In "Bottoms," all the high school girls, from least to extremely popular, unite to form a fight club against the toxic patriarchy — albeit under false pretenses, concocted by queer best friends Josie (Ayo Edebiri) and P.J. (co-writer Rachel Sennott.) See, the two outcasts just want to lose their virginity before graduation, preferably with the senior class upper echelon: Isabel (Havana Rose Liu) and Brittany (Kaia Gerber). But this collective resistance isn't the only factor uniting these young women: The very Gen-Z costuming also comes together as the film progresses.
"The color palette was one of the most important aspects of starting off the film because it's this really ego-driven, masculine town," says costume designer Eunice Jera Lee, who established a "spirit colors" palette of varsity reds and blues to reflect the school's misogyny and football bro-worship. Josie and P.J., however, begin their journey in moody earth tones, countering that: "They're just the polar opposite of this town. It's to symbolize that they're the outsiders."
To authentically represent self-expressive Gen-Z style, Lee fell into an Instagram rabbit hole, studying the fashion subcultures of a wide range of places, from Seattle to London to Oklahoma City, noting how this cohort reinterprets the style of varying decades in their own inventive ways — which also made sense for portraying disparate high school cliques banding together. "You see a guy, and he's totally '70s, hanging out with someone who's definitely inspired by the early 'aughts," says Lee. "That doesn't seem like an odd friendship and it doesn't seem misplaced at all."
According to Lee, even with the Gen-Z-centric fashion direction, director Emma Seligman "really wanted this to feel like an iconic piece and something that was super timeless. Her references spanned the '50s into the early 'aughts."
Ahead, Lee gives us a sartorial tour of the high school hierarchy in "Bottoms."
Josie's Consistent Oversize Silhouettes
"What the fuck are you wearing?!" says P.J, snapping at Josie as the two get ready for a "Love, Simon"-esque carnival, the crucial first event of the school year. Josie, amusing herself by piling three trucker hats onto her head, stays comfortable in a boxy black T-shirt by Don Kaka reading "Spiritual Playboy," dark jeans and worn-in sneakers. Meanwhile, P.J. completely overthinks her outfit (and smokey eye application).
"I really wanted to portray that Josie is very grounded in herself," says Lee, who stacked Josie's wardrobe with vintage blocked rugby shirts, oversize graphic tees and thrifted sporty tops. "Her style doesn't have much of an evolution."
Josie does, however, transition into brighter athletic-wear colors, like a green Fila track jacket and a vintage Atari T-shirt, as she opens up to new relationships — even if they're built on lies. "As soon as [P.J. and Josie] start realizing who they are, they jumped back into the earth tones," says Lee.
Edebiri also wanted to support Black designers (especially from New Orleans, where "Bottoms" was filmed), so Lee sourced Josie's finale T-shirt from visual artist, activist and community leader Brandan "BMike" Odums, who runs StudioBe. "We added a ringer to [the neckline] to infuse more of a timeless nostalgia," says Lee about the shirt emblazoned with a quote from Harlem Renaissance luminary Paul Robeson that reads, "Artists are the gatekeepers of truth."
"That was that was our nod to New Orleans."
P.J.'s Chaotic Style
P.J. and her self-expressive outfits are "so all over the map," says Lee. Preparing for the carnival, P.J. attempts to convey the 1996 witchy teen classic "The Craft" with an Hervé Léger harness over a white puff-sleeve shirt by Cider, a Rag & Bone pleated mini skirt and monk-strap Dr. Martens creepers. "You look like a little dutch boy," says a towering Brittany, gazing down at P.J. — who just awkwardly complimented her white I.Am.Gia flares, with revealing side-lace-up panels.
"It's Josie's idea of what society is telling her sexy is, and her version of it," says Lee, of the failed witchy-chic outfit. "But she doesn't necessarily ever get it right."
P.J. then suffers through the first day of senior year, complete with bullying and apathetic educators. Her multi-color striped Wild Fable shirt, secured with suspenders (above), pays homage to the chronically uneasy Cameron (Alan Ruck, pre-"Succession") in 1986's "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."
