Unpopular opinion: Rom-coms don’t get the credit they deserve. Don’t get me wrong. There are so many great serious films and shows and rising stars that deserve all the accolades, but who wouldn’t love a little heartwarming film? To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, the sequel to Netflix hit To All the Boys I've Loved Before, is just that. I won’t give away any spoilers, but like any style devotee, I found myself not only giddy over the budding love story but also the ensembles. Fashion is forever my first love, unlike the protagonist, Lara Jean (played by Lana Condor). After watching, I tapped the veteran costume designer behind the film, Lorraine Carson, to spill all the details on how they went about making a teenage rom-com wardrobe chic enough for an editor to fall in love. Consider this a love letter to the costumes, the film, and the universal story of how our style evolves from our adolescence into adulthood and beyond. But first, a little about Lorraine Carson…
Photo:Courtesy of Lorraine Carson
For those who aren’t familiar with your work, can you tell our readers a little about yourself?
I started in the theater world as a seamstress under Stratford theater in Ontario, Canada, and from there, I have been designing costumes in the film industry for many years. I’ve worked on a very broad range of types of projects, from very small independent projects to major feature films like Pirates of the Caribbean, The Exorcist, and the film To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You.
You do have such a wide breadth of work. What has been your favorite production to work on thus far and why?
I have to say I have a passion for period pieces. Having the chance to work as a costume coordinator on the last Pirates of the Caribbean film was fabulous. But I have also personally designed several projects that have been based in the 1940s, like the series Nothing Too Good for a Cowboy. We created a lot of the clothing from scratch for that series because 1940s clothing was worn to death, so it’s not available to rent or purchase. Being able to delve into the past and research and re-create costumes for period pieces is always fun, and those have been my favorite productions to partake in.
Costumes for a period film are so different than those for a contemporary film. Is your approach at all different when you’re thinking about costumes for those different types of films?
It actually isn’t. It is very different in what you see in terms of the application and what you see on screen, but my process is the same. Whatever I’m doing, I’m doing research. So if it’s a film about teenagers like To All the Boys, I’m researching what teenagers are wearing. If I’m doing a period piece about ranchers from the 1940s, I’m researching that. So there’s a great deal of referencing required to create costumes. It’s a different type of research where I’m researching online for current-day fashion versus books for period pieces. But the process is still the same. You need to have your homework done, and you need to know what you’re doing to apply it on screen.
Why To All the Boys? What about this project interested you? And why do you think this story is still a relevant story to tell from the lens of style?
The reason I was drawn to this project is how I’m drawn to most of my projects. It’s about the story and the content of the story. And I will always tend to choose a project that has a positive story because that’s something I feel I can help perpetuate in the world. Being that this series is based on Jenny Han’s collection of three books, I feel it sends a very positive message to young women. It talks about something that maybe you don’t think anybody else is going through, but everybody goes through, and it brings it out in a very humorous and loving way.
To All the Boys is obviously about the life of a teenager. How did you go about creating looks that not only honored her age but also were relatable for viewers of all ages?
Because Jenny Han’s work has a fan base as well of all age groups, and the movie itself has that same fan base, we had to approach the costumes by honoring these iconic characters formulated from the first film and the novels while expanding it into the second and third films. I took snippets of her past from the previous film and added it into her costumes for this film, so I made sure there was something vintage or retro. We moved away from her signature combat boots and gave her shoes with a little height to show that maturity of the character, all while using very current fashion from North America and Korea and stuff from Europe to inspire her looks. We threw it all together and styled it into a very unique look for Lara Jean, and we did the same for all the characters. But beyond honoring the characters, the story is about her coming of age, growing into a relationship, and changes within the family dynamic. All of that helped me define that through her visual look on camera that can hopefully speak to the universality of this story to all viewers.
How did you go about sourcing the pieces for the costumes? How long did it take to create the looks?
I had about a six-and-a-half-week prep for the film, and my team came on five weeks out. So we created mood boards so the producers', director's, and my ideas could be combined and refined so that once my team was on, we could go source the pieces. We hit the vintage stores, went online, and that’s how we sourced costumes for this film. I knew I wanted to incorporate vintage into the film because it gave a more eclectic feel to her character. At the same time, we needed to have current-day fashion.
For the current-day pieces in the film, where were you pulling those from?
I had a team of six shoppers and myself, and we just pulled from everywhere. It’s very difficult to say any one source, but if you talk about an individual outfit, none of the characters' looks were from one place.
What was your approach when it came to dressing Lana Condor as Lara Jean in the film? Can you go a bit into the process of the mood board for her?
