How Costume Design Works in Porn

It's not all about the T&A... okay, it's mostly about the T&A, but the clothes are important, too.
Avatar:
Tyler McCall
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
701
It's not all about the T&A... okay, it's mostly about the T&A, but the clothes are important, too.
A costume design by Kirsten Price. Photo: Kirsten Price

A costume design by Kirsten Price. Photo: Kirsten Price

When you think of pornography, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn't the clothes. But hey — what comes off must first go on, right? Like any other film project, wardrobe sets the tone and is an important part of the planning process — almost especially so in porn, where fantasy is often built around the stereotypes embodied by the clothes. 

For porn films, wardrobe stylists are brought on for big feature projects to break down the script and plan out wardrobe for each scene, keeping track of items and costume changes. "Basically it’s like what any other wardrobe designer would do on a mainstream set, except people take their clothes off in the end," says Kirsten Price, a pornographic actress who also works as a wardrobe stylist.

Porn shoots work on tight, fast schedules, which means most costumes are put together from things bought in stores. Price says there is some handiwork when appropriate; she cites a "Sons of Anarchy"-inspired film for which she and a team customized denim vests with patches. Still, time and resource constraints mean most of the garments are acquired in stores.

"We’ve done one feature, and we have like a week to prep for that one, and then you have a couple of days off in between that, and then you’re right onto the next one," Price explains. "So a lot of times they’re back to back to back and you’re using every possible moment you have off to do the shopping for it."

Much like every other aspect of the industry, costume design has been greatly impacted by the Internet. As free websites like PornHub and YouPorn continue to pop up and the popularity of "cam girls" rises, it becomes harder and harder to make money from porn itself. One way to combat that and attract a loyal viewership is not dissimilar to how animals attract mates in the wild: Be the brightest in the bunch.

"We only use really, really bright colors because everything’s pretty much Internet-based today and when you’re looking on the Internet it’s the bright colors that attract the eye," Price explains. "That’s the way you get the most hits: if you see a girl in black versus a girl in a bright yellow, the bright yellow is going to get more hits."

A costume design by Kirsten Price. Photo: Kirsten Price

A costume design by Kirsten Price. Photo: Kirsten Price

There's also a lot of thought put into what colors get used; Price says she wouldn't put orange on a blonde or use a blue bikini for a poolside shoot. Patterns, especially fussy ones, are typically avoided as well. Black is only used when appropriate for the theme (think vampires).

With slashed budgets, companies often request that porn stars provide their own wardrobes, especially for less involved shoots. Directors will contact them before the shoot to let them know what the look should be and what items they should bring. It's a part of working in the industry, for which porn stars have to plan. "We’re actually considered independent contractors, so it’s similar to makeup artists and stuff, how they purchase their own makeup," pornographic actress Chanel Preston explains.

To save money, both costume designers and porn stars alike maintain wardrobes that fit certain tropes: schoolgirl, cheerleader, secretary, and so on. Cultivating a "type" through this kind of costume design helps these women build out a fanbase; much like fashion models, much of the money doesn't come from the work itself, but through the public appearances and merchandise opportunities that come with being a popular porn star. 

"I actually shoot office attire all the time — it’s just the look that I have — so I have a lot of that," Preston explains. "I don’t shoot a lot of 'girl next door,' but I have some wardrobe for that; I have 'stripper attire,' knowing I shoot that, or 'rich housewife' attire. Every girl kind of knows what they get booked for a lot, so depending on what that is [determines] what wardrobe they mostly have."

Lingerie, as one might imagine, is not reusable — this is not the occasion to break out the La Perla and Agent Provocateur. Preston buys most of her sets at H&M. "They actually have really cute things nowadays, like, matching bras and panties," she says. "You need matching bra and panty stuff all the time, and they’re like 20 bucks, super cheap — so I do that." (See also: Preston's hilarious tweet.)

Even when wardrobe is provided, it's still good for women to bring their own clothes to set. Fast production schedules mean there is no time for fittings, so sizing can be a bit of a guessing game. "A lot of times we have girls bring stuff as backup because we never really do know if it’s going to fit because we don’t get to do wardrobe fittings, we don’t get to have girls come in and try things on," Price says.

It's also useful for situations when the wardrobe provided just doesn't work on the woman's body. "I don’t wear the babydoll dresses or whatever [...] that doesn't look good on me because I have big boobs, so if I don’t show curves it looks like I’m kind of fat," Preston says. "So, yeah, I’m packing my wardrobe all the time but in some ways it’s nice because there have been times where they’ve provided wardrobe and I’m like, this is horrible on me."

Increasingly, though, companies are ditching wardrobe stylists altogether to cut down on costs. Only the big companies — like Digital Playground and Brazzers, for which Price works, and Kink.com — still employ stylists for their more major projects.

"It’s not like it used to be back in the day, when it was pretty common place to have someone come on set and dress the girls," Price says. "It’s just not like that anymore because I think the companies just don’t have the budgets that they used to."