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!