The Story Behind Those Perfect ‘Clueless’-Inspired Costumes in ‘Do Revenge’

·10 min read
Photo Illustration/Erin O'Flynn/The Daily Beast
Photo Illustration/Erin O'Flynn/The Daily Beast

When Cher Horowitz strutted into the fictitious Beverly Hills high school in Clueless, her yellow plaid matching set wasn’t the official uniform—but it might as well have been. Mona May’s indelible costume design for that film created a high bar for cinematic academic attire that is rarely topped.

In the years since Amy Heckerling's landmark film, the students of classic teen movies and TV shows like Cruel Intentions and Gossip Girl opted for traditional private school threads, with some modifications to suit their sartorial moods. Now, director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s playful, candy-colored Do Revenge, Netflix’s contemporary twist on Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, joins the high-school uniform chat—in all its pastel glory.

The dark comedy takes a fallen Queen Bee (Camila Mendes’ Drea) and pairs her with the awkward new girl (Maya Hawkes’ Eleanor) to bring down each other’s tormentors at a private school in Miami. The tone and plot are a match made in fashion heaven.

Costume designer Alana Morshead conceived the elite Rosehill students' closets in a way that tips its hat to the clothes in those great pieces of teen pop culture. The references range from subtle to overt, depending on how well-versed you are in the genre. Fashion is also cyclical, and the ’90s and Y2K era continue to be on trend, so Do Revenge walks the line between current and nostalgic without tipping too far into either.

Mendes, Hawke, and co-star Austin Abrams are currently on popular TV shows featuring high schools that don’t have a uniform policy—Riverdale, Stranger Things, and Euphoria, for those not keeping score. In an interview with The Daily Beast’s Obsessed Morshead notes that Do Revenge almost went the non-uniform route as the original script didn’t include this detail. Thankfully, the development stage embraced the dress code, and this world's “heightened reality” took shape.

With Do Revenge now out on Netflix and viewers lapping up its pastel-drenched, tart-tongued deliciousness, we jumped at the chance to talk with Morshead about how the film’s entrancing look—dangerous, yet familiar—came together. Morshead took a break from working on the forthcoming Hulu series Tiny Beautiful Things starring Kathryn Hahn (“I am so obsessed with Kathryn Hahn. We all are. She's the dream”) to discuss the new Netflix offering with us. So here is everything you wanted to know about those fantastic school uniforms in Do Revenge.

‘Do Revenge’ Is a Generation-Defining Teen Masterpiece

Being referential without coming across as derivative or like a cheap knockoff of beloved classics is a tricky line to walk.

Costume nods to Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion are Easter eggs dotted throughout Do Revenge. As an older millennial reporting for duty, these are all formative movies I watched on VHS countless times and still hold close to my heart. Luckily, Robinson and Morshead aren’t simply putting Hitchcock and ’90s teen movies in a blender to tick algorithm boxes.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Kim Simms/Netflix</div>
Kim Simms/Netflix

Morshead’s first reaction when she read the script was, “I have to do this movie. This is every movie I love and grew up on.” She describes the initial pitch meeting with Robinson as kismet. “I wanted to push for it to give that eliteness, the group feel of kids at school that we've seen with Cruel Intentions,” Morshead says. “It automatically puts you into a certain aesthetic or genre—girls are meaner when you see a uniform. But I didn't want to do a uniform we've seen a bunch.”

The British designer considered a spin on summer gingham dresses that are typically worn in U.K. elementary schools, but it didn’t have the desired impact. “I was looking at all kinds of school uniforms, looking for references or inspiration, and I was drawn to Korean school uniforms,” she says. This is where the idea for the cape you see on the film’s students came from. But Do Revenge is set in Miami (and was shot in Atlanta during the summer), so rather than thick wool for warmth, Morshead constructed a lightweight version to match the climate.

“I wanted to keep it like they still cared about what they looked like and had pride in making their uniforms be pressed and put together,” she explains. Rather than only one look, Morshead conceived a purple-and-green plaid mix-and-match collection with two different tie options, a beret, skirt, khaki pants or shorts, and a classic white short-sleeve button-down. “I wanted to make it so everyone could wear every piece, and it wasn't like, ‘Boys wear this and girls wear this.’ If a guy wants to wear the pink-and-purple bow, great. We have men wearing capes and women wearing khaki shorts or a beret.” Considering I wore a uniform until I was 18, I am mourning the missed opportunity of a cute cape and different tie choices.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock</div>

The biggest challenge? Making sure there were hundreds of school uniforms ready for the start of filming. Do Revenge was in pre-production last spring, and shipping from overseas at that point during the pandemic was…complicated. “There were delays because it was so much stuff, and so I couldn't see [things ahead of time],” she says. “It got to the point where I was like, ‘I just have to order it, and whenever it arrives, it's going on.’ Because it was three days until it had to go on camera.”.

Beyond the main cast, there were 300 background actors who required the same pieces. There was no alternative: “It was worth it. I didn't want a backup. I'm like, ‘No, if you manifest the backup, then it won't happen.”

Whereas Gossip Girl is more footloose and fancy-free with its uniform regulations, the Do Revenge student body does get to add flourishes besides berets, knits, and capes. “The few things they could accessorize with or make it their own would be socks, shoes, and jewelry. That is where we honed in on making them more individual,’ Morshead says.

