Bonnie Hayashida Sutherland: Costume Design in Disney’s Prom Pact

Bonnie Hayashida Sutherland. Photo courtesy Bonnie Hayashida Sutherland
Bonnie Hayashida Sutherland. Photo courtesy Bonnie Hayashida Sutherland /

Costumes are a massive part of the experience of watching a television show or movie. Bonnie Hayashida Sutherland brought heart, love, and 80s pop culture references to 2023’s Disney film Prom Pact. While the movie takes place in the present day, the 1980s is the theme for Prom and Promposals, which is where most of the 80s references occur.

Bonnie Hayashida Sutherland is no stranger to costume design, having studied it at college and working on a variety of projects leading up to Prom Pact. Between creating a look for every individual character and matching promposals to iconic 80s movies, Bonnie Hayashida Sutherland had a lot going on in the movie.

Culturess: There are a lot of 80s costume references throughout the movie. What 80s films were your biggest inspiration?

Bonnie Hayashida Sutherland: I guess Pretty in Pink was a big one. I love all the John Waters movies, just like everybody does. So there was a ton of 80s inspirations all the way through, and for me, the musical inspirations were a huge part as well.

Culturess: What is it about the 80s look do you think makes people nostalgic for it?

Bonnie Hayashida Sutherland: I think that because everything was a little bit over the top, you know, the big hair. Everything was a little wilder. I think that what’s missing nowadays is the expression in creativity in the clothing that you wore and the hairstyles that you had, and the music that you listen to.

That was a huge part of the 80s, and I kind of feel sorry for the younger people nowadays that they don’t have that in their lives. I’ve talked to the actors on the movie, and a lot of them, their favorite bands are bands from the 70s or the 80s as opposed to bands that are out nowadays, so I think people are really looking for inspiration back to the 80s.

Culturess: When Prom finally arrives, Mandy and Ben are the only ones dressed in noticeably 80s attire. How did you come up with their looks?

Bonnie Hayashida Sutherland: So for Ben, we actually started off looking at a Miami Vice looks like the Don Johnson typical, the big 80s shoulder pads and stuff like that and even how Talking Heads did that one video with the huge shoulder pads. And then, I mentioned Pretty in Pink before. That Duckie image from Pretty in Pink is such a strong image when he first arrives. I mean, he looks amazing. So we took that as an inspiration and started with that, and everything was an homage to him. And then I got his fabrics from L.A, brought a bunch of brocades in. Got it made by an Italian tailor. There are pieces of him that are vintage as well, like his tie and the shirt that I embellished a bit with the purple on it, and the vest and cumberbund that he wore were actually vintage, and his hair was amazing. They did such a great job with his hair.

For Mandy, the inspiration that I took was Cindy Lauper, who was huge in the 80s as well. Her hair, just everything about her, was amazing. So, we started out with images of her, and the director, Anya, she wanted the bright pink to make Mandy really stand out, so I scoured North America looking for the perfect pink taffeta. It was like an 80s staple from back then for prom dresses, and it kinda went from there, and then the corset, and I found a lady who did all the embellishments and rhinestones. There are hundreds of rhinestones, all done by hand. So it kinda went that way. She was Cindy Lauper, and Ben was Duckie.

Culturess: Did 80s styles influence everyone’s regular everyday looks or just the moments that directly reference 80s culture?

Bonnie Hayashida Sutherland: It was mostly for Prom for Ben and Mandy, and then in the proposals that were in the background, they were all based on 80s films. I did try to put a bit of vintage for Ben because I went thrift shopping for him. I found the jacket that he wears with the blue and the red and the white stripes. That’s actually real vintage. For some of Mandy’s as well, I found her some vintage pieces just to mix in with the present day.

Culturess: You have The Ghostbusters, and The Breakfast Club references happening in the background. What type of research does it take to re-create iconic outfits?

Bonnie Hayashida Sutherland: A lot. I had a really great team, and thankfully one of my assistants, Jude, she was all over that doing these promposals and we had to do a ton of research and find the most iconic look was from that, so as soon as you saw it you realize where it came from the recognizability. For The Breakfast Club, for example, the one with the dancing on top of the bookshelves, it had to be spot on. Everything had to be spot on.

So it was a lot of research, and there was a ton of promposals that were always happening in the background like if you watch the movie ten times you can probably see all the promposals that were happening. Some of them get a little bit lost. But everybody should watch it like fifty times, and you’ll see.

Culturess: Prom Pact is a Disney project. How much of a say did they have over the costume’s final designs?

Bonnie Hayashida Sutherland: Anya, the director, who is super supportive, and I’m grateful for that, and Rachel and Julie and they all saw. Anya was the one who had first approvals, and then it went to Disney, so they got final approval on everything.

Culturess: When it came to scenes mimicking famous 80s films, were you trying to match the initial outfits, or were any of them meant to take into account current-day fashion?

Bonnie Hayashida Sutherland: For the 80s movies, there was a lot of clearances involved. We had a clearance person, Drew, who was amazing; he had to go to the studios who actually did the movies and get their approvals for the images, like the Dirty Dancing image and stuff like that for the look. I guess everything is property now, so there were a few things that we couldn’t do exactly spot on. We had to change it up a little bit, so it was a little bit different. But we still had to use the reference of it for the iconic images.

Culturess: How does the clothing style change for each individual character?

Bonnie Hayashida Sutherland: I think that for Mandy, first off, she starts off being a very strong female character, very feminist, and she’s wearing graphic t’s a lot in the beginning. She progresses from a little bit hard exterior and goes to when we see her at the fundraiser when she looks amazing.

That had to be a wow moment, same as like the Prom, to take her out of what her character was at the beginning. I think softens a little bit in her mind when she realizes that Harvard isn’t the only thing, that she has to live a little bit as well. So I think that changes her. I think she, for me, was the most transitioning of all the characters.

Culturess: What was your favorite part of taking on this project?

Bonnie Hayashida Sutherland: I think the fact that it was for Disney because that’s like a dream job for me. I’ve always wanted to do a Disney product, so I’m so grateful that I finally got one. The whole thing and the actors were amazing. Peyton and Milo, and Blake, they were super great to work with, and the 80s importance, I mean, that’s also a dream job. I mean, everything was dream job bread and butter for me.

Culturess: You have all the characters in their regular daily lives. They’re all so different. You have the intellectual side and the athletic side. And then you have all the 80s stuff happening, so what is the most challenging part of creating all these different costume designs for so many different areas of this movie?

Bonnie Hayashida Sutherland: For Prom Pact, there were so many different things that were happening in this movie. There was promposals to pep rally to fundraiser, to the Prom. So I think the biggest challenge was organization, really in being able to organize what was happening when and then the creative process you had to have happening as well. It was a juggling act, I guess. Not a lot of sleep. I don’t think anyone on my team got a lot of sleep the whole movie because it’s huge. Then everything gets edited down.

So something that only happens for like a split second took weeks and weeks of prep. I had a couple of companies in the stage that do the marching band to the cheerleader uniforms, and then there was the basketball that I had to cover, so it was many things and then having certain items like built, like the Prom was built. Just resourcing and thrifting, and it was huge. But I’m so happy with the way everything turned out, and I’m just happy for all the support that I got on this movie.

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