The best costumes on TV are important in communicating many things to an audience: character, time and place, and where the person falls on the social ladder - killer, king, criminal, lawyer, villain, white hat. Costumes can speak volumes without an actor uttering a word.
Costume designers and those in the wardrobe department have to be masterminds. They have to turn the script and the director’s vision into reality, or the reality of the screen. They must capture the essence of the characters, visually convey clues and insight, all while putting in thousands of hours to do so. The costumes should be the skin of the character and not overwhelm the actor or distract from the story. If the designer is doing his or her job, you might not even notice the costumes.
Historical period dramas are demanding, but as the Fargo costume designer will tell you, finding doubles for outer wear for characters who are working in freezing weather and about to be killed is also a challenge. Nothing is ever easy about costume design. The preparation, the on-camera edits, the on-the-fly repairs, you have to be organized and have the patience of a saint to maintain a long-term career. A sense of humor and an excellent team are essential.
So which current television shows of 2016-2017 set the standard for excellent costume design? Well, Game of Thrones is an easy top pick. Outlander’s costumes are made from scratch, including nearly one thousand pieces of wardrobe for season one. Reign is a delightful blend of 16th century and modern day styles. Peaky Blinders demonstrates the elegance of the classic English driving cap. Fargo keeps warm while it cooly kills off characters.
Which current shows with the best costumes on TV stand out? The historical costume dramas, or the funky Cold War Members Only jackets of The Americans? Cast your votes below!
Costume designers: Maya Mani, Colleen Atwood
Mani and Atwood are the designers behind Arrow and The Flash, and Mani likes to evolve the suits with the characters. Season two saw The Flash’s crest change to white, truer to the comic. Mani strives to design somewhere between the comic and the screen. "I look at the iconic comic book character and then what I try and do is extrapolate from that and bring it into a more grounded universe."Atwood wanted the character to stand out during action scenes. "Usually, I test a lot of different colors, and in the case of The Flash it was a screen on a background, so I played around with different colors applied to a darker surface to give it light when moved at certain angles, because if you get it too dark you don’t see any detail. So you have to be careful to have some kind of highlight to it or capacity for it to light when it’s in a night situation," Atwood said.
Costume designer: Lisa Padovani
Because time is slippery in Gotham, creator Bruno Heller gave Padovani a challenge. “It’s yesterday, it’s today, and it’s tomorrow all at the same time,” Hellers says. No problem. Or least Padovani makes it look seamless. “Even though it’s not a period piece, per se, it’s a concept piece, so everything is very particular,” she says. Padovani and the team create most of the costumes in-house and with such a particular order it makes sense.Her inspiration? “I took the idea of the original graphic novels mixed with elements of Blade Runner. And punk rock actually played a big part in it,” she noted.
Costume designers: Maya Mani, Colleen AtwoodAs Arrow evolved, so did his suit. Mani and Atwood were excited to unveil the Arrow 2.0 costume. "I wanted it to be tactical, so the shoulders are a little tougher," she explained. "I also wanted him to be able to remove a layer or be in the layer and still be the Arrow, but not have the full fig on," Mani said.
Costume designer: Eulyn Womble
Costumes don’t always have to be over the top to stand out. Sometimes it’s the subtle touches that make characters more vivid on screen. Womble has a decidedly understated touch with the characters on The Walking Dead. Each has their own trademark style, and Womble enjoys evolving and tweaking things each season.“Even if it's in small ways, things change. I think I can talk about this now - especially with Daryl - we call it Frankensteining on the set. So Norman [Reedus, who plays Daryl] might say, ‘Can you Frankenstein my pants?’ If you need a sleeve or glove, we pick up one more and then just sew it on. The costumes are evolving. Or at least I hope they're evolving. It's still too close right now to regular life. It's going take at least ten to 20, 30, 40 years for it to completely devolve, and then evolve again,” Womble said.