Girls: Q&A with the Costume Designer

On the HBO show Girls — the second season premieres this Sunday! — the characters wear gorgeous, crazy and awkward clothes, depending on the day. Costume designer Jenn Rogien is the mastermind behind it all, so I was thrilled to ask her my 9 most pressing questions. Her answers were eye-opening…

The girls have had some regrettable fashion moments, especially Hannah. Does it feel strange to purposefully choose clothes that look bad?
As a costume designer, my instinct is to make the leading lady look good. But at our first fitting, I got notes back that said Hannah looked too good. People would never believe that this flailing character would look so put together. So, we rejected all the belts. I re-adjusted hemlines to make them slightly off. We fit the clothes while she was wearing Spanx and then removed the Spanx. You’re reminded that as a costumer designer, it’s not about a pretty look, it’s about telling a story.

But Jessa always looks fabulous.
She’s fun to dress. She’s also one of the few characters in my career that can get away with hats. In TV, hats are tough; they’re hard to light around, they block an actor’s face, they don’t work with every hairstyle… but for some reason they work on Jessa. It’s magic.

It’s refreshing that the girls repeat clothing items, like Hannah’s brown loafers. Have there been pieces you tried for the girls that didn’t work in the end?
It’s probably a four-to-one ratio: For every one thing that makes it to the screen, there were four that didn’t work. We do massive closet fittings at the beginning of the season, where we cull a main rack of looks for each character, even though they’re not yet tied to an episode. For each rack, there are three racks of clothing that we rejected.

Do you even choose little things, like underwear?
Definitely! I’m all over the underwear front. Marnie should have beautiful foundations—no lines, no straps—especially when she’s at work. I use underwear as an accessory for Jessa. So much of her fabric is sheer, like the maxi dress she wore to her first day of babysitting. And there are scenes when the underwear IS the costume. I try to carry on the look of the character—pretty and matched (for Shoshanna), or old and worn (for Hannah).


Can you talk about a favorite outfit moment for each girl?
* Hannah: The white dress that she wears to her first day of work at Cafe Grumpy. Ray was like, what are you doing? She really tried, but it was completely wrong.
* Marnie: The Bushwick loft party outfit is a great example of her character; it’s perfectly accessorized; she’s really trying hard but boy did she overshoot. It’s perfect for a party, it’s just the wrong party.
* Shoshanna: When she went to the abortion. To her, the outfit was casual. It’s her whole M.O., she’s so put together but also not quite there. That’s why she fits into this world. We’re playing against the cliché of her being a goody goody, because—as Ray puts it—she’s on her own frequency.
* Jessa: Her wedding look. It’s an impromptu wedding so she probably didn’t shop for the dress; she probably picked something white from her closet and it happened to be this dress. She’s wearing exquisite Alexander McQueen blue suede shoes that were a nod to the something blue (her bra and underwear were also blue)—she’s playing with tradition while breaking it completely.


What about the guys?
Charlie is modern classic: slim jean, plaid shirt that’s washed and worn, but not ratty. His clothes are a reflection of him: He’s this sweet, creative guy who puts himself together well in his life, house and clothes. Adam is more nonchalant. His stuff is vintage or vintage-inspired. It’s almost Spartan: a T-shirt that’s really washed in, like he’s had it for a million years.

Any funny observations about supporting characters, like Hannah’s parents?
Hannah’s parents are some of my favorite people to dress. I’m embarrassed to admit that they’re completely inspired by my Midwestern family. They’re definitely not trend-driven, although Hannah’s mom is fairly well put together for a professor. She wears clothes for work or gardening. Her look is put together but ties her to Hannah in a way that’s believable.

What’s a tough part of your job that people might not expect?
I spend tons of time making sure the actors’ looks work together when they’re in a scene together. If they’re supposed to clash, their clothes will clash. If they come together in the story, their colors will help them. For, example at the loft party, Marnie’s in purple, Hannah’s in mustard yellow, Shoshanna’s in pink and Jessa’s in black. Hannah is not excited about coming to this party, and boy does her outfit show it. But she connects with Adam at the end of the storyline, and her outfit is in the earth tone world, and he’s in paisley; they’re ever so slightly joined colorwise. Suddenly Marnie is the outlier—her purple dress is a cool tone. When they’re sitting together in the cab, Adam and Hannah have come back together, and Marnie’s not having it.

