‘PEN15’ Gloriously Showcases All The Tragic Trends Of The Early ‘00s


We talk with the show's costume designer about where she found all those low-rise jeans

When costume designer Melissa Walker was first approached to work on the new Hulu series PEN15, created by and starring Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, she was all in. A story about two awkward adolescent girls, set during the days of AIM and Ask Jeeves? It's a millennial's nostalgic wet dream.

And, all Walker had to do to research the clothes of that era was access her own memories. "I pulled a bunch of inspiration from my middle school years," she told me. "It was lots of fun, but completely cringeworthy." She continued: "I went on eBay and bought like 20 different teen magazines and online catalogs [like Delia's] from that time. And while going through it all, I'm calling [Maya and Anna] up every other day, like, 'Guys I'm gonna vomit on my phone now. This is so bad.' It flooded back—nostalgia and embarrassment and everything that was actually scripted on the show."

This kind of stomach-churning reaction is part of what makes PEN15 so perfect. The different experiences that the girls go through on the show—discovering masturbation, middle-school bouts of racism, your first very tongue-filled kiss—are hard to watch because of how viscerally honest they are. And, maybe also because the secondhand embarrassment is still fairly visible in most millennials' rearview mirrors. Middle school is only a couple of decades away at most, which means the searing awkwardness of that time is still palpable. Like, sure you probably didn't steal a hot pink thong from the most popular girl in school as happens in PEN15, but you probably remember the first time you wore one and how you felt.

Another aspect of the show that makes it so relatable is the attention to detail. Everything from the soundtrack, which includes songs like "All My Life" by K-Ci & JoJo to the AOL dial-up sounds and, of course, the clothes (think: polo shirts, lace-up jeans, and khaki skirts) transport you right back to when you were constantly killing time in between classes by gossiping at your locker. "There's something about that time period that isn't popular again yet, because early-'90s is popular now and late-'90s is still just, like, disgusting to us," Walker says. "And that, mixed with the feelings from middle school, I think played really well on each other."

Ahead, we chat with Walker about dressing 30-somethings in adolescent clothing and whether or not we can expect a '00s comeback any time soon.

How did you get involved with the show?
I got brought in by the producer, Debbie Liebling, who I'd worked with on another pilot in New Orleans. It was a dramedy, it had the makings of, you know, a mix of comedy and heart-wrenching, painful moments, too. But that one didn't pick up, so she brought me on to PEN15. I looked at the script, and I was just absolutely in love with the concept of it.

The show is based off the stars', Maya and Anna, real lives. I know you said you pulled a lot from your own middle school days, did you pull a lot from old pictures of them as well?
Yeah, they brought in a bunch of their old pictures and got their parents to send them. We all had our parents involved in this. Anna reminds me so much of this girl who was a year older than me that's one of my really good friends, Gabby; and, Maya, I kind of based on Stephanie, [Maya's] best friend growing up.

Stephanie was always in little baby polos... she would always wear things that were a few stages too young for a seventh grader, like the Care Bear shirt, just a little more schlubby. So Anna's stuff was a little tighter, and Maya's stuff was always a bit more oversized, also to draw a distinction between different growth spurts, and just trying to fit in, but not quite hitting the mark.

Obviously, the clothes are hyper-specific, from the wash and style of the jeans to the platform sandals and even Maya's roll-y backpack. Did you source clothes from eBay also?
We did, yeah. A bunch of it was eBay, a bunch of it was costume houses. We needed multiple fun things. Like, when they did their Y2K gemstone shirts... we made those based on inspiration we found probably in Seventeen magazine. There was a lot generated besides just hunting and pecking.

But it was really fun. The fact that we were able to get so specific, like with the theater kid wearing a Cats T-shirt and the 311 kids and Shuhji [Maya's brother] was all about Wutang and Ruff Ryders. They let us do whatever the hell we wanted, and it was amazing.

I think that's what makes it feel very authentic, you could tell they were clothes actually from that time. Like, there were certain jeans I could tell were from Limited Too…
Oh yeah, we had a lot of L.e.i.s in there and some Mudd jeans—oh god, the zippers on those. They're so low-rise, it's like an inch long. It's like, yikes! And also, in high school, you have a job and can buy the clothes you want, but in middle school, you're at the mercy of your parents. You might want something trendy and in style, but if your mom doesn't buy it for you, then you're not getting it unless you're stealing it from a friend, like in the thong episode, or you're borrowing it.

