The Fashion of "To All the Boys I've Loved Before"
This summer, no movie captured our hearts like Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Based on Jenny Han’s novel of the same name, the film employs all the best tropes from the teen movies of the ’80s and ’90s—hijinx, banging soundtracks, impassioned speeches—and ditches the worst—unnecessary makeovers, racism. This heartening teen rom-com reminded us how much we love Tears for Fears, introduced us to the wholesome crush of our dreams, Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo), and gave us a fashion icon in Lara Jean (Lana Condor).
I had the chance to chat with costume designer Rafaella Rabinovich about her work on To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, the importance of representation in film, and the most popular looks from the movie.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Rebecca Long: The costuming in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before has gained a lot of attention and is clearly one of the reasons audiences love the film so much. How does it feel to be responsible for these now-iconic looks?
Rafaella Rabinovich: It’s very humbling and I’m very grateful to know that I’m a part of something that makes people happy. I’m so glad that people see Lara Jean as a visual role model; I’ve received a lot of emails from mothers telling me that their daughters want to dress like her. It’s great to know that all the hard work—it truly takes a village—translated into something that makes people happy and inspires them. So much work and thought goes into the smallest details.
RL: Speaking of those details, I loved the black platforms that Lara Jean wears to the party and later in the high-school bathroom when she’s arguing with Gen (Peter Kavinsky’s ex-girlfriend). Can you tell me about those?
RR: Those are by Jeffery Campbell and we found them at Nordstroms. Lana Condor (Lara Jean) isn’t very tall and Noah Centineo (Peter Kavinsky) is super tall, so that impacted the choice to put Lara Jean in those shoes. They had a vintage vibe to them and were so cool and different. I also wanted to make sure that Lara Jean dressed in a way that represented who she is, not for sex appeal. It was important to me not to put her in stilettos for a party scene.
RL: In the opening scene of the film, we see Lara Jean walking through a field in this very romantic, red, 19th-century-looking gown, which immediately made me think of Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. Can you tell me about the dress and how you decided on this look for the opening scene?
RR: For this scene, we were really inspired by the Scottish moors and the romance novels that Lara Jean reads throughout the movie. We were actually planning to put her in baby pink, which is a color she wears a lot in the film, but when the location was chosen for the scene, we realized that color wouldn’t make as much of an impact. We found the dress at Shaw Theatre in Toronto. It may be cliche, but red is the color of love!
RL: Early in the movie, we see Lara Jean lounging in her room and she’s wearing sweatpants tucked into her socks and a baggy t-shirt. So often in film, we see girls and women at home in these unrealistic outfits, and I appreciated that Lara Jean looked very much like a real sixteen-year-old girl. How did you land on this look?
RR: It really just came naturally. As we were curating her closet and the props for her room, it became clear to us that she would not be sitting at home, relaxing in a pair of high-waisted denim shorts and a tight shirt, not only because it’s not her style, but also because it’s not real. Lara Jean is a very real character who is loved by so many people; I made it my mission to ensure that every young girl who watches this film can see herself in Lara Jean.
RL: I also loved the oversized beige sweater that Lara Jean wears in one scene. Where did you find it?
RR: Free People! I put it on Lana and it just worked. Throughout the movie, you can really see her feelings through her layers. For example, when she’s at the party, she wears a baby blue bomber jacket with flowers on it that represents her opening up, whereas this slouchy, oversized cardigan represents her feeling deflated.
RL: Let’s talk about Chris, Lara Jean’s best friend. I loved the witchy vibes of her costuming, especially her wide-brimmed black hat, her leather jacket, and the statement silver necklace she wears on the bus ride. How did you land on this style for her?
RR: Madeleine Arthur (who plays Chris) is such a beautiful human being. She wears a lot of Anthropologie and pastel-colored clothing in her real life, so the wardrobe really became a tool for Maddie to use to empower the character. Chris was inspired by Natasha Lyonne in the early ’90s, Winona Ryder, Stevie Nicks, and the movie, The Craft. Chris is very close to my heart because she wears what I wore as a teenager. The silver necklace that she wears in the scene you mentioned is actually mine; it’s from Peru. Her leather jacket was custom-made for another show I did and then reworked for Maddie. The black hat represents Chris celebrating being different; you can be yourself and own it.
RL: You have also worked in the costume departments on sci-fi/fantasy shows like Once Upon a Time and The 100, which feature “out-of-this-world” looks: a lot of makeup, non-human elements, etc. What is it like to go from working on these fantastical wardrobes to costuming a movie that is set in our reality?
RR: Working on shows like those was an incredible learning experience—very humbling. You encounter so many different kinds of fabrics and textures and techniques on shows like those that you don’t necessarily get to see in contemporary films and TV. At the same time, doing a contemporary film is not necessarily any less challenging than working on the wardrobe for a sci-fi/fantasy show or period piece. There’s so much work that went into curating Lara Jean, and Chris, and Kitty’s looks—even the simplest items. It’s just a little bit easier to get clothes off the rack!
RL: How did growing up in Tel Aviv impact your style and your approach to costume design?
RR: I think Israeli fashion is amazing. It’s very innovative and cool, and super on-point. Israel is a multicultural place and embracing diversity is such a fundamental part of being Jewish and Israeli. That definitely translates in my approach to design and I think it makes it easy for me to think outside the box. I got a daytime Emmy nomination earlier this year, and it was important to me to have something from Israel with me on the red carpet, so my sister brought me my mom’s jewelry and a yellow Medusa clutch.
RL: What do you want to see more of on TV and in film?
RR: Diversity. I want to see film and TV that empowers people. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before wasn’t white-washed and it was so good to see three Asian actresses playing these sisters that Jenny Han created.
How to cite this page
Long, Rebecca. "The Fashion of "To All the Boys I've Loved Before"." 11 October 2018. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on June 26, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/fashion-of-to-all-boys-ive-loved-before>.