In the film, Max (Abrams) is the target of Drea’s (Mendes) revenge plan, and his array of necklaces (including pearls) is as purposeful as the camera he wears slung across his chest and his expensive Gucci sneakers. “I wanted it to be like he's the most popular guy in school, and he's wearing nail polish or heart earrings, and that's cool,” she says.

Max is dripping in wealth, and his ex-girlfriend Drea is at Rosehill on a scholarship. But that doesn’t mean she can’t compete when it comes to fashion: “Her uniform was a little different because she personally tailored it. Hers is a little shorter, it’s form-fitting, and she used her seamstress skills to elevate her uniform because she's not able to buy a pair of Gucci sneakers.”

Of course, Morshead’s own budget hardly matched the wealth of characters like Max or Eleanor. That meant sourcing from a combination of custom builds, vintage shops, local Atlanta beauty supply stores, and “a ton of independent female-owned businesses that I found a lot on Instagram.” Morshead feels passionate about the latter: “Fast fashion is a real problem now, and I'm in a position where I can showcase some cool women.” This includes the jackets worn by Drea and her friends at school—giving a Michelle Pfeiffer in Grease 2 Pink Lady vibe—which Morshead had custom-made by The Mighty Company.

Another solution came courtesy of eBay, where Morshead scored the Gucci teddy bear cardigan for $300 that pairs perfectly with Max’s bare chest in the film sequence set at his afternoon soiree. “It was about trying to get creative, because I don't have the money to do this, but it still needs to be great,” Morshead says. “That's when as the designer, you ask, ‘How do we figure this out?’ It's not like we have all this money and can buy all this cool stuff.”

Then there was sheer volume she was responsible for: “One look on one girl has ten pieces because everything had to be thought out like what socks? What rings? It's a full head-to-toe look.”

<div class="inline-image__credit">Kim Simms/Netflix</div>
Kim Simms/Netflix

Like any good teen comedy, Do Revenge has a makeover scene, in which Drea takes a down-on-her-luck, Eleanor, by her unmanicured hand. Morshead didn’t want Eleanor to become a Drea clone, so she looked at two different decades as inspiration for each woman. For Drea, she turned to the “big earrings and dark makeup” of ’90s supermodels like Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, and Eva Herzigova. To contrast against Drea’s cooler color palette and jewel tones, Eleanor wears warmer shades like orange, mustard, and red inspired by Twiggy and a young Goldie Hawn.

At first, Eleanor is uncomfortable in ’60s-inspired flower-power prints and plastic bucket hats, but she’s seduced by the popularity that comes with it. As Do Revenge progresses, Eleanor’s closet gets more audacious: “It consumes her. She becomes it and takes it even further.”

There was one design that Hawke was hesitant about: the outfit conceived by Morshead for the pivotal Admissions Party climax.

“For Eleanor, I woke up one morning, and I was like, 'I need to make something with orange zippers,'” Morshead remembers. She went to the fabric store and bought 50 pant zippers to play around with. “When I design things, it doesn't sway or chang., I'll see it, and I'll be like, 'Oh my gosh, that's it!” It doesn't change; I'm a witch, who knows, maybe,” she laughs. Hawke looks great in menswear, and the designer “loved the idea of a men’s suit.”

Austin Abrams: Hollywood’s Go-To Teen Nice Guy Finally Plays a Villain in ‘Do Revenge’

The actress was unsure when she saw the sketch and the in-your-face hue. “Seeing bright orange lamé bundled up is pretty hideous,” Morshead concedes, and she assured Hawke that she would come up with an alternative ensemble if she hated it. She's like, 'Okay, Alana. Okay,' and then put it on and was like, 'Oh my God!' Of course, she loved it, and everyone did.”

The fire and ice of Drea and Eleanor’s look “clicked.” The latter’s custom-made chain-strap frock was inspired by a photo of Carla Bruni in a pale blue dress that had a silhouette that Morshead thought would be perfect on Mendes

The younger cast is packed with recognizable faces, but the surprise appearance by none other than Sarah Michelle Gellar as the Rosehill headmaster caused me to scream out loud. It is impossible not to think of Cruel Intentions in this backstabbing private school setting, but there isn’t a crucifix necklace packed full of cocaine in sight.

“I wanted to keep her in the world of school, but not have her in pastels or the same colors as the uniforms. [She’s] this ethereal, dreamy woman who wore these beautiful suits,” says Morshead. While there is undoubtedly a heightened element, Gellar’s off-white costumes emphasize the delicate balance of creating this private school aesthetic: “It's always that fine line of, OK, this is a little too much, but it's not distracting.”

But Gellar isn’t the only scene-stealer in the cast. There’s also Olivia Colman. Okay, it’s not the Olivia Colman. Instead, Eleanor has a placid bearded dragon named after the Oscar winner as a pet. “I got a text, ‘Oh, so you know, there's going to be a bearded dragon, and we're going to need a closet for them,” Morshead says. Olivia wasn’t originally in the script, but Morshead was told the pet needed to “fit in when they do the makeover, like the little towel on her head and the towel wrapped around her—just feeling like one of the gals.”

Morshead was sent a photo of the bearded dragon next to a measuring tape to construct these looks. The lizard’s handler was there to make sure the fitting went smoothly. The saying about not working with animals, apparently, does not apply here: “She was a dream. Definitely the easiest one!”

Even the bearded dragon slays in Do Revenge’s cutthroat world of teenage girls.

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