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  • Writer's pictureZoe Goetzmann

The Paradox of Y2K Style and Sustainable Fashion: Mean Girls (2006) Meets Saltburn (2023) Meets Mean Girls (2024)

Updated: May 8

What Do “It Girls” Wear in 2024?

Is the question I've been asking myself since Mean Girls (2024) was released in cinemas a few months ago. It is also the question that has lingered in my mind due to the movie-musical’s chaotic take-over of my TikTok timeline. 

As a girl who grew up in the early 2000’s (and can remember when the original Mean Girls film was released in 2004) and studied at an elite private school on the East Coast, I can attest that Mean Girls (the film version starring Lindsay Lohan) had a direct cultural impact on my life. I can also vouch for the fact that the film had a direct impact on the way these specific girls dressed in the early 2000’s.  

If you were a girl (ages: 11-16) attending similar private schools, you would know that it was a requirement to own a Dooney & Bourke handbag, a Murakami Louis Vuitton designer purse and Juicy Couture sweatpants. If you don’t believe me, you can do a simple quick Google search for the 2003 Young Hollywood Issue of Vanity Fair, where young stars such as Hilary Duff, Lindsay Lohan, Mandy Moore, Raven Symoné, the Olsen Twins were asked: "How many Juicy Couture Outfits [do you own]?" (“Number of Juicy Couture Outfits”) 

On a side note: Could early 2000's writers and editors have picked a more simplistic, misogynistic question? 😂

‘It’s Raining Teens,’ Vanity Fair (July 2003 Issue)

By Krista Smith and James Wolcott 

Photography By Mark Seliger 

Styled by Inge Fonteyne

In the original Mean Girls (2004) film, movie-goers could look towards characters such as “Gretchen Weiners” (played by actress Lacey Chabert) as a model for how a young girl from a wealthy background (her father was the inventor of toaster strudel, after all) dressed in this decade. Her typical wardrobe in this film consisted of:  Burberry mini skirts, Prada handbags and White Gold 'Hanukkah’ Hoops. 

(Left): Pictured: Lindsay Lohan (“Cady Heron”), Amanda Seigfried (“Karen Smith”), Lacey Chabert (“Gretchen Weiners”) and Rachel McAdams (“Regina George”), TheLuxuryHandBag, February 15, 2016; (Right): Gretchen Weiners "White Gold Hoops" (Meme) via (10 January 2020

Flash forward to Director-Writer Emerald Fennell's "period” film (no pun intended if you’ve seen the movie), Saltburn (2023):

Juicy Couture Pants in Saltburn (2023)

In the opening scene of Saltburn (2023), movie-goers can see a girl wearing a pair of Juicy Couture sweatpants standing in an University of Oxford College courtyard. This establishing shot provides viewers with all the visual information needed to understand how this certain class of young people dressed in the U.K. in 2006 (i.e. a social group with excessive privilege and the money to purchase mid to high-end to luxury designer labels).  

Through her films, Fennell celebrates this specific decade of fashion (having been a student of University of Oxford during this time period). Similar to the show Gossip Girl (2007-2012), Emerald Fennell's strives to capture a specific (microcosm) of this wealthy elite - the literal “1-2% of society” [although I admire the representative casting in the rebooted Gossip Girl (2021), this type of casting (logically) wouldn't work based on the intention of the original T.V. series and books series meant to portray this rich, “Old Money” social group]. 

Harper’s Bazaar (Online) 

Written by: Todd Plummer

November 23, 2023

Saltburn (2023) (without the poisonings and murderous rampages) is a love letter to the early 2000’s. Hence, the film’s labelled as a period piece (which makes me feel 'hella' old). The beauty of Emerald Fennell’s  films as well as her writing is seen through her accurate observations of the music and fashion popularised by her early 2000’s peers (yes, she is a member of the elite, but similar to Oscar Wilde, her upbringing and background justifies her satirical perspective and social commentary on contemporary women and the upper class). 

Her choice to feature Paris Hilton's iconic"Stars are Blind” in her previous film Promising Young Woman (2020) re-catapulted this song into mainstream pop-culture. Paris Hilton is the socialite ‘It girl’ who capitalise on the Juicy Couture and millennial Pink fashion trend.

Miley Cyrus ft. Sia & Paris Hilton - Stars are Blind (Almost studio version)

Jan 8, 2023

Vintage clothing in Saltburn (2023) is considered "cool" rather than as a costume:

Ironically, the fashion worn by the "Plastics" (or Gen Z's "It Girls") in Mean Girls (2024) was counter-intuitive to the "woke" and sustainable mind-sets championed by this  generation.

Problematic and mass-consumerist fast fashion labels such as SHEIN and ROMWE dominated the recent movie-musical, Mean Girls (2024).

“Janis Ian’s” character (played by Actress Auliʻi Cravalho) faced harsh comments by TikTok users noting that her style looked cheap compared to the original film character's costumes. Janis’ Artsy/Grunge/Emo style could've been explored a bit more in the updated movie musical by dressing the actress in vintage or vintage-style clothing. Having been ousted from “the Plastics,” Janis is (arguably) a reformed Mean Girl: “the cool Artsy girl” and part of the “Greatest People You Will Ever Meet” clique: Why shouldn’t her clothing be just as stylish as The Plastics?

(Left): Actress, Auliʻi Cravalho as "Janice Ian" in Mean Girls (2024), Spectrum News (JAN. 20, 2024), (Photo courtesy Jojo Whilden/Paramount © 2023 Paramount Pictures); (Right): Actress Lizzy Caplan (Janice Ian) and Actor Daniel Franzese (Damien Rice), IMDB (Mean Girls 2004)

Two films released during this year (one inspired a 2003 film, yet not taking place during this time period), chose to interpret the re-emergence of Y2K fashion very differently, but at what cost?

