Having Fun With the '80s in Lisa Frankenstein’s Costumes

An exclusive Q&A with costume designer Meagan McLaughlin Luster.

In Lisa Frankenstein, directed by Zelda Williams and written by Diablo Cody, Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton) is an awkward high schooler who comes into her own when she helps a dead 19th-century musician (Cole Sprouse) come back to life. Unable to connect to her bubbly stepsister Taffy (Liza Soberano) or domineering stepmother Janet (Carla Gugino), Lisa nevertheless gains self-confidence and a new fashion sense from her decomposing friend.

To bring out the fun '80s vibe of the film, the filmmakers turned to Emmy-nominated costume designer Meagan McLaughlin Luster. She not only had a keen sense of genre and style, having worked in everything from horror to comedy, but also had a storeroom of '80s fashion just waiting to be worn.

We spoke with McLaughlin Luster about her inspirations, dressing the principal characters, and why she loves the '80s.

Get your tickets for Lisa Frankenstein, now playing in theaters!

The official trailer for Lisa Frankenstein

How did you end up creating the costumes for Lisa Frankenstein?

My agent sent me the script, and I had 24 hours to read it and interview for the position of costume designer. Once I started reading it, I kept making notes to myself saying, “This is my movie.” For example, the script mentions Buster Keaton, and my daughter is named Keaton, after Buster Keaton. When I got to the dream sequence, I had to stop reading and start rendering the dress for it, which is what I sent in for my interview and eventually became part of the movie.

The film is a throwback to '80s films? How did you connect with that?

Diablo and I are around the same age, so everything that she mentioned in the screenplay, I personally remember. It all made complete sense to me. Indeed, a lot of our research for the film came from my own personal pictures of the time period along with ads from Esprit, Banana Republic, and Benetton.

Kathryn Newton and Cole Spouse in Lisa Frankenstein

Where did you get your references for '80s fashion?

So much of '80s fashion was in the movies of that period. Both Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and Heathers were filmed in '88 and released in '89. Those films capture the period, especially in what the background actors wore. When we were dressing the background actors, my assistant would say things like, “I'm dressing him like a guy from Say Anything.”

Tell us about how you dressed Lisa.

A couple of the costumes were directly out of my wardrobe. I wore them during the time period, especially the button-down look with the broach at the neck with the penny loafers and Bobby socks or the acid-washed jeans that were rolled from the bottom. That was how I dressed. It's basically from my experience.

Lisa’s wardrobe seems to change as she changes in the movie.

High school is always full of insecurity and self-doubt, and there are moments where you're not secure being who you want to be or even knowing who that is. You see elements of that in Lisa at the beginning. She’s struggling to find her place, especially in her new blended family. The creature gives her the attention and self-confidence to express herself. The pirate dress and the Blossom hat that she wears probably started out as part of a costume she’d buried in her closet, but now she wears it as an expression of her character.

Cole Sprouse and Kathryn Newton in Lisa Frankenstein

How about the costume for the creature?

Unfortunately, audiences won't see how glorious his original costume is because it's covered in mud when he first appears. It was a proper Victorian burial outfit for a gentleman. Later, the creature takes modern outfits and makes them sort of Victorian. He wears a jacket with his Violent Femmes T-shirt to make the outfit more proper. When he gets a scarf, he turns that into a tie. He constantly reverts back to Victorian style throughout his evolution.

How would you characterize Taffy’s outfits?

She’s very bright, happy, and on-point with '80s fashion. She has her cheerleading outfit. Later, she goes a little dark, showing up to school with no make-up, her hair not done, and wearing a gray crewneck sweatshirt.

How about Janet’s look?

Originally, I had a different direction in mind for Janet, but then Carla and I had a conversation on the phone, and I really did a 180. She had some great ideas for Janet. One was inspired by Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. We took her nurse’s outfit and embroidered it with red.

Carla Gugino in Lisa Frankenstein

What is so fun about the '80s fashion in the film?

For me, the time period is when I fell in love with fashion and started to get into clothing. I love the color, the cuts, and the little touches we used to do—wearing t-shirts backward, penny loafers, pinch-rolled jeans. It all sparks a memory of what I miss.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.