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."
The success of "Never Have I Ever," which is currently filming its third season (!), has happened over the course of a global pandemic. Still, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan's star has continued to rise and rise and rise.
The 20-year-old actor in that ever-important spot for an up-and-coming name in Hollywood where she's building a platform, a following and a body of work that draws attention — and potential brand partners. For Ramakrishnan, though, the choice about whether or not she takes on a deal is pretty simple.
"I'm all about doing collaborations where it makes sense. It's not out-of-the-blue for me — it's like, 'I do wear this stuff,'" she says. "For me, the criteria is always: Do I have to Google what this brand is? Because if so, then I probably shouldn't do it because that's not authentic to me and I can't get excited about it. If I'm not genuinely all for it, then I really shouldn't be the person that helps promote it. With brands, it's a big commitment. I have to really believe in that product and in the messaging, and be like, 'I don't mind putting my face to this because this is something that's naturally in my life' — like good old jeans."
"It boils down to messaging, too," she continues, "like, 'What are we trying to say here?' Is it just, 'Oh, look at this, this looks cool.' Or is it, 'Look at this, this looks cool, let's change the way we're seeing the world.'
Ramakrishnan's latest campaign — for American Eagle's Spring 2022 collection, co-starring Coco Gauff, Madelyn Cline, Joshua Bassett, Michael Evans Behling and mxmtoon — achieves that, she says.
"It's all about inclusivity and bringing people from all different backgrounds into this world of fashion," she argues. "We're getting to see the visual representation of people from all different backgrounds. I couldn't tell you how many billboards or ad campaigns in general I've seen with South Asian people at the front. That's pretty awesome, to be able to see in this mainstream commercial, 'There's a brown person who looks like me.'"
"It's all about getting that imagery that's realistic about the world we see around us at an early age, because then you feel like you belong," she says. "When you don't have that, it feels like you're not really there — you can go buy those clothes, but you're not meant for the poster. Now we're switching that up, which I think is pretty cool."
Ahead, Ramakrishnan discusses her personal style and shopping philosophies, how working with a professional stylist and a professional costume designer has changed her views on fashion and more.
"Like many other Gen Z kids, American Eagle was my go-to back in high school, and it still is pretty much a go-to for jeans. [I have] all these memories of back-to-school shopping when I was in high school, going to the American Eagle outlet, getting to go absolutely wild in there because I knew it was about to go down. I was about to get some good picks.
"My personal style is a lot about comfort. I can't say I'm one of those people that always wears sweatpants and baggy jeans and all of that, because I also love heels and really dressing up. My style is all across the board, trying different aesthetics and just making sure that I have jeans that fit nicely around my waist and still cover my butt, because that's a struggle. Let's be honest about it. Let's talk about that. [If I'm] wanting to show up just chilling to work, it's jeans and a good old sweatshirt. I'm all about the baggy hoodies. That's very me. I would go with a good, really oversized baggy hoodie and some jeans, maybe a crop top underneath. That's sort of the vibe for me.
"When I'm doing red carpet things, that's the work of three people: makeup artist, hair stylist, clothing stylist. That's an army of people doing that, but it's also very much so me, because I get to be a part of that process, of deciding what it's going to be. I love my stylist to death. Joseph Cassell is my homie. He's amazing, and he lets me see myself in all of these different styles, including the ones I couldn't see myself in. He pushes me out of the comfort zone just enough to be like, 'Oh my gosh, I actually do look hot in this, this is pretty cool" — when maybe I would've been like, 'Eh, that's probably not going to look good on me so we wouldn't bother trying it on.' It's also that craft of being able to put color together. I'm so bad at putting colors and patterns together if I'm left to my own devices, but when he does it, I'm like, 'Wow, this makes sense.'
"In December, I went to the Unforgettable Gala and I got to wear this dress made with different panels of sari fabric, recycling that fabric and stitching it together to make one piece. It was really cool because it was made by Ashwin Thiyagarajan, a designer from India. It's a perfect example of sustainable fashion, but also looking real cool and showing my culture in an authentic, not tokenized, kitschy way. It was a classy way of showing my culture.
