Behind-the-Scenes TV Wardrobe Secrets From All the Emmy-Nominated Costume Designers

"Game of Thrones," "Downton Abbey," "Outlander," "Empire" and more.
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We miss you and your costumes, 'Downton Abbey.' Photo: Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for Masterpiece

We miss you and your costumes, 'Downton Abbey.' Photo: Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for Masterpiece

What a wonderful time to be a costume designer — and a TV fan — because, as of last year, the brains behind the amazing wardrobes on our favorite shows are being recognized by the Television Academy in not one, but three Emmy Awards categories: contemporary series, limited series or movie; period/fantasy series, limited series or movie; and variety program or special.

This way, everything from the power suiting on "The Good Wife" to the fantastical Westeros style on "Game of Thrones" to the small-screen Broadway magic in "Grease: Live" has the opportunity to get the recognition it deserves.

In celebration, each of the phenomenally talented nominees took a moment to share the most challenging costume moment in their nominated episode. While three left last weekend's Creative Arts Emmys ceremonies with trophies (as noted with an *), they're all winners in our book.

Scroll down for each designer's quote — listed by category and in alphabetical order by show — below.

OUTSTANDING COSTUMES FOR A PERIOD/FANTASY, LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE

"Mary's acceptance of her feelings for Henry was an important emotional turning point and we explored the softest hues and textiles within her wardrobe for those scenes," Robbins says. Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and future hubs Henry (Matthew Goode). Photo: Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE 

"Mary's acceptance of her feelings for Henry was an important emotional turning point and we explored the softest hues and textiles within her wardrobe for those scenes," Robbins says. Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and future hubs Henry (Matthew Goode). Photo: Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE 

Anna Mary Scott Robbins for "Downton Abbey" (Episode 8)

"I was maneuvering the battle between Lady Mary [Michelle Dockery] and Lady Edith [Laura Carmichael] towards its climactic conclusion, using costume to mirror and reflect their conflicting positions and emotions. Hard sequins versus soft embroideries, cool tones against warmer palettes, geometry contrasting with florals. I wanted the costumes to enhance the story line and the characters' journeys without being too obviously stylized."

Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) and Bertie (Harry Hadden-Paton) Photo: Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE

Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) and Bertie (Harry Hadden-Paton) Photo: Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE

For example, in the scene when Mary drops the bombshell news about Marigold to Bertie [Harry Hadden-Paton], she is armored and controlled in her three-piece estate suit, buttoned up and high necked. While Edith is pretty and yet vulnerable and exposed in soft peach chiffon, which was then worn with an embroidered coat specifically designed and made for her breakup scene with Bertie on the lawn in front of the Abbey." Follow @annamaryscott on Twitter.

Cersei (Lena Headey) in her crown. Photo: HBO

Cersei (Lena Headey) in her crown. Photo: HBO

*Michele Clapton for "Game of Thrones" (The Winds of Winter) 

"The final look for Cersei [Lena Headey] was in some ways the easiest— as I knew instantly what I wanted to do with her costume and what it needed to say — but the crown took time to develop. I wanted, with support from showrunners, to abstract the image of the lion, to almost go against what would have been the obvious route, which instead was the starting point. This process, as I said took time — and I had so little — I just tried cutting away detail until, just with a few strokes, the lion was still represented." Follow @micheleclapton on Instagram.

"Every single episode has costumes that I am crazy about — that were designed to be absolute showstoppers in the 18th century Parisian court and 1960s America," says Dresbach. Photo: © 2016 Starz Entertainment, LLC copyright: © 2016 Sony Pictures Television Inc. All rights reserved.

"Every single episode has costumes that I am crazy about — that were designed to be absolute showstoppers in the 18th century Parisian court and 1960s America," says Dresbach. Photo: © 2016 Starz Entertainment, LLC copyright: © 2016 Sony Pictures Television Inc. All rights reserved.

Terry Dresbach for "Outlander" (Not in Scotland Anymore)

"'Outlander' is the story of a woman from the 1940s who time travels to the 18th century. I decided to recreate the iconic Bar Suit, designed by Dior in 1947, to help our lead character transcend time and place and to represent both the 18th and 20th centuries in one costume. I think it defines the costumes of the entire series. I deeply love this costume, and I'm very proud of it, but it is not based on a design of my own. That is what made the choice so difficult as the rest of the show is full of original designs." Follow @draiochta14 on Twitter.

