High-fidelity experiments of Richtmyer–Meshkov instability on a single-mode air/
interface are carried out at weak shock conditions. The soap-film technique is extended to create single-mode gaseous interfaces which are free of small-wavelength perturbations, diffusion layers and three-dimensionality. The interfacial morphologies captured show that the instability evolution evidently involves the smallest experimental uncertainty among all existing results. The performances of the impulsive model and other nonlinear models are thoroughly examined through temporal variations of the perturbation amplitude. The individual growth of bubbles or spikes demonstrates that all nonlinear models can provide a reliable forecast of bubble development, but only the model of Zhang & Guo (J. Fluid Mech., vol. 786, 2016, pp. 47–61) can reasonably predict spike development. The distinct images of the interface morphology obtained also provide a rare opportunity to extract interface contours such that a spectral analysis of the interfacial contours can be performed, which realizes the first direct validation of the high-order nonlinear models of Zhang & Sohn (Phys. Fluids, vol. 9, 1997, pp. 1106–1124) and Vandenboomgaerde et al. (Phys. Fluids, vol. 14 (3), 2002, pp. 1111–1122) in terms of the fundamental mode and high-order harmonics. It is found that both models show a very good and almost identical accuracy in predicting the first two modes. However, the model of Zhang & Sohn (1997) becomes much more accurate in modelling the third-order harmonics due to the fewer simplifications used.