The cost of the planet 🌎 and the exploitation of factory workers: 

See photos below of the Rana Plaza Disaster (Bangladesh) and the Grenfell Fire (London,UK). Both catastrophes were caused by poor factory conditions and unregulated, problematic systems which continue to run throughout business and fashion practices in 2024.

(Left): Rana Plaza Disaster, Independent (EPA/ABIR ABDULLAH), (24 April 2015 16:08 BST); (Right): Grenfell Tower Fire, Independent, (Monday 10 September 2018 18:34 BST

Such a statement brings us back to the original question raised at the beginning of this article: Perhaps today's "It Girls" don't care about designers and designer labels?

Yet, I don't really think that's true considering Gen Z's rising trend and interest in Archival Fashion à la e-commerce platform xoxoposhipgirl which promotes and sells TV/Film Fashion (from 90's and early 2000's, especially).

To quote Miley Cyrus from her British Vogue interview where she reviewed her most iconic looks from her career: ["B*tch it's ARCHIVAL MUSEUM QUALITY"], she exclaimed.

‘The Plastics’ in pink, Mean Girls 2024 Glamour


I will award a point to Mean Girls (2024) for going out of its way to make the clothing a bit more size inclusive to young movie-watchers (which vintage and second-hand clothing doesn't offer to fashion consumers and shoppers). For theatre nerds out there, it’s common knowledge amongst our community that Actress Renée Rapp (who played the character "Regina George" in Mean Girls (2024)) was body-shamed whilst playing Regina George on Broadway in 2019.

Mean Girls, 2004 the Guardian

Photograph: Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy

Fast fashion (and its material) looks cheap regardless of how it’s photographed or how it is promoted in fashion magazines and online fashion editorials. Shoppers (or consumers) must develop the ability to distinguish between “good material” and “bad material.” Remember: “Quality over Quantity," says the author of this article (me!).

In a world which consists of online clothing stores and platforms such as Depop, The RealReal and Vinted, today’s teens have access to purchasing trendy, affordable second-hand designer labels á la the 2004 elites. With the early 2000s making a comeback, it was a shame to see that Mean Girls (2024) couldn't piggy-back off of their fashionista, trend-setting predecessors. 

The iconic colours, plaid skirts and broad-shoulder blazers seen and worn in the film Heathers (1988) - which the Mean Girls (2004) version was based on - made this group of ‘rich girls’ look super trendy and stylish. In the film Clueless (1995) starring Alicia Silverstone (@aliciasilverstone), audiences could saw this suit trend re-appear in 90’s (and even) early 2000’s. 

Alicia Silverstone wears a yellow plaid skirt suit as Cher Horowitz in "Clueless."Everett Collection Aug. 29, 2020, 5:59 PM GMT+1


There’s a reason why these looks (as seen above) are still regarded as classic outfits by today’s fashion circles. When you buy vintage, you’re buying ‘originals’ NOT fake copies of timeless outfits.

As someone who’s always been obsessed with finding ‘dupes’ from TV and Film Fashion (I'll admit, I'm gulting of purchasing fast fashion dupes of my favourite TV/Fashion looks), it is important to research trends and clothing carefully - finding other retailers besides SHEIN and ROMWE or PrettyLittleThing - who are selling similar clothing items made from actual (rather) than cheap materials. 

(Right) Why Lily Collins Wears Less Pink and More Trousers in "Emily in Paris" Season 3 (By Sarah Wasilak) PopSugar, 22 September 2022

(Left): The (Un)Ethical Consumer herself - Host, Zoë wearing ensemble as seen on Emily in Paris (worn by actress Ashley Park) for friend’s Wedding Rehearsal, Ritz-Carlton (Santa Barbara)

Bella Hadid is spotted wearing her House of Sunny ICON bag in Milan

Via House of Sunny (Facebook)

My advice to today’s young women: You don’t have to dress like the ‘It Girl.’

If you really have a desire to wear designer clothing: thrift it or rent it. In 2024, it is good to remember to always down-size your wardrobes as a way to avoid adding more clothing to the current fashion system and cycle. 

If the desire to own designer labels is too compelling, it is better to save and to invest in clothing that will last in the long-term future. Clothing that is special and unique are not produced in mass quantities. In short: Let’s keep making thrifting and vintage clothing cool again 🙏

(Left to Right): Olivia Rodrigo At White House (Vintage Chanel); Billie Eilish on Golden Globes Red Carpet (Thrifted Look); Zendaya Peforming at Coachella (2004 Robert Cavalli Dress)

With Gen Z A-Listers such as Zendaya, Bella Hadid, Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish (who first propelled the oversized baggy loo trend for girls) are sporting vintage clothes, it was disappointing that this new Mean Girls couldn't follow a more #sustainable "It Girl" style ✨️ 

Our Sustainable Fashion Tips This Week: 

  1. Buy with Intention

  2. Buy Clothing With Colour and Texture: To Make Your Wardrobe More Unique 

  3. Upcycle and Recycle (Clothing and "Your Plastics"); Donate your clothing to clothing drops

  4. Less is More (Decrease your annual shopping trips; Invest in timeless wardrobe pieces that will stay trendy for 5-10 years

  5. Be Unique and Don’t Follow Trends (If you have to or want to shop for trendy clothing: thrift or rent it). Don’t fast fashion new trends.

  6. Research, research, research: trends, sustainable dupes and recycling/ upcycling practices and brands; Make sure that you know where your clothing drops/charity shops are sending your donations to (and not throwing away things they cannot promote/sell).

  7. Listen to my podcast: The (Un)Ethical Consumer for more interviews with designers and fashion professionals on how to be sustainable and not feel guilty if you’re not as sustainable as you should be.

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