Tom Broecker is no stranger to working under pressure. In addition to costuming such iconic TV series as 30 Rock and House of Cards and numerous Broadway plays, the award-winning costume designer has dressed the cast of Saturday Night Live—who change in and out of multiple outfits in real time each week—for an astonishing 30 years. But with the new cinematic musical adaptation of Mean Girls—out in theaters today—he faced a different sort of challenge: reinventing a beloved classic of early-’00s cinema, full of memorable looks, for a new generation.
The new film is an adaptation of the 2018 Broadway musical, which in turn is based on the original 2004 film, so Broecker had a clear iconography of fashion to draw upon, and a significant opportunity to say something new. As beloved as the original Mean Girls remains, it was important to Broecker and to directors Samatha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. that this version reflect 2024’s particular cultural moment. So while there are certainly nods to the original film’s looks—the slutty Santas, certain blouses, specific Halloween costumes—Broecker took the musical film’s clothes in an all-new direction.
A big focus, he explains, was how early-millennium fashion seems to be swinging back into style with the Gen Z kiddos these days—albeit with a few important updates. There’s something about Y2K fashion that “just fits better” this time around, he says, also noting that shoppers today care more about sustainability and how certain products are made. Most importantly, Broecker says, he wanted to use the film’s fashion to illustrate each character’s arc of self-actualization.
The results? Totally fetch. Here’s what the costume designer had to say.
Obviously we’re dealing with a movie adaptation of a Broadway musical adaptation of the original movie. How do you decide which costume decisions from previous iterations get included and where you get to take creative liberties?
What is sacred and iconic and nonnegotiable? There were so many questions we dealt with in terms of that. Generally, we tended to push away and do new interpretations. But there are plenty of Easter egg moments. The story takes place in 2024, and even if you didn’t have the original, I think it would still be what it is. For instance, the winter talent show where the girls are dressed as sexy Santas—those costumes have been updated and changed, but they are still sexy Santa costumes. We changed them and updated them, but they really reference the original ones. These are made out of sparkles, not latex. We’re pushing into a version that is similar but also different from.
Are there other Easter egg costume moments to look for?
The thing to keep in mind is that there are a lot of scenes from the original movie that have been cut out, because it’s a musical now. But Tina Fey wears a vest in one of the scenes, and we referenced that idea for today, because maybe this teacher would still wear a vest. We also homaged the last polka-dot blouse she wears in the original for the big auditorium scene at the end. This character would still have the same aesthetic today.
So updating it for 2024 was very important. Is Gen Z fashion a big part of the film?
That was one of the things the directors were very keen on: This needs to be in 2024, and this is a high school in suburban Chicago. This is not a Euphoria high school or a Gossip Girl high school—those shows are beautifully designed, but this is not that. Mean Girls is its own Gen Z thing, with a lot of gender fluidity, athleisure, and a lot of vintage and secondhand thrifting. Weirdly, a lot of Gen Z fashion references the Aughties and Y2K. It’s interesting how much fashion is referencing that period, but it just fits better now. And now there’s this focus on sustainability and how things are made, too.
The ’90s have been trending in fashion for years now, but it finally feels like Y2K fashion is trickling back in.
There’s this Juicy Couture thing, the trucker hat thing—if you’re looking, it’s there and just starting to hit the high school kids.
It’s interesting to hear you speak about Y2K fashions. When I spoke with the costume designer of Saltburn, which is set in 2006, 2007, she mentioned that the Aughties are difficult to costume, because those fashions haven’t fully hit the costume houses yet. They’re still in many people’s closets, so she wound up doing a lot of shopping on the RealReal and similar sites.
Totally. Betsey Johnson, Caché, Bebe! We shot in New Jersey, so we did a lot of great thrifting in New Jersey; and here in New York City, we have places like Crossroads [Trading] and Buffalo Exchange. The thing about this movie is that kids don’t shop that way anymore. Kids shop from their phone. So we did a lot of Instagram shopping. I was on Instagram shopping all the time, and now the algorithm thinks I’m a 16-year-old girl!
What was the most difficult look to get right?
I think what the musical does really well is that it reframes the story through the point of view of Janis and Damian. Every character is funneled through their eyes. And for this film, those new actors [Auliʻi Cravalho and Jaquel Spivey] are bringing their own life to these characters, and it was very important, because they are different from the originals. So to get the main characters right—Janis, Damian, Regina, Cady, Gretchen, and Karen—was super important. We had to make Janis feel like 2024 Janis, not 2004 Janis.
What a challenge—to make these characters immediately recognizable through the lens of how we already know them, but to also create space for the new actors to bring their own twists.
With Janis in particular, she is queer and a lesbian, and there’s no queer coding in this film. It was super important for us to reflect her creative life as a musician and artist. She does this yarn art that becomes a core moment in the film, and that was very important to the textural feeling of her character, having that layering. High school is a tricky time—you put on clothes one day to feel like one person, then you come home and think, I’m not actually that person, and then the next day you put on something else and rearrange in a different way. So by the end, Janis is stripped away from all this adornment and extra stuff, and we see her simply in her lilac tuxedo. She no longer needs to hide behind her eclecticism. She presents herself exactly as she is, and that’s really powerful.
Given your background working on Saturday Night Live, which is famously frenetic, I’m curious how you found working on a film.
Working on a film is like, “We have how long?!” And for SNL I usually have like 12 hours. We shot [the new Mean Girls] in 32 days, which is still really fast. But the thing I love about this is that there is an arc to storytelling you can share through the clothes, whereas at SNL, it’s really just setting up a situation so you can listen to the jokes. And this film goes from a couple days before school starts to all the way through prom, so we get to see these really full character arcs.
Was there anything from your costume department the actors tried to steal?
I’m not going to say! But there were five people who were like, “I’m taking this!” And I was like, “Okay, but if we do reshoots, I know where to find you!” One of them was actually really nice and said, “I want to take some of these things because this is the first time I’ve been on a shoot where I actually really love my wardrobe.” Someone can feel sexy in a paper bag and make it look great, but if they’re wearing the tiniest bikini and don’t feel comfortable, they’re not going to feel or be sexy. So if we can make people feel good, we’ve done half our job.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Todd Plummer is a Boston-based writer who covers style, entertainment, and travel. He is a graduate of McGill University and Saint John’s University School of Law.