There are few pop culture gemstones that have had as much of an impact on fashion as Clueless, the ’90s rom-com that celebrates an anniversary this week in the midst of its own next-gen revival. Mona May, the film’s costume designer, is one of the most prolific talents in the industry, deserving of credit for our modern worlds. May’s styling for pre-Y2K cult hits like Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion and Never Been Kissed has shaped 2021’s fashion (liquid minidresses! Twinsets!), while Clueless’s Cher (Alicia Silverstone) and Dionne (Stacey Dash) remain lifestyle muses, decades later. “It’s not just the fashion that mesmerizes people over the 25 years since the movie has been out,” May tells me on a video call from Berlin. “Each look really was related to who they were. You love these characters—you love the girls.”
In 1994, once Amy Heckerling wrote the film and tapped May to style it (the two met like “twins who found each other” on a pilot that never aired), they looked forward. “This is really a movie about fashion in the future,” says May. “At the time, everyone was really dressed up or underdressed,” she says of remixing this on film: “What I introduced was thrift store clothes with high fashion clothes with clothes from the mall—something that now is such a normal thing to do, you know, we wear the Balenciaga purse with ripped jeans and flip flops.”
She imagined Cher and Dionne as Beverly Hills teens who, like May, traveled globally and went to Paris’s shows to scout, then came home to think of something new. “It’s interesting, with Alicia Silverstone, we actually had to teach her a little bit more how to wear designer clothes because she was just a kid, a hippie animal activist already,” remembers May. “And then you have Stacey Dash, who already knew about fashion and she drove certain things and wanted certain things—how they should fit, how they should look on her.” Seeing it now, “that’s part of the charm, and also why women relate these characters,” May shares. “Cher was herself in one way different from Dionne, who’s more funky and outrageous.”
As I write, I’m wearing one of my most faithful ensembles, a white tee layered with a black tank and bike shorts—not far from what May dreamed up as a high school’s monochromatic P.E. dress code. “Everyone had their own specific style,” May explains. “When you look at Cher, she has the white t-shirt that’s now so synonymous with the black tank—which now everybody wears! My assistant PA just came to work wearing it and I said ‘You know that’s what Cher wore in Gym,’ and she was like ‘Oh, I didn’t see Clueless yet!’” May says with a laugh.