If any line from Stranger Things 3 could sum up the season's overall theme, it would be Mike's declaration to Will they are "not kids anymore." Season 3 of the Netflix hit series reintroduces audiences to the Hawkins gang at a transitional period in their lives: It's the summer of 1985, and the kids are on the cusp of high school. They're experiencing the joys and pains of adolescence all while their enemies are getting bolder. Even without the literal monsters, young adulthood is a tumultuous time, and representing each character's identity within the supernaturally-tinged Stranger Things world through their clothes presented a unique set of challenges for costume designer Amy Parris.
"The theme [this season] is, in a few words, brighter in color, it's bolder in pattern, it's different in silhouette compared to what we've seen in the past," Parris tells Bustle. The Starcourt Mall, where much of the action in Stranger Things 3 is set, is also a character in its own right, bringing fashion directly into the show's conversations. So how do you decide how to dress Eleven and co. to reflect their personal growth in the '80s as they battle literal monsters? Parris and her team worked with both the Duffer brothers and the actors themselves to design unique costumes that would further define this season's themes of identity, growing up, and letting go.
Born in a test lab and never allowed to venture out, the psionic heroine Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is still learning how to navigate the outside world. Hopper and Mike helped her to acclimate socially to her new surroundings, but when it comes to fashion, we hadn't yet seen much of Eleven's personality.
"You can see a girl who's been kind of sheltered her whole life," Parris says, describing Eleven's early wardrobe as full of "dusty plaids" that were "given to her from Hopper, or maybe it's leftover Mike's clothes."
In contrast, Eleven discovering shopping with Max in Stranger Things 3 marks a turn towards discovering her own identity. "It was fun to get the chance to see what somebody her age would gravitate towards when they go to this fresh, new mall," says Parris. "And it felt that she'd go for these bold patterns and these bright colors because it's something she's never done before."
Since Millie Bobby Brown is such an effortless fashion icon in her own right, Parris was careful to find ways to make Eleven look like an everyday, awkward teen. "We found that putting her in the more exaggerated shapes of the ‘80s, you know, the pleated waist with the whole leg that tapers to the bottom and the oversized shirts with the big sleeves [helped]. Because she's so petite, when you kind of swallow her in those clothes, she doesn't look exactly like the Millie that you see on the internet."
Mike, Lucas, Max, Dustin, and Will
While the younger gang of kids in Hawkins are often banding together to defeat the Mind Flayer, their personal fashion senses are a little less cohesive.
"Lucas, Dustin, and Mike are feeling like they're kind of finding their identity as they're getting older," says Parris. "You know, they're going to be in high school... so it's nice to kind of filter in a little bit more character." Mike (Finn Wolfhard) experiences the joy and heartbreak of his first ever romance in Stranger Things 3, and his wardrobe reflects the sensibilities of someone who's both getting older and who comes from a more affluent family than his friends. His clothing has become a lot of bright, fitted, preppy polos, which contrasts with the more casual wear of Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLoughlin), and Will (Noah Schnapp).
Dustin, meanwhile, comes into his own in Stranger Things 3 as the tech whiz of the group, and you can see that in his geek-themed shirts, like the green Camp Know Where tee. As he gets older, he's also finding ways to weave his interests into his fashion sense. "[At one point] Dustin's wearing a Weird Al shirt," Parris says. "He's getting into music now, and finding pop culture references that he wants to put on the shirts."
Max's (Sadie Sink) personal style also represents her interests — since she enjoys shopping as much as skating and comics, her clothing blends the traditionally feminine with the masculine. And though the California native has seamlessly integrated into the D&D gang in a few months, her personal style still reflects her roots, too.
"Being from California, I felt like you see the sort of like, late ‘70s, early ‘80s skater style in her still," says Parris, who notes that Max has not really changed her wardrobe since moving to Indiana — the sunny yellows were always there, just hidden. "She had colorful stripes on in her outfits in the past season, but a lot of them were under hoodies or sweatshirts. And so it was kind of nice to make them a little bolder and a little brighter, just pump everything up."
Max's tendency to don yellows and rainbows certainly has an effect on her boyfriend Lucas, who wears bolder, brighter patterns this season. "His style has changed. And he's certainly influenced by Max in the way that he's got that great Japanese print shirt that he wears near the end of the season," says Parris. "It's certainly influenced by her line, speaking of you know, Ralph Macchio, and how she has a crush on him."
One person who seems out of place in terms of his style choices, though, is Will. If you noticed that Will's clothing looked ill-fitted and immature compared to his friends, Parris confirms that was absolutely the intention. Unlike his friends, Will struggles to let go of the memories of their youth — and his time spent in the Upside Down likely can't be helping with his attempts to move on.
"He's sad they're not playing D&D with him, and these boys have girlfriends, and they want to go to the mall, and they don't want to play in the basement anymore," Parris explains. "So we did our best to really try to keep the sort of younger, youthful looks on Will and the clothes that don't quite fit right. They're a little too tight. He's about to grow out of them, but he's still hanging on."
Steve and Robin
Unlike the rest of the characters, Steve (Joe Keery) and Robin (Maya Hawke) are trapped in a single outfit for most of the show — their Scoops Ahoy uniform, which is both very cute and distinctly embarrassing. It was such an important look to nail that it was the first one Parris designed for the Duffer brothers when she signed on for Stranger Things 3.
The uniform had to be uncool, but also something that viewers could stand to look at all season. Variety was key to this. "Within designing a male and a female uniform, I wanted them to not be exactly the same, so you wouldn't be tired of looking at both of them in it the whole time," explains Parris. Robin's outfit is blue and white, while Steve's is red and white and calls to mind more of a vintage sailor costume.
It's Hawke who added the most character to the generic outfit. Robin wears punk-ish accessories, like a black cross earring as well as a ball and chain necklace. She also took Robin's red Converses home and sketched all over them to give them an extra lived-in feel.
Nancy and Jonathan
Befitting their positions as spunky journalists, both Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan's (Charlie Heaton) wardrobes are a little different from the rest of their peers.
"It's like her and Jonathan are a little bit more of the kind of new wave '80s, getting into fashion but not in the mainstream, essentially," says Parris. "They're probably not shopping at the mall."
Nancy in particular is finding her way as a young woman who wants to be taken seriously in the workplace, but has to navigate '80s sexism. "She's pursuing a career, so we didn't want her to look dainty, but I think we bridge the gap of entering the workforce, feminine, sweet, but still really tough," Parris says.
Parris reveals that the dress Nancy wears for most of the show was a vintage one-off from Etsy; they simply made a few tweaks to the neckline. Though the team only found out later that she would be wearing the outfit for the showdown with the monster at the hospital, the Duffers liked the idea of Nancy kicking butt in a dress. "There's goo and there's stunts, so we suddenly had to scramble and dye fabric to match the exact purple and teal and build it again in multiples," laughs Parris. "There's never a dull moment."
It's clear this season simply would not be the same without the bright, bold outfits that Parris selected. The fashion she introduced is sure to reach its own pop culture status — and several of the outfits have already found their way onto store racks.
"H&M has recreated [Mrs. Wheeler's] bathing suit and then done a line around that. Levi's has copied, to the exact stitch, the black and yellow Eleven outfit that she wears at the end. And they've got the Camp Know Where shirt. Target has Eleven's jumper that she wears at the mall," Parris says. "I mean, it's kind of incredible, what's out there right now with what [the show's] influenced."