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TV Costume Designer Secrets Revealed at Vulture’s First Festival

29 May

Costume designers from some of the shows TV Ate My Wardrobe covers extensively took part in a panel at the inaugural Vulture festival a few weeks ago and it is about time a roundtable like discussion went beyond just the actors, directors and writers. It is a discussion I have been highly anticipating and it doesn’t disappoint as the costume designers talk about their process and the shows they work on in an insightful and detailed manner.

The panel consists of Lyn Paolo (ScandalShameless), Jenn Rogien (GirlsOrange is the New Black), Jenny Gering (The Americans) and Tom Broecker (SNLHouse of Cards). Scandal and The Americans are two shows we cover extensively on an episode-by-episode basis and Girls is another TAMW regular. We’re also pretty excited that season 2 of OITNB lands on Netflix in just over a week!

Vulture Festival costume designersA variety of genre, time period and socioeconomic situations provide the backdrops these costume designers work on. One of them has to deal with a live show and the parameters for that are very different from working on a pre-filmed comedy. Live TV is generally chat show based which is all about wardrobe rather than costume design, not SNL where a sketch can get changed at the last minute and Broeker’s 20 years working on the show has informed how he handles these quick turnarounds. Time constraints are something all panelists have to work with as scripts can come in very late; Lyn Paolo mentions this can be as late as the night before on Scandal, so she preps a lot ahead of time.

One important aspect they all agree on is what is on the page is the biggest influence and it is the writing that informs their design process. Sometimes this can be incredibly vague and Jenny Gering mentions how the disguise descriptions on The Americans are often sparse in detail. The disguises are not meant to call attention, they should be invisible and this is part of the reason why it will say “generic bureaucrat” and nothing more. As it’s a period show, costume helps establish time and place without distracting from the story they are telling. It’s why their version of the 80s is not about the big trends, especially on the adults as this wouldn’t be how a regular mom in 1982 would dress and especially one who is trying to fit in. Gering goes on to talk about the evolution of Paige and how as a 13/14 year old girl this is a very transitional period in her life where she wants to look older and be taken seriously. In the season finale while they are on their impromptu mini-vacation Paige very much looks like a mini version of her mother in similar sweaters and heeled boots; the slight tightening of her clothes/heel addition reflects her desire to look older.

Evolution of a character through costume is something all the panelists talk about and Jenn Rogien mentions color palette and silhouette changes over the three seasons of Girls. Shoshanna started with a very feminine shape and cosmetic color scheme of blush pinks and pastels, in season 2 yellow and purple were added and by the third year she has graduated to stronger color and way more black. Shoshanna has become more aware of her body and so her very feminine style has been altered in response to this sexual awakening. Silhouette and color reflect how the “emotional landscape” has either become looser or tighter. Marnie has relaxed over the seasons and so her costuming reflects this. It might explain the beanie.

Rogien has a lot more restriction on how she portrays character evolution on Orange is the New Black as everyone pretty much wears the same thing and the prison uniform reflects the loss of identity through the khaki color and baggy fit. Some characters have altered their uniform, but only the ones who would have the ability or inclination to do so and Sophia is an example of this as her khakis are a lot more fitted and feminine.

On Scandal Abby and Quinn’s style has shifted the most from where it was in the pilot; Abby fell in love and so there’s less structure and Paolo uses lighter fabrics on this character now – all those scarves and wrap dresses I love – with Quinn as she’s got darker so has her attire. Some of these shifts aren’t meant to be all that apparent and it can act on a subliminal level. With Olivia Pope we associate the color white with her wardrobe and as Paolo points out Olivia doesn’t wear all white all that often. Gray is her staple and the reason we remember the white is because these outfits tend to come at heightened moments like the amazing Burberry trench from the season 3 premiere.

The absence of costume is discussed and nude scenes take place on most of these shows; it hadn’t occurred to me before watching this panel that the costume designer would play a pivotal role in this process. This even includes being the one who tells an actor how much skin they are showing. On OITNB they have had to come up with inventive ways to solve their modesty cover issues as a lot of their nude scenes occur in the shower room and water/adhesive don’t work well together. They also have to think about clothes coming off during sex scenes so while on Scandal you might want that top to come off with ease, on Girls or Shameless the more awkward this undressing act the better.

It’s an incredibly insightful and fun conversation, to watch the whole thing (and I’d highly recommend it) head over to Vulture.

 

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One Response to “TV Costume Designer Secrets Revealed at Vulture’s First Festival”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Out of the Box: Look of the Week | TV Ate My Wardrobe - June 6, 2014

    […] starting to think Girls/OITNB costume designer Jenn Rogien was right when she said at the recent Vulture festival that you end up dressing the year you were born, as recently I’ve been drawn to early […]

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