The very first scene of Very Good Girls shows Elizabeth Olsen and Dakota Fanning peeling off their clothes on Brighton Beach and streaking into the Atlantic Ocean, setting the tone for their characters’ final summer in New York City before heading off the college—liberating and just a little reckless.
Gerry (Olsen) and Lily (Fanning) are best friends and born-and-raised Brooklynites who have the misfortune of falling for the same guy, a brooding artist name David (played by Boyd Holbrook) they meet on the boardwalk that day. Of course, only one of them can date him (hint: it’s not the one to whom the actor is now engaged IRL), and she does so in secret. Drama, naturally, ensues.
The film comes out in select theatres and on demand today, and while reviews have been mixed, I found the girls—Lily especially—to be wrenchingly relatable, and am pleased to report that the coming-of-age story also falls firmly into our favorite category of steamy summer love. I spoke with costume designer David Tabbert recently—whose resume also includes films like Martha Marcy May Marlene and a fascinating side gig working with the National Guard (more on that later)—and got the low down on how he created the girls’ distinct looks.
Read our Q+A with Tabbert and watch the trailer below, plus see stills from the film in the slideshow above:
What was your starting point for Gerry and Lily’s looks in the film?
For Gerry, I was inspired by music festivals, like Coachella. As far as for Lily, it was more of a simple, sophisticated femininity and innocence. We wanted to project her sheltered upbringing, and a sense of innocence with her. In general, there was a lot of street style influence [from blogs like The Sartorialist and Fashion Toast], mixed with their own individual characters. One thing that we wanted to really stand out was that these girls were very unique in their own ways and they walk to the beat of their own drum.
Everything they wear looks very well worn and well loved—did you source that from vintage stores?
It was a mix of vintage, thrift, and designer. And we wanted to make sure nothing looked new and everything felt lived in and real and authentic. We loved Steven Alan, Foley & Corinna and Buffalo Exchange. Beacon’s Closet was big for us. We had pieces from a little bit of everywhere and it was a nice blend of vintage and new.
The film is very much about sex and sexuality, but the main characters are both teenagers and right out of high school. How did you strike that balance?
I made a point to not style anything to look overtly sexual. I wanted there to be a flirtation. With Gerry in particular, I wanted there to be a flirtation and an experimentation with more provocative clothing without it being overtly sexual, but definitely with the idea in mind of catching the attention of David (Holbrook). And it’s summer, you know—I wanted there to be a good amount of skin. Also, both the girls grew up in New York City, and there’s an effortless quality about how girls who grew up there dress, so I wanted to reflect that.
You’ve worked with Elizabeth Olsen before on Martha Marcy May Marlene. What is she like to work with and how did that experience differ from this one?
In both films, Lizzie is wonderful to work with in the sense that she knows her characters very well and she has very good instincts for what they wear and how they wear things, so it’s always a pleasure to work with her and collaborate together with her.
Did you think that Gerry and Lily’s styles corresponded to Lizzie and Dakota’s? Or was it a bit of a role reversal for them?
I feel like there was some crossover, but for the most part these girls were pretty different from how they dress and how they wear clothes in real life. We also wanted there to be a sense of discomfort almost, because I think part of the trick was taking them out of their comfort zones from what they would normally wear and do something very true to their characters.
Do you remember if the girls had any favorite pieces from the film?
Yeah, I remember in particular Lizzie loving the Foley & Corinna floral kimono, the Scotch and Soda bracelets, and the hat in opening scene at beach from Lola Hats. Dakota loved the ASOS chambray jumper and Worshofer sandals. They just seemed to work with every outfit, so we got them in a couple of colors and they were like her thing.
The looks that David (Boyd Holbrook) wears are pretty basic, but there was any particular vibe you were going for with him?
He was a painter and a photographer, so we wanted everything to feel super lived in and real, but he did wear a pair of APC jeans in the film. Raw denim starts to look better with age, and we definitely made sure that those were well-worn.
Kiernan Shipka was in the film as well. For a young girl she has a really incredible wardrobe and sense of style. Did that come out when you were working with her?
Definitely. She was absolutely wonderful to work with, really excited about the clothes and about her character. A doll.
I read the New York Times article about your work doing costumes for training programs for the National Guard [so soldiers have practice identifying civilians versus terrorists based on cultural clothing signifiers]. Are you still doing that? And does it influence your film work, creating these real life scenes in such detail?
I’m actually on location in Wisconsin right now at a military base. And yeah, I’d say it does. Working with the National Guard, authenticity is key for them from the get-go. It’s so important that soldiers are able to identify and distinguish specific, key details to look for. It could be the way a scarf was wrapped or the epaulet on a sleeve, so it’s definitely the realism and the attention to detail has been a useful skill set that I’ve used for years.
This film is set in Brooklyn, which, as a borough, tends to get blamed for a lot of awful trends. Are there any trends right now that you wish would just die?
Well it’s funny, because I actually put Lizzie in the Isabel Marant sneaker wedge for the film, and that was my one regret. We shot the movie two years ago, and at the time they were huge, but they’re so played out now. Isabel Marant started this huge, huge trend with those shoes. So I don’t know if I should say I wish sneaker wedges would die, because they’re in the film, but yeah, I don’t ever want to see those again. I’d also say floral headbands and overly baggy silhouettes. It would be nice to see a little bit more shape in girl’s wardrobes.