During the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, two names ruled the straight-to-VHS-and-DVD market: Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. Riding the wave of their Full House success, which took off five years before their first TV movie, To Grandmother’s House We Go, aired, the Olsens starred in over 37 films, all distributed by their production company, Dualstar Entertainment Group. Each movie followed a similar narrative template. The twins, often traveling to some far-away location like Italy, (When in Rome), or Australia (Our Lips Are Sealed); had a mystery to solve, (The Adventures of Mary Kate & Ashley franchise); or were being pursued by an adversary with ill will (Eugene Levy in New York Minute).
In each film, the Olsen twins wore the most wanted fashions of the moment: platform flip-flops and maxi-skirts straight from a Delia’s catalogue, or the lime-green, spaghetti-strap tank tops of the Limited Too ilk. I, like my peers, ate these Mary Kate and Ashley movies up as quickly as my VCR could handle them. But what kept me enthralled through the hours of Billboard Dad and Winning London weren’t the adventures upon which the twins embarked. I loved their clothing—and their accessories in particular. I gleaned some of the earliest accessory and beauty inspiration that I can remember from watching Passport to Paris.
In the early Aughts, I was a teen, hungry for trends. I’d take BART, traveling from my home in Oakland, California, to the shopping hub of Market Street in San Francisco, or beg my mother to drive me to the suburbs, where there were real malls. I wanted to wear jewelry from Claire’s, buy headbands and butterfly clips from Icing, and cap the afternoon off with a nice pretzel from Auntie Anne’s. Mom, meanwhile, loathed these, as she described them, “garbage” stores. She and my father, despite being strictly middle class and with no extensive wealth to speak of, insisted on long-lasting, high quality pieces—wool scarves and sweaters, leather shoes, sturdy canvas bags.
But I just wanted to be cool. And cool meant wearing the “garbage” du jour, clothing and accessories I could wear three, maybe four times, before I discarded them in favor of the next thing. I saw Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen as the pinnacle of fashion sensibility of the times, and hungrily mined their costumes for inspo. The bandanas they wore on their heads in Passport to Paris; flat-ironed hair with chunky highlights of When in Rome; headbands, bucket hats, chokers, and tankinis from Our Lips Are Sealed. (Trends that have come full circle and are now in style for Gen Z kids in 2020.) Even the late-era MK&A style, in New York Minute, one of their final films of this kind, was thrilling: Mary Kate’s Metallica t-shirt layered on top of a long-sleeve, with distressed bell-bottoms and flip flops echoed what they wore in real life on the streets of New York and Los Angeles, where they sported huge sunglasses and nouveau-bohemian getups, toting venti-sized iced coffees from Starbucks.
I’d sneak into Sephora and pick out a frosty, shimmering blue lipstick I’d seen on Ashley before a member of my family could protest. While shopping with my friends, I clandestinely purchased a graphic t-shirt from Zutopia, like one I’d seen in Billboard Dad. Mini purses and single-strap backpacks became the objects of my obsession; I begged for a sporty one like I’d seen on Mary-Kate and Ashley, who had hot pink and baby blue versions.
As an adult, I have grown to be more like my parents than ever: I shop with textiles and craftsmanship in mind, and looks from movies and TV shows that inspire me these days aren’t steeped in trends. I want quality pieces I’ll wear for at least a few years. TL;DR: I’m old now. But when I see a picture from that particular era—excessive hair clips, mini buns, cardigans, thick pleather cuffs— I smile and remember a time when I watched those movies, longing for the things they wore. They were so on top of the trends, even ahead of them. And they’ve maintained a comparable power today, with The Row—a brand known for its tailored goods, clean lines, and impeccably made basics. They’re still setting new trends, albeit for a more mature set.
I imagine that perhaps, back then, the Olsens looked to some fashion cornerstone as inspiration for their own outfits that eventually appeared in the movies. Maybe their parents tired of their trendy pieces and encouraged them to buy something that might last longer (although, to be sure, their wares weren’t from Zutopia). All the same, I aimed to be like them. So I’d sneak back into my home after shopping for another trendy thing, an imitation of the rimless, square, red sunglasses from Getting There, or a knock-off beaded, multicolored choker. My mom would tsk and say in Mandarin, “Ai ya. More garbage?”