“GLOW” costume designer Beth Morgan was excited to show not only the “glitz of Las Vegas” in the third season of Netflix’s 1980s-set wrestling comedy, but also “a few layers” of life on the Strip when the characters temporarily relocated to the fictional Fan-Tan Hotel & Casino to perform a live wrestling show.
For Morgan, one part of capturing the Vegas of yesteryear was designing “how women were overly sexualized as cocktail waitresses,” so she went for authentic cuts and fabrics found in the town back in the day. But another part was putting a “GLOW” spin on such costumes via an intentional combination of “all the Asian cultures” for the Fan-Tan Hotel & Casino. The waitresses there wore a mish-mash of styles and accessories, including fans, to create an aesthetic that she notes was supposed to be somewhat “ignorant” of the time and place.
This balance of relying on real re-search but taking creative license to fit the specific worlds of the shows was key not only for Morgan, but also for a number of other costume designers tasked this television season with dressing characters in garb from the 1930s to the 1980s. The use of color also became key to marking time.
When it came to the research part of the job for Amy Roberts, costume designer of “The Crown” Season 3, there was a wealth of footage of the real-life royal family at her disposal. But, because they “weren’t doing a documentary” about Queen Elizabeth II (now played by Olivia Colman), she says, she leaned more heavily on creative risk-taking. This included in the color palette, which saw an intentional change to reflect the new decade. Roberts used pale mauve as part of the palette but also put together acid yellow and hot pink. “I would have never thought of [that],” she admits, “but I did, and boy did it work!”
Meanwhile, for “Mrs. America,” which traces a decade in the fight for and against ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and 1980s, costume designer Bina Daigeler combined and specialized her “own research for costumes with a lot of documentaries, photo books, fashion history from the latter part of the 1950s to the early 1980s.” This research proved essential for such characters as Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett) and Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne): “I often re-created their iconic looks exactly to coordinate with the major historical events,” she says.
The “Mrs. America” color palette often purposely contrasted itself in different parts of the story to differentiate the divide in the characters’ politics. For conservative Schlafly, Daigeler explains, “I used a softer pastel palette to portray that classic Americana ‘ideal’ of a woman.” But for Steinem, she went bolder and more daring.
Similarly, bold burgundy was how “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels” costume designer Christie Wittenborn wanted to present the shape-shifting Magda (Natalie Dormer) in her Rio incarnation. It was a color typically associated with higher-class societies in 1930s Los Angeles, which the show was depicting. Using it on that character highlighted “a woman with a great sense of ambition,” Wittenborn says. “Her wealth comes from the pride within.”
It also drew all eyes, something Morgan also attracted when designing for Geena Davis’ new “GLOW” character Sandy, a former showgirl-turned-business woman.
“She’s well respected when she walks into a room and people take notice,” Morgan says of Sandy’s signature power-player leopard-print suit.