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How I Shop: 'Never Have I Ever' Star Lee Rodriguez

"We all love to dress up, wear costumes and just do silly, fun things," says the actor, singer and activist about creating #content with co-stars Maitreyi Ramakrishnan and Ramona Young.
Lee Rodriguez.

Lee Rodriguez.

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."

In real life, Lee Rodriguez began her entertainment career in fashion, as a model in campaigns for brands like Sketchers, Lucky Brand, Patagonia and Z Supply. But in "Never Have I Ever," her scene-stealing, STEM genius character, Fabiola, has zero interest in the subject. "I feel unsafe in ripped jeans," exclaims the robotics team captain, who begins season two of Mindy Kaling's hit Netflix series in a new stage: She's now in a relationship with punky-cool Eve (Christina Kartchner) and attempts to fit in with a new crew, one that goes to bars in Silver Lake and throws out pop culture references with ease — like how Fabiola would casually recite an algorithm. ("What's a Bebe Rexha? Is that a robot, like BB8?" Aw, Fab.) 

Reflecting her efforts, the high schooler has traded in her boxy polo shirts and striped tees for leopard-print sweaters, camo boiler suits and moto jackets (but with functional zippers that Fabiola does appreciate). "I really loved how her clothes itself told a story about her evolving in the second season, like just changing her style and just how it wasn't her and she was just starting to become somebody she was not," says Rodriguez, of the work of returning costume designer Salvador Perez

The 20-something admits that Fabiola's season one "helpful Honda guy" aesthetic, per best friend Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, above), does not align with her real-life one. Rodriguez connected with the wardrobe journey nonetheless.

"When I was wearing something other than what Fabiola would normally wear, I felt weird, like, 'This was not Fabiola.' I just felt what she felt," she says. "I was going through the motions with her, which was so funny to me because I wouldn't wear what Fabiola wears, generally, but fine."

But, like Fabiola, Rodriguez is constantly pushing herself and expanding her horizons. She began modeling her senior year of high school and threw herself into acting after taking classes through her agency. She's also a singer-songwriter, with piano and guitar skills, and trained as a dancer. Plus, the SoCal native is a climate change and environmental issues activist. (She's a certified leader for former Vice President Al Gore's Climate Reality Project and recently launched an Instagram TV series, "Learning With Lee," featuring interviews with change-makers and experts.) She'll incorporate sustainability efforts into her own personal style, too. 

Ahead, Rodriguez shares her love of pantsuits, creating #content with friends and "NHIE" co-stars Ramakrishnan and Ramona Young (who plays theater nerd Eleanor) and more. 

"Look at all these zippers! Some don't even come with pockets." Devi (Ramakrishnan) and Fabiola (Rodriguez) in season two of 'Never Have I Ever.'

"Look at all these zippers! Some don't even come with pockets." Devi (Ramakrishnan) and Fabiola (Rodriguez) in season two of 'Never Have I Ever.'

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"Me, Maitreyi and Ramona all love to dress up, wear costumes and just do silly, fun things. That's one thing that we like connect on: finding out what characters we can be and dress up as them. We did this TikTok dance being the Sailor Scouts [from the 'Sailor Moon' series]. We took this Sailor Scout test to see which Sailor Scout we were. I think I was Sailor Venus. Usually Ramona is the one who gets the idea of what characters we should be.

"We plan it out and create content together. We find joy in getting ready and doing our hair and our makeup and having the right outfit. We'd give each other like advice or be like, 'Oh no, wear this outfit instead of that one.' We also did this Valentine-y TikTok — we were all wearing Ramona's clothing. We shared clothing because we all have really similar styles.

"But my style depends on my mood. Sometimes I feel really hot in baggy clothes, like big baggy pants and a big baggy shirt, like a flannel. I feel good. I feel really confident. And sometimes, I like to be snatched and wear a skintight dress with some heels. It all depends on the day and on the occasion. I love getting dressed up and I love glam, taking photos and red carpet. One of my favorite things to do is put together a whole look. I really like to plan out my looks and make a whole mood board for different occasions. 

"I love pantsuits. Pantsuits are just such a power move. Pantsuits are my favorite. I wore one recently for a sustainable fashion event, the Sustainable Style Awards, which I'm really in support of. That's just my style now. [The Jonathan Cohen pantsuit] just goes to show that being sustainable can be super high-fashion and cute. I love the light blue, the print on it and the low-V. It was definitely my cup of tea and such a cute 'fit.

"I try to make a constant effort to shop more sustainable clothing rather than fast fashion, and it's hard. But I feel I've found my way in my fashion. There's this one sustainable brand that I really, really love called chnge. There's also this app called Good on You — you look up whatever clothing brand and you can see how sustainable and how ethical it is. It helps you out, so you can be more mindful. I also like to thrift as well. I like to think about the life of the clothing and where it'll end up.

"I, honestly, don't really buy clothes that often because I already have a lot of clothes. I don't like to buy anything that I don't really need. I just have the same pair of shoes: Converse. I feel like Converse never, never go out of style. Even when they're beat up and dirty, they're still cool. 

"I actually do need a new pair of pants. I have this really beat-up pair of jeans that have really huge holes in them. Like, the hole starts from the top of my thigh and goes to the bottom of my shin. So many people are telling me, 'You've got to get rid of them. They're gone. They're done.' I'm like, 'No, never.' I just cut them into a pair of shorts. They have a new life and I wear them all the time. I can use the rest of the jean fabric and make it into something else. There are so many different ways you can do it. Upcycle it, you know? Be creative.

"I remember being really young and always stealing my mom's and my sister's clothing, trying to cut and style them in a way that I would like to see. Then they would get really mad at me. I would be really creative — I would turn like a shirt into a skirt or a really big shirt into a one-armed dress. Even now, I just love putting together outfits because it makes you feel good."

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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