The look of “Milk” is grounded in authenticity and well chronicled reality. Its accurate-as-possible re-creation of San Francisco of the 1970s is enhanced by actual footage from the period. This intercutting heightened the necessity of matching the era’s sartorial styles with total precision.
“We did an incredible amount of research,” says “Milk” costume designer Danny Glicker (“Transamerica,” “Thank You for Smoking”). “We’re not replicating some idea of the ’70s or a memory. The goal was to accurately re-create the world as it was.”
Because San Francisco supervisor and gay activist Harvey Milk, played by Sean Penn, owned a camera store, Glicker had access to an almost endless source of archival pictures, including photos of his circle of friends and images of the burgeoning gay enclave in the Castro neighborhood.
Glicker also analyzed many of Milk’s own clothes, which are kept by the San Francisco-based Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Transgender Historical Society. The collection also served as a resource for crowd scenes and the re-creation of gay-protest T-shirts and buttons.
From these and other archival source materials, Glicker was able to construct the pic’s wardrobe, including more than 100 costume changes for Penn, with nuanced period detail: from the exact lapel width of suit jackets, to the graphic on Milk’s T-shirt and the polyester shirts of fellow supervisor Dan White, played by Josh Brolin.
People portrayed in the film also helped out. Cleve Jones, played by Emile Hirsch, was a consultant; Anne Kronenberg, played by Alison Pill, lent earrings from the period. Scenes were shot in the San Francisco location where they occurred.
“We had a whole living world around us that gave (director) Gus (Van Sant) and the actors the freedom to enter it,” says Glicker.