Costume designer Cynthia Summers breaks down all the members' styles, including Claudia's arty cool, Dawn's Cali skater girl vibe and Stacey's Parisian chic.
I admit, as a kid, I didn't read the book series or watch earlier iterations of "The Baby-Sitters Club." But, as a grown-ass woman, I happily binged the Netflix reboot and enjoyed every second of the hijinks, drama and laughs involved with five enterprising middle schoolers running a successful childcare business.
The leads are adorably engaging, and the subject matter updated for 2020 — even if the girls do use a landline to book gigs. (The explanation is quick and thoroughly convincing, by the way.) But overall, I'm obsessed with the costumes by Cynthia Summers, which define each character's personality, talents, self-expression and formative journey, which still feel incredibly relatable, even as a full-grown adult.
Plus, there's just always more fun to be had with teen (or pre-teen) stories when it comes to the intersection of style and costumes — especially when we're dealing with the most fashionable student at Stoneybrook Middle School, Claudia Kishi, who's providing this adult with some serious quarantine inspo.
Although, Summers points out that it's not so much what Claudia is wearing that feels so inspiring — and same with her cohorts, whomever you may relate to most.
"[It's] just the inspiration of being your own person and feeling so confident in presenting yourself uniquely, which is super hard for kids. It's hard for adults," says the double Emmy nominee, over the phone from Vancouver, where the series filmed. So, yet another worthy lesson to learn from the youngs.
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Below, Summers — on break from sci-fi and fantasy fare ("Snowpiercer," "Altered Carbon" — talks us through each of the "Baby-Sitters" and how their costumes showcase their unique characters.
Claudia Kishi (Momona Tamada)
"I'm good at a lot of things. For example, fashion and babysitting — I'm really good at babysitting — but most of all, I'm good at art. Great, actually," says Claudia Kishi, as she confidently scans her overly-stuffed closet to quickly select an outfit, without any hesitation. Claudia's innate talent plays through in her modern art-inflected wardrobe of abstract and painterly prints, patchwork pieces and voluminous, sculptural silhouettes.
Summers mostly sourced Claudia's costumes from Canadian retailer Simons, and its trendier in-house line, Twik, with the idea that the young creative made and customized her own clothes. As the series progresses, a pair of oversize denim overalls become more adorned with appliqués, plus verses and graphics that Claudia maybe drew on during class or at home.
For an important math test in episode two, Claudia wears her most capable looking outfit that's an adorable nod to an American icon. While her yellow plaid pantsuit, worn with a Zara blouse (above), pays homage to evergreen fashion icon, Cher from "Clueless." "It organically happened," says Summers, confirming the reference — which feels super meta, since Alicia Silverstone plays Club president Kristy's mom, Elizabeth.
This update of the "The Baby-Sitters Club" also discusses social issues on the minds of teens and adults alike, from gender identity and female empowerment to political activism and race. During a club meeting, Claudia wears an Angry Asian Man T-shirt (very top) with art by Irene Koh, accompanied with the tagline "Stay Angry" (also seen on Randall Park in "Always Be My Maybe.") The shirt speaks to Claudia's Japanese-American heritage and interest in Asian American issues, plus aligns with her creative talents.
"She didn't have to really say it," says Summers, about Claudia's sartorial self-expression. "Obviously, some people will pick up on it. Some people won't. That's the point: to make it available, if anybody wants to start that conversation." (On July 10, Netflix will release the Sue Ding's short doc, "The Claudia Kishi Club," dedicated to the stereotype-busting character — and featuring Phil Yu, a.k.a. activist and blogger Angry Asian Man.)
Stacey McGill (Shay Rudolph)
Claudia's best friend is Manhattan transplant Stacey, but their aesthetics couldn't be more different. With her signature color palette of black, white, beige and dusty pink, Stacey brings the French-girl look to Stoneybrook Middle School — which could be a bit intimidating to the other club members, at first.
"Everything elevated her to another level that was a little unattainable for the rest of the girls," explains Summers, about using fashion to visually and emotionally distinguish her from the other babysitters.
Stacey does infuse textured tights (mostly from H&M) and polka dots into her neutral minimalist wardrobe. "Polka dots are a sophisticated print and they're timeless and also very French," muses Summers, pointing to a pink spotted blouse tucked into leather pants, both by Zara.
Stacy's interior-decorator mother influences her clean lines and sophisticated layering technique, which also serves as armor-like protective layers. For that effortless Manhattan-meets-Paris vibe, she goes for mostly moto-jackets, like bone and black ones by Blank NYC and a pink style by Iro. "She needed to stand out as a little more sophisticated, even for someone her age, and just carries herself a little more maturely," says Summers.
