Meet Bailey Elayne, the designer behind Pom Pom Squad’s cheercore stagewear
The visual world of the indie-rock band Pom Pom Squad is an immersive amalgamation of a Sofia Coppola film, a lookbook of Courtney Love's '90s kinderwhore style, the pages of a teenage girl's diary, and the interior of a Victorian doll house. It's a feminine, decadent aesthetic that's as ingrained in the New York band spearheaded by Mia Berrin as is their heart-on-your-sleeve garage-rock — displayed everywhere from their cinematic music videos to their live shows, where Berrin sports flouncing dresses fit for senior prom.
Pom Pom Squad's breakout moment, marked by the release of their 2021 debut Death of a Cheerleader, was immediately alluring to fans. Seeing Berrin flaunt bows and frills as she shreds on guitar evoked not only a sense of confidence among listeners, but a belief that they too could be an unabashedly cool hot girl.
But for Bailey Elayne, it often makes her want to tear up, mostly because the 25-year-old Michigan-based fashion designer is Berrin's copilot and the visionary behind nearly all of her Pom Pom Squad garments and stagewear. Since early 2020, Elayne has helped Berrin execute her style vision for Pom Pom Squad, crafting custom corsets, dresses, and ensembles for the singer-songwriter that incorporates their shared appreciation for femininity and highlighting the often overlooked empowerment within that. Because traditional feminine traits and girlish style is often belittled or seen as weak, the two are passionate about dismantling those ideas and emphasizing the strength that can be found in softness.
Elayne and Berrin first crossed paths when they both worked at the same retail job in New York City — the designer was studying at Parsons School of Design and Berrin was at NYU. It couldn't have been a more fateful meeting, though. Instantly, Elayne says, the two were a perfect match as friends and creatives because they were "both interested in interpreting femininity in the way that [they] do."
Growing up in a creative family of artists and poets, Elayne innately had an interest in art, but watching America's Next Top Model and Project Runway was what initially piqued her interest in design — and exposed her to her future dream school and alma mater Parsons. At the time, it was cinema and costume design, like from her favorite movie The Wizard of Oz, cartoons like Power Puff Girls, The Buzz on Maggie, and My Life as a Teenage Robot, and Tavi Gevinson's Style Rookie that were formative to her as sources of inspiration, and still are in many ways.
"Separately from my work with Mia, that's something I'm really passionate about," says Elayne, of elevating a high-femme aesthetic in her designs. Even when they met, for instance, the designer was working on her senior thesis “about aspects of femininity and masculinity and why they matter or why they do not,"a culmination of her lifelong interest in "girly" or "sweet" things.
She says, "I found it a little difficult sometimes to make sure that my work was taken seriously, especially in school, because I love [girlish and youthful things] like toys and cartoons, so I had to find a way to take those elements of femininity that I'm so drawn to and sharpen them or contrast them with something else." In working with Berrin, though, all of their teenage dreams of fashion could come true.
Because the Pom Pom Squad bandleader grew as a cinephile exposed to '80s alt and pop music by a mother who would point out the immersive style of artists, she "always loved the idea of telling a story through clothes."
"I remember having moments where I would see someone step on stage and it was like this transcendent, emotional thing that's so hard to explain, but what the right light, set, costume, and mood can evoke out of somebody can be life changing," Berrin says. So when she started her own project, it was all but inevitable that it would incorporate everything she adores about music and aesthetics.
The first time Berrin and Elayne collaborated was on Pom Pom Squad’s 2020 music video for "Red With Love" (which has since been deleted, as it was the last independently made video for the band). Elayne says, "That was the first time anybody had ever asked me [to collaborate on a custom], so I was like, 'I really think I should say no because I have no idea what I'm doing.'"
Instead, Berrin says Elayne was up for the task of crafting a "messed up bridal look," pulling old slips from Berrin's closet and filling a bag of them that Elayne then combined with sourced pieces of lingerie to create a striking, deconstructed wedding dress.
Berrin says, "I remember the day she came to my apartment and showed it to me for the first time. It was like the most magical feeling of having a piece that was one of one and just for me. It was definitely a turning point for me in my career."
While Elayne was thrilled with the outcome, she wasn’t sure the collaboration would go any further, “not because I was being hard on myself, but I just didn't think beyond that moment.” Ever since, though, Berrin has continued to send Elayne pieces back and forth by mail, everything from matching '60s-ish dresses and sexy gloves for music videos to satin corsets adorned in splashy hearts and lace-covered gowns to take the stage in. They have what Berrin calls "a language in common," both in terms of style and their understanding of femininity, and says that even if she gives Elayne reference points, she tends to "come up with something that [she] never would have imagined."
Elayne notes that her current favorite look that she's done for Berrin thus far is the tartan dress with oversized Juliet sleeves that was made for Pom Pom Squad's 2022 Tiny Desk concert. "It was one of those rare moments where I was like, 'I'm actually really proud of myself,' which is a difficult thing to say sometimes," she notes.
As for Berrin, her favorite look to date is the flouncy white mini-dress that she donned on-stage at 2021’s Firefly Fest. "I remember I got off stage and I walked into the backstage area — and I'm a huge Drag Race fan — and Scarlet Envy [from Drag Race was there and] looked at my dress and was like, 'This is everything.' I texted Bailey on the spot, and I was like, 'You need to make everything that I ever wear,'" Berrin recalls. "Throughout the day, people kept coming up to me and being like, 'Oh, you were the girl in the dress!' It was this moment in real time where I could feel the effect that fashion was making on the people around me and how it brought people to my project and what I do."
Elayne got to experience the power of that moment, too. "I watched the livestream with my mom and I was like, 'Oh, my God, this is so cool!' she says. It was one of the very first times she saw a video of Berrin wearing her clothes on stage — and a major one at that. It was understandably emotional. "To see it at its final stage under the lights and everything, it really makes me so happy because when I'm at home making it and you put it on the dress form, it has no life. It's nothing compared to seeing it on an actual body moving and doing what it's supposed to do," she adds.
When Berrin herself puts on one of Elayne's designs, it's a feeling unlike any other. Singing lovestruck indie-rock anthems in layers of tulle or laced into corsets that the two create together, Berrin simply feels the most like herself — and the world of Pom Pom Squad comes to life. She says, "I grew up kind of like the ugly duckling and was bullied pretty severely for the way that I look, who I am, and the things I liked, so I never grew up feeling very pretty, or even interesting. I didn't think that there was anything really to see about me. The fact that so much of my job is being seen — going places to stand on a stage and do what I do — is empowering." Dressed up as Pom Pom Squad then, Berrin explains that she often feels more "at home" than she does dressed as Mia because it's such a culmination of her interior world and vision.
Beyond Pom Pom Squad’s stagewear, Elayne has other creative endeavors that she'd also like to pursue. While making customs for friends with different tastes has helped her grow, she'd love to focus on her own ideas and perhaps get into film costume design. For now, though, she's thrilled to continue working with Berrin, as the duo couldn't be a more perfect match. Her rosettes, bows, lace, and hint of sex appeal have become integral to Pom Pom Squad's enchanting universe.
As they keep working together, it seems likely that she'll also continue to experience the joy of seeing the band on stage as they rock out to guitar music that's somewhat in contrast to what Berrin's wearing. "That's my favorite thing."