After six years of near-endless high school, the "Pretty Little Liars" — reformed mean girl Alison (Sasha Pieterse), artsy Aria (Lucy Hale), sporty Emily (Shay Mitchell), fashion girl Hanna (Ashley Benson) and preppy overachiever/prescription pills addict Spencer (Troian Bellisario) — finally went to prom and graduated. Instead of going the "Saved by the Bell: The College Years" route, Tuesday's "Pretty Little Liars" mid-season premiere will skip over that period into adulthood. As the Five Years Forward special in November teased, the time jump means updated story lines, an unfamiliar (maybe) nemesis, rotating love interests (Haleb, sob), a grown-up wardrobe transformation — and a brand new costume designer.
Mandi Line, responsible for Aria's feathered earrings, Hanna's booby funeral wear and all of their Disney-inspired prom dresses, exited after the mid-season finale. Now on board: Cameron Dale, who put Rachel Bilson in Alexander Wang and Rag & Bone as a hardened New Yorker-turned-Southern belle doctor in "Hart of Dixie." (Assistant costume designer Ivy Thaide handled the looks for the first two episodes of the midseason.)
While the Liars were embarking on their professional lives in different locales, a new undertaking involving the unmasked A/Charlotte/Charles/CeCe (Vanessa Ray) reunites them back in Rosewood. Each girl emerges with a new look that keeps her signature sense of style, but reflects her new stage in life. "[The actresses] were so excited," Dale says. "I think they're ready for a change and [to] mature up." While Hale, Benson, Mitchell, Bellisario and Pieterse were more than game for the wardrobe transitions, they did have one common request: to pare down the big statement accessories from their high school years. "I still throw those in here and there, but they were used sparingly," Dale says.
As "Pretty Little Liars" fans know all too well, high school did always offer opportunities for event episodes — be it a Halloween special, a formal school dance or that black and white '40s film Noir show from season four — that pushed the range of costume. "Don't worry, don't worry," assures Dale. "As an adult there are all kinds of events, too. Weddings, funerals... I can't say specifically, but don't worry, there will be no shortage of glamorous and non-glamorous big events coming up."
We'll let you marinate on that little bombshell teaser right there while Dale takes us through each character's new look below.
Hanna Marin (Ashley Benson)
While that interview with "the hottest designer in Philly" didn't work out for Hanna, she did graduate from FIT and interned with Zac Posen in New York City. This is Hollywood New York, of course, so Dale infused bright colors into Hanna's trendy outfits. The costume designer also took a New York fashion assistant's shopping strategy into consideration, shopping at Off Saks and Neiman Marcus at the SoCal outlets for designer pieces, including shiny Gucci coats, sleek ALC basics and even Louboutin heels. "You know, something that you'd think she'd steal from the fashion closet at work or [find at] sample sales," Dale explains. But it seems that the TV-version of Zac Posen didn't offer employee discounts, as Hanna won't be wearing the label this season. "No," laughs Dale. "She totally should though. I gotta give Zac a call."
Aria Montgomery (Lucy Hale)
Writer-turned-photographer Aria is now working at a Boston publishing house, which brings her back in touch with ex-teacher/boyfriend Fitz. (Ironically, now that the two can can legally date, she's moved onto her co-worker. Oh, Aria.) While she's aged out of feather earrings and pink streaks in her hair, Aria's not giving up the prints. "She has toned herself down a little bit, believe it or not," says Dale. "She's still mixing and matching patterns, but everything is a little bit more mature." Dale looked to Topshop and Nasty Gal, which perfectly fit Hale's petite frame, plus denim by Seven and Amo for those out-of-office moments in Rosewood. "I still do a little vintage for her, which is really fun," adds Dale, who conveniently sourced the retro stock in the Warner Bros. costume warehouse.
Spencer Hastings (Troian Bellisario)
For Georgetown grad-turned-budding lobbyist Spencer, Dale looked to another Washington, D.C. power player's wardrobe for inspiration. "We were kind of going 'House of Cards' with her," she says. Even as a "glorified coffee-gofer," Spencer wears pretty refined pieces, including pencil skirts and "tight wiggle dresses" by Roksanda Ilincic, Rag & Bone and other designers shopped for on The Outnet. Although, "Troian would love to just be in skinny jeans, Converse and sweaters, so we did a lot of that," Dale adds.
Emily Fields (Shay Mitchell)
After all the trauma with A, post-high-school life hasn't turned out much better for Emily. Her father died, she dropped out of Pomona and is now bartending somewhere in Southern California — and she apparently has a big secret to hide. "She's kind of stunted — she hasn't really moved on that much — and she's kind of lost in life, so her style is really similar," explains Dale. "I just have incorporated a bit more of a California beach-y vibe to it." Appropriately, Emily wears pieces by celeb favorite Wildfox Couture, plus Rag & Bone boots and "a lot of denim" by Current/Elliott. If you're one of Mitchell's nearly 10 million Instagram followers, you'll know that she's actually more of a Hanna in real life. "Shay is so different from Emily," Dale laughs. "She's such a glamazon. We were fitting her and Ashley [Benson] on the same day and [Mitchell] saw the Louboutins, she was just like, 'argh, Emily, come on!'"
Alison DiLaurentis (Sasha Pieterse)
Former maybe-A and definite mean girl Alison was the one who stayed at home while her friends went away to college. Now it's come full circle as she's a teacher at Rosewood High School and wife to her psycho sister's doctor. When Dale took on the job, she had to quickly binge-watch five seasons to catch up – and out of order. "I was surprised how mean she was in the beginning," the costume designer says. "Alison really had a transformation. She's so sweet." Dale wanted to reflect that character evolution in Alison's wardrobe with "Hart of Dixie"-esque knee-length and long flowing skirts, floral prints and cardigan twinsets. "Things that are appropriate for school, but are obviously elevated for TV," she explains. "None of my teachers dressed like Alison. And I don't think lobbyists dress like Spencer, either, but it's OK. We're a little fantasy, which is always fun."
"Pretty Little Liars" midseason premiere airs at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 12 on Freeform (formerly ABC Family).
This article was updated to reflect assistant costume designer Ivy Thaide's involvement in the beginning of the midseason, which we were not made aware of until after the article was published.