Since Maya and Anna are 30-somethings playing middle-schoolers, was it hard to find clothes in their size?
It was, but it kind of worked, because, as we discussed, I used to wear things too tight because I didn't know my body, or I'd go through a growth spurt and wasn't willing to let go of my favorite jeans. I think our biggest difficulty was strapping down their breasts; that's what I noticed the most while watching, like, Damn it, there's gotta be a better way! We tried Ace bandages and that just took so long, and then we tried this big elastic breast piece that was about nine inches long, and then put spandex on top of that, but the girls are crying every episode, so I'm like, "I'm not trying to make you hyperventilate—strapping down your tits and making you unable to breathe!" So, there's always a bit of a line where it cinches at the armpits, but luckily everything else seems to not pull too much of the audience's eye away from what was happening.

Was there an outfit that was challenging to find? Or an outfit that has an interesting backstory to it?
The ham [from episode six], we had to make from scratch, because we wanted a glossier, slimier ham—that was a lot of fun, it took about three months to make, and I don't know that I've ever craved ham so much in my life.

All of the popular girls… I definitely based them off of the clique in my middle school and high school. I had them dress all in purple at the school dance and then they're all in pink camo for the fashion show, and they have the Tiffany's charm necklaces. It was definitely playing with a hodgepodge of things that defined their group.

Speaking of the dance, was it a conscious decision to have Anna and Maya not wear dresses?
I think it was more on their part—they wrote in [that they wore] pedal-pushers, Maya's only allowed to shave her legs to where pedal pushers reach, so we decided to put Anna in something similar to Maya. There is an unsexualized idea [here], they're not hip enough to know… this is why they're kinda always eggheads. They're always wearing browns and greens and khaki—colors that kind of bleed out—while the other girls have figured out color and sexuality and they're figuring out becoming women. Anna and Maya are left feeling left behind, because everyone develops at different stages.

Do you think that we're due for an early '00s comeback? There's already been the threat of low-rise jeans.
It usually is cyclical. I just read this book about the psychology of fashion. It goes from five years out of date, which is heinous, then it goes to retro, then antique. I feel that, especially with the internet, those time periods have tightened up a lot, but it is still cyclical. Even the way the '90s are being revisited, the style and the silhouettes and the colors come back, but it's being done in a modernized way, which is why I was glad I got to stay true to this and buy so much vintage, because once it is revamped and revisited, it's modernized. I do think there are certain things that we will see come back. God knows I'm hoping to just be able to keep wearing some things that work with my body and not for the trend. And I think a lot of growing older is working with your body and not just the trend. I just don't know how many I will personally be revisiting.

PEN15 is available to watch on Hulu.

Photos by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

This photo proves that they are the chillest onscreen family

Sophie Turner just posted a photo of herself, Maisie Williams, and Isaac Hempstead Wright—aka the Stark siblings—to her Instagram, showing just what the three used to get up to when the Game of Thrones cameras weren't rolling.

The photo shows Wright looking quite pleased with himself while sitting on a makeshift throne, wearing no pants. As he should be, seeing as (spoiler) his character, Bran, won the Iron Throne this weekend. Williams, meanwhile, is looking way too cool to be involved in the shenanigans, wearing a pair of black sunglasses and staring absently off-camera. As for Turner, she's looking away from her onscreen brother, too, nervously smoking a Juul.

"The pack survived," Turner captioned the photo.

This photo just goes to prove that the Stark siblings are the chillest onscreen family. (It also proves, yet again, that Turner's social media is an absolute delight.)

We're actually a little sad that this footage didn't make it into the final season, considering how many modern-day objects have been spotted in the show's last few episodes.

Photo via @mileycyrus on Twitter

Meet Ashley

Miley Cyrus shared the trailer for her forthcoming Black Mirror episode, and it's basically Hannah Montana set in a dystopian future. Cyrus is a pink wig-wearing pop star named Ashley who is rolling out an in-home virtual assistant, named Ashley Too, that looks like her and shares her voice. But, as is the case with every Black Mirror episode, this technology is not as cute and fun as it's advertised to be.

In the trailer, we get the idea that Ashley is all about wanting fans to "believe" in themselves—but underneath that pink wig, maybe she doesn't feel that same self-love. After Ashley Too introduces herself to fan and new owner Rachel, promising to be her friend, we get a look at Ashley's darker side. She's depressed and tired of the pop star life. A record label executive says to several people in the room, "She doesn't understand how fragile all this is." As they consider upping her dose of medication, Ashley's life is on a downward slope. "It's getting so hard to keep doing this," she voices over glimpses of a police car chase, performances, and breakdowns backstage.

