Nineties nostalgia continues in full-force with the new Netflix series, "Everything Sucks!", or so it seems for the underclassmen in Boring, Oregon — which, apparently, is a real place — in 1996. Everything especially sucks for the main characters on the show, who occupy the lower rungs of the social totem pole: the AV and drama clubs. (But, then again, it's kind of refreshing not to focus on the Reggie Mantles and Cheryl Blossoms of Boring High.)
Featuring a wealth of nostalgic props (Zima, a Discman, slap bracelets... ) and a comprehensive and exceptionally killer mid-'90s soundtrack (Ace of Bass, Monica, Oasis, Spin Doctors ... ), the 10-episode series follows aspiring freshman filmmaker Luke (Jahi Di'Allo Winston) and his awkwardly-endearing crew, McQuaid (Rio Mangini) and Tyler (Quinn Liebling) and the principal's daughter, sophomore Kate (Peyton Kennedy) on the AV side. Early on, the four cross the overly drah-matic drama club king and queen, Oliver (Elijah Stevenson) and Emmaline (Sydney Sweeney), who is actually kind of a Cheryl Blossom.
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To research how to costume Boring High authentic to a small Portland suburb, costume designer Alexandra Welker threw herself into the era, analyzing Adrienne Salinger's 1995 portrait book, "In My Room: Teenagers in Their Bedrooms," three-years-worth of requisite Delia's catalogs, current-day "best of '90s fashion trends" listicles and high-school yearbooks from the decade, shared by her local, Oregon-native crew members.
Plus: "I watched a lot of '90s movies: 'Empire Records,' 'Reality Bites,' 'The Craft,' 'Fear' and '90s TV, like 'My So Called Life,' 'Blossom,' 'Full House' and stuff like that," says Welker, who also dressed a very different kind of high school student on Josh Schwartz's seminal mid-aughts series, "The O.C." (As we get our '90s movie binge list ready.)
Her immersion in the period's entertainment came in especially handy when outfitting Emmaline, who probably cycles through the most pop culture-referential, mid-'90s wardrobe on the show. As the theatrical queen bee tries to find her true self (with some casualties along the way), she experiments with a few famous personas of the time, including a Courtney Love-in-1995 slip-dress moment and a pre-Harajuku Girls Gwen Stefani in her earlier problematic bindi and Bantu knot appropriation phase.
"[Creators Ben York Jones and Michael Mohan and I] thought, 'Well, who would Emmaline aspire to be?' and Gwen Stefani played with different looks," says Welker.
Look closely in the first episode, too, because she and Oliver also cop an accessories move from one of the most famous celebrity couples of the era. "We had our little homage to Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie," explains Welker. "They famously had vials of each other's blood hanging around their necks, so Oliver and Emmaline wear those in the beginning of the show."
On the flip side, Oliver has a very consistent wardrobe signature in his World War II-era Marine Corps officer's coat, emblazoned with patches and buttons. Welker tracked down the perfect jacket down on eBay, after coming up empty at local thrift shops and Army-Navy stores. (She and her team shopped locally in vintage, thrift and contemporary stores in the filming location in and around Portland as much as possible to support the local Oregon economy.) This wardrobe decision came after a deep dive into Oliver's character: a "theater geek"-meets-mysterious bad boy-meets "tortured soul," who would probably wear a cool, unique and personalized jacket he found at the local Army-Navy retailer.
"We decided that Oliver probably has older brothers who are jocks, so he's the baby of the family and the sensitive one and trying to be different," explains Welker. "But we also figured that he would have listened to their music as he was growing up." Hence, the buttons and patches — all painstakingly sourced from one of the few remaining indie record stores in Portland — feature moody, post-punk '80s bands like Joy Division, The Smiths, The Cure and The Clash.
On the flip side, the AV kids aren't as into emoting through their wardrobe. More interested in his VHS camera and editing equipment, Luke wears your standard '90s jeans and tees, but does spend his time and money on things like a Columbia House mail-order CD subscription and sneakers. "I was super-happy when I found those Reebok pumps," says Welker, about the athletic brand reissuing the iconic puffy Shaq Attaq high-tops. The sneakers also served a very "practical" purpose, beyond the then-revolutionary "pump technology," as Kennedy, the actress who plays Luke's camera-operator crush Kate, towered over Di'Allo Winston in real life.
"Peyton wears Chinese slippers and Keds, which were perfect for her character, because they also made her as short as possible," says Welker. "Then Jahi had his big chunky basketball shoes, which are also perfectly in character, but gave him a little extra height."
As for gawky, but (obviously) beautiful Kate: "The short-hand reference for Kate was Angela Chase from 'My So Called Life,' of course." When we first see her, Kate is wearing high-waisted mom jeans and grungy layers over a T-shirt emblazoned with her favorite singer, Tori Amos. An against-character silver lamé dress from a thrift store plays an integral role as Kate struggles to come into her own. But in real life, since Welker needed multiples, and she was shopping off-season for a holiday-style dress, she had to leave the confines of Portland to venture online onto ASOS, as we're all wont to do when we're looking for a specific throwback-looking piece, not available in stores.
"It showed up, [Kennedy] loved it, it fit her and it looked like some '80s disco dress," Welker says. Kate's aesthetic eventually — and subtly — evolves from all her baggier T-shirts and "modest" layers to a very 1996 baby-T, revealing a teeny bit of midriff, which could set everyone up for the next school year.
"If we're lucky enough to get another season, Kate may become a riot grrrl," says Welker.
Homepage photo: Scott Patrick Green/Netflix