Vinyl And Velvet: A Look Inside Pom Pom Squad’s High School Americana

Mia Berrin calls her stage style “High School Americana” — preppy and saccharine, what you’d expect of a band called Pom Pom Squad. But it’s not just a cheer uniform she’s sporting; she’ll definitely add patent leather gloves.

Pom Pom Squad’s first full-length album, Death Of A Cheerleader, came out in June and reflected much of the aesthetic choices Berrin has been making since the band’s inception: a soft, feminine style contrasted with some sort of harshness. Specifically, on this album, Berrin wanted to emulate both red vinyl and red velvet.

“I’ve always been interested in how stagewear can tell a story,” Berrin says. “When I first started Pom Pom Squad and as I was carving out the initial imagery, it was a little bit more straightforwardly inspired by riot grrl and actual cheerleaders and cheerleading uniforms. Now I just focus on an elevated version of that core concept, which is continuing to tell a story, continuing to create a world around the project, but I’ve definitely become more into making custom stuff and trying to go a little bit bigger and more theatrical with it.”

Her custom outfits — which span the likes of a deconstructed wedding dress, corsets, and satin mini dresses — are often made by friend and former coworker Bailey Elayne, a Parsons- and Central Saint Martins-educated designer.

“I have so many people in my life whose art I genuinely love, but there are certain people who your visions just align really suitably [with],” Berrin says. “Bailey’s one of the only people I work with who I’m just kind of like, ‘Alright, here’s the idea, the initial, send me a sketch’ and then whatever arrives that day, I’m always ecstatic about that outcome.”

Berrin cites her “Red With Love” video, for which Elayne created a mini dress composed of numerous thrifted slip dresses alongside a large train and crystal-embellished stockings; she also mentions the corset Elayne made for “Head Cheerleader.” Of course, stage and video outfits have different considerations, whether it’s how the guitar sits over the outfit, if straps or sleeves are going to fall down mid-show (distracting!), or how the colors work on screen.

“I made these two mini dresses … they were for some at-home, live sessions that they did,” Elayne says. “And on the camera they looked so beautiful, and I made matching gloves for both of the dresses and it’s — it made me cry a little bit. I’m obviously very proud of the work that they’re doing and then to see something that I made in such a beautiful setting and shot so well was really a very heavy moment for me.”

When Elayne makes clothes for Berrin, she considers her own “not-well-respected interests,” like bows and pink, and challenges them with their opposites: “Making something cute but researching something in the horror field — how can this be really pretty but visually disgusting, or it’s really sweet, but it’s kind of short and sexy.”

These contrasts are essential — Berrin is always trying to “f*ck up” a trope or “texturally recontextualize a classic piece.” Her work in general is colored by the media she consumed as a teen — criticizing it but “learning how to take the things I love from it.” She cites Rookie magazine, Kathleen Hanna’s “Kill Me” dress (which she recreated), and The Virgin Suicides, a focal point of the “Lux” music video.

“[An] exciting thing about pulling from references is the kill-your-idols moment, in a way,” Berrin says. “You’re thinking about how you can bring your own originality of voice into something that has a lot of reference and loses reference as a way to kind of deepen a story overall.”

When she was younger, Berrin said she dressed for assimilation’s sake. It wasn’t until she started wearing a uniform in high school that she felt the urge to stand out as she “realized that I wasn’t ever going to really fit in with people around me.”

“The teen girl aesthetic — at least, as it was relayed to me as a teenager — it’s definitely predominantly white, and on the aesthetic level beckons to a conventional heterosexual young woman,” Berrin says. “I think part of the reason that I adopted that aesthetic in the first place was to put myself in it; I desperately needed that, I wanted that space and I wanted to be afforded that beauty and softness that I didn’t feel like was afforded to me as a young woman of color.”

That’s a big reason she turned toward alternative media like Rookie and riot grrl music.

“I started to think more about how I wanted to be perceived,” Berrin says. “It’s like, what do I want people to know about me? Do I want people to feel intimidated by me?” She calls it “creating my own story with clothes,” something that’s central to her stage persona and video storytelling.

Her go-to is a combination of hard and soft textures, like a cheer outfit with long, sultry gloves or a frilly white dress with a vinyl harness. In the video for “Crying,” Berrin “knew that I wanted these black PVC vinyl gloves to be this disrupting force in the video that served as the agent of chaos.”

Gloves are a hallmark of hers. “I feel like there’s something about gloves that make you move differently, they sort of change your behavior. I think when I was wearing them my behavior, it’s like you want to move in a creepy, dancey way because it’s just exciting to watch your hands move in this crazy textured fabric.”

“I do love wearing gloves. I wish that I could wear them on stage but I play guitar,” Berrin laughs. “No such luck.”