Costume Party is a monthly column exploring fashion, personal style, and historical aesthetics in film.
Earlier this month Josie and the Pussycats celebrated its fifteenth anniversary. This film, with its sparkly, colorful aesthetic and subversive undercurrent of mockery of consumer culture, is surely one of the most successful comic book adaptations. A box office failure that’s now the same age as its target audience, Josie today functions as a perfect catalog of the confusing, gaudy mishmash that was early 2000s fashion.
The source material for Josie and the Pussycats comes from the 1960s, and the comics reflect the girl group style of the time, with the band often clad in slightly varied versions of the same leopard-print outfit. The 1990s love affair with 60s and 70s style continued into the early years of the new millennium, and we can particularly see this influence in Melody’s (Tara Reid) crocheted, hippieish accessories. An obvious precedent for the Josie movie is Spice World (1998), and with The Spice Girls recently broken up, pop-punk on the rise, and nostalgia and hunger for adaptations ever-present, 2001 seemed like the perfect year for the comic book band to make their way to the screen.
The band is introduced in a montage that looks ripped from a dELiA*s catalog. Josie (Rachael Leigh Cook) wears a Ramones shirt and Melody has a bias-cut shirt with an image of a kitten. They are girly but slightly punk, a dynamic made obvious by the film’s ultra-catchy soundtrack.
In this montage of the girls shopping for CDs, jumping up and down, and generally being models of perky fun, we see Valerie (Rosario Dawson) running a marathon while wearing a shirt that says, in sparkly rainbow letters, “Never underestimate the power of a woman.” In this first look at the new Josie and the Pussycats of the 21st century we have punk, cutesiness, and feminist platitudes. The film’s aesthetic is already apparent, and it only becomes more over-the-top as the band finds themselves in the throes of satirized fame.
After a chance encounter with oily fop Wyatt (Alan Cumming) which leads to their signing with the evil MegaRecords, the band records their first music video. The three girls are a spectacle of body glitter and tiger prints.
Part of the ongoing joke of Josie and the Pussycats is the fact that the band becomes famous by virtue of the subliminal consumer messages Wyatt implants in their songs, but the band’s music (sung by Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo) is catchy and Josie, Melody, and Valerie are appealing presences—it makes sense that their music would be popular, especially in the post-Spice Girls moment. Cook is particularly well cast: her saucer eyes give her the appearance of a cartoon come to life.
The band’s look once they become famous is considerably more glam than it was initially, though it endearingly maintains hallmarks of the girls’ sartorial personalities. Melody keeps wearing tops that have a slight hippie feel (and an insouciant, difficult-to-pull-off cropped bias cut), and the long leopard-print shirt Josie wears before the band is discovered is mirrored by the leopard suit she wears later, once she is brainwashed to act like a diva.
The girls’ outfits find a very 2001 stylistic harmony in metallics, animal prints, and low-cut pants. Everything is glossy.
Fiona (Parker Posey), the comically villainous head of MegaRecords, has an exaggerated style in contrast to the band’s good-natured gloss with a slight attitude. Fiona dresses like Jane Jetson at a bondage club.
Of course, all of Fiona’s wild, elaborate ensembles can’t save her from the infectious, good-natured Pussycats, and the film has a predictably happy ending. Fifteen years later, the fake band holds up, a sparkling beacon of timeless comic book appeal perfectly packaged for the new millennium. Never underestimate the power of the Pussycats.