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‘Impeachment’ Retells an American Crisis via ’90s Style and Real-Life Sets

The team behind FX’s limited series brought the drama of this presidential crisis to life with fashion from the era, sets true to D.C. and just a hint of ’70s thriller dread

Impeachment: American Crime Story "Do You
Tina Thorpe/FX

“Impeachment: American Crime Story” costume designer Meredith Markworth-Pollack didn’t meet Monica Lewinsky until near the end of the shoot for the FX limited series. But from the beginning, the one-time White House intern, who also served as a producer on the project, provided production with a wealth of photographs accompanied by detailed notes and some original outfits from her personal wardrobe. That includes what she considers to be the most important item of clothing from the whole affair: the sage green suit she wore when she first caught the eye of then-President Bill Clinton. 

We needed multiples of the suit, so we ended up making our own, but having the actual outfit made our lives so much easier,” Markworth-Pollack says. 

Their collaboration illustrates the creative team’s dedication to accuracy, as well as a determination to reframe the story from the perspective of the women at its center: Lewinsky, played by Beanie Feldstein, who also served as a producer; and Linda Tripp, played by Sarah Paulson, who served as an executive producer. Lewinsky and Tripp were ridiculed, caricatured and shamed in the media when the real-life drama played out in the 1990s, but this version casts that derision into relief. 

Markworth-Pollack didn’t simply recreate the iconic looks from the crisis, like the beret Lewinsky wore in her caught-on-tape public hug with Clinton (played by Clive Owen). She scoured official White House photos, news footage and paparazzi shots to determine what characters would’ve been wearing on any given day and studied the general styles worn in Washington, D.C. in the ’90s, as well as rules of dress for White House and Pentagon employees. 

“We all have certain preconceived ideas about ’90s fashion, especially regarding the boxiness of men’s suits and women in skirt suits with shoulder pads,” she says. 

Markworth-Pollack replicated the outfits with precision by sourcing from online marketplaces (she was particularly obsessive about Clinton’s ties) or creating them from scratch. With Hillary Rodham Clinton, played by Edie Falco, she occasionally shifted the sartorial timeline, in one instance using an outfit the former first lady wore at a Christmas event in 1997 for a scene set in 1998.  

The art department, led by production designer Jamie Walker McCall, was similarly dedicated to historical accuracy. Some items, including various anchor desks and podiums, were built from scratch, but set decorator Kimberly Wannop was able to rent or buy the majority of the furniture and set dressing from prop houses, antique stores and e-commerce sites. 

Although a lot of the West Wing furniture is used in every administration, things in their private residence, like their bedroom and sitting room, were very specific to their personal taste and the period, so finding an almost exact sofa to match what they had in their bedroom was a true treasure,” Walker McCall says. 

“Impeachment” made use of several real Washington, D.C. exteriors (including Pennsylvania Avenue and an apartment complex associated with Watergate), but the nation’s capital was primarily portrayed by Southern California locations, from Pasadena and Downtown L.A. to West Hollywood and Malibu. In addition to some interior sets being filmed on location in D.C., others were built from scratch in a warehouse in North Hollywood and three soundstages on the Fox Studio Lot, where the sets included a sprawling re-creation of the White House. 

Lewinsky provided Walker McCall with specific design details about the Watergate apartment she shared with her mother, Marcia Lewis (portrayed by Mira Sorvino), but understood that some liberties were taken to ensure film-friendly sets. 

“The goal was always to portray an accurate depiction of Monica’s history as best we could without making it look like a historical documentary,” Walker McCall says. 

Less was known about the interior of Tripp’s Maryland home, but Walker McCall made sure it was true to Tripp’s personality. She took a typical Northeast suburban house design and outfitted it with antique colonial furniture, a custom wall mural in her dining room and a formal living room that displayed her intricate miniature Christmas village during the holiday scenes. 

“Linda was someone who had a lot of personal pride in herself, the clothes she wore and her commitment to her kids and her country, so it was important to make her house reflect that,” Walker McCall says. 

During initial concept meetings, executive producer Ryan Murphy emphasized that he wanted “Impeachment” to feel like a claustrophobic 1970s thriller. To achieve this, Walker McCall painted the wall of every set with a “vignette” effect, fading the colors into darker tones at the edges, and director of photography Simon Dennis’ moody lighting reinforced the look. 

Markworth-Pollack effected a different fade to darkness with Hillary Clinton’s wardrobe over the series, shifting from bright colors in the early scenes to outfits favoring navy, black and brown as she realizes the true nature of her husband and Lewinsky’s relationship. 

“She’s becoming a little more austere, just a little more serious and kind of mimicking the tone that was setting in at the White House,” Markworth-Pollack says. 

The series’ moody ’70s aesthetic was epitomized by the Pentagon offices where Tripp and Lewinsky forge their unlikely friendship: a cavernous, high-ceilinged space dominated by gray and off-white, with occasional touches of beige. The set — a rare instance where production didn’t attempt to accurately re-create the real-life location — provides a stark contrast to Tripp’s previous workspace in the West Wing, where Walker McCall emphasized warm colors, rich woods and brass to make it feel comfortable and prestigious. It not only visually underlines the idea that Tripp is now just another federal employee, isolated in a vast sea of soul-sucking cubicles, without prestige or importance, but helps generate sympathy for a character who some might view as irredeemably abrasive and disloyal. 

There’s this great moment in Episode 1 where Linda lands in her cubicle and looks around and you feel her human despair to be in this place,” says “Impeachment” showrunner, executive producer and writer Sarah Burgess. “I really feel like that design helped tell that story.”