Contemporary Shows Like ‘Scandal,’ ‘Shameless’ Pose Unique Challenge for Costume Designer Lyn Paolo

Fans and awards shows love focusing on period costumes in films and TV, but what about contemporary outfits? They get far less attention but can be even more challenging to create.

That’s the world in which Lyn Paolo lives. She’s the costume designer on three contemporary series: “Scandal,” “Shameless,” and “Animal Kingdom.”

“Everyone dresses with the clothes in their closet every day,” Paolo says. “We all have opinions about these clothes, and there’s so much nuance.”

Paolo uses her designs to define the evolution of characters. Olivia Pope, played by Kerry Washington, had a wholesome innocence when ABC’s “Scandal” began in 2012, dressing like “a ’50s weathergirl.” Now, with “Scandal” having just ended its fifth season and about to embark on season six, Pope has newfound confidence, and Paolo has donned her in leather and strong lines.

The costume designers work fast. They have eight days to pull together each episode’s 200 costume changes. Men’s shirts are mostly created by hand. The texture and fit of store-brought shirts don’t work on camera, so Paolo turns to an L.A.-based shirtmaker with whom she’s collaborated for many years.

Throughout production, there’s a great deal of alteration and tailoring. Sometimes clothing is completely taken apart and restitched to capture the contours of the actors’ bodies.

Sharply contrasting with “Scandal” is Showtime’s “Shameless,” a series highlighting the day-to-day exploits of alcoholic Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy) and his six children. On that show, fabric is aged to reflect the characters’ hard lives.

An additional challenge: The costume team must create six to 10 copies of each item to deal with attrition resulting from action scenes.

“People in poverty don’t want to look bad,” Paolo says. “I keep it fun and fresh.”

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