Of course. The scene depicts somewhat what the outfit is, whether it's pants or skirts or a hanbok from Korean traditional wear. So the storyline depicts a lot of what the style of clothing is, and then our team will go out and source things. And then we’ll do a fitting with Lana Condor and then the creative producer (Jenny Han) and myself to decide the looks. And because we shot the film in 4HD, it has a slightly limiting effect on what fabrics you can use for costumes, so you can’t use ribbed fabrics because it will cast shadows, and so much contemporary clothing is ribbed because it’s body-conscious. So we had to find a way to get that same effect, so we tailored all of the looks to give that same visual effect as a ribbed fabric. There are many facets to the costume design process that people don’t know, and you can’t use certain colors of fabrics.
Let’s talk about the traditional Korean hanbok look that Lara Jean wears in the film. Could you tell us a little bit about how you went about finding that look and being sure to honor the history around that traditional garment?
I have to start with the fact that I went to Jenny Han, who wrote the story, and I went to her as a source for creating looks for anything traditionally Korean for the history and heritage behind that look. And then I researched extensively the history of the hanbok garment that Lara Jean was wearing in the film and learned it came to be in the 1100s. In addition to learning about the history behind the look, for the film, we had a specific color palette for the movie, and all the characters' and Lara Jean’s colors were so specific because she’s in 98% of the movie. So we wanted to keep her hanbok in those colors, so with Jenny Han’s help, we sourced two traditional Korean hanbok shops in Los Angeles, and Jenny called us over the phone, and we shopped the fabrics for the look over FaceTime.
Wait—there’s a color palette for the film? Why was it such an integral part of creating this film?
Our director, Michael Fimognari, had a vision that he wanted to have this color palette for the film. He had put this into play for the first film when he was the cinematographer, and now he was doing both the directing and the cinematography, so it was extremely important for all us to maintain this request he put forward. It was ambitious, but we did it, and I think it came off really well. It added an interesting depth to the film because for Lara Jean, and for any of the other characters because they all had individual color palettes, those palettes had to be represented in the scene either through the costumes or set design, so it was quite the collaboration with my team and the production designer to honor that in each scene.
What colors were in Lara Jean’s palette?
The overall color palette for the film is the same as Lara Jean’s individual character’s palette, so whatever scene Lara Jean is in, we had to have one of those three colors—magenta, cyan, or yellow—whether it was on her as a piece of clothing or in the room as a piece of furniture.
Would you say there are any key pieces that constitute a Lara Jean outfit?
Definitely. The thing that emulates that the most is the outfit we created for her first day of school where she’s wearing a little pink skirt that I got in Vancouver that’s from Korea. And we paired it with a Zara coat that we tailored down because it was quite boxy, so we made it more of a late '50s, early '60s car coat look. We paired that with some Jeffery Campbell high-heel loafers. It was an outfit that was so her but was slightly more mature and kept the feel of her in movie one but represented her evolution as an adolescent character.
Speaking of outfits, we can’t not talk about the gown Lara Jean wears in the film. Where was it from?
Of course, everyone loves the Cinderella moment dress! Actually, it was a red carpet dress from J. Mendel. It was strapless, but we shortened it to fit Lana Condor and took the extra fabric to make a shoulder strap for the gown. And then we paired it with some shoes from Aldo. That look was every girl's dream including mine.
Was there one look or character you loved creating costumes for most within the film?
I think, honestly, they’re all so great, but the character that was most fun was Stormy. Just because of all of the 48 costume changes Lara Jean had, Stormy’s approach was quite different. She had been a world traveler, so in her closet, that needed to be reflected as well. So that was super fun to be able to go to the vintage stores and go, “Oh, yeah. That’s from Morocco. Let’s get that.” Her looks were from all over, and we combined all her vintage things with last-season Zara. Her looks were all very Katharine Hepburn–ish.
What do you hope viewers take away from the costumes alone in this film?
I want people to not be afraid to experiment. I want people to go, “Maybe I will go shop at that secondhand store, and maybe I’ll try that 1940s jacket with my jeans.” I want people to experiment more, and the average teenager experiments more with their style, and that shouldn't stop when you’ve grown up. Style is a way to get creativity out there, and so don’t be afraid to try different things to emote your personality. And the film’s diversity in terms of age—there’s everyone from 12 years old to 70 represented—shows that style can be exploratory no matter where you are in your life.
So you’re in post-production for the third To All the Boys. Can you give us hints about what we can expect to see in terms of costumes from the film?
I’m kinda sworn to secrecy, but if you’ve read the books, you can know what to expect in the next film. And from a costume perspective, the third movie is even more exciting. We have almost 65 to 66 costume changes in the next film. And Lara Jean’s closet grows, and her life changes even more as she travels and turns 18 years old. So her style evolution will be even more visible.