So much work goes on behind the scenes that you’d never know about!
If I’m doing my job well, you shouldn’t notice what I’m doing. You should notice the characters and fall in love with them. There are moments where we’re playing a visual joke—Hannah goes Goth, Shoshanna wears a Snuggie, Hannah wears a union suit—and you should notice the wardrobe, since the characters are talking about it. But my great hope is that the clothes fade away.

Thank you so much, Jenn!

  1. Thanks for sharing, it was great!

  2. Didn’t think it was possible. But I now think I have a favorite Cup of Jo post. So glad you included this in your link round up!!

  3. To have a wardrobe full of designer clothing would be a dream come true for every woman and most of us can only dream of owning designer clothing unless we go about finding cheaper ways to get these outfits.

  4. Awe inspiring! I’m really an adherent moreover, its an exceptionally intriguing show to be legitimate. It’s kind of the explanation for why how I concocted this Dinosaur Costume for final halloween australian ford falcon

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  6. i just absolutely love that show! Lena is so amazingly talented!! Can’t wait to see tonight’s episode! eek!

  7. Awesome! I’m actually a follower as well, it’s a very interesting show to be honest. It’s sort of the reason how I came up with this Dinosaur Costume for last halloween.

  8. I love the show! What a great post, thanks so much!
    Heeey, and congratulations, happy for you guys!

  9. this q & a is awesome! so interesting to see behind the designer’s eyes

  10. I’m from England so have never seen this series, but what a great interview! For a while I considered becoming a costume designer, and reading this makes me want to look into doing it!

  11. I really have to start watching this serie. I mean, it looks so realistic right? I did watch the first half of the first episode and thought it was a bit odd and sort of “gross” but so is life. I shall give it another try!

  12. GREAT interview. Thanks!

  13. Thanks so much! That was very interesting. Will you interview the set designers too please? :)

  14. Amazing interview :) Loved it, thank you!

  15. Fantastic! I just rewatched the first season with my friends and we noticed the wardrobe a lot more the second time around. We were oohing and ahhing or cringing, depending on the scene :) Thanks for this interview, Joanna! Can’t wait to pass it on to my friends!

  16. GREAT interview! Thank you for that!

  17. one of my favorite posts to read! thanks so much for sharing. :)

  18. HY says...

    Great interview! I love lengthier posts like this. Keep them coming, Joanna! :)

  19. jm says...

    This is an awesome interview. I learned so much! Can’t wait for Sunday!

  20. this was so interesting! i’d love more posts like this.

  21. I love this! Dying to see the show… I’ve been waiting FOREVER to get the discs on Netflix because I don’t have HBO :(

  22. I love what this also says about clothes we all wear on a daily basis– I think it must be so easy to dress characters in a show because they have access to so many amazing outfits, but they still send away 75% of what they try. You just have to put in the effort to find that 25% that works for you.

  23. i’m always so amazed to hear the amount of detailed attention that goes into such small details and the intentionality of each small detail to the grander scheme—so glad you shared this.

  24. i mean… i freaking love this show.

  25. I love this show so much! Can’t wait for next season. Thanks for this post…made my day!

  26. I love this, GIRLS is such an amazing show. So excited for the second season!!

  27. KT says...

    Interesting interview. I love to know how movies/shows are put together.

    I just watched Girls for the first time over the weekend (rented disc 1, season 1) and loved it. That scene in the photo above, of Hannah and her roommate dancing in their room … made me laugh when I watched the episode.

  28. That was really fun to read! I am so much looking forward to the new season. Weeee!!!

  29. awesome behind the scenes..

  30. wonderful interview, joanna. i devoured every word. i recall eating up a similar behind the scenes costume look by the famous Patricia Field of Sex and the City that gave new depth to the show.

