The Promising Young Woman star opens up about finding her footing in high fashion.

By Jennifer Coolidge as told to Samantha Simon
Updated Feb 14, 2020 @ 8:00 am
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A lot of actresses I know have been putting outfits together since they were 5, meticulously matching their clothes to their bag and shoes. That wasn’t me. I never thought to look neat when I was younger; I just felt really lucky to make it out of bed.

It wasn’t until I became obsessed with old movies that I got interested in fashion. Black-and-white films from the ’40s were so glamorous, I wanted to crawl right onto the screen. Even now, when I’m watching something like the Oscars, most of the dresses I’m attracted to were pulled from the archives of Valentino or Oscar de la Renta or Givenchy. They might have been designed 30 years ago, but they’re timeless. I’ve found some great pieces in vintage shops, but I’ve never been the girl who walks into a store and spends $30,000 on a dress.

The truth is, when you’re a character actress, the studio doesn’t give you a big check to buy something to wear on a red carpet. Sometimes the wardrobe person on a set will gift me clothes, but I’m usually playing such strange people that I would never dress like them, to be honest. Stifler’s mom [her role in American Pie] certainly doesn’t reflect my style, and neither does Paulette [in Legally Blonde]. Poor Paulette really needs to find some flattering clothing.

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Even though I’m very tall and not a size 2, I still love incredibly feminine pieces. My all-time favorite look was the pink ruffled Valentino Haute Couture dress that Lady Gaga wore to the première of A Star Is Born. It looked like a big pink powder-puff ball. I want to get married in that dress. I mean, how cool would it be to walk down the aisle in that? Sometimes when I’m looking for an outfit to wear on a red carpet, someone will suggest a “strong but severe” pantsuit. That’s not how I want to go; I always want the feminine dress.

I don’t get it right every time — there have definitely been blunders. But if you have the choice to wear a killer look versus something you’re not pleased with, then there’s really only one option. Nothing is worse than getting out of a limo to do hours of press in an outfit you can’t stand. There was one première when I couldn’t find anything, and I ended up wearing a Prada raincoat without anything underneath. Since then I’ve learned that you need 10 fallbacks in your closet just in case.

Right now I love Christian Siriano and Loewe. With Christian I’ve been lucky in that I can just throw on a dress. That’s usually impossible for me — it normally takes tons of fittings. I went to his show in the fall and everybody had their phones up to record, but I was too afraid I’d miss something. Later I had huge regrets — I wanted that whole thing on my phone! His clothing looks good on everyone. He knows women’s bodies; that’s for sure. He’s also an egoless guy.

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I feel the same way about the whole Loewe group. Jonathan Anderson and his design team are the coolest bunch of people I’ve ever met. They created an amazing dress for me for their holiday party last December. I hung it up in front of the giant window of my hotel room overlooking the New York City skyline, and it was almost as if another human being were in the room. I’d wake up like, “There it is again!” That was one of the best parties I’d been to in years. It was true artists coming together and creating, and it didn’t have that designery, formal, red-carpet feel. I think I was the last person to leave.

I feel like there’s a new thing happening in fashion where there’s less snobbery and arrogance. When you go up to a designer and say, “That is the most beautiful dress I’ve ever seen,” they don’t just stare at you and turn away because they’re so aloof. As I learn more and more about all this cool stuff, I’ve realized that there truly is a reason for fashion. It makes you feel better if you’re wearing the right thing. It expresses who you are. For so many years I underestimated its importance, but I’m not going to do that anymore.

Coolidge stars in the drama Promising Young Woman, in theaters on April 17.

For more stories like this, pick up the March issue of InStyle available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Feb. 14.