As grunge’s mainstream popularity started dying out in the mid 1990s, a new and happier ’90s emerged, one that laid the groundwork for the TRL bubblegum pop and Y2K fashion of the later part of the decade.
There are many explanations for why the ’90s eventually turned out this way, but the one that seems the most obvious is that it was a happy time: the Cold War was over, the American economy was good, and 9/11 had not yet come to harsh the public’s mellow.
In a way, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion – released April 25, 1997, is the perfect embodiment of this wave of ’90s sugar-high happiness, not to mention a truly underrated display of contemporary costume design.
Romy (Mira Sorvino) and Michele (Lisa Kudrow) are LA residents who must go back to Tucson, Arizona for their 10-year high school reunion.
Worried that their peers won’t be impressed with their new lives of low-status jobs and unemployment, they aim to wow everyone with mistruths. The two must keep up their façade of high-status employment while contending with the pessimistic Heather (Janeane Garofalo), facing memories of one of Michele’s old suitors Sandy (Alan Cumming) and overcoming trauma from being targeted by the popular girls.
As anyone who has ever experimented with late ’90s looks would tell you, the fashion in this movie is unbelievable in the best way. It is the epitome of both the peppy mid-to-late ’90s and exaggerated Californian style.
The women both sport a kaleidoscopic colour palette, mixing and matching at will. They have a perfect pair of sunglasses in every colour of the rainbow. No matter the intensity of their exercise, they don three-inch heels. Best of all, even when they take on their businesswoman personas, they glam it up with slicked hair and tight pencil skirts.
Something interesting about the clothing the women wear is how different it is from what they used to wear as teenagers in 1987 Tucson.
Their colour palette was darker, they covered up more during the day, and their homecoming ensembles were heavily influenced by Madonna. When they moved to the coast, they abandoned their old lives, and embraced the new decade’s brighter, candy-coloured aesthetic.
The outfits in this movie come courtesy of Mona May. She’s well known to film costume savants, but for those who aren’t familiar with her, Enchanted, Clueless and The Wedding Singer are just some of her biggest projects. Her usual style of fun, technicoloured creations are ever-present in Romy and Michele.
Although the women’s Californian outfits are wonderful, May’s most iconic ensembles by far are their final reunion dresses. Romy’s blue and Michele’s pink complement each other beautifully, and their stompy platform sandals add an edge to the sweetness of the minidresses.
May displays her versatility in the film, going away from Romy and Michele’s sugary atheistic for the character of Heather Garofalo.
Garofalo is the too-cool girl, perpetually wielding a cigarette and uttering a scathing but deserved insult. Given that she has been an aggressive rebel all her life, her 1997 look is not too different from her 1987 look in the movie’s flashbacks: all black clothing, eyeliner and her signature ciggie. Her reunion outfit in particular is very timeless, almost resembling one of Rachel’s sheer black dresses from Friends.
Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion tends to get swept under the rug, in favour of other mid-to-late ’90s movies like Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You. This is a shame, because it’s fun, with great talent behind it.
Check it out if you can, but you will be tempted to buy an all-new, candy-coloured wardrobe afterward.