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 designer: Michele Clapton
Clapton’s work on the show ended at the beginning of season six, but she’d already made TV history with her Emmy-winning designs for Game of Thrones. Clapton had the formidable task of representing each region of George R.R. Martin’s world. Cersei Lannister’s palette reflects the golden theme of King’s Landing whereas encroaching queen Daenerys Targaryen wears blue, white, and lighter colors. Clapton’s costumes helped convey all of the thoughts, plots, and aspirations of myriad characters, sometimes outfitting them for their demise."I feel like I've covered all bases now. It was really important to me," Clapton said, "knowing that I was going to leave, to actually design costumes for each [geographic] area [of Westeros] so it's complete. In my head, anyway, it's a complete look I left."
Costume designers: Terry Dresbach, Glenne Campbell
Outlander showrunner Ron Moore is a lucky man. His wife is the talented costume designer Terry Dresbach and what she’s done on the series is nothing short of amazing. She captures 18th century Scotland as well as season three’s France. Dresbach is known for every last detail, including the correct color of the tartan and British army coats. Dresbach and her team are creating Claire and Jamie’s world from scratch, in intricate detail from two different eras. It was definitely a labor of love - heavy on the labor.
“The biggest shock upon arriving in Scotland and starting this show seven weeks before shooting was that we weren’t going to be able to do much in the way of rental and that we were going to have to build hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of costumes, not just the principal cast, but all of our extras. I don’t even know if I have a count of how many costumes we’ve built, but the majority of those extras are costumes that we made,” Dresbach said.
Costume designer: Eduardo CastroCastro designs for his trapped fairy tale character with a skilled eye for references between Storybrooke and their fairy tale lives. Castro ups his game every season, giving costumes more detail and something fresh each time. Castro is inspired by modern designers as well as the pages of fair tales, but romance is key. “The element of romance is what keeps the show going,” Castro said.
Costume designers: Michele Clapton and Timothy Everest (Season 1); Jane Petrie (Season 2)
You would expect the costumes to be sumptuous in the Netflix series The Crown – the characters are British royalty, after all. But the setting also informs the gorgeous outfits. The series moves through the years, and the characters' wardrobes change, too. That's not to mention the work that goes into recreating the actual outfits worn by the real-life royals.
"Sometimes in The Crown, you get a line on a page that seems like nothing and you start and think, 'Hang on a minute, that's a really famous photograph. There's no cheating here. We're going to have to make all that,'" Petrie said. That doesn't mean she can't make adjustments, though – for instance, she gave some of Jackie Kennedy's looks a more dramatic twist.