Las Vegas knows a thing or two about costumes. From 30-pound headdresses and rhinestone-emblazoned leotards to meticulously sewn bustiers, our classic, glamorous image was born vis-à-vis the streets of Paris, through the feathers and frocks of the Folies Bergere, Minsky’s Follies and Lido de Paris. But on Wednesday, I went to “Crafting Hollywood,” a panel at Magic Market Week, to learn about costumes of a different kind—the ones worn by Hollywood stars on the sets of Mad Men, True Blood and Revenge.
It might appear that your favorite office manager at Sterling Cooper, Joan Harris, just plucked her dress from a 1950’s Sears catalog, but Mad Men and Deadwood costume designer Janie Bryant says it takes a lot of research. “The inspiration really starts with the script.”
And the dialogue. “It really is about breaking each character down and imagining what they’re going to wear,” Bryant says. “After breaking down the script and reading it a thousand times … then I start my research process. For Mad Men, that process is varied, through looking at catalogs from the time period … [and] telling the story of how these people lived on a daily basis.”
There’s a scene in the film The Science of Sleep where Stéphane’s love interest, Stéphanie (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg), shows up to a party in an off-white sweater dress—the kind you’d find at a thrift store in New York City and brag to your girlfriends about after. During the panel, I thought of Gainsbourg’s frock and how I scoured the Internet for days and weeks trying to find something that came close. But I learned Wednesday that my chances of finding the dress were slim to none. Most clothing worn on set is altered and customized in some way, and if it isn’t purchased from a store, it’s handmade and one-of-a-kind (with a few extras for stunt doubles, mishaps and bloody scenes).
Whether a costume is made to look realistic and attainable, like Gainsbourg’s, or is meant to bring you closer to a world far from ours (think Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones), it’s all a part of the story, authenticating the character’s life on screen. And the fact that we fall in love with the garments onstage is a testament to the designer’s skill. True Blood costume designer Audrey Fisher, says she’s “contacted all the time by fans who want a certain piece,” hoping they can purchase it from her directly.
“Of course, it’s not my property. I can’t sell it,” she says, although, “sometimes things pop up on Ebay.” If you’re like me, still empty-handed after searching and digging, we can commiserate together—but it’s probably best to leave the designers alone. After all, costumes are intended to live onscreen, not on us.