behind the seams

Styling The Baby-Sitters Club for a New Generation

Entire fandoms have been built around taking inventory of Claudia Kishi’s closet. Photo: Kailey Schwerman/Netflix

Cynthia Ann Summers is a Claudia. Obviously. Would you really expect anything else from the costume designer of the latest iteration of The Baby-Sitters Club? “Maybe there was some Dawn earlier in my life,” she allowed. “But definitely, at this point, I’m a Claudia — my own version of a Claudia.”

As in the Ann M. Martin books, which devoted paragraphs to scrunchies-to-sneakers descriptions of the BSC girls’ outfits, fashion is a crucial part of the ten-episode Baby-Sitters Club Netflix series, which kicks off with the BSC origin story — Kristy’s Great Idea! — and follows the girls through the summer after seventh grade. Summers’s challenge: Staying true to the styles of the beloved characters from the ’90s while bringing the babysitters to the present day. (Well, almost to the present day. There’s no COVID in Stoneybrook.)

“We definitely wanted to make sure that, whenever we could, we’d give a nod to the style of the ’90s and even some of the book covers,” Summers said by phone. (You may have noticed that the staging of one of the first press photos from the series is a nod to the cover of the first BSC book.) It helped that some of the characters were into vintage clothing — sorry, but yes, the ’90s qualifies as vintage now — and that ’90s styles are back, with some tweaks and twists. And though Summers didn’t grow up with the books, her daughter did, and “so many [of my crew] are from that generation that read them originally.” Read on for Summers’s breakdown of dressing a new generation of babysitters.

Claudia Kishi

The one and only Claudia Kishi (Momona Tamada), forever fashion icon. Photo: Jesse Austin/Netflix

Played by: Momona Tamada

The look: As all BSC fans know, Claudia is an artist and her wardrobe reflects her eclectic, pop-bright sensibility. Paragraphs in each book were dedicated to detailing her outfits, which were always vivid, unique, and, objectively, the coolest. Entire fandoms were built around taking inventory of Claudia’s closet, cataloguing every look.

“The fun part of Claudia is she looks in her closet every day — whatever she is feeling that moment, she dresses to it,” Summers said. “And it’s not standard fare, obviously. It’s crazy tops that she’ll put with these pants that are mismatched, but everything she puts together works. She has a great eye. She’s an artist!” For instance, Claudia has a pair of coveralls that, if you watch closely, get more and more paint on them as the season goes on — at first incidentally and then later deliberately, as she doodles on her clothes to make them more her.

The story: Tamada is “very petite,” Summers said — a good four inches shorter than her fellow club members. So Summers had Claudia wear lots of platform shoes and boots — very on brand for the larger-than-life Claud, plus it got her “on the eyeline with the rest of the girls.” (“Her bun was part of the whole thing too,” Summers added. High buns! Useful advice.) “Everything was a little oversize on her, so we’d belt things … and roll up her pants to be a few inches above the ankles to give her better proportions.”

Claudia’s room is BSC headquarters, so Summers made sure to have “pieces of fabric lying around her bedroom that were from outfits that she wore, so you could see that she made and created some of her pieces.” Subverting the (honestly overrated) counsel of Coco Chanel who supposedly advised would-be chic women to look in the mirror before leaving the house and take one thing off, Claudia piles on the accessories. A go-to for her was Konplott, because “a lot of their jewelry can be vintage-inspired looking, but it’s also bright and fanciful, and that also worked with our age demographic and the standoutness of Claudia,” Summers said.

The vision board for Claudia’s aesthetic was “kind of amazing,” Summers said. It was built around an illustration from one of the book covers, magazine tear-outs, and Japanese-American art. Speaking of which: Because Claudia’s family is Japanese-American, they adhere to the Japanese tradition of removing their shoes when they come in the house. Which, for a costume designer, “was really hard for me at first,” Summers said, laughing, “because I really dressed them from head to toe,” but all the girls would have to be shoeless whenever the BSC met in Claudia’s room. So keep an eye out for some interesting socks and for Claudia’s red fluffy kitten-heel slippers.

Yes, those pants are a nod to Alicia Silverstone’s unforgettable Clueless yellow plaid. Photo: Kailey Schwerman/Netflix

A ’90s Easter egg for you: In the premiere, we go from a scene with Kristy acknowledging that her mom — played by Alicia Silverstone — “isn’t totally clueless” (!) to a BSC meeting in which Claudia is wearing pants in that iconic Cher Horowitz yellow plaid. I thought I was possibly hallucinating this/outing myself as a borderline-psychotic fan of Clueless, but Summers assures me that this was all 100 percent intentional. “Once we did get Alicia, and got into Claudia and the color and prints and fantasticness of who she is, yes, it is totally a nod to Clueless, and to her character Cher, and to my friend and amazing designer Mona May.”

Kristy Thomas

Kristy “No Muss, No Fuss” Thomas (Sophie Grace) Photo: Jesse Austin/Netflix

Played by: Sophie Grace

The look: A forever tomboy. Her wardrobe staples: jeans that are “a little bit oversize” (“she would never wear a skinny jean”), baseball hats, Converse sneakers.

The story: “Kristy is the one that was the simplest but the truest to the original look of her character, and maybe even of the movie,” Summers said. “There’s a lot of details that speak to the original Kristy.” It was important to Summers that Kristy not get swallowed up by “giant, oversize sweatshirts” though. “It’s not really about style for her. It’s about functionality for Kristy … She’s no muss, no fuss.”

Though Kristy’s mom is marrying Watson (Mark Feuerstein), whose affluence is both appealing and unsettling for the Thomas clan, Kristy’s attire reflects her single mom’s relatively strapped circumstances: She repeats outfits more than the other girls and wears Stoneybrook Middle School sweatshirts that could easily be swiped from her brothers’ closets.

