Dressing for the Part

The show I’m on recently had a flashback to the 70s. (Don’t ask me why. As far as I’m concerned, the only good things to come out of the 1970s were Star Wars, Jaws, and my wife.)

Seeing a rack of bell bottoms and wide-collared shirts, I struck up a conversation with the set costumer.

“Must be pretty easy, the 70s? Just go to any thrift store and buy some old clothes, right?”

“Oh, no,” he said. “Period clothing from the recent past is the biggest pain in the ass. A lot of the audience was alive then, and they remember what the clothes should look like. They know [clothing X] didn’t come out until 1978, and this episode is supposed to be 1976.”

He actually mentioned a specific brand of clothing, but I don’t remember what it was, mostly because I don’t care. Still, it’s pretty cool that this guy gets paid to care a lot.

He went on to explain that, in the 1500s or 1600s, fashions didn’t change as fast as they do now. For one, most people couldn’t afford to buy new clothes every year, much less every season. Royalty and nobility could, but, much the same way fads move from the coasts to the middle of the country today, fashion had to travel from one population center to another, and travel back then was much, much slower.

Speaking of being behind the times, I asked him about the fact that none of our characters had clothes from the 1960s, or early 70s. After all, I’m wearing a T-shirt I’ve had since college.

He shrugged. “Well, the show is only forty minutes. The clothes are really just a visual cue to help place the audience in the right time frame. Sometimes ‘realism’ is more distracting than the heightened fiction we create.”

I have to say, I usually don’t think much of the wardrobe department, but I found new respect for them after hearing the nuances of thought and care put into every little article of clothing.

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5 Responses

  1. As someone who’s been on the Mad Men set, let me tell you that the people there are unparalleled for their focus on period. Everything on that set is a proper period piece down to the littlest details on the secretaries’ desks. It’s really quite amazing and a testament to the incredible professionalism of that production.

  2. What a lovely story. Wardrobe stuff is fun. I’ve worked on a few sketch comedy shows. The sketches are so short that the costumes have to be immediately recognizable. There’s not much subtlety, and there’s lots of research. Even something that’s fantasy, like a troll, has to be researched to see what images people associate with that character.

  3. when you mentioned period clothing i immediately thought about the shw ‘mad men’. the character and plot are pretty decent but what i really enjoy about the production is their dedication to portraying the 1950s/1960s era as accurately as possible, from the cars to the clothes to the fact that *everyone* on the show smokes cigarettes.

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