POORVA SETH, 21, a recent graduate of the University of Toronto, wore a tight white T-shirt, beige jacket, miniskirt and knee-high boots to an outdoor lunch date this spring. Her sartorial inspiration? Rachel Green, the character that Jennifer Aniston played in the ultra-popular sitcom “Friends.” The show, which is being revisited in a reunion special on HBO Max this week, went off the air just a few years after Ms. Seth was born in 1999. Yet like many Gen-Z women, she considers Rachel Green “the style icon that I look to the most.”
Although it’s been nearly 30 years since “Friends” debuted in 1994, its avant-basic aesthetic is a source of inspiration for many people who were too young to absorb it the first time around. Although the show’s kooky coffee-shop set design has not endured in the same way, its body-conscious and colorful fashion is having a moment. Specifically the styles worn by Rachel Green, the show’s resident fashion plate, who had evolved from an unemployable suburban princess into a polished Ralph Lauren executive by the time series ended its run in 2004. Emily Perry, who runs the popular Instagram account @everyfriendsoutfit, noticed, “More than any other ‘Friend’ her outfits get the most questions about where and how to buy certain pieces and get shared widely.”
According to Google data from 2020 compiled by Money.co.uk, Rachel Green was the TV character with the most-searched style, easily beating the next in line, Maddy Perez from the far-more-current HBO show “Euphoria.” Image-sharing platform
reports that searches for “Rachel Green aesthetic” are eight times higher over the last month than during the same time period in 2017, and searches for “Rachel Green outfits” have increased by 58%.
Both those who lived through the 1990s, as well as those who devour that decade’s look on TikTok, know what the Rachel Green look entails: skinny layered T-shirts, knee-high boots, overalls, slip dresses, low-rise cargo pants, shorts with tights, plaid mini-skirts, buttoned cardigans. Although what I recall most powerfully about Rachel Green from the (actual) ’90s was her highlighted shag hairdo—the “Rachel”—it now takes a back seat to her fashion. Currently trending on TikTok: videos enumerating style lessons learned from Rachel Green (for example, “A Little Black Dress is always a good idea”).
Many Rachel fans I spoke to praised the look’s accessibility. The simple pieces she wears—white button-ups, jeans, tank tops—are things that you might already find in your closet. And if not, they can be easily procured at 90s-inspired youth-focused brands like Aritzia and Reformation. Reformation, specifically, with its floral slip dresses and crop tops, might as well use stills from “Friends” in its advertising campaigns. Or you can buy the real thing. Caitlyn Ward, an adjunct professor, personal stylist and TikToker in Dothan, Ala., celebrates the fact that one can easily thrift the Rachel look. “You can get those authentic pieces that were around when she was on the air,” she said.
The urge to replicate the “Friends” look often leads to its costume designer, Debra McGuire. She told me that while the interest in the show hasn’t waned since it ended, its fans have gotten younger. She gets emails from kids as young as 8 or 9 asking where to find certain pieces. She also hears from husbands asking where they can buy similar items for their wives. This makes her laugh. “I’m like, honey, that was 20 years ago,” she said.
Trained as a fine artist, Ms. McGuire conceived of the costumes in a painterly way, and thought strategically about how the six main “Friends” would look together onscreen. Each character got his or her own color palette and textures, which were meticulously mapped out on mood boards. She remembers, “I was pretty hardcore sticking to my philosophy, at least for the first three years. And then it was just a matter of having them evolve like human beings evolve.”
In playing Rachel Green, Jennifer Aniston herself evolved into a gifted comic actress who Ms. McGuire compares to Lucille Ball. So rather than putting her in the more oversize, structured suiting that was popular in the ’90s, Ms. McGuire decided the Rachel Green look should be more form-fitting (the character popularized the baby-T-shirt showing an inch of midriff style that persists in Brooklyn today). The costume designer explained, “She has tremendous physical power and and you see that in her physical humor and in everything that she does.” The pair has gone on to work together on the movie “Wanderlust” and more recently, “The Morning Show” on Apple TV+.
Ms. McGuire was loath to name brands and designers featured in the show. “I didn’t really want brands to be anything,” she explained, continuing, “I kept everybody at arm’s length even when [Rachel Green] worked at Ralph Lauren. Of course we would do some Ralph Lauren pieces because it was appropriate to do that. But it was not their show. It was our show.” (A representative for Ralph Lauren did not respond for comment.)
The Rachel Green look, which was somewhat trendy and youthful during its time, has come to be seen as timeless by the Instagram generation (perhaps in contrast to more violently ’90s styles like those worn by Paris Hilton and her ilk). Ms. Seth sees Rachel Green’s slip dresses and T-shirts as a palate cleanser amidst the endless flow of trends on social media. “It’s not sustainable to consistently follow these trends, so I try to channel Rachel’s energy of that timeless minimal style,” she explained.
Rachel Green’s fans will see that familiar minimal style on display in tonight’s reunion show. In it, Jennifer Aniston and her castmates look eerily unchanged, minus a few crinkles and rumples around the edges. The three women, dressed in sleek black, sit on the original Central Perk couch and laugh cozily together. Ms. McGuire said that during Covid, friends of hers who had never watched the show got into it. She explained, “I think watching ‘Friends’ brings a kind of calm and comfort to people.”
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