How “Girlfriends” Helped Me Find My Girlfriends (And Myself)

My girlfriends, there through thick and thin…

This lyric, sung by Angie Stone and written by Ty Dolla Sign, opens the iconic early 2000s hit sitcom, Girlfriends, and isn’t only a catchy tune. I think of it as a rite of passage, the greeting I sing as an endearing welcome to my best friends at dinner, the name of our infamous group chat that dings with messages of romantic dates and nightmare work stories. Girlfriends, the hit sitcom that graced our TV screens for eight seasons, just marked its 20th anniversary and has the world reflecting on the cultural imprint it’s left on generations of women. Joan. Toni. Maya. Lynn. These women flashed on my screen starting when I was seven, when I watched it with my mother as she plaited my hair, and grew with me into a teenager wanting to understand love and relationships through the lens of women in their late twenties. Now, as an adult, I sit in my Brooklyn apartment, living through some of the same intimate moments that these characters portrayed.

FROM LEFT: Jill Marie Jones (Toni), Golden Brooks (Maya), Tracee Ellis Ross (Joan), Persia White (Lynn). Image via Everett Collection.

Maya’s “Oh, hell no” jolts my nostalgia and reminds me of my everyday self. As a 27-year-old Black woman, I realized the life I manifested was inspired greatly by these iconic characters.  Their tenacity to discuss life, love, and sex from four different perspectives opened my world to what looks like to be a woman finding love, building a career, and have a evolving sister-friend group. Sex in the City came to me as an adult and I was never much interested in Friends. Joan and her crew of Girlfriends were the embodiment of the women I wanted to become—and 20 years later, I am. 

As I binge, starting from the first episode, I watch Joan open the show in a backless, sexy cowl-neck dress. I chuckle at the resemblance, her magnetic energy, and how opulent it is to see myself in the women of my childhood on TV once again. This time, I’m watching it as a grown woman, during a time where being present in my Blackness is just as important as my womanly prowess. Below, I recreated some of the most memorable looks from the show, and talked with Repeller’s Mikaela Clark about it.


Dress: Helmut Lang via Shopbop; Shoes: Brother Vellies; Bag: Mlouye

Let’s start with Toni. What were you trying to convey?

Toni is a beautiful woman who really knows her curves. Toni is self-obsessed. She knows what she wants. She knows how she wants it. And she goes for it. She knows her body—she’s top heavy, she loves a nice slit. I wanted to give her some sexiness, but still feel a little polished. I really wanted to have a hot, sexy number—a hot red dress with my red lips and a really cute stiletto. She always had such a lady-bag, so I have a little cute lady bag for her as well.


Pants: Tibi; Shawl top: LaPointe, Shoes: UGG x Eckhaus Latta; Earring: SVNR; Ring: Rush Jewelry; Ring: Pamela Love; Necklace: Pamela Love

I love the way you interpreted Maya. The actress who played Maya had such an iconic way of speaking—everything about her character was so bright and loud. How did you try to capture Maya’s personality?

Maya was out there—she was loud, in your face. Didn’t care what anybody thought about her as a black woman. People would judge her, call her whatever they needed to call her. But she was like, “Oh, hell no!” I love her, she’s such a great character. 

Her personality really bleeds through her fashion, too. Maya’s look is eccentric—she’s always had a very neo-soul energy, and I really wanted to embody that. I had this spunky Ugg x Eckhaus Latta collaboration shoe with her red pants. Maya is very red leather pants. And, you know, the girls always wore cowl-neck blouses, so, I wanted to give her one of those, too. It was a Joan thing at first, but they all kind of embodied it.


Let’s look at Lynn. You pulled out a part of her character that could fly under the radar if you didn’t really watch the show. What inspired you to go in an edgy direction with her, when people might pigeon-hole her in maxi dresses?

