'Josie and the Pussycats' at 20: A look at the costumes that made the film iconic
Celebrating this milestone with a look back at costume designer Leesa Evans' bold looks for the band.
No matter the era of Josie and the Pussycats the signature animal print weaves its way through the band’s closet. First appearing in the Archie comics in 1962, Josie went through spinoff name changes until settling on this band moniker at the end of 1969. A Hanna-Barbera cartoon followed in 1970 before the first live-action incarnation hit theaters in 2001. Since then, the Archieverse has several new TV additions including Josie McCoy (Ashleigh Murray) appearing in not one but two Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa takes on this world. Spinoff Katy Keene was not a smash hit for the singer but she shared similar sartorial flourishes as her predecessors — as well as edgier looks than her Riverdale attire. In fact, Katy Keene and the 2001 movie also share the uphill struggle to find an initial audience while decked out in their leopard best.
Middling reviews and a terrible box office performance could’ve made this 2001 movie a forgettable venture. However, the sharp satire directed and co-written by Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan has earned the coveted cult status that ensures it has lived on far longer than the initial audience figures suggested it would. Costume designer Leesa Evans captures the trend-driven themes of this movie showing how quickly fast fashion cycles through colors, silhouettes, and brands. Style in 2001 featured some extremely dubious choices, which is reflected in the extremes of the Pussycat’s makeover ensembles. While this is a heightened and comedic take on this pop star aesthetic, a quick scroll through any MTV or Teen Choice Awards of this decade highlights how spot on the low-rise and napkin tops favored by Melody (Tara Reid) are. (It is truly wild how few wardrobe malfunctions there were considering how low pants sat). Not to mention that early ‘00s fashion is threatening to make a comeback — yep, low-slung jeans are vying for attention. Everything is old again, even the Y2K styles millennials are hoping to forget.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Josie and the Pussycats, let’s bypass feeling old and instead embrace the deliciously fun costumes and Evans making her mark on movie comedy before she went on to design Bridesmaids, Zoolander 2, and Always Be My Maybe. Here is the best of Josie (Rachael Leigh Cook), Valerie (Rosario Dawson), Melody, Fiona (Parker Posey), and bonus Du Jour!
Sadly the name tees featured in the opening credits don’t make a reappearance, and there is a clear shift from the band playing in a Riverdale bowling alley to the one taking New York City by storm. In true teen movie tradition, a makeover montage showcases the Pussycats’ quick rise to stardom. Evans was the assistant designer on Clueless and this sartorial foundation is, no doubt, invaluable. The reason why Cher Horowitz is still being emulated a quarter of a century after Amy Heckerling’s movie came out is designer Mona May tapped into the style zeitgeist and did something bold. While Josie doesn’t have the same fashion pull as Cher, star Rachael Leigh Cook does have teen movie bona fides thanks to She’s All That. And just like everything else in Hollywood, a new gender-flipped version (called He’s All That) is coming.
Cook swaps paint-covered overalls from that 1999 high school classic for a fun selection of low-key threads that get a metallic and sequin injection when the band is signed up. Her long leopard print cardigan when Wyatt (Alan Cumming) discovers them (or rather, almost runs them down) is switched for an array of more skin-baring attire. A tailored severe suit twist on the leopard print signature (followed by an electric blue out there ensemble) emphasizes her mean streak when she dismisses her friends before heading out into the New York streets in stacked clear pleaser shoes. Before subliminal messages have a breaking-up-the-band impact, Josie is still very much the same Riverdale young woman who crafts wrist cuffs from her daring outfit. A frock that grazes her butt crack and has a chain going down her spine (who knows what the flower back fake embellishment is about) is part of putting all the focus on the lead singer to cause friction. On the whole, Josie’s style is a mix of halter necks and asymmetric tops paired with (low-rise) pants. This is pretty standard for this Y2K era that is saying goodbye to grunge and hello Britney and Christina. Watching this movie feels like flipping through some of my teen outfit’s greatest hits — including the notion of a “going out” top. The metallics and shimmer makeup are a cranked-up pop vision.
Unlike the Spice Girls who had specific archetypes to play into, this band doesn’t stick to overly defined style roles. Crafting a look for a band requires some cohesion and leopard print isn’t the only visual link between the three women. However, they still retain some semblance of individual identity with Valerie looking the least fad-driven of the trio. A tank, wide-legged pants, and platform sandals are her go-to playing attire — with a bonus belly chain — but she can also glam it up in sequins and faux fur. A leather jacket is part of Valerie’s armor and she is also fond of an asymmetric design (as witnessed on the private plane to NY). Pink and purple are also featured in the makeover sequence and while she is positioned as the dissenting member of the band, there is still an element of coordination through the sparkly elements even when fractures begin to appear.
Melody’s ditzy vibe is a common teen trope that is a feature of her character in the Archie comics (see also Karen in Mean Girls) and Evans purposefully channels this in her costume design. “Oh, her pants are so low! But somehow they stay on!’ Her tops seem like they just have a tiny piece of tape attached. She had a free spirit, and there wasn’t anything about her clothes that was encumbering her experience,” Evans told Nylon about this choice. Tara Reid as Melody perfectly captures her effervescent nature and as the drummer, she is all business at the front with a severe amount of back on display. This is napkin top heaven with a sprinkling of sparkling gold lamé halter necks and iridescent numbers in her repertoire.
In the montage set to “Pretend to Be Nice,” the matching (but not too matchy) elements of this band are on display in force with various sequin and leopard garments. A fringe adorned boob tube is Melody’s take on this glittery aesthetic and a ‘70s thread runs throughout her look. Tie-dye pants, crochet knits, and bandanas are a boho injection that mirrors how much this decade influenced this fashion era while nodding to the era of Josie’s inception.
The mastermind behind this whole plan has the unique closet to match her villain status. Parker Posey is an indie darling so the choice to put her in Avante-garde
inspired garments are genius. From the feathered wire contraption that looks Met Gala-ready to the dramatic entrance made in a deeply unusual ensemble; each look tells you everything you need to know about the Mega Records CEO. She wants to impact every teen trend with subliminal messages but she wouldn’t be caught dead conforming. Evans told Nylon that 90 percent of the costumes were custom and there is no way Fiona contemplated off-the-rack or venturing to a mall.
Kicking off the movie with the Du Jour introduction and Evans captures the 2001 boyband template like lightning in a bottle: from the penchant for extreme synthetic fabrics to a flame color palette. Everything about this opening sequence reveals how clued-in Evans is to the world this movie is satirizing. At a glance, this could be any one of the boybands dominating the charts in 2001.
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Emma Fraser spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion, and costume design; Dana Scully is the reason she loves a pantsuit. Words can also be found at Vulture, Elle, Primetimer, Collider, Little White Lies, Observer, and Girls on Tops. Emma has a Master’s in Film and Television, started a (defunct) blog that mainly focused on Mad Men in 2010, and has been getting paid to write about TV since 2015. It goes back way further as she got her big start making observations in her diary about My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase (and her style) at 14.