue printed spaghetti strapped dress with some fun designs in the color brown – by far the farthest we’ve seen her stray away from the typical pink palette. But what really pulls the look together is her addition of the unintentional flipped letter “K”  with some sparkly bedazzled gems. 

Lizzy Caplan Agrees That Janis Ian Was Actually One Of The Mean Girls
  1. Janis Ian – she’s Lebanese

Janis Ian, is the resident rebellious outcast and also the first person to befriend Cady upon her arrival to North Shore. She acts as a guide to both Cady and us viewers to interpret how the high school world works. The first thing that we see her in a gray long sleeve shirt, layered with a graphic t shirt with the word rubbish written in yellow and appears to have been cut by her, a black long skirt with some orange striped socks that clearly clash with the rest of her outfit, she also included some high topped converse and her hair is styled in what could be best described as needle-pin hair with some black eyeliner.

It’s fair to say Janis favors layered and busy clothing, which perfectly represent her alternative and artistic style. She’s not afraid of wearing clothing considered by some as ugly or disheveled. Her style is a direct reflection of her personality and how she views the world. Although Janis claims to not care about popularity and wanting nothing to do with “The Plastics,” she clearly holds some insecurities about herself and it mainly reflects on her reliance on long and baggy clothes. Her negative view of the world is present in her dark color palette with blacks, browns and grays making constant appearances.

  The only time we see Janis wearing something in a lighter shade of color is in her purple tuxedo moment at the Spring Fling Formal. Her tuxedo is paired with a white ruffled shirt, some purple sneakers and a signature purple bowtie. Her hair is pinned back and her makeup involves some heavy eyeliner and a bright red lipstick. This is Janis’ version of formal attire and it is evident that she prefers a more masculine and androgynous style – and to some it might even appear to look queer-coded. 

If you’ve reached the end, I applaud you. Mean Girls is a really fun movie that gets better every time you watch it. It has insane quotability and great fashion. I hope that if you haven’t seen it, this article inspires you and if you have then you should consider rewatching it. Hope this seems like a fun topic and Happy Mean Girls day!

Patricia Ortiz is a dedicated writer for Her Campus at the UPRM chapter. As a sophomore majoring in both History and English, she consistently showcases her passion for entertainment, fashion and pop culture through her articles. She hopes one day to become a fashion historian, or at the very least, contributing to a leading fashion magazine. Outside of her studies and writing, her interests are diverse. She has a keen eye for fashion, often drawing inspiration from both past and present. An avid movie buff, she enjoys delving into films from various parts of the worlds, decades and genres. Some of her current favorites include “Clue”, “Young Frankenstein” and, “The Thin Man”. Her musical tastes are equally eclectic, with a particular fondness for the soulful melodies of Lana Del Rey. Above all, she is known for her drive and commitment. She’s a self-proclaimed overachiever, always looking for ways to better herself and support her peers. Whether in the classroom, writing, or just engaging with others, she is always ready to lend a helping hand, ensuring that everyone around her reaches their utmost potential.