With back-to-school in the air and October 3rd (a.k.a. Mean Girls Day) just around the corner, enjoy a visual tribute to this early-aughts classic.
There aren’t many movies so iconic that they have their very own day of observance. However, every year, social media hails October 3rd as “Mean Girls Day,” commemorating one of many classic lines from the 2004 high school comedy. The movie and its characters, from Lindsay Lohan’s fish-out-of-water Cady to Rachel McAdams’s icy queen-bee Regina George, have made an indelible mark on pop culture.
Loosely based on Rosalind Wiseman’s 2002 non-fiction book Queen Bees and Wannabes, about the fraught dynamics of female teenage social cliques, Tina Fey’s script is peppered with sharp dialogue and fresh spins on familiar high school tropes.
One of the most fetching aspects of Mean Girls is its instantly recognizable visual palette, embodied by the pink-and-lilac pastels of its poster. “Colors did play a huge part in it,” costume designer Mary Jane Fort told Nylon, explaining how the movie’s visuals represent the glossy world of the Plastics, which Cady is drawn into against her better judgment.
“We wanted it to be the candy that you want. You know that candy store, Dylan’s Candy Bar? When you see this group, you want to feel like you walked into something delicious and wonderful, even though it’s kind of bad for you.”
To help you delve headfirst into that unforgettable aesthetic, here’s a take on what Cady’s Shutterstock search history might look like.
Cady spent the last twelve years being home schooled because her zoologist parents were on an extended research trip in Africa. This makes her first day of high school especially nerve-wracking and bewildering.
As she gradually adapts to this cutthroat new world, Cady sometimes refers back to the savanna, making sense of cliques and catfights by likening them to the evolutionary processes of wild animals.
According to Lohan, Africa continued to play a major role in Cady’s life as she grew up. Asked by Entertainment Weekly where Cady would be today, Lohan replied: “Cady’s with Oprah in Africa working at children’s schools with a family, teaching girls to be nice to each other.”
The Plastics are high school royalty, a trio of polished, preening popular girls with meticulously coordinated outfits. There’s Karen, whose breasts can predict the weather. There’s Gretchen, whose dad invented toaster strudel. And then there’s the equally feared and beloved leader, Regina George. Though she’s supposedly working undercover for Janis and Damian, Cady can’t help being seduced by the Plastics.
“Real schools are not quite as glossy, and we wanted a little more gloss, just given the subject matter of the group,” Fort told Nylon about designing the Plastics’ look. “They’re the fashion dictators of the school, and we wanted them to be more like the brightest, shiniest ball on the Christmas tree.”
For purposes of Cady’s imagined research, the Plastics would be represented a bit more . . . artistically.
Thanks to her home-schooling, Cady missed a few memos. For example, she has no idea that when her crush Aaron invites her to his Halloween party—attended by a bunch of popular kids—the unspoken dress code dictates that she dress sexy, not scary.
As a result, she goes all in on a spooky costume, dressing up as a blood-spattered zombie bride with a set of truly gnarly fake teeth.
“That particular dress actually came from a thrift store because that’s where Cady would get a Halloween costume,” Fort recalled in an interview with Vanity Fair. “She added the blood herself and did her teeth herself, she put her own veil on. I wanted it to look as different from the others as it possibly could look.”
Even though she spends most of the movie playing dumb in order to win over Aaron, Cady’s Shutterstock search would definitely reflect her intellect. Specifically it would include her love of math, which she’s drawn to because “it’s the same in every country.”
The Plastics have a lot of rules. You can only wear your hair in a ponytail once a week, no jeans except on Fridays, and the most important rule of all: “On Wednesdays, we wear pink.”
During the filming of the movie, Lindsay Lohan took the pink assignment particularly serious. “I remember 17-year-old Lindsay was on a mission to find pink Uggs. That was, like, what she was working on,” writer Tina Fey told Entertainment Weekly.
In the same oral history, Lohan confirmed that she’d specifically been trying to find the Uggs for the scene where Cady falls into the trash can. “I mean, I was rhinestoning my phone at the time with Swarovski crystals,” Lohan said with a laugh. “So, it was somewhat Method.”
Spring Fling Queen
It almost feels like an afterthought when Cady is crowned Spring Fling Queen. Moments earlier, she steered the Mathletes to victory in the state championship, earning the one prize that truly mattered.
Still, she gets up on stage and makes a rousing (though un-required) speech, unifying her classmates by telling them they all look like royalty, and then snapping her plastic crown into shareable pieces. A true queen.
True Best Friends
Despite temptation by the Plastics and their backstabbing ways, deep down, Cady values real friendship. After so many years of home schooling, she’s desperate to fit in. That urge to belong leads her to make some questionable decisions (let’s face it, we’ve all been there).
By the end of the movie, Cady realizes that what she actually yearns for is real friendship, and reconciles with sassy outcasts Janis and Damian. She’s still friendly with Karen and Gretchen, and no longer has any desire to get involved in drama.
In her own words, she’s gone from “home-schooled jungle freak, to shiny Plastic, to most hated person in the world, to actual human being.”
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Cover image via Shutterstock’s Mean Girls Day Collection.