This time of the year is always bittersweet for me. Yes, spring has arrived, but so has the end of the traditional TV season (although cable has filled in what used to be the warm weather programming drought with hits like "Game of Thrones"). While must-watch shows like "How to Get Away With Murder" and "Empire" just concluded their debut runs, some beloved series are completely over. Sets will be dismantled and the actors and crew will (hopefully) head on to new jobs, but another crucial question remains: when a show wraps, what happens to the clothes?
The number one rule of thumb that audiences might not realize is that the costumes are officially property of the studio producing the show. Every piece is documented, photographed, logged, tagged and stored, and the wardrobe is meticulously audited when a show wraps. Plus, it's the producers — not the costume designers — who decide on the fate of all those Manolos, 3.1 Phillip Lim dresses and, in some cases, plushie suits (more on that below). The entire end process not only involves the costume team and production, but also the number crunchers from the accounting department.
Granted, some shows (like period dramas) rent part of the wardrobe from costume shops. Or, in the case of "Gossip Girl," the really good dresses — like the red Oscar de la Renta ball gown that Blair wore in Paris for her train station moment with Chuck (see above) — and all of the posh bags were samples on loan from the designers, similar to the fashion editorial process. In those instances, the items are simply packed and returned.
The studios can also reclaim all of their purchases to stockpile into a massive costume shop for other productions to rent, but the recognizable, iconic looks worn by star characters are placed into the archives. "Gossip Girl" costume designer Eric Daman estimated that 80 percent of the wardrobe from the show ended up in the Warner Bros. stash. However, the studio kept signature looks, like Serena's not-so-innocent Constance Billard School for Girls uniform, to display in a gallery on a rotating basis with other famous costumes for studio tours.
If you think that Leighton Meester wore Blair's signature headbands off the lot or that Kiernan Shipka stashed a '60s-era "Mad Men" dress into her bag at the end of a work day, think again. The actors are strictly prohibited from keeping or borrowing any of their show's clothing or accessories. "Well, they’re not supposed to," said "Reign" costume designer Meredith Markworth-Pollack. "I’ll put it that way." That said, there are rare exceptions when top-billed stars have the privilege of scoring select pieces as part of their contracts with the studio.
"When I was doing 'Sex and the City,' Sarah Jessica [Parker] had a deal where she could get some of the things," said Daman, thereby confirming what we were all thinking. SJP didn't help herself to the entirety of Carrie's Jimmy Choo, Valentino and Manolo-filled wardrobe, though. "She’s not greedy or anything like that," Daman asserted. There is also a contract line item designated as "Loss and Damages," or "L and D" for short, which accounts for pieces that might not make it to the final auditing stage. To stay above board, Daman said, if an actor really, really wants something, he or she could ask for approval from the producers.
If actors are patient enough to wait until a show wraps, they could also take advantage of costume and prop sales that are open to the public — meaning to other productions, costume houses and even to you and me. "Girls" and "Orange is the New Black" costume designer Jenn Rogien worked as an associate costume designer on the 2009 series "Kings," which was canceled by NBC after one season. She recalled one specialty-size actor who ended up purchasing a bunch of his own character's suits. "He had a really hard time finding suits,"she said. "So he was thrilled to be able to buy several already tailored suits for his [regular] life and to wear to auditions." Rogien also scored big. "I ended up buying a character’s shoe closet because she had really fabulous shoes," she laughed.
In the unique case of Joan Bergin, who is currently outfitting Norse heroes on "The Vikings," a costume designer can buy her own designs once a show ends. The three-time Emmy winner designed all of the sublime 16th century costumes for the Henry VIII drama, "The Tudors," and when the series wrapped after four seasons, Bergin bought roughly 50 of the costumes back from the studio. "I couldn’t bear to part with the pieces," she said. "So much work had gone into them." Bergin stores her designs from "The Tudors" in The Costume Mill, her small rental shop in Dublin. "I have rented out some of them," she said. "But in many ways they were so distinctive that people kind of hesitate to use them on principal [actors]." Instead, she keeps them on display to showcase and promote the high standards of Irish design talent and craftsmanship to visitors.
And Bergin can creatively re-purpose her stock for other projects, especially ones with tight budget constraints. She modernized early-1500s dresses style-wise by about 200 years for "A Little Chaos," set during the reign of Louis XIV. "It’s a great quick lesson in understanding every detail of your period for a costume," she said. "The waists went up and down and the necklines changed, so we added big lace collars to the front of the dresses." Bergin was even more resourceful in dressing six-foot-one actress Paula Paul for a hunting scene. "She fitted perfectly into Johnny Rhys Meyer’s Henry VIII hunting outfit," she said.
Even if costume designers don't personally own the costumes, there are still well-documented instances of repeats. When a designer is working on a consecutive show for the same studio, he or she can enjoy discounted rental fees, as well as early insider access to pieces they're already quite familiar with. Daman was finishing up "Gossip Girl" when "The Carrie Diaries" began, and he "got to pillage the 'Gossip Girl' wardrobe closet" for the "Sex and the City" prequel. Eagle-eyed viewers of both shows might have noticed a young Carrie's '80s-ish interpretation of Blair's Upper East Side socialite coat-dress (see below).
"Re-purposing is such a hot trend anyway," Daman said. "But it’s kind of funny to do it with a Nanette Lepore Kelly green Blair Waldorf coat on Carrie Bradshaw." Markworth-Pollack, who also worked on "Gossip Girl," also scored early dibs to dress supporting cast members for her move to "Hart of Dixie." There was also that one time "30 Rock" and "Saturday Night Live" costume designer Tom Broecker recycled Jenna Maroney's chicken costume for Andy Samberg's turn as a goose on Weekend Update. "We used the inside structure and we covered it in a different fur," he explained. Genius.
Since Rogien says that production sales are becoming more uncommon these days, you could just head to It's a Wrap in Los Angeles and Burbank for an opportunity to score your favorite TV character's gently worn clothes. Established in 1981, the store works with TV and movie studios to liquidate and sell stock they can't or don't want to keep. Owner Tiara Nappi said that pieces from old favorites like "Friends," "Seinfeld," "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "Melrose Place" have made it to the sales floor at 50 to 95 percent off retail price. If you're sad that "Cougartown" and "Parks and Recreation" have ended their runs, you could try to snag a sartorial souvenir worn by the cul-de-sac crew or Pawnee's top civil servants. Nappi also confirmed that pieces worn by Anna Paquin and Joe Manganiello on "True Blood" are on sale right now. Well, from those times that Manganiello's beefy and oft-naked Alcide was actually wearing clothing.