"The costumes needed to be harmonious, and interesting by their color relationships and beauty," says Carter. Kunta Kinte (Malachi Kirby, center) in a scene from "Night One." Photo: History Channel/Roots

"The costumes needed to be harmonious, and interesting by their color relationships and beauty," says Carter. Kunta Kinte (Malachi Kirby, center) in a scene from "Night One." Photo: History Channel/Roots

Ruth E. Carter for "Roots" (Night One)

"The overall challenge was created by learning so much about [the slaves'] lives. How they worked from sun up to sun down. I was constantly challenged by the facts and how to implement them. Things like, thread and fabric being expensive for a slave and not readily available to them. So they repurposed their clothes. Often, worn-out men's pants were used under dresses as pantaloons. This all challenged me to find ways to show this. It was exciting and heartbreaking all at the same time. To learn their story and tell it through the costumes in the most honest ways possible." Follow @onsetwardrobe on Twitter.

Sarah Paulson as a made-over Marcia Clark. Screengrab: People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story/FX

Sarah Paulson as a made-over Marcia Clark. Screengrab: People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story/FX

Hala Bahmet for "The People v. O.J. Simpson" (Marcia, Marcia, Marcia)

"In addition to the unfolding courtroom drama, Mark Fuhrman's testimony and the pandemonium of crowds outside the courthouse, the episode 'Marcia, Marcia, Marcia' was challenging because we wanted to portray the turmoil and effects of the unrelenting and often sexist media scrutiny Marcia Clark [played by Sarah Paulson] endured during the course of the trial. In episode six, we unveiled her first 'makeover' look, which included an overall softening of her wardrobe color palette and also the notable new hair style." More at halabahmet.com.

OUTSTANDING COSTUMES FOR A CONTEMPORARY SERIES, LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE

Lady Gaga as The Countess in the Michael Costello gown. Photo: FX Networks

Lady Gaga as The Countess in the Michael Costello gown. Photo: FX Networks

*Lou Eyrich for "American Horror Story: Hotel" (Chutes And Ladders)

"Coming up with the fuchsia dress for the LACMA scene. We were shooting four episodes at a time and The Countess [Lady Gaga] had 19 costume changes, so we just didn't have time to manufacture a dress in-house. [Producer] Ryan Murphy wanted a fuchsia dress with loads of flowy fabric that would be a standout walking through the lamp posts. I was lucky to be introduced to Michael Costello, who sketched and made the dress in a matter of days. I wanted some kind of jewel for the waist and shoulder of the dress, but wanted it be unusual. I happened upon an old belt at [vintage shop] Golyester with two serpents as the belt buckle. We took it apart and sewed them on the dress moments before she put it on." Follow @bigloula on Twitter.

"[Lucious] always has a little twist to his tailoring," says Nieddu. "He's not super conservative, but he's still very chic and put together." Lucious, Hakeem, Jamal, Lucious's mom (Leslie Uggams) and Andre. Photo: Chuck Hodes/FOX

"[Lucious] always has a little twist to his tailoring," says Nieddu. "He's not super conservative, but he's still very chic and put together." Lucious, Hakeem, Jamal, Lucious's mom (Leslie Uggams) and Andre. Photo: Chuck Hodes/FOX

Paolo Nieddu for "Empire" (Past is Prologue)

"The wedding was hard because everybody was there. It's always challenging when you're dressing nearly the entire cast and then add to it that it's black tie — which seems like it would be easier because you're like, 'men in tuxedos' — but you don't want them all to look the same. So you have to give them a black-tie look that makes them look a little different and look like their character. With Lucious [Terence Howard], I went with this dark bordeaux Armani tuxedo and I gave him a black-on-black shirt and tie. With Hakeem [Bryshere Gray] as the groom, I got this Ralph Lauren with a very art-deco print and it was a very flashy tuxedo." Follow @pniddy on Instagram.

"Frankie brought it," says Fanger. "Frankie went full-on and a more beautiful Frankie look that I think was very aligned with what she would wear to anything she thought was a fashionable, special moment. A special occasion." Frankie (Lily Tomlin), Babe (Estelle Parsons) and a shirtless friend. Photo: Netflix

"Frankie brought it," says Fanger. "Frankie went full-on and a more beautiful Frankie look that I think was very aligned with what she would wear to anything she thought was a fashionable, special moment. A special occasion." Frankie (Lily Tomlin), Babe (Estelle Parsons) and a shirtless friend. Photo: Netflix

Allyson B. Fanger for "Grace and Frankie" (The Party)

"Our biggest moment was for Babe [Estelle Parsons] in bringing her to that [assisted suicide gathering] moment in a visual and emotional way. It just really felt strongly that her party was ceremonial, which is why she ended up in that beautiful white. She's a traveler, so I thought this is the way she traveled — and maybe bought that two-piece outfit in India — and then the jacket felt very ceremonial for me. It was almost like any rite of passage moment of life, like birth or marriage or you know. It was that kind of moment and she had all her most fancy beautiful jewelry on, almost like a wedding for her." Follow on Instagram @allysonfanger

"Julianna and I tried on a few different pieces and as soon as we put on that jacket, we were both like, 'this is it,' Lawson says. Alicia (Julianna Margulies) and Peter (Chris Noth) Photo: CBS

