We all buy clothes, but no two people shop the same. It can be a social experience, and a deeply personal one; at times, it can be impulsive and entertaining, at others, purpose-driven, a chore. Where do you shop? When do you shop? How do you decide what you need, how much to spend and what’s “you”? These are some of the questions we’re putting to prominent figures in our column “How I Shop.”
“Cruel Summer” star Harley Quinn Smith loves the ’90s — which, fittingly, is when the Freeform series takes place. In the twisty non-linear teen thriller, she plays Mallory, a subversive instigator and friend (at various times) to the enigmatic adversaries at the center of the story. Clues are dropped, lies are told and secrets are slowly revealed, as the scenes flash forward and back; the costumes by Taneia Lednicky help viewers identify spots on the timeline.
Smith enjoyed embodying various iconic styles of the early ’90s in “Cruel Summer,” with a bit of a crossover into her own personal style: ‘70s-inspired individualist with an eye (and limited budget) for thrifting, early-No Doubt Gwen Stefani punk and broody, goth-y grunge girl.
“I love ’90s fashion, so to be able to have these three completely different wardrobes for each year was just so cool,” she says. “Ninety three is way more eclectic: Mallory’s wearing three patterns at once, like stripes and checkers and polka dots. Then, as the years go on, it gets darker and grungier, which I love so much. I wanted to take everything from my wardrobe.”
Smith confesses that she asked to “take everything home”; she happily settled on keeping the trousers Mallory wears to the first day of school and a comfortable hoodie. Plus, “I definitely stole a bunch of socks and stuff like that,” she admits (a very Mallory move).
As teens of the pre-internet age do, Mallory causes mischief at the local mall and frequents a suburban Texas, off-brand Blockbuster, where her friend Vince (Allius Barnes) works. These settings also provide delightful in-joke nods, considering her father, Kevin, wrote, directed and produced two seminal films of the ’90s: “Clerks,” set in a video rental shop, and “Mallrats.” (In the most Easter Egg-y moment, Mallory also asks Kate, played by Olivia Holt, “Want to watch ‘Clerks’ again?” — which dad loved, obviously.)
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Considering the insider influences at home, Smith also looks to the era’s pop culture for her own personal style inspiration, citing the Winona Ryder-starring teen black comedy “Heathers” (which, released in ’89, is pretty much ’90s) and 1994’s “Pulp Fiction.”
“I love watching movies and television from that time to see those looks captured a moment and how they give to the story and how it makes makes every project better with cool fashion,” Smith says.
As for real-life style icons, Smith takes inspiration — and “emulates,” as she says — ’90s-era Courtney Love and Drew Barrymore: “My most favorite look from the ’90s is the baby doll dress. I love slips and the tiny little pastel dresses that are make you look like you’re a little doll, but a more punk-looking version of it. It’s so cool to have those soft elements and then mix it with some bold eyeliner, Doc Martens, fishnets, chains, big rings and things like that. That’s my shit. Gentle and sweet and soft, but also grungy and dirty.”
Initially, Smith didn’t plan on going into the family business, but she tested the waters in her father’s films, including 2014 film “Tusk,” playing a role billed as “Clerk” alongside now-best friend Lily-Rose Depp, who was “Clerk #2.” In 2016, the two headlined a sequel, “Yoga Hosers,” expanding their, erm, clerks characters into 15-year-old yoga enthusiasts battling teenage angst and evil in the form of Nazi mini-sausages. Since then, the real-life superhero enthusiast has appeared in projects on the small-screen (“Supergirl”) and the big (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” as one of the Manson girls). Smith also sings and plays bass in punk band The Tenth and co-hosts a podcast with her father called “Vegan Abattoir.”
Below, Smith shares why thrifting helped her discover her love of fashion, where she hunts for ’90s-era “gems” and how her favorite vintage item circles back to the decade of “Cruel Summer,” which airs its season finale on Tuesday, June 15. Read on.