Yes! In the beginning, Lynn was very boho—maxi dresses, knits, silk skirts—but then she transitioned her style, and in the later seasons it got edgy and polished, a little gothy. I was wearing a lot of Versace in that look. I wanted to elevate her a little bit and really accentuate the things that I love about Lynn. She was, especially for Black alternative women, the girl that we wanted to be. She got her degree because she didn’t want to work in corporate America. She wanted to be something different. She was finding herself as a biracial woman. All these different things really spoke to me.


Okay, now onto Joan Clayton: The one and only.

I’m a Joan. When Girlfriends came out, Joan was the beautiful black woman with the ‘fro wearing her hair natural, and her smile was impeccable. She wore her suits in a very beautiful way that didn’t feel boring or corporate. Her accessories were spot on, whether it was a fire bag, a beautiful shoe, or great jewelry. Honestly, when I think about style icons for workwear, Joan and my mother definitely are my hugest inspirations. Even for my mom, she dressed like Joan, too. That’s how I saw my mom going to her offices. There’s something so regal about seeing a woman in a suit. Joan has had so many other moments, whether it’s her jeans and a really cute, sexy top, but I really wanted to give her a suit. I wanted to showcase a power woman in a suit with her natural hair, flowing through life.

She was in a law office, and her suits weren’t boring. She accentuated her curves—Joan had hips, she had a booty! And they made her look amazing. I wore a Jil Sander pant with this Acne Studios blazer and a Bottega Veneta button-down and a cute hoop and this bag from EDAS. It was just one of these things that really took Joan to 2020—what would Joan wear now?

Would you say that Joan has inspired the way that you style just in your own profession?

I think they all do. I’m definitely wearing a Toni dress if I’m going on a date. I’m definitely wearing a Joan power-suit if I have an amazing business meeting with a client where I really need to seal the deal. I’m definitely Maya, wearing a funky pant and a cute top, when I’m going to hang out with my girlfriends. And I’m definitely Lynn when I’m lounging around my house or going to the grocery store.

I want to talk about these absolutely stunning group shots. How excited were you to put the group shot together?

When watching this show, I was just like, “Yo, I have girlfriends like this.” And so I thought, How can I bring my girlfriends into this story? How can I really showcase how I authentically have this within my own life? 

I wanted to show the pastels in a really beautiful way—to do a 2020 version of what this image could be in Brooklyn, in my neighborhood, with my girlfriends. I wanted it to be authentic, and for you to see who these characters are from a fresh perspective.

FROM LEFT: Mecca is wearing: Dress: Lanvin; Shoes: Brother Vellies; Earrings: Rush Jewelry; Asiah is wearing: Scarf as top: SVNR; Skirt: SVNR; Shoes: Studio Amelia; Samantha is wearing: Dress: Maggie Marilyn; Shoes: Brother Vellies; Sade is wearing: Dress: Emilio Pucci; Shoes: Brother Vellies; Earring: Pamela Love; Ring: Edas

When you chose which person would embody which character, did you match them with the character that they vibe with the most?

Yes. In the beginning I was very gung-ho on saying, “Okay, you’re this person, you’re this person.” But we all embody these characters in different ways. When I saw the pink Lanvin dress on my rack, I didn’t imagine it for me. Then, when the dress arrived, I thought “Oh my God, it’s beautiful. I want to wear it.” So of course I was like, “Okay, I’m transitioning into Lynn.”

We, my girlfriends, all embody these characters in different ways, but we definitely showcase our own personal style within the shots. For the denim group picture, even in our makeup, you can just see how we present ourselves with our own beauty choices. We all wore a red lip, a white tank, and jeans—but you can still see our personalities.

All wearing: Jeans: Levi’s; Tank: Hanes; Mecca wearing: Shoes: Proenza Schouler; Necklace: Lady Gray

Photography: Beth Sacca
Styling: Mecca James-Williams
Hair: Mick Smith
Makeup: Jalessa Jaikaran
Models: Mecca James-Williams, Samantha Mims, Sade Mims, Asiah James

Mecca James-Williams

Mecca James-Williams is a New York-based creative and stylist.

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