Later, the fight club ladies hit their pinnacle moment in rallying to defend a member. Brittany easily pulls off Y2K-meets-Gen Z in a black Juicy Couture tank-and-pants set, complete with the bedazzled butt. P.J. tries to emulate her, but with differing results, in a disheveled sweatshirt with the brand's crown logo and a chevron-print windbreaker. Other days, Brittany stays safe twinning with Josie in a rugby shirt (second from top.)
"She jumps around and it's just to signify that she doesn't really have a strong sartorial sense," says Lee. "She's just a high school student who's figuring out her own identity."
P.J. and Josie's Best Friend Necklaces
Josie and P.J. do intentionally match with their best-friend heart necklaces by Alex & Ani, which also serve as indicators on the state of their volatile teen relationship.
"That was supposed to be almost an Easter egg," says Lee, "a small choice where I wasn't sure if people would see it or not. Sometimes [the necklace] is tucked in, but, for the most part, they're always wearing it until they have friction in their friendship. It's almost like, 'I'm not going to wear my necklace today because I'm mad at Josie' or 'I'm mad at P.J.' It shows the immaturity of that friendship."
Brittany's and Isabel's Late-'90s/Early-Aughts Inspo
It feels apropos that Lee referenced the most nostalgic pop culture for the popular girls, Brittany and Isabel, and their pink, pastel-blue and yellow color themes.
"They're like their own unit," she says. "This hot-girl palette that wasn't really [consistent with the rest] of the school or the fight club."
First, Lee looked to a legendary duo of the early 'aughts: Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. The costume designer spotted a similar energy in Isabel and Brittany, who wants to be recognized for being more than hot. "Their dynamic together, it was very 'Simple Life'-esque."
Lee also incorporated a recognizable motif from the 1995 classic "Clueless" to establish the duo's Queen Bee status: Brittany sits at her desk in a yellow plaid Maje button-front tank over a thrifted sheer black turtleneck shrug, while Isabel coordinates in an argyle cardigan from U.K. brand Glamorous and a fuzzy pen reminiscent of Cher Horowitz's; later, Brittany dons a blue mohair bucket hat as she considers joining the club.
Isabel prefers pink tones, as seen in the Reformation bouclé check skirt suit she wears for a cafeteria confrontation. Lee went even further back in cinema history for these looks: "I really wanted [Isabel] to have this '50s-inspired Sandy in 'Grease' look.'" She also infused a bit of Rose McGowan's cardigan-wearing, ultra-vicious prom queen Courtney Shayne, from 1999's "Jawbreaker."
The Tiny Football Uniforms
"Bottoms" features a fair amount of heightened, satirical moments beyond Y2K movie 'fits (and the delightfully extra, "Real Housewives of New Jersey"-inspired feathered robes on Dagmara Dominczyk's Mrs. Callahan): Keep your eyes peeled for an obscenely excited mascot, PSA posters in the hallway with terrible messaging ("Smile! He could be looking at you right now") and the football team luxuriating on a raised dais in the cafeteria, literally looking down at the plebes (above).
"Those football costumes are tight," says Lee. "They were custom-made and they're so, so tight. It's not how football players wear their jerseys nowadays, at all."
Nicholas Galitzine, who plays douche-bag quarterback Jeff, and his co-stars were "good sports" (Lee's pun, not mine!) about the situation, especially shooting through the NOLA summer heat. (Aside: Galitzine has a lock on playing the high school dick you can't help but like — see also "The Craft: Legacy" — and dreamy fairytale princes in "Cinderella" and "Red, White and Royal Blue.")
"They were wearing all their gear — the pads, the undershirts — and then the jerseys were so little. There was very little stretch by the time you fully put them on," says Lee. "But, I think everyone really felt in their character when they stepped into their wardrobe."
'Bottoms' opens in select theaters on Friday, Aug. 25 and nationwide on Friday, Sept. 1.