In girl world, as Tina Fey once wrote, “Halloween is the one day a year when a girl can dress up like a total slut and no other girls can say anything else about it.” In the Mean Girls musical world, Fey, director Casey Nicholaw, and costume designer Gregg Barnes go all out in satirizing what it means when teens try to make anything and everything “sexy.”
“Casey and Tina, during their lunch breaks in the workshop, would get online and look at these hysterical, horrible costumes,” says Barnes, “referencing things that shouldn’t be sexy—like a shark or a nun. Things that ended up in the lyrics came from their lunchroom shenanigans.”
But the idea behind the design is that none of these high schoolers purchased their costumes from Amazon—they “made” them. And these kids got creative with what could be sexy. Sure, there’s Gretchen’s sexy cat and Karen’s sexy mouse, but then there’s also sexy Eleanor Roosevelt and the now iconic sexy corn.
But what makes the costume funny? “We try to have a logic,” Barnes explains. For Eleanor, Barnes researched hundreds of photos of the First Lady and thought, “If I was a high school kid outside Chicago and I wanted to be sexy Eleanor Roosevelt, I’d probably go to the thrift store and find a dress that looked like it was from the ’40s or ’30s and then cut it off. Then you look for something defining that Eleanor Roosevelt often wore; she always had these big orchid corsages.” Even if you don’t know about Roosevelt’s floral preferences, the audience eye senses a time period, a signature look, “and then you hear the name and it collides.”
The other key: a theatrical flair. The design of the full show is to make the cast look like teens, “but your worry is somebody is going to be sitting in the audience wearing the same Forever 21 sweatshirt that you’ve put onstage on your leading lady,” says Barnes. “It’s styled or heightened so that it’s always like, ‘I wish I looked like that in high school,’ and it’s the same thing with the Halloween costumes.”
Here, we take a look at five “Sexy” costumes, how they’re made and the story they each tell. (Don’t forget to flip through the full gallery below to see the full costumes—hats, shoes, and all—up close.)
The corn kernel leotard was originally sourced from a company called Tricorn. “The woman who owns the shop, Catherine Marshall, she’s from the Midwest,” Barnes explains. “Her high school summer job was to detassel the corn. Because [our] story takes place outside Chicago, I thought this kid, maybe why she’s sexy corn is that she had a summer job.” In addition to the leotard, green shorts with a hemp belt make up the barely there husk, with handmade petals sewn into the waistline. “[The idea is] she bought these shorts at a thrift store and her mother could sew because she’s crafty.” The fascinator in her hair is made of a material called horsehair that’s been shaped into a spiral.
Regina’s Devil Bunny
“Of all the Halloween costumes, that one went through the most metamorphosis,” says Barnes. Inspired by the film, in which Regina is dressed asa Playboy Bunny, Barnes put original Regina Taylor Louderman in a pink lipstick–colored, glossy leather bustier and black-and-pink lace trunks during the Washington, D.C., tryout. “Again, trying to follow the logic, you think, ‘Well maybe she’s wearing one of her mother’s bustiers from the ’90s and it’s a Christian Lacroix piece but she’s put it together to make it into a bunny.’” But when they got to New York, Gretchen’s cat outshined Regina during Regina’s moment. Barnes and co changed it to a red velvet jumpsuit. That wasn’t enough. The red worked, the bunny worked…and it became a devil bunny, though subtly. “I thought about her having a devil tail, but what’s great about the characters is that the meanness is layered.”
Sexy Abe Lincoln
Yes, the sexy version of our 16th President was inspired by a woman who indeed dressed as the sexy abolitionist. “The actual costume is not quite as sexy as our sexy Abe Lincoln, but what’s hilarious is she’s got this beard on,” says Barnes. “So we did our own slightly nastier version of what they found in this photograph.” In line with the heightened vision, Barnes pairs classy lingerie with the matter-of-fact top hat and period-style heeled boots.
The sexy nun actually doesn’t always appear onstage in Mean Girls, as this is a swing costume. Barnes and his wardrobe team were able to play a little bit with the characters not named in the song’s lyrics. “We did buy a sexy nun and it came with a latex veil, which is wrong,” says Barnes. And yet, what’s wrong is so right. He did preserve the rubber wimple because sexy is as much about texture as it is shape. The mesh longsleeve leotard sports bell sleeves to allude to the robe, worn over a black lace bralette. Paired with the zippered mini skirt—and similar boots to Abe—the look is complete.
Cady’s Zombie Ex-Wife
Barnes doesn’t quote the film much in his full design, but Cady’s Zombie Ex-Wife echoes the 2007 movie. The designer began with an ’80s vintage wedding gown purchased on Etsy. But Cady’s costume became a feat of ingenuity because of the onstage quick change into the next scene. Cady’s entire costume—wig and all—“the whole megillah has to come off in one motion,” says Barnes, and open down the front. The first step to render that feasible: lightening the load. Tulle netting replaced the original skirt, and fabric painter Jeff Fender sooted it up. Next, Fender used red caulk to create the waxy blood drips. The knife stabbed in the back was actually printed digitally and the caulk affixes it to the dress. (Fun fact: The knife serves as one of two handles for the ensemble member who pulls off the costume from behind.)
On October 31, one thing is clear: You can be who you wanna be… and sexy.
READ: North Shore High Fashion: A Closer Look at the Mean Girls Costumes on Broadway