"A couple of months ago, he put me in with these really vibrant green pants and then this robe for a SAG panel that I did with Mindy Kaling. I would've never picked a robe — that was sort of like, 'Okay, interesting.' But it was really cool. I was like, 'Wow, this is not a lot of black.' It actually was really cool.
"Salvador Pérez is all about the color pops, all about the stacked necklaces and bracelets. I realized that, in 'Never Have I Ever,' we actually do wear a lot of American Eagle — but, yes, he totally is all about color. He also made my eyes open to that, but I think that's a really fun distinction between Devi and myself. [I've learned to] definitely make sure that you put some sort of accessory — like, 'Oh, it actually does make a difference,' and, 'Maybe don't wear the same shoes every single time, with every single outfit.' Shoes make a difference. I've learned a lot from the 'Never Have I Ever' costume team. I always joke that Nalini, Devi's mom, must be making a lot of money for how many clothes she has. Any high schooler that dresses this coordinated... But why do we question it? Let it be. Let fashion just look amazing.
"Before the pandemic, I would've said I never want to shop online. I do like to see the clothes, try on the clothes, walk around the rest of the store thinking, 'Hmm, should I buy that? I don't know.' Now, with the pandemic, obviously, you can't really do that, so I'm all about online shopping. But for me, shopping in general is very much still of a buy-as-you-really-need, not as-you-want [thing], because there are so many trends and things that are just going through the cycle of fashion. It's all about making sure you buy within reason, because you don't want to just add to landfills. I'm always like, 'Hmm, these are really cute, but do I need it? Probably not.' So that's how I buy.
"When I was in high school, whenever I would go through my closet and just clear it out, see what clothes I could give away... every time I would see a shirt in the back that I'd be like, 'Oh wait, this is cute, why did I make it all the way to the back? That's sort of bad. That's sort of not cool. That's sort of wasteful. You forgot that the shirt existed. That's pretty privileged. Maybe you should relax.' After that, I was like, 'Okay, okay. We got to have some control. We need to know every piece that's in our closets.'
"It's all about getting good staple pieces, like the good basics and whatnot. One of my favorite things to buy from American Eagle are the soft T-shirts. They're so soft, but also they're classic basics that you can pop in with a skirt and be all summery or springlike, or you can just pair it with jeans and it's a nice fall look, or you can just tie it up and wear some sweats to chill out home. That shirt will last for different looks, which is nice.
"Recently, I did buy a pair of these boots that I really like from Naked Wolfe — the Impact boots. I was staring at them for almost a year, doing the whole, 'But do I need it?' Then I was like, 'You know what? I will.' I love them. I can wear them with so many different outfits. As soon as there's an opportunity to slide it in, I'm like, 'Yes, let's go.' I totally Googled all the different images of other people wearing these shoes so I could get a realistic idea of how many outfits I was going to be able to pair them with.
"The influence of social media really does help [with style inspiration]. The best is when someone's posting a TikTok and it's a joke about something totally not related to what they're wearing, but you know someone in the comments is asking, 'Where'd you get that shirt? Where'd you buy that dress?' That person's basically asking the question that I want to ask, so I just look and see if the creator of that TikTok video responded. Also, being on set — when I go through Devi's wardrobe, every time I see something that fits me really well, that I like the cut and the quality, I'll always take note of the brand name. I don't know how many people can tap into that, but it definitely does help to have a rotating closet, 70% of which you don't even wear and doesn't make the cut.
"Something that's exciting to me about fashion is that it's opening up in a way that, for me and for where I am in the industry, I can try on all of these different aesthetics. I can try on a more vintage look or more of a punk look — this idea of being able to try is really nice. Joseph always tells me, 'Maitreyi, you're young. Don't lock yourself into one particular image right now. If you want to explore, go explore.' I think that's really cool. That's my own personal excitement, of my own personal fashion journey. I want to look back on my photos when I was this age when I'm older and say, 'Damn, what was I thinking? But I know I had fun.' I might cringe at whatever I wore in however many years down the line, but I look back and know I really liked it. I really liked it in that moment, and that's pretty special."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.