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How I Shop: 'Little Fires Everywhere' Star Jade Pettyjohn

The 19-year-old shares her least favorite '90s trends, plus the essential style lessons she learned from Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington.
Jade Pettyjohn at a 'Little Fires Everywhere' press brunch in February.

Jade Pettyjohn at a 'Little Fires Everywhere' press brunch in February.

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."

"She's super trendy," says "Little Fires Everywhere" star Jade Pettyjohn about her homecoming queen character, Lexie Richardson, the mini-me daughter of Reese Witherspoon's Elena. "She gets to have the very cutesy, '90s 'if Alicia Silverstone lived in Shaker Heights, Ohio' look." 

By the fourth installment of the Hulu series, which aired this past Wednesday, the 19-year-old — as in, Pettyjohn wasn't even born in 1997, when the story is set — has worked her way through the most nostalgic lewks of the late '90s, thanks to costume designer Lyn PaoloBritney Spears-esque pom-pom-ed pigtails, those broken-in Steve Madden Slinky platform slides and a Posh Spice Halloween costume (in another social commentary moment, as depicted via Spice Girls personas; see also: "PEN15").

"The accessories of that time were so funny to me, like the little childlike butterfly clips," says Pettyjohn about the now-cycled back trend. "I probably wouldn't wear the butterfly clips now to the degree that my character loved them." 

But she definitely has one accessory aversion in common with Lexie. "The one '90s trend that shouldn't come back — if it ever was a trend — is Tevas," she says. "I know my character hates Tevas." ("God, Tevas? You're really f*cking doing this? He's really f*cking doing this!") Also ironic, since wearing Teva Hurricanes with a homecoming suit would be a real flex in 2020. "They're coming back?!" she laughs, incredulously. "Come on, guys." 

Pettyjohn as Lexie Richardson in the first episode of 'Little Fires Everywhere.'

Pettyjohn as Lexie Richardson in the first episode of 'Little Fires Everywhere.'

But Pettyjohn did appreciate the aforementioned Steve Madden sandals, custom-created for the series, for helping her get into the role. "Whenever I wore those shoes, my character Lexie came to life. I was like, 'OK, I'm Lexie now.' So that was really incredible," she says. "I loved those shoes, but they're really hard to walk in and I applaud any woman who can run in those."

Prior to sharing scenes with Witherspoon and Kerry Washington in "Little Fires Everywhere," Pettyjohn racked up an impressive portfolio, including "School of Rock" on Nickelodeon and the HBO series "The Righteous Gemstones." On the big screen, she's played the daughter of other Hollywood powerhouses and style icons: Laura Dern in "Trial by Fire" and Nicole Kidman in "Destroyer." Along with presumably gleaning very expert on-the-job acting tips from each award-winning co-star, Pettyjohn has also taken inspiration for self-expression through fashion.

"All of these women have very different styles and the way they wear fashion is what makes it beautiful," she says. "The way that I wear my clothes now is a little bit more confident. I learned the freedom to be who I am and just express myself through how I wear the clothes from them."

Leading up to the fifth episode of "Little Fires Everywhere," Pettyjohn shares the differences between her style and Lexie's, her favorite vintage shopping haunts in Los Angeles and the decade she's currently obsessed with. (Hint: It's not the '90s.)

Pettyjohn in her staple outfit.

Pettyjohn in her staple outfit.

"My personal style is definitely very, very different from Lexie's: minimalistic, but very artistic and comfortable. I like things that make me feel comfortable and powerful as a woman and an artist. A good pair of jeans and a really badass pair of heels is what does that for me. I love a good pair of Levi's 501s with a cool white T-shirt and a leather jacket. Then you can always wear a pair of heels or some kicks, depending on the mood. My favorite thing about fashion is how fluid it is and there are so many things to try. Self-expression in the form of clothing is a really beautiful outlet for me.

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"My stylist Franzy Staedter is such a beautiful artist and she loves fashion as much as I do. She completely understands who I am and what I like and just elevates it because she is a professional fashionista and I'm just someone who likes fashion. We come up with really fun outfits together and I feel excited, as opposed to afraid, to try new looks and ideas with her because I know she understands who I am as a person and that shows in the clothes that we try.

"We were doing a fitting for the press junket today and we found these really amazing blue tie-dye denim pants by Rebecca Minkoff. I do love a good blazer and power suit, so we styled it with this blue Pinko blazer and button-down and these really beautiful blue heels with a nice stiletto. The combination made it into a suit look that really made me feel powerful, but then we added in these fun jeans. It was just such a happy surprise. I didn't know how I felt about mixing it all, and when it came together, it just felt really cool, effortless and fun. We also added an orange Longchamp bag, which I'm obsessed with, to create a pop of color [below].

Pettyjohn as styled by Franzy Staedter for a 'Little Fires Everywhere' event.

Pettyjohn as styled by Franzy Staedter for a 'Little Fires Everywhere' event.

"I'm definitely a shopping in-store kind of girl because I think the most exciting thing about fashion is the surprises. You look at something on a rack and think, 'Oh, I don't know if I can pull that off' and you try it on and it's suddenly magic.

"I live in L.A., which has some really great vintage and thrift stores. I was raised really going to thrift stores and trying things and if a shirt didn't look good, I would cut it up and make it look good. So I just make sure my closet is filled with basics: tees, jeans, skirts, tops and dresses. Then, when I go out shopping, I try and find the piece that has a lot of character to it. For me, that's usually jackets. My jacket collection is pretty extensive. I love jackets and a good pair of shoes.

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"The army surplus store in the Sunset Junction area of Silver Lake has really fun bombers. I love the St. Vincent de Paul of Los Angeles thrift stores. Even Crossroads has some great, great pieces. I love the vintage store in L.A. called Jet Rag. The other day I found a jacket that was very Penny Lane from 'Almost Famous.' Suddenly, I saw the whole outfit together: a good pair of flared jeans and a band t-shirt with this beautiful long coat that's so '70s rock 'n' roll. That's how I like to shop: Find one piece that makes me feel different.

"The majority of my jackets are vintage. I have one that's actually my dad's from the '90s. He was total skater kid growing up and he has this one really cool leather jacket and, on me, it's super oversized. 

"It's not vintage, but my friend started this leather jacket company called The Mighty Company. I have quite a few of those because they're colorful and interesting, so you can wear them with really anything. I just try and find jackets that have a lot of life to them. That's why I love recycled and thrifted clothes: not only because it's sustainable and better for the environment, but also it actually has a story to it.

"I also get boots from vintage stores. Because I'm vertically challenged — or 'fun-sized,' as I like to say — I love a good heel. I've really been on a '70s kick recently, as you might have guessed from my Penny Lane coat. But I got these white boots, from this little tiny shop on Melrose. They are these cute little ankle boots with silver studs all over. They just feel so '70s rock 'n' roll with maybe a little bit of a cowboy vibe to them, but without being full-on cowboy. They've been worn, so they already feel really lived in. I put them on and I just feel like some rock star from the '70s.

"As for shopping late '90s vintage, you know, I will say that my collection of slip dresses has increased since 'Little Fires.' So yeah, I'm here for it."

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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