“I really became obsessed with fashion once I discovered thrifting — probably when I was about 18 or 19, when I graduated [high school]. That was when I really cared about what I was wearing. I don’t want to wear the things that everybody else is wearing. I want to wear things that I found, that I looked for and that I handpicked. That’s so much more fun than just going to a fast-fashion store and buying the same pair of skinny jeans that everybody else has, which I used to do, for sure, so no shame. I did that all of high school because I just tried to conform to what they were wearing. But when I graduated and was set free, I was like, ‘Oh, I can actually be my own person and dress the way I want, not the way that everybody else does.’
“I became obsessed with thrifting. It still is my most favorite activity. It’s so much more than shopping. To me, it’s like a treasure hunt, and I’ve found some pieces of my dreams. I always go in and out of phases within my overall vintage and thrifting journey. Right now, I’m super into dresses with big collar. Before I exclusively sought out sport skirts and old school uniforms. I thought those were really cool. I still do. I’ve mentioned 1000 times, but slip dresses — I can’t say it enough. What I’m looking for changes, but it’s always in the vintage realm.
“Last week, I found this worn-in, amazing oversized Joker T-shirt that’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever purchased. When you find things like that, it’s just exhilarating. I went to my favorite thrift store in L.A., The Bearded Beagle. I found it right when I walked in — it was hanging high up on a wall and I was like, ‘I need this right now.’ I didn’t even hesitate or even ask about pricing.
“Sometimes I’ll find my favorite pieces online, like I’ll go for a deep, deep dive into the vintage band section or ’90s grunge tab on Etsy. It’s a good time. Literally, I’ll end up on page 55. I’ll usually keep the tab open, so I can just revisit and just keep going deeper into the pages to find more stuff. During Covid, it was mostly online — I had to get my thrifting fix somehow. I also bought so much from The Bearded Beagle on Instagram because I was so desperate to be there again.
“Now that I can go into stores again, it’s been so much fun. I’m so happy to be back and touch all the clothes — that’s sounds weird with Covid, but, to pick up the clothes and try them on, to feel how worn-in shirts are, because that’s my favorite thing ever. With worn-in clothes, you could tell they’ve had a long life. I always think that gives your clothes so much character. It makes it so much more exciting.
“My other favorite is Squaresville in Silver Lake and Hidden Treasures in Topanga. There are so many incredible stores in Los Angeles, but specifically Silver Lake and Los Feliz are where I find most of my clothes. I’ve also recently found some great gems that I love at the Melrose Trading Post flea market. I’ve found a lot of dresses with collars lately and — this is super specific — dresses that are a few sizes bigger than my size with a tie at the waist. Whenever I’m shopping with my friends now, if they see a floral dress with a collar and a waist tie, they know who to give it to.
“The majority of the clothes I have are from the ’80s and the ’90s, but probably mostly the ’90s, especially the pants I have. On Etsy recently, I found this pair of flared jeans by Mudd. I was so stoked. They fit me and I was like, ‘Yes!‘ I wear those all the time. Those were one of my favorite things I found during Covid.
“I’m a real sucker for a jacket. I have a real problem with jackets, actually. My most beloved piece of clothing — like my ultimate prized possession — is this army jacket that my dad got from the Warner Brothers store in the ’90s. It’s a big, oversized green jacket with a bunch of patches from the Justice League on it. On the back, there’s this patch that’s maybe the size of my face that says ‘Justice League’; on the sleeves there are the symbols of the members of the Justice League. That jacket is the most lived-in, worn-in piece of clothing. The sleeves are ripping because I wore it every single day to work when I shot the show, for six months straight. I wear it most days. It was also worn [by Joey Lauren Adams, as Alyssa, in this scene with Ben Affleck’s Holden] in [my dad’s 1997] movie ‘Chasing Amy’ and I just took it after that. I wore it when I was younger and then it went away for a few years. My mom found it during Covid, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is mine again.’ I’ve worn it most days since then.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.