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'Girls' Costume Designer Talks Season 4 and Why Hannah's Clothes Fit So Badly

The hit HBO show's costume designer, Jenn Rogien, tells us what to expect in season four, why the fit of Hannah's clothes is changing and how she dealt with the #normcore trend.
Hannah's back. Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

Hannah's back. Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

Your Monday mornings are about to get a lot more chatty because the beloved/hated/relatable/unrealistic/generally divisive but widely watched HBO series "Girls" returns this Sunday.

A lot has changed for the show's characters: Hannah's off to Iowa for grad school, Marni's become a musician, Shoshanna's applying for jobs and who ever knows what's going on with Jessa? And that's all going to manifest in what each of them wears.

We called up the show's brilliant costume designer, Jenn Rogien, to talk us through how each character is developing fashion-wise. We also chatted about social media reactions to the show, finding inspiration, getting input from the actors and why she shies away from certain trends (like normcore). Plus, we found out why Hannah looks so terrible all the time. Read on.

So Hannah is off to Iowa. How is that influencing how she dresses?

I think you can see a couple of spots in the trailer where I infused other light, academic inspirations to the clothes that she goes to Iowa in. And some of them are just re-combinations of clothes that are in her closet. You know, some of them are from our favorite vintage stores in Brooklyn, just to reflect that she’s really confident in this decision and she’s really excited about that journey. And we wanted to incorporate a little bit of that and build off of the sort of GQ (where she worked briefly last season) advertorial effect from season three where she’s ever so slightly becoming slightly more put together, about here or there. A little bit better fit, not that we were tailoring for fit, we just weren’t tailoring for ill fit as much as we had been in the first couple of seasons. So that’s her general starting place for season four.

It's interesting that you were tailoring for ill fit. How do you do that?

Certainly in the first couple of seasons when we were paying a lot of attention to reflecting how scattered Hannah was very much through the fit of her clothes. And sometimes that was reflected in a hem length: too short, too long, hit at an awkward place on the leg or we’d play with or drop the waist line to make them hit at not quite the right places, that literally just looks rumpled and off. And on top of that we would also not do very much craft of the costume that would go into the trim. So not a lot of steaming, not a lot of ironing. And there were some moments where I’d actually ask for things to be dropped into the bottom of a garment bag so that they would look like they came from off the floor the next morning because that was very much where Hannah was in her journey. Where in season three, again, with the whole effect of her landing a writing job and really wanting to rise to that challenge, we did a little bit more prep work, a little bit of steaming, a little bit of ironing. Again, it’s not very drastic because it’s still Hannah but just a few tweaks just to subtly reflect where she’s going.

What about Shoshanna? It looks like she's going all out for some job interviews?

Exactly. Well, we found her in a bit of a rough spot at the end of last season because she’s graduating so she starts out a little bit disorganized with her look just because she doesn’t know what’s happening next. And then she does go on the job search. So it was all about finding a look that Shosh would translate as a young professional: young, professional and put together with emphasis on the youthful and her looking at women who wear suits but not necessarily wanting to be a woman who wears a suit and potentially interviewing in a field that would require her to wear what we typically think of as a work uniform or what we saw Marnie wear in season one as a work uniform. So, it was an effort to walk that line between wanting to put her best face forward and still being Shoshanna.

I feel like Shoshanna is the character most likely to follow trends -- what trends will we see her attempt this season?

She’s certainly trend aware. There’s a bit of trend jewelry that makes it into Shoshanna’s life. And Shoshanna has always been a jewelry girl but her jewelry has transitioned quite a bit from season one. It was very feminine and lots of touches of pink and lots of flowers and butterflies and symbols of hope and love. Where in season two we grew her jewelry up a bit, so to speak. So fewer bows, fewer pink, a little bit more simple, not necessarily as girly. And then going into season three actually became a little bit more edgy as she was going through her year of sowing her wild oats phase. So we incorporated some black jewelry, some definitely on trend jewelry with some studded jewelry -- still in Shoshanna’s world but a little bit more on trend. And then in season four I continued that evolution where, as she’s going on her job search looking at different fields, her accessories are very much a part of her look and they become even a bit bigger. They’re not entirely statement oriented unless the moment calls for it but a little bit more prominent.

Shoshanna wearing a large jeweled barette. Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

Shoshanna wearing a large jeweled barette. Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

The actresses that play Shoshanna and Hannah both have very different hair this season. Did that influence how you styled them?

You know what, for Hannah it really did. In the first season, Lena’s hair covered her ears and so I would use a lot of jewelry that had an inside joke built into it or picked up on a theme in the script or was a funny. Whereas in season three, after Hannah had cut her hair, Lena’s ears were much more visible so I was much more careful about shooting earrings because they could either become distracting or so much part of the look that it became overwhelming in a way that Hannah wouldn’t necessarily think about.

With Shoshanna’s hair, her long hair was often up and when her hair was shorter you could still see her ears so it was just more about her whole jewelry look overall. A hairstyle or haircut is part of the whole look and it definitely informs fashion choices.

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How is Jessa's style developing?

All of the other girls are moving forward with choices, and Jessa is starting this season with choices thrust upon her and she’s not quite sure how to deal with them and her wardrobe definitely reflects that, so there’s still some key Jessa signatures -- the long dress or gown worn in the daytime. There’s just a little bit more of an all over the place feeling that we haven’t really seen. She wore these great gowns and weird ensembles and now it’s a little bit more jean shorts and t-shirt look in there there are some glam pieces but they’re a little less typically Jessa glam, a little more low key. She started wearing a take on a combat boot in season three and I continued to use those a lot because it really reflected what she was going through. She’s not in high heels all the time anymore, she’s really kind of embracing a new vibe.