For a special celebration in Stoneybrook, besties Stacey and Claudia combine forces: celebrity style with DIY creativity. "The backstory there is the two of them decided that they're going to this fancy event and they're looking online and everyone is wearing fascinators, so they made their own fascinators," explains Summers, who then ghost-custom-designed their adorable headwear (below).
Mary Anne Spier (Malia Baker)
"I'm very aware that I'm the least cool member of The Baby-Sitters Club," says Mary Anne. "Claudia is a style icon, Kristy totally rocks the norm-core look and Stacey is so chic, she's practically French. Meanwhile, yup, everyday I leave the house looking like the world's oldest toddler or maybe the youngest senior citizen."
Sweet, shy Mary Anne begins the series in a bit of arrested development in her Peter Pan collars, long-sleeve white T-shirts and A-line plaid tunics. "Poor Mary Anne. I described her once as being stuck in prepubescent hell with her clothes because her dad doesn't know how to grow up with her as far as her clothing goes," Summers says.
Presumably her strict, widowed dad (Demon Shawn from "The Good Place," Marc Evan Jackson) still shopped in the children's section for Mary Anne and is anything but a hypebeast. "Her real normal-looking Keds, like not fancy Keds," explains Summers. "She's stuck in little pinnies — almost like a private school look — and always in pink and blue."
No spoilers, but Mary Anne undergoes a journey to find her "new swagger" — when "my outside is matching my inside" — and lets her beautiful natural curls out of her schoolgirl braids. There's no '80s movie-style makeover into another person, just subtle refinements in her wardrobe to allow her own personality to finally break through. Although, behind-the-scenes, Mary Anne's wardrobe budget definitely went through a massive change.
Kristy Thomas (Sophie Grace)
President and mastermind of The Baby-Sitters Club, Kristy, is more concerned with running the business, playing sports and monitoring her mother's growing relationship with wealthy Stoneybook resident Watson Brewer (Mark Feuerstein) than her #OOTDs.
"The family doesn't have a lot of money, so she just wears her jeans and her sweatshirts and she borrows from her brothers' closets. She's always got her cap on because she can't be bothered with her hair," says Summers, who looked to American Eagle and Canadian brand Garage for Kristy's boyfriend jeans, plus Gap for her overalls. And, yes, Kristy's red boss-lady visor — straight from the books — makes a regular appearance.
Despite her minimalist, casual wardrobe, Kristy's blocked and striped sporty socks by Bluenotes mark "a big story point," with a backstory, too. The club meetings take place in Claudia's expansive room, since she's the only member with the "olden times phone." Like Nora's home in Queens (and most Asian ones), the Kishi household is a shoe-free zone, which meant Summers needed to spend extra time on character-distinct details down to the socks. (Or Claudia's case, red furry slippers from Forever 21). When shoes are allowed, the costume designer gave Kristy some extra flair by rolling her jean cuffs to show off the bold athletic stripes on the socks. The sports enthusiast does have some sneaker game: Nike Air Force 1s and Saucony Grid SD Public Gardens kicks.
But Kristy does embrace one formal moment, which is scripted as a pricey Carolina Herrera dress. In reality, Summers customized a soft blue, streamlined Sherri Hill gown. "We needed her to be beautiful, but we didn't want to feel like a 'tomboy' in a dress," she says.
Dawn Schafer (Xochitl Gomez)
Dawn, the fifth — and newest — member of the BSC, just moved to from California to her newly-divorced mom's hometown of Stoneybrook. She's proud of her beliefs and is outspoken about her commitment to social justice and activism. The character is an update from the original book series, which gave Summers more creative license with costumes.
"She brings with her the California, boho-y skater girl," says Summers. She wanted to differentiate Dawn's sportiness from Kristy's preppy East Coast situation, so she incorporated streetwear details, like black and white checker prints on tops from Nordstrom and authentic skater-gear from Zumiez.
"Dawn had the hugest collection of Vans. She had a different Van for almost every outfit," says Summers, who's itching to start posting full outfit pics on Instagram. "It was incredible, the running joke on the show."
For Dawn's event outfit moment, Summers looked to her "esoteric and hippie" mother as an influence for the brown flowy, pleated and ruffled Ulla Johnson dress. "It spoke to her California roots and, of course, she wore the headband," says Summers of the Coachella-friendly accessory. "That was her own touch to it."
'The Baby-Sitters Club' premieres on Friday, July 3 on Netflix.