The early '80s were a polarizing time for fashion, with trends ranging from what we would now consider comeback-worthy — socks with pumps, matching sets — to tragic — pastel polos with double popped collars. All these and more are present in Valley Girl, a musical remake of the beloved 1983 Martha Coolidge film of the same name.
In the film, available on demand, we see an adult Julie (Clueless’ very own Valley Girl, Alicia Silverstone) telling her daughter (Camila Morrone) the story from her youth — when she, an eighties San Fernando Valley high schooler (Jessica Rothe), fell for Randy (Josh Whitehouse), a punk musician from “over the hill.” What follows (style-wise) is an explosion of pastel knits, spandex, and acid wash denim as loud as the musical numbers set to Go-Go's "We Got the Beat" and Men Without Hats’ "The Safety Dance" in a mall and roller skating rink, respectively. Yes, it’s, like, totally awesome.
“When people think of the '80s, there’s like an amalgamous idea of what it is — big shoulder pads and neon — but it is so nuanced,” says Maya Lieberman, the costume designer behind the remake. “I started by looking at the ‘80, ’82, ’83 yearbooks from the Valley, and then photographs from the punk scene from that era in Hollywood, but also New York and London. [When it comes to research,] I like the photographic element more so than entertainment because it’s like heightened reality. So if we wanted to heighten it ourselves, I wanted it to start from a realistic base.”
Staying authentic to the time period was not an easy feat. Not only did Lieberman need to create 30 looks for Rothe alone, but she also had to coordinate her character’s sherbet-hued getups to those of her best friends (played by Ashleigh Murray, Chloe Bennet, and Jessie Ennis) — and then to the background dancers for the big musical numbers. “The logistics of having four lead actresses who all need to sort of coordinate … They have to look good together as a group, match, but also be specific to their character,” she says. “And then on top, you have scenes with hundreds of background [dancers], all in head-to-toe period clothes… It was massive amounts of work.”
Lieberman says that she started by sourcing costumes from rental houses. But with a lot of ‘80s projects going on at the same time as the filming of Valley Girl, she says she was left with limited options. “After our first trip to the costume house, we had to be like, ‘We are going to have to think outside the box here.’ Plus, I didn’t want to use stuff that had been already in shows,” she says.
While she used some of those pieces to outfit the extras, she chose the looks for the main actors by silhouettes. “I would find shapes that I liked that felt authentic to the character and time period, and then I would source the fabric and sometimes knock them off or re-imagine them and make them from scratch,” she says. “Maybe they were things I rented or bought at a thrift or vintage store, but the quality wasn’t good, because these are 35-year-old clothes! And our main girls, they don’t wear ratty clothes — their clothes have to look new. But if you’re buying clothes that are actually from the '80s, they’re mostly shredded.”
It’s fitting that Lieberman designed so many of the clothes: In the remake, Julie is an aspiring designer who hopes to go to the Fashion Institute of Technology. This becomes quickly apparent during a costume party scene, in which Julie makes her own version of Madonna’s VMAs “Like A Virgin” look, while her friends dress as Princess Diana, Dolly Parton, and Jennifer Beals in Flashdance.
Lieberman created the Madonna look from scratch after being unable to find anything from the time period that had a “cute, dreamy quality” that she felt Julie would have wanted. For the Lady Diana pink suit, she found the hat and shoes first. “I [then] bought the suit in Downtown L.A. at The Santee Alley [flea market] at a place where they sell a lot of church suits and hats. I remember finding the suit which I thought was a perfect colour, and then we modified the collar, and the sleeves, and the skirt to be a more ‘80s Lady Di look.” As for Dolly Parton Western look? “That was like, ‘Let’s find a cute look of Dolly.’ We wanted it to read [on the screen] right away, so we wanted a Western shirt. There is a rental place called Palace Costume where they have archival pieces that are just incredible. I got some of the more special pieces from there.”
In a delightfully kitschy aerobics dance scene, the film zeroes in on possibly the most cringe-worthy trend of the '80s: leotards, paired with neon tights and leg warmers. Lieberman knew that she would have to find new pieces to put on the actors, with no workout clothes from the era being able to withstand the years on a shelf. “There is a vintage store in Long Beach called Meow, and it was one of my first stops when I got the job because it has a lot of deadstock, meaning there are things from the actual time period that are new,” she says. “I called and asked if [Meow owner Kathleen Schaaf] had any leotard deadstock, and she had a box, and we used a lot of that. We also made some leotards ourselves from some great fabric we found. There are some places that still will sell the great high-rise, shiny pink tights, so we kind of pieced it all together.” The result was a perfectly coordinated kaleidoscope of teal, fuchsia, and pink, all wrapped with elastic headbands and scrunchies, and set to a mash-up of “Material Girl,” “Just Can’t Get Enough,” and “Tainted Love.”
As Randy introduces Julie to L.A.’s punk scene, her wardrobe starts to transform from one primarily made of baby pinks and blues to one featuring black pieces and leather detailing. “This emotional journey through the costumes was intentional, and something that [Valley Girl director] Rachel [Lee Goldenberg] and I discussed at length and mapped out through the course of the script. We did a costume breakdown, and then I started showing where I would start implementing a change,” Lieberman says. “Like she’s leaving this Valley Girl behind, and she’s becoming, not someone in Randy’s world — she’s not a Hollywood Girl — she’s her own girl, she’s somewhere in between, she’s something of her own creation … She is finding new ways to combine her pink pastel booties with a new black leather skirt.”
Nowhere is this more evident than during the final scene: Prom, for which Julie makes her own dress, featuring a black lace corset and a full pink skirt, that would fit perfectly in an eighties boutique somewhere in between the Valley and Sunset Strip. "In the script, originally, the dress was written as super punk — like red plaid — and I actually talked to Rachel and I said, ‘I don’t think Julie will go this far. I feel like Julie’s not totally changing for this guy. She still is who she is,” she says. Instead she envisioned a “before-Randy” dress that Julie would wear — “this beautiful pink dreamy prom dress” — and used it as the base. "I knew I wanted to use that ‘pretty in pink’ element, but I wanted to design something that the new Julie would have designed. I referenced early-‘80s Vivianne Westwood, because Vivianne Westwood was like on the edge of the punk scene, so there’s sort of a nod to that. There’s also a little nod with the French dot white tulle that kind of indicated that Julie took some of the ‘Like A Virgin’ dress to make this one.”
While most of the sartorial highlights come in the form of outfits worn by the Valley Girls, a brand-new character — a member of Randy’s band and roommate (played by Mae Whitman) — steals the spotlight during the punk scenes, with unapologetic animal print tops, red plaid blazers, and band T-shirts. “I had this whole idea for her that it’s punk, but it’s early punk, and it’s got that Teddy Girl vibe. I could have done a whole movie with her character, it was just really fun to dress her, ” says Lieberman. “It just came together so well with the creepers and the Sex Pistols tee with cowhide jacket and the little hat and the cutoff shorts. It’s something I would wear now!”
It’s not the only thing Lieberman — “a child of the '80s” who says she’s seen several cycles of the era’s fashion trends come and go — has enjoyed making a comeback. Those double popped polos, though? “Yeah, the preppy trend is something I could do without.”