    GIRLS is such a treat that i’m anxiously awaiting this Sunday. thanks for sharing!

  31. I work in costume for another HBO show and its really refreshing to see the work that goes on behind the scenes in our dept acknowledged. I’ve not watched Girls yet but its definitely on my to-watch list now!

  32. Thanks for this Q&A! Girls is on of my favorites and I’m fascinated what goes on behind the scenes in production.

  33. I’ve always wondered if Hannah’s clothes are supposed to be ill-fitting! Absolutely love this.

  34. loved this post. super interesting to hear about the thought process behind the job!

  35. I couldn’t read this fast enough! Best 5 minutes of my day. Thanks for sharing :)

  36. Fantastic interview!! I love Girls, I’m super excited for the next season to start. I’ll definitely be paying a lot more attention to the clothes now.


    Kristina does the Internets

  37. That was so interesting and insightful! I’ll definitely be thinking more about the clothes the characters are wearing when I see the new episodes.

  38. thanks for sharing, so interesting and CAN’T WAIT for GIRLS to start again! <3

  39. Fun interview! This has become one of my new favorite shows

  40. I Loved this interview!! As a fashion major I have so much appreciation for what Jenn does and I am obsessed with the show Girls. In the last paragraph where Jenn says “If I’m doing my job well, you shouldn’t notice what I’m doing. You should notice the characters and fall in love with them.” that is exactly what has happened to me and I cannot wait for the new season!!

    L. loves to share

  41. Does anyone know where I can watch this show? I don’t have TV and it’s not on Netflix! Dying to see it.

    • You can buy it on itunes.

  42. So interesting to read this- especially after watching the first season. I can really recognize moments now where the thoughtfulness that went into the wardrobe dramatically helped the overall feeling of certain scenes.

    My favorite character for wardrobe is Jessa :)

  43. I love when things I love, like your blog and GIRLS, come together. This is wonderful! We loved the outfit Hannah was pulling on for one of her job interviews while talking to Marnie on the phone. My husband and I chorused, “What IS that?! No!!!” Jenn is obviously so spot on.

  44. This is so interesting, what a cool job. I confess, I’ve only watched one episode – my friends are insisting I’ll love it and this has made me curious too so a marathon viewing might be in order for this weekend!

  45. Ahh, I am so excited for the second season!!!

    (And congrats on baby # 2! So exciting! I’m expecting #3 on Mother’s Day. )

  46. I think I love this show a lil bit more now that even to the underwear it is handled with such intricate care…This was a pleasure to read and this lady is totally awesome!

    Ergo – Blog

  47. that’s cool that she does The Good Wife too- I love Alicia’s power suits..

  48. I never thought about how what the characters are wearing in a scene might tie them together visually – fascinating!

  49. Love this. I just took a module in costume design theory in college and the amount of work they put into film and tv costumes is utterly fascinating. Also I love Girls, but seriously, who doesn’t these days!

  50. Fascinating interview!

    I have finally started Season 1 of Girls and while only 3 episodes in, I can’t help but like it!

  51. I don’t watch this show (and probably never will), but I loved learning more about how much work really goes into styling for a television show. Great interview!

    Krystal K.
    The Feisty House

  52. Very cool questions (and answers)! Just started getting into Girls and can’t wait to finish the series.

  53. i love this so much! EVERY time i walk in manhattan i cross my fingers i’ll see lena dunham ;)

    there’s only a few MILLION people there, i’m bound to pass her eventually!!


  54. A peek behind the magic curtain! LOVED this interview! And can’t wait for the second season to start!!

  55. Really, really interesting to see all the thought that goes into these choices! I never realized how difficult it could be to make someone look disheveled…for me, it’s natural ;)

  56. thanks for sharing this! i absolutely love this show and can’t wait to host a girl’s night for the premiere on sunday – now i’ll have some tidbits of info to share about their wardrobes!

  57. Wow, so interesting the thoughts behind the costume designer! Beyond the script, her choices really complete the story and our perceptions of each character!