How Costume Designer Jenn Rogien Kept “Girls” Realistic

Still riding that New York wave, I want to write about the New York fashion aesthetic of the HBO series Girls, which I watched just before it crossed the pond to the UK and reached the elitist channel of Sky Atlantic this October. Although I am not going to spoil any of the plot’s twists, I feel like there is something to be said about the realistic wardrobe of the four main characters – Hannah, Jessa, Marnie and Shoshanna. I recently read an interview with Girls’ costume designer Jenn Rogien by Fashion etc., in which she talked about why she decided to adopt a more realistic approach, rather than feed us with the umpteenth series of broke/average-salary people living it improbably large, only using taxis, and stacking Manolos in their cupboards as if they were cans of baked beans. Where the likes of Sex and the CityFriendsSeinfeld and How I Met Your Mother peddle a revisionist and, frankly, untrue image of the average New Yorker, Jenn Rogien rightly decided to focus mostly on more plausible Williamsburg vintage and thrift hotspots when putting together the wardrobe. Not only does Girls reflect the lives of a demographic that was virtually unexplored before – post-grad women in their mid-twenties still trying to figure out their lives, careers and relationships – it also echoes this realism within the mise-en-scène, for example showing Hannah on a subway train and on her bed with the same IKEA cushion I have at home, and I think the result is just right.

Marnie, Jessa, Hannah and Shoshanna. Source: HBO.

Rogien explained: “The show wasn’t about clothes. It’s about the girls, and they really wanted someone who could get on board with that and really get that they were trying to do these kind of crazy girls who aren’t necessarily all that put together. They wanted someone who would be able to translate that in a way that would aesthetically make sense and that would really support the comedy of the show… It’s a little offbeat, that’s probably the best word”.

Hannah. Source: HBO.

Jenn Rogien’s impressive resume includes TV series such as The Good Wife and Lipstick Jungle, where “everyone is incredibly dressed, and the accessories are perfect, and the shoes are expensive, and [they are] really high-end shows, but [Girls] is different from Lipstick Jungle: you don’t want everything perfectly curated. It’s actually just as hard to do messy as it is to do perfect”.

Jessa. Source: HBO.

Interestingly, despite Hannah, Jessa, Marnie and Shoshanna all sharing a very strong “Brooklyn-ness” about them, they all have very different tastes and styles. While Marnie is the only one with a well-paid job, and likes wearing more formal, grown-up outfits, Shoshanna opts for more colourful, modern pieces. Hannah’s style is definitely more ‘60s, including girly blouses, flippy skirts, cute dresses and flat brogues, and Jessa’s style (which is my favourite), is a combination of ‘70s, palazzo trousers and gorgeous kimonos paired with blood-red lipstick and soft chignons.

Marnie. Source: HBO.

Here’s how Rogien found most of the outfits used: “We actually talked a lot about that specifically with Marnie (Allison Williams) because she’s the one who sort of has this fancy job. We wanted her to look appropriate for the job, but we didn’t want to go to Bergdorf’s and buy her a Dior suit because it didn’t make sense for the character. That’s where we really relied on character and the actors to sort of feel it out as we were doing our fittings and see ‘You know this is a great piece but it’s way outside of what Marnie would be able to afford. Can we find it Loehmann’s? Can we find something similar from Lord & Taylor?’ We sort of skewed our shopping in that direction. ‘Is this realistic for the job that Marnie has? Is this realistic for Hannah, given that she doesn’t have a job?’ There were a lot of times when we would come to the conclusion that ‘Well, maybe her parents were helping her out when she was first trying to get a job.’ Marnie’s mum probably took her shopping when Marnie moved to the city and got this job because a lot of girls’ mums do. So we really tried to be as true to the spirit of characters as we could be in our shopping. If it seems right to go to Saks Fifth Avenue for some of the more special pieces, then that’s where we would go. If it seems more right to go to Atlantis Attic out in Williamsburg, we absolutely went out there. We were probably at Atlantic Attic and Beacon’s Closet for every episode because it’s the right stuff, that’s where those girls would go”.

Shoshanna. Source: HBO.

Girls is definitely a ground-breaking show and I cannot wait to watch the second series, which will launch in the US in January.

2 thoughts on “How Costume Designer Jenn Rogien Kept “Girls” Realistic

  1. Really enjoyed this post, thanks for sharing🙂
    Girls is one of my fav shows, it does explore “foreign” territory; it’s the realistic version of Sex and the City, interspersed with no money and awkward sex scenes!

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