How I Shop: 'PEN15' and 'Plus One' Star Maya Erskine

The actress, writer and producer talks summer wedding style, early 2000s fashion nostalgia and the evolution of shopping with her mom (and 'PEN15' co-star), Mutsuko.
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Maya Erskine one the Marie Claire honors Hollywood's Change Makers red carpet. Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Marie Claire

Maya Erskine one the Marie Claire honors Hollywood's Change Makers red carpet. Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Marie Claire

We all buy clothes, but no two people shop the same. It can be a social experience, and a deeply personal one; at times, it can be impulsive and entertaining, at others, purpose-driven, a chore. Where do you shop? When do you shop? How do you decide what you need, how much to spend and what's "you"? These are some of the questions we're putting to prominent figures in our column "How I Shop."

Fans of the Hulu series "PEN15" know that Maya Erskine awkwardly and flawlessly nails all of the early 2000s trends — many of which are unironically enjoying a runway revival. Examples include cropped cargo pants, thongs with low-rider pants and a leopard-print Scary Spice-inspired outfit for a spot-on, searing episode that really hit home for me, as a Chinese American kid from the Midwest. (She also pulls off another rite of passage for Asian American youngsters of any generation: the bowl-cut.)

A comedy and style chameleon, Erskine also recently portrayed a blue boilersuit-wearing millennial artist with a raging Fran Drescher obsession in "Wine Country" on Netflix. Next up, the writer, producer and actress co-stars in "Plus One," a rom-com about two college friends reaching that unavoidable late-20s milestone: the summer of non-stop weddings. 

Erskine's Alice and Ben (Jack Quaid) decide to brave an onslaught of nuptials as each other's plus ones — and possibly find romance along the way. Considering the Ben Stiller-produced movie, like the recent "Always Be My Maybe," was inspired by classic rom-coms including "When Harry Met Sally," the outcome is looking positive. But hijinks and misunderstandings ensue, as does the opportunity for Alice to wear some stellar summer wedding outfits, including a pleated pink midi-dress that survives a jump in the pool (and a particularly exposed moment in a graveyard) and a floral, peplum jumpsuit that proves to be a bit limiting in certain situations.

In real life, the Los Angeles-raised Erskine — who attended the same posh Santa Monica middle school as Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Hudson (as well as co-star Quaid, whose parents are Dennis and Meg Ryan) — has a sophisticated sense of style all her own and a penchant for wearing excellent suits.

Leading up to the premiere of "Plus One," Erskine jumped on the phone with Fashionista to discuss how her real life summer wedding style shines through in her upcoming movie, what it was like to rediscover early 2000s fashion trends and where she shops with her mom, Mutsuko, who plays her mother on "PEN15."

"It felt like a falling in love dress," says Erskine about her printed summer wedding dress. Jack Quaid as Ben and Erskine as Alice in "Plus One" (center). Photo: Courtesy of RLJE Films

"It felt like a falling in love dress," says Erskine about her printed summer wedding dress. Jack Quaid as Ben and Erskine as Alice in "Plus One" (center). Photo: Courtesy of RLJE Films

"A lot of the clothes in 'Plus One' came from my closet. The costume designers [Anais Castaldi and Hannah Greenblatt] and I worked closely together. It was the most fun I had because we got to accessorize, like, 'let's put this bag with these shoes.' It's one of my favorite things to do. 

Each wedding had a different theme; [it] started off in a pretty shitty place and got more elevated as the movie went on, which was indicative of [Alice's and Ben's] relationship blossoming and where they were at emotionally. In the big first wedding, I'm in a red dress — and I'm pretty sure Alice is the only one in a red dress — and she's just causing chaos everywhere she goes, like a Tasmanian devil.

I'm all about dresses in the summer and I'm really into ... let's see, I'm looking in my closet right now and thinking I need to get rid of everything and get a new wardrobe if I need to go to a summer wedding. Long silk dresses or vintage '40s-style tea dresses or a suit, if I feel like it.

[Wearing early 2000s costumes on 'PEN15'] was amazing. First of all, we had an incredible costume designer [Melissa Walker] on that show and she knew that we wanted it to feel as authentic as possible. So she went to eBay and to thrift stores. What's interesting is a lot of those clothes are cycling back now, so we lucked out. I'm pretty sure Delia's is back. I'm seeing seeing a lot of glittery clips, jellies and platform sandals. 

Erskine and 'PEN15' co-creator and co-star Jenny Konkle at the Hulu '19 Presentation. Photo: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for Hulu

Erskine and 'PEN15' co-creator and co-star Jenny Konkle at the Hulu '19 Presentation. Photo: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for Hulu

I had such specific clothes in my mind. It was also weird to wear them as an adult, because they're made for little kids. So when I was wearing flared and low-rider corduroy pants, it wasn't flattering to my body in any sense. Then we were wearing straps to strap down our breasts, so it was squeezing my stomach out like a sausage. It was uncomfortable to wear those things again, but exciting to discover nostalgic items, like Rocket Dog sandals. I was obsessed with those and only got the Payless versions because my mom wouldn't buy me the real ones. It was fun to get the real ones on my feet, finally.

As a teen, [shopping with my mom] was the source of a lot of our fights. I was just talking about it with her recently: I went to a school that was predominantly wealthy and I wasn't. We draw on it a bit in the show, but I want to explore more in the second season. There were so many Bat Mitzvahs and every girl wanted Tiffany necklaces. I remember begging my mom to get a Tiffany heart necklace for each girl — the most basic kind, the cheapest one they had. 

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Erskine with her mother Mutsuko at the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of 'Plus One.' Photo: Dominik Bindl/Getty Images

Erskine with her mother Mutsuko at the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of 'Plus One.' Photo: Dominik Bindl/Getty Images

She was telling me the other day that she was kind of wishy-washy and wishes she went more in one direction because she would make me feel bad about it, like, 'no, we can't afford that.' We'd have this huge fight and she would give in and we would go to Tiffany and it would be stressful. 

We would be at the counter paying for it, but we both knew we couldn't really afford it. Then you'd give it to the girl and she doesn't even care because she has 10 others. It's not the big Tiffany heart chain. That's heartbreaking when I look back. She said she felt so sad for me that I was trying so hard to fit in with these girls by getting these things that didn't even move the dial in terms of their friendship with me.

We both are consignment freaks. So it's really fun to shop with her now, because I'm not asking her to buy me anything. I'm buying things and I don't need her permission. It's more two adults saying, 'hey, do you like this on me?' And we can give each other advice. 'Eh, I think it's a bit too expensive.' But at the end of the day, I can make that decision for myself.

Recently, we went to a consignment store in Santa Monica and I saw a Chanel wool suit dress that she thought was a bit matronly on me — and I don't disagree — but I still love it and it was a really good deal. I'm just gonna get it because one day I'll sell it, maybe, and I can use it for press. So, she said 'sure, yeah.'"

'Plus One' opens in theaters on Friday, June 14.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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