And Marni?

Marni starts off the season very strong; we find out she’s embracing music at the end of last season and so in true Marni fashion she’s really committed to that and that includes her look, so right off the bat you can see her a little bit over the top take on '80s folk musician, so it’s a very Marni put together vibe, but in a way that you’re kind of like, well Marni really committed all the way again and it may not have been the right direction but she’s really going for it. That’s something I’ve always appreciated about Marni and her look.

Marni, played by Allison Williams. Photo: Mark Schaffer/HBO

Marni, played by Allison Williams. Photo: Mark Schaffer/HBO

Do you think her feelings for Desi have influenced her look? Back when she was dating Booth Jonathan, for instance, she tried to dress more artsy and avant garde.

I definitely think that Marni is a bit of a situational dresser, and a bit of a chameleon dresser. She's dressing as her idea of a young professional when she’s working at a gallery, even though that look wasn’t really contextually appropriate for the gallery, but Marni kind of felt that she was and then when she moved on to Booth she was trying to be a little bit more edgy and artsy, plastic dress and all, and now that she’s dating Desi, we saw that happen already with her beanie hat and jean shorts, not really what I consider typically Marni’s look but definitely shows that she’s trying to really connect with this other person on all levels. I wouldn’t say that she changes her look for the guy, but I think the context and the people in her life certainly do impact her look.

You've been doing this for four seasons now. How has your job changed or evolved since you started?

The characters have certainly evolved and grown and that directly impacts my job because my whole job is to support the story through the wardrobe... They are really growing, whether it’s up or laterally or in the opposite direction, there is continual movement in their emotional storyline, and it’s always motivating a shift in wardrobe to help reflect that and that’s a really exciting challenge and opportunity for a costume designer. That’s a little bit unique to that show where they’re continually moving forward. One of the bonuses is that I feel like these girls are my friends. I spend so much time in the costume shop with these characters that I feel like I know them very well — I spend so much time with them that I can make decisions a little bit more intuitively and the process becomes a little more efficient. You can look at something and say, that’s a Hannah thing, that’s a Marni thing, that’s a Jessa thing

How much input do the actors have in their costumes? Are they ever coming to you with pieces or brands they personally like or have relationships with?

It really varies from actor to actor, some actors have friends who have a jewelry line and think it works for the character and sometimes, Jemima [Kirke, who plays Jessa] actually had a great idea. She said, 'Can I wear jeans and a beat-up Wu Tang t-shirt?' And that ended up being the look on camera and it was absolutely right. And that’s also the thing about working with these ladies for several years now is that their instincts are fabulous and I really trust that if they have an idea it’s worth exploring and if I have an idea they’re more than willing to explore it as well and that’s an amazing collaboration. "Girls" is not a very brand-driven show. There’s a lot of thrift and vintage incorporated throughout the show. Even Shoshanna was wearing a vintage shirt this season. It’s less about the specific brand and more about, is that piece right for that character at that moment.

We wrote about this young designer coming up to Lena while you guys were shooting and giving her this shirt that ended up on the show. Do things like that happen often?

I don’t think it happens quite that way very often. It was kind of a wonderful coincidence of a moment. I get a lot of look books and I try to collaborate with people I’ve collaborated with in the past if they’re representing young designers. I keep asking my team, who lives throughout Brooklyn, where they’re shopping or if there’s a new place in their neighborhood that they love or if there’s a new vendor that they enjoy that would work for the show, so I’m kind of constantly on the lookout for things. We’ll take shopping inspiration in whatever form that it comes.

Jenn Rogien. Photo: David Buchan/Getty Images

Jenn Rogien. Photo: David Buchan/Getty Images

The show is obviously heavily discussed on social media. Do you keep up with that in terms of what fans and detractors say about the costumes?

There’s so much social media coverage that it’s beyond what I can actually keep up with, so yes I do read them, the heavily retweeted pieces, but one of the reasons that I actually don’t pay a lot of attention to positive or negative comments is I really want to keep the show and the characters wardrobe true to the path that we’ve started on and not be afraid to do something because of a social media reaction, whether positive or negative. I don’t want to distract from the story that we’re telling. Sometimes paying attention to social media can influence my thought process because I read them all if I can but there is a point when I do start to walk away, particularly when we’re actually filming. I’ll read them now that the show has been shot. I definitely read a little bit more of the coverage around the premiere. It’s fun, it’s exciting, I love it when the show premieres. It’s so gratifying to see everything on camera and at that point my head isn’t in the costume shop, I’m not completely absorbed in the work and I’m a little less worried that I will end up shifting my choices based on feedback. I love notes from Lena and Jenni and our whole creative team; those are the most important notes I can get.

Do you think "Girls" has influenced street style?

I don't know. Some things are so prevalent that I try to avoid them just because I know that it will date the show to a specific season. I was very hesitant to use wedge sneakers in the show until they’d been in the market or prevalent for a few seasons because I didn’t want it to take the show to a specific window in time, partially because we shoot and air several months apart and sometimes things have already moved on by the time they air and I didn’t want them to be the Manolo Blahnik Timberland boot that was hot for a second and then really really tied the look into a very specific time frame. We were very delicate with the normcore look, really being careful about where to use it because it started as very athleticwear-driven and now it’s translated into something that’s more about a pared down relaxed look and that happened since we shot the show and before the show aired so that’s the kind of thing I try to be careful with. If it wasn’t the New York market I’d probably get a little more leeway.