But back to the technology: Does Ashley's breakdown also mean the breakdown of Ashley Too? Looks like it. We see Rachel's virtual assistant screaming, "Get that cable out of my ass! Holy shit! Pull it out," breathing a sigh of relief as soon as they pull it out. A title card then reveals the episode name, "Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too."

Watch the full trailer and get a full view of Cyrus' cyborg-esque pop star look, below. Black Mirror returns to Netflix on June 5.


Photo by Paras Griffin / Stringer / Getty Images.

Several actresses allegedly had "issues" with him

Lena Waithe's Showtime series, The Chi, just lost one of its main characters. Jason Mitchell, who was also set to appear in the Netflix film Desperados, has been dropped from both projects following multiple allegations of misconduct. He has also been dropped by his agent and manager.

Hollywood Reporter heard from a source "with knowledge" of The Chi, who says that Tiffany Boone, the actress who plays Mitchell's girlfriend on the show, is just one of several actresses who had "issues" with him. She eventually told producers at Fox21 that she could no longer work with him after filing several sexual harassment complaints. Apparently, her fiancé, Dear White People co-star Marque Richardson, would join her on set when she would shoot with Mitchell.

While news of Mitchell's alleged misconduct is just now beginning to surface, it looks like the ball started rolling on the fallout weeks ago. He was dropped from Desperados and replaced by Lamorne Morris before filming began. A source from the production team said that the producers received "specific information" that they reviewed and acted on quickly. Similarly, a source familiar with Mitchell's former agent, UTA, said the decision to drop him a few weeks ago was very quick following the allegations.

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Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images

Prior to the college admissions scandal, she said she doesn't "care about school"

Apparently, Olivia Jade wants to go back to school despite all those YouTube videos that suggested otherwise. Back in March, it was revealed that her mom, Fuller House actress Lori Loughlin, and dad, Mossimo Giannulli, had scammed Jade's way into the University of Southern California. Now, Loughlin faces jail time, and Jade lost out on plenty of lucrative ad partnerships.

According to Us Weekly, "Olivia Jade wants to go back to USC," per a source. "She didn't get officially kicked out and she is begging the school to let her back in." Another source though ousted Jade's real motivation to the publication. "She knows they won't let her in, so she's hoping this info gets out," they shared. "She wants to come out looking like she's changed, learned life lessons and is growing as a person, so she for sure wants people to think she is interested in her education."

Jade previously shared in a YouTube video she's in college for the "experience of like game days, partying" rather than the education. She also said, "I don't know how much of school I'm going to attend... I don't really care about school, as you guys all know." Though these statements were made prior to the scandal coming to light, her brand partnerships didn't come into question until her parents were indicted.

Right now, despite previous reports that Jade and her sister would both be dropping out of USC, Jade's enrollment has been placed on hold—meaning she cannot register for classes, or even withdraw from the school—until her parents' court case comes to a close. Then, the school will make its own decision as to how Jade will be affected. I think, either way, she should have to pay off a few of her classmates' loans for all the BS she pulled.

Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

He'd previously said he wanted to punch Jackson's 'Leaving Neverland' accusers in the face

Aaron Carter has been one of Michael Jackson's fiercest celebrity advocates in the aftermath of the Leaving Neverland documentary in which two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, alleged that Jackson sexually abused them when they were children. In a new clip from People, however, he seems to walk back his defense.

People reveals that Carter will be joining the upcoming season of reality TV show Marriage Boot Camp: Reality Stars Family Edition with his mother. It's noted that he will be revealing more thoughts regarding Jackson following the documentary and the sneak peek specifically sees him alluding to a negative experience with the singer.

Carter, who has previously said that Jackson was never inappropriate toward him, says that Jackson "was a really good guy," though he does note that this is only true "as far as I know." "He never did anything that was inappropriate," he continues before stopping himself, as though remembering something. "Except for one time. There was one thing that he did that was a little bit inappropriate."

Carter does not provide any more detail after this statement. He has previously said that he would stay at Jackson's Neverland estate and sleep in the same bed as the much older star when he was 15 years old, though he hasn't seemed to understand then just how creepy that is. He also said earlier this year, in a clip from TMZ, that he would be telling a story of something that happened between them in an upcoming book about his life.