Pen15 Stars Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle on Y2K Fashion

Welcome to our podcast, Who What Wear With Hillary Kerr. Think of it as your direct line to the designers, stylists, beauty experts, editors, and tastemakers who are shaping the fashion-and-beauty world. Subscribe to Who What Wear With Hillary Kerr on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

I feel personally attacked by Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle. The creators of the Emmy-nominated series Pen15 have brought to life the most realistic Y2K world that I've ever seen depicted on television. From butterfly clips to layered tank tops, Erskine and Konkle have created a nostalgic world that feels almost too real. It's as if my diary that I wrote in with gel pens became a series on Hulu—in the best way possible.

Erskine and Konkle worked with their costume designer Melissa Walker to use clothing as a way of developing a fictional world that felt rooted in their own middle-school experiences in the early 2000s. Whether it's low-rise jeans or an orange tankini, Pen15 is a time capsule for Y2K fashion, and so many of the trends you see on the show are making a comeback IRL.

Listen to Erskine and Konkle share how much of their own experiences they put into the show, what it's like to source clothes for their characters, and more on the latest episode of Who What Wear With Hillary Kerr

For some excerpts from their interview, keep scrolling.

You guys play middle schoolers in the year 2000. What was the most important piece of this time, both of the era as well as the age for the two of you?

Maya Erskine: I think one of the most important things for us to capture was not even the time in terms of nostalgia or anything like that. We always talked about it feeling like a memory.


ME: Yeah, or when you watch you can feel like you're brought back or right there. The little details, you know, really focusing on that—sometimes too much so. But wanting to present what it was really like to be 13, which what we had seen at the time—except for Welcome to the Dollhouse—was all Disney and bright and lollipops. For us, there was a lot going on at that age that I was really ashamed about or that was R-rated that you wouldn't be able to see on TV—especially with 13-year-olds. It was just us wanting to present being 13 in a real R-rated way as honestly as possible.

Anna Konkle: Maya [Erskine] and I were sort of obsessed—before Pen15—with playing characters and writing about the "reject" part of ourselves, and owning that title.

That was sort of the thing that moved us towards being 13, too. Yes, there's this trove of content that is just sitting there that we haven't seen a ton of, but also because it's super "rejecty," and that's really interesting to us.



What elements are most personal or true to your own experiences? What's the biggest stretch?

ME: There's so much that's real. I would say 70 to 80% is based on—or more—would be autobiographical. There are obvious fictional changes just because Anna and I didn't grow up together. You know, this is a fictional place. I would like to say for the record, that my biggest stretch is me stalking Brandt. I didn't stalk a kid. I didn't put hair in lockers, but everything else is pretty close to true. (Laughs)



What's your process like working with your costume designer, Melissa [Walker]?

AK: We knew that we wanted things to be from Goodwill and the fabric to be pilling. Just everything texturally comes through. That's the kind of focus we had on the costumes, and it really did so much work for everything—including the acting. [It's] really what we have on our bodies and the binding that we do and everything that's been pretty important to us.



ME: We were trying to tell stories about the characters with the clothes. Maya is a little lower income than Anna in the show, so does she get hand-me-downs from Anna sometimes? Having them not get the newest Adidas shoes, but maybe [the ones] from Payless [and] having the Adidas fake version of those shoes. So getting very specific. And Melissa was incredible at nailing every detail of that and having a purpose or reason for each piece of clothing.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Next up, check out our previous episode featuring Saturday Night Live star Heidi Garnder.