This week at Fashionista, we’re celebrating all things at the intersection of fashion and pop culture — including the nostalgic sartorial moments that were formative to our style growth. In our series, Fashionista’s Pop Culture Style Icons, we obsess over the characters who have influenced our wardrobes the most, even to this day.
In fourth grade, I had to fill out a survey that nine- or 10-year-old kids typically come across. It was one of those fill-in-the-blank lists with fun questions about your favorite animal, or your favorite hobby, or how many siblings you have. It also asked what I wanted to be when I grow up and so I wrote: “Cassandra from ‘Wayne’s World.'” At the time, ‘Wayne’s World’ was — and still is — one of my favorite movies, alongside other comedies with a romantic bent, like ‘Clueless,’ ‘Mean Girls’ and ‘Earth Girls Are Easy’ (the reason for my longtime crush on Jeff Goldblum but let’s save that for another time).
Cassandra Wong, perfectly played by Tia Carrere, caught my attention because for starters, she’s an Asian-American woman with a fairly large role in a very popular film. That’s something you don’t normally see from Hollywood in 2017, let alone the early ’90s. Plus, Cassandra’s character was a total badass: she’s the lead singer and bass player of a rock band and she beat up a random dude at a heavy metal bar just minutes within her first appearance on ‘Wayne’s World’ — all while dressed in a killer ensemble. Seriously, you try doing a roundhouse kick after performing on stage while wearing a matching two-piece outfit, garter stockings and heels.
What I admired about Cassandra was the fact that she was so freakin’ confident and cool and totally likable. She didn’t put up with people’s crap either, whether it was a club owner trying to scam her on money, Wayne’s poor attempt at a pickup line (“Rough night, huh? Everybody’s kung fu fighting.” Oof.) or Benjamin’s skeevy ways. She was a down-to-earth, keep-it-100 type of girl through and through. The fact that she had a keen sense of style and a penchant for accessorizing was just an added bonus.
But when Cassandra was hanging out with Wayne and Garth at Stan Mikita’s Donuts or the music shop, her looks were super casual, like a floral slip dress, high-waisted jeans or a cropped vest over a plain white tank top. She was fully aware of her stage persona and real life, and how getting dressed can help distinguish the two.
I had the chance to speak with Wayne’s World wardrobe designer Pat Tonnema (!) on the phone and she, too, was aware of Cassandra’s dual aesthetic. On one hand, she was Wayne’s dream woman incarnate — “a total babe,” “schwing!” if you will — and on the other, she was the girl next door, and her clothes certainly reflected that. For her performances, Tonnema dressed Cassandra in monochromatic looks amplified with texture and shine, like a moto-style cropped vest and matching shorts made from sparkling white denim; a purple long-sleeve lace top and purple faux snake skinny pants; or her most memorable outfit: a red lace halter-top minidress with matching arm gloves. (Custom-designed by Trashy Lingerie in Los Angeles, tips Tonema.)
“I used a lot of lace and sparkly fabrics and shimmery things. Not rhinestones or anything over the top — just that suggestion to kick the light,” Tonnema tells me. “And color saturation because a lot of rock ‘n’ rollers do dress in a lot of black. but to me that can be a little somber and that’s not who Cassandra was.”
Her everyday looks were made up of what was trending during the ’90s, which is probably why you can easily find similar styles from some of your favorite high street shops today. Tonnema managed to find those pieces while scouring the quirky (and now long gone) boutiques on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood, as well as thrift stores and Goodwill. “Her costumes needed to balance that fantasy and real,” says Tonnema. “What any woman could buy or put together for herself. That’s essentially how I did it, too. I just found things.” Sounds pretty effortless, just like Cassandra.
In case you’re wondering, Carrere’s all-white outfit is her favorite. “Very sexy and yet kickass-tough,” she wrote to me over email. After 25 years since the film’s official release, Carrere still has the iconic red dress in her closet. So cool.
Far from my fourth grade days, do I still want to be Cassandra from ‘Wayne’s World’? Hell yeah I do! I know my time is fleeting and nearly nonexistent when it comes to becoming a real rock star, but I always know I can dress like one if I wanted to.