Her biggest style moment: For her mom’s wedding, Kristy gets a bridesmaid’s dress — a total departure from everything we’ve seen her wear up to that point. “We wound up with a dress that really brought out a side of Kristy that she didn’t even know was there,” Summers said. “You can see her standing up straighter and starting to actually admire herself and see her shape, because she’s usually in sweatshirts. She’s in this pale sky blue, which has a really beautiful criss-cross back to it. It’s simple but a little more body-revealing than her character would probably ever do.”

Kristy’s bridesmaid’s dress for her mom’s wedding “really brought out a side of Kristy that she didn’t even know was there,” says Summers. Photo: Liane Hentscher/Netflix

“It’s an awkward thing when you’re a girl who doesn’t wear dresses to have to go out and find something formal and floor length,” Summers said. “It was a real and joyous moment for all of us. And I think it really helped that all the girls got dressed up” (because, of course, all the members of the BSC are invited to the wedding), “which made it easier for Kristy and for Sophie.”

Mary Anne Spier

The Old Mary Anne (Malia Baker), pigtails, pinafore, and all. Photo: Jesse Austin/Netflix

Played by: Malia Baker

The look: Mary Anne has the biggest fashion evolution of all the girls, going from the almost parodically juvenile attire forced on her by her father to freer, more mature clothes that she actually gets to pick out for herself. “I still can’t believe her dad was dressing her the way he was in the grade she was in,” Summers said. “She’s still wearing pigtails and knee socks and pinafores! Even her rolly backpack. It’s just, like, seriously? Poor girl.”

Even as Mary Anne found her new look, “we had to stay within our parameters of the original look of her … [but] show that she’s a young girl and not a baby. Because her dad was dressing her like a toddler.”

The story: When we meet Mary Anne, her mom has died, and her dad has kept her in this state of suspended animation ever since: not comfortable letting her grow or evolve, struggling mightily to be a single parent to his daughter. In the Netflix series, Mary-Anne is biracial, and this adds a layer to her father’s behavior — much of his rigidity is rooted in his insecurity and fear about trying to prepare his daughter for the world when he is terrified about how cruelly the world could treat her.

“She hasn’t changed since her mom passed away, and her dad can’t move on,” Summers said. “And the growth from there had to be something that’s believable. If she turned into a Claudia or Stacey, her dad would clearly never let her out the door.” So Mary Anne’s evolution is a little more subtle: “We took the silhouette and just made them a little more figure-flattering, for starters. The pinafores became a skirt, and it’s a little bit shorter … We added a blouse or a sweater with some style in it.”

“Maybe the biggest part of the story for [Mary Anne] and her dad letting her be herself is her taking her hair out of her braids.” Photo: KAILEY SCHWERMAN/NETFLIX

But the biggest change for Mary Anne is her hair. “I think that’s brilliant because, as we know, Black girls’ hair is everything,” Summers said. “And maybe the biggest part of the story for her and her dad letting her be herself is her taking her hair out of her braids, wearing it down and up in different ways. It was a really wonderful opportunity for her to express herself … Plus, Malia has the most amazing head of hair. It’s just gorgeous and beautiful.”

Stacey McGill

Motorcycle jacket? A tighter jean? Great boots? Check, check, and check, Stacey (Shay Rudolph)! Photo: Jesse Austin/Netflix

Played by: Shay Rudolph

The look: Black, white, and pale (not millennial) pink. Stacey is from New York City, and she will never not talk about being from New York City. “She was the clearest for me: She needs to look like an out-of-towner,” Summers said.

The story: Stacey needed to be “a little more sophisticated than the rest of the girls,” Summers said, “and her pieces needed to show that she had money: some designer pieces, some collector pieces.” It was all about “clean lines”: a motorcycle jacket, a tighter jean, great boots. Sometimes she’d have a scarf wrapped around her neck in a way that would not be odd on a 25-year-old but “you don’t see a lot of kids in school dressed like that.”

Stacey has diabetes (this comes up frequently in the books … her blood sugar is basically a junior member of the BSC), so it was also necessary to incorporate her insulin pump, “which got bedazzled by the prop department in colors that worked with her palette,” Summers said.

Even though Stacey is the boy-craziest of the bunch, she’s “still in that mind-set of: I’m a girl; I dress for girls. And she’s in the mind-set of: I’m Stacey, and I dress as Stacey,” Summers said. “She never really changes her New York style.”

Dawn Schafer

Dawn (Xochitl Gomez) represents the biggest style departure from the books — less surfer, more skater. Photo: Jesse Austin/Netflix

Played by: Xochitl Gomez

The look: In the books, Dawn is Californian in the Sweet Valley High mold: she’s white, blonde, blue-eyed. In the Netflix series, our California girl is Mexican-American, and her vibe is less surfer, more skater. “She shops at vintage shops, wears tighter jeans and a camo bomber jacket,” Summers said. And: “She has the best sneaker collection in the world.”

The story: As one of two babysitters from outside Stoneybrook, Dawn gets to wear pieces that really set her apart from the other girls, who’ve all been shopping at the same mall basically all their lives.

“She’s probably the one that is the least similar to the books, or to any [depictions] in the past,” Summers said of Gomez’s version of Dawn. “She’s just drawn bigger, and that was intentional from production as well.” Her passion for the environment is definitely more pronounced; she’s engaged in activism in the show and wears plenty of “politically active slogan shirts,” like graphic tees that say SAVE THE OCEAN. “She brings that West Coast politics, the environmental politics, to the situation.”

Styling The Baby-Sitters Club for a New Generation