Making the Iconic ‘Josie and the Pussycats’ Outfits That Gen Z Is Rocking Today
In honor of the film’s 20th anniversary, we spoke with costume designer Leesa Evans about how the movie’s incredible outfits are all the rage today (see: super low-rise jeans).
Twenty years have come and gone since the release of Josie and the Pussycats, a comedic film spun off the popular Archie Comics. Band members Josie (Rachael Leigh Cook), Valerie (Rosario Dawson), and Melody (Tara Reid) are plucked out of the small fictional town of Riverdale and given a shot at stardom.
While the film turned out to be a bit of a disappointment at the box office, it managed to stand the test of time, especially when it comes to its statement-making wardrobe, thanks to the genius of costume designer Leesa Evans.
No stranger to dressing cult-classic films, having previously worked on Clueless and American Pie, Evans took on the challenge of transforming the comic book girl band into real-life characters.
To do so, Evans ended up hand-making most of the costumes, which included halter tops, paisley print ensembles, brightly colored faux fur-lined cardigans, and of course low-rise jeans, since nothing that she envisioned for the girls was on the market yet.
The costumes that Evans dreamed up two decades ago wouldn’t look out of place in a Gen Z-er’s wardrobe, partly thanks to TikTok helping make Josie and the Pussycats remain current today. Even the film’s satirical message of a world being consumed by materialism, with impressionable shoppers jumping trend-to-trend, fad-to-fad, still rings true.
Evans is currently on the set of the new TV pilot Pivoting, and, as she apologetically explains, our conversation was slightly delayed due to a pajama-pants crisis.
Even though she’s gone on to do impressive work, including Scooby Doo, Bridesmaids, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Evans says she can’t believe how time has flied since she was on set with Josie filmmakers Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan, who she still remains good friends with.
“I’m so thrilled that everyone is interested in Josie because at the time when the movie came out, it really wasn’t a big hit,” Evans tells The Daily Beast. “We put so much heart into the project and it’s so fun to see people still loving the movies 20 years later. It’s really heartwarming.”
“I said to Deb and Harry just a couple days ago, ‘You guys, Universal should do a re-release of this movie,’” Evans added. “It’s literally so perfect right now.”
Here, we spoke with Evans about the joyful clothes of Josie and how the film is more in vogue now than ever.
So, it’s been 20 years since Josie the Pussycats came out, that seems crazy!
It is crazy. I can’t believe how much time has passed. It feels like yesterday.
I read that you tried to incorporate some comedic elements to the costumes. How did you go about doing that?
When we’re doing a comedy, there’s this really fine line between everything is funny, so it doesn’t feel like it’s grounded in reality. Or, if you don’t play into the funny enough, it takes you out of it. So, it’s this interesting conundrum of how to dress people in a comedy. I always take the attitude of making it grounded in reality and then put in the comedic bits, as opposed to making all the costumes funny. As the movie goes on, the audience can put themselves in their shoes. Then the ridiculous things they do, or the funny, embarrassing, or outlandish things, you’re right there along with them. Whereas if they’re always just so funny and crazy, you don’t see yourself through their eyes at all.
So, when you are talking about adding the comedic bits later on, Josie and the girls dress normal and when they wear cat ears, it suddenly doesn’t seem so crazy.
Yeah, it’s like we could all be wearing cat ears! That was one of the challenges about the film, is finding ways for something like cat ears to be a really normal part of any given outfit. That way it seemed normal. That’s really what I was going for. I wanted it to feel like, this is who they are and this what they are.
It’s kind of the opposite with Fiona (played by Parker Posey). She’s this outrageous, very fashionable supervillain.
Part of [Fiona’s] costumes is that she is striving for perfection at all times, she’s untouchable and unreachable. That was the design concept: to create things that were super fashionable, right off the runway. Things that you don’t see people wearing. Fiona would show up somewhere in these very couture, avant-garde, and outrageous looks for just an average day at work. Parker Posey really pulled that off so well. It added to the fact that the girls then seemed quite normal. Our new normal was the heightened fashion of the girls because Parker’s character Fiona was on a couture level.
You also made most of the costumes by hand?
It was one of those jobs that the look of it needed to be so specific, because it was coming from a cartoon, so it needed to have a bit of a heightened reality to it. When you’re looking for things like that, you can’t always find what you want. So, we just set up shop and I made the majority of all the costumes.
So, are you and Tara Reid to blame for low-rise jeans becoming a thing in the 2000s?
I would love to believe that! But it felt like there was already a trend moving in that direction. We just happened to hit the trend on the spot. I would love to be responsible for that, but I can’t totally take credit. I’m always looking at the runway shows, and you can sort of see when certain trends are starting to build. I could see that there was a trend going toward low-rise jeans and I just thought to push it to the absolute degree of the lowest pants humanly possible.
With low-rise jeans and halter tops, lots of the trends that we saw in the movie are coming back in style today, thanks to Gen Z and TikTok. What are your thoughts on that?
Well, what I love about fashion, in general, is that things are always kind of cyclical in that way. So, I love when you see it come back again, because it does conjure up all these beautiful memories. You’re like, ‘I remember when I wore that or when I saw that in Josie.’ I think there’s a sense of whimsy that people are playing with fashion now. They’re looking back to these other time periods and really loving what was going on then and picking it up for what they want to wear now.
I agree about the element of whimsy! I think the trends in Josie and now, with all the bright colors, are quite joyous.
I think you’re so right. There’s such a sense of joy and whimsy. So much of TikTok is people dancing and people doing things that are comedic. The costumes and acting things out, there’s just such an element of fun that’s associated with it. I think that’s why so many people are so attracted to TikTok, because it just is good for a giggle or you can wear that crazy outfit. It’s pure entertainment and you can get involved, too.
Do you think the vaccine rollout and starting to come out of the pandemic this summer has helped influence these trends again?
People want to enjoy themselves, so people are pushing a little bit further than they had previously. There was a little bit more seriousness to the way we were all dressing. Now we have a little bit more of a sense that everything is OK, don’t sweat the small stuff, and live for this moment. So, if that’s a color, or a crazy pattern combination, or wearing something that you wouldn’t normally but it makes you happy, there’s a lot of that coming into play. We’ve all been living at home for such a long time, and we’ve not ever experienced that before. So, we’re revisiting our clothes in a way that we hadn’t previously. We go into our closets and we’re like, ‘Oh, my old friend! That beautiful dress, or that great suit, or those pants! So, it’s fun to do that.”