NEW YORK – The young stars of Disney Channel's new "Teen Beach Movie" enjoyed putting on the '60s two-piece bikinis a la Annette Funicello so much they wanted to keep them. They also swooned over cheerful prints and crushed on high-waist shorts.
The movie debuted Friday, just in time for the important back-to-school season.
Maia Mitchell and Grace Phipps, potential tastemakers for eager teen shoppers, seem to have an appreciation — and knowledge — of retro fashion, and can see beyond it just being just plain "old."
"The entire decade of the '60s had so much style, more than I think we have nowadays," says Phipps, who wore one of her grandmother's vintage dresses to the film's red-carpet premiere.
"Teen Beach Movie," which is a riff on "West Side Story" with a backdrop of "Beach Blanket Bingo," largely relies on costumes, coupled with music, to put viewers in a time and place when most of them weren't yet born.
"The base of it all was fun in the sun. Everyone is having great fun here, and that fuels fantasy," says costume designer Ruth Carter. "Fashion can connect families. You see how the kids wear their hair now, it's not so different than how their parents wore it when their parents were kids. It's good for kids to see that parents liked to have fun, wear the trends of the day."
And, Carter asks: Who — now or then — doesn't love the perfect T-shirt paired with cutoff shorts?
Pointy-toe pumps, ankle- and capri-length skinny pants and bubble-gum patterns are other looks that would resonate with today's teenagers, she says.
That demographic has some serious shoppers, but their wallets often aren't very deep. They are looking for the few items that will help them make a strong style statement without going out too far on a limb, adds Louise Roe, stylist and host of TV's "Fashion Star." She crafted outfits for a fashion shoot based on the movie. "The teen beach look is affordable and attainable."
To keep it modern, pair something — or two or three things — from the '60s with something new, she suggests, perhaps some on-trend colored skinny jeans with a fruit-print sleeveless shirt tied at the waist and ballet flats, or a polka-dot top, denim shorts and gladiator-style flat sandals.
The best time to go back in fashion history is when we've moved far enough away from it, Roe says. "Once you've done it, you don't want to do it again. Leave it for someone else."
That puts 19-year-old Mitchell in the clear. "I'm obsessed with retro fashion. My whole wardrobe is vintage- inspired. I'm not a big fan of the neon that's a big trend. I'm more classic, so I knew I'd be superexcited for this role because I knew I'd love the costumes."
She thinks that the prevailing silhouette, which hugged the body without being too revealing, would be flattering to many body types.
"I was able to have fun, even in the two-pieces. They were body conscious and showed your curves, but they were for more body types. You can move around in these bathing suits and have fun," Mitchell said. That, she said, is likely the key to the longevity of the '60s look.
Her favorite suit was the orange bikini with a seashell-style top and a frilly, modest bottom. The movie's bosses wouldn't let her take it home because they were afraid they'd need it for reshoots, she said, but the white one with a tiny pink floral pattern she bought for herself could have been part of the wardrobe.
Meanwhile, Phipps has her own cheeky lemon-print suit that "looks a little like a tablecloth in 1958," but she loves wearing it with a huge floppy hat and button-down shirt.
Neither Mitchell nor Phipps, however, were huge fans of the built-in bras in the swimwear and bustier tops back in the day. "That built-in bust doesn't need to be revisited," declared Phipps.
Carter sees a silver lining in the more structured clothes, though. "No one's jeans were sagging. It's a look at how life would be without sagging pants."