Melissa Walker, PEN15 Costume Designer, on Pre-Y2K Fashion: The 90’s Were ‘Very Overbranded and Just Ridiculous’
June 14, 2021

by Denton Davidson, Gold Derby


The 90’s were “very overbranded and just ridiculous,” says Melissa Walker, the costume designer for Hulu’s comedy “PEN15” starring Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine. “Luckily we had an amazing clearance team because so much of that is what really allows the nostalgia to flow with this show.” Watch the exclusive video interview above.

“Anna, Maya and I were going through old photos and yearbooks,” Walker explains while discussing her research process. “I bought about 50 Y2K magazines. It was equally important to revisit these trends but then to also be able to take this large school and subdivide it into the different cliques. Maya specifically wore more hand-me-downs and was a few more steps behind the trend. We wanted to make sure we had the array of characters within this school setting.”

In addition to focusing on which clique each character belongs to, the socio-economics of each of them came into play as well. “Anna is a little more preppy and a little more sporty,” Walker describes. “Her parents are going through a divorce. They’re a little preoccupied and just handing out $20s, kind of shooing her off and buying affection at the same time. Whereas Maya is from a more frugal family, she has hand-me-downs and things that are reworked. We took the name brand trend and put Maura (Ashlee Grubbs) in that. We took the JC Penny version and put that on Anna and then Maya’s was a version where her mother just sewed rickrack and curtain balls on the bottom of her pants. We tried to take a trend and have it executed differently by each character.”

Walker’s interest in fashion and clothing design began at a young age. “My grandmother and both my great aunts were seamstresses,” she reveals. “They taught me to do pattern-making and to sew. I loved it. Then finally getting to college I was like, ‘yes, teach me other cultures!’ I was getting deeper into costume history and that’s when I really took a dive into costume design.”

Walker describes the environment on set as highly collaborative and like “an amazing family.” She says of Erskine and Konkle, “It was nice with the girls being the creators and the stars of the show to really work within the psyche of developing each of these characters.” As for how she found vintage Care Bears sweatshirts from that era? “God bless eBay!”