"Julianna and I tried on a few different pieces and as soon as we put on that jacket, we were both like, 'this is it,' Lawson says. Alicia (Julianna Margulies) and Peter (Chris Noth) Photo: CBS

Daniel Lawson for "The Good Wife" (End)

"The very last scene. The big slap scene. There's added pressure of, it's not just the last scene of the episode, but it's the last scene of the series. I knew that I wanted Alicia [Julianna Margulies] to bookend and be evocative of her first outfit in the first episode, which was that big giant houndstooth boxy jacket when she slaps Peter [Chris Noth]. At the same time, I wanted her to look like a different woman because it's been seven years. She's grown and she's changed. We ended up with this great double-breasted silk faille Armani suit in black. It had a little sheen to it. I liked that it was a little reflective, almost like armor — unlike the first time we saw her." Follow @goodwifefashion on Twitter.

"The episode flashes back to a forgotten family member who lived in 1930's Berlin," Schley says. "We repeated some cast in both scenes and matched the white color of their costumes in order to link the present to 1930s." Shelly (Judith Light) and Maura (Jeffrey Tambor). Photo: Amazon StudiosPhoto: Amazon Studios

"The episode flashes back to a forgotten family member who lived in 1930's Berlin," Schley says. "We repeated some cast in both scenes and matched the white color of their costumes in order to link the present to 1930s." Shelly (Judith Light) and Maura (Jeffrey Tambor). Photo: Amazon StudiosPhoto: Amazon Studios

Marie Schley for "Transparent" (Kina Hora)

"Kina Hora starts with a jump in time to Sarah [Amy Landecker] and Tammy's [Melora Hardin] all-white wedding. The color palette is used to help create a feeling of oppression and control. Sarah doesn't want to marry Tammy and she feels trapped. The Pfefferman family is in a state of 'transition' and their individual personalities needed be expressed in all white. Sarah's wedding dress is intentionally slightly ill-fitting, Ali's [Gabi Hoffman] androgynous suit has a shirt with some purple polka dots in it to show her rebellion. Shelly's [Judith Light] vintage Christian Dior pant suit shows her pragmatism. We custom made Maura's [Jeffrey Tambor] dress for the wedding and designed it to feel like one of her signature caftans, but it is less androgynous and moves her towards a more feminine look."

OUTSTANDING COSTUMES FOR A VARIETY, NONFICTION OR REALITY PROGRAM

Daniela Gschwendtner for "Dancing With the Stars" (Disney Night)

"Witney Carson's light-up Cinderella skirt was the trickiest. Not due to the light-up aspect, but due to the fact that she had to be able to dance in it. We had to merge battery packs and hide and secure them under the skirt... We had to make sure they wouldn't fall out or go out while she was dancing. But, in the end, she looked so much like Cinderella! That made it worth it." Follow @ela2020 on Twitter.

Steven Lee for "Dancing With the Stars" (Disney Night)

"The 'Toy Story' themed dance with Mark Ballas as Woody and Paige VanZant as Jessie. To create this look, I gave a twist to Mark's costume [by] giving it a creative spin to allow movement for the dance. I designed a sleeveless tail suit with a cowhide print and the hat was custom-made with wheat spikes distressed to give a worn feel. The green plastic toy army soldier costumes that danced in the background [was also a challenge]. We had to give the illusion that they were plastic toys and yet the dancers had to also dance with full energy in these costumes." 

Keke Palmer as Marty (far right) in the top layer of her three-layered costume by William Ivey Long. "I’m sort of known for this," he says. "Transformations are us." Photo: Michael Becker/FOX

Keke Palmer as Marty (far right) in the top layer of her three-layered costume by William Ivey Long. "I’m sort of known for this," he says. "Transformations are us." Photo: Michael Becker/FOX

William Ivey Long for "Grease: Live!"

"[Designing for the 'Freddy My Love' scene for Keke Palmer as Marty] was challenging, but also exciting because the challenges are what excites you. Who wants to do a show that has no challenges? Here's the trick: She's wearing several layers at once. She's singing with her hairbrush [in Frenchie's room] and then, as she's walking [onto the dream sequence runway], she drops the baby doll [top layer] and the red sequin dress is tucked up underneath." 

"Back when we were doing it, we were keeping it a big secret," Long says. Marty in her sequin fantasy runway gown (with the second blue peignoir tucked underneath). Photo: Michael Becker/FOX

"Back when we were doing it, we were keeping it a big secret," Long says. Marty in her sequin fantasy runway gown (with the second blue peignoir tucked underneath). Photo: Michael Becker/FOX

"So she walks up and down [the runway]. Then the camera comes up to her face — and this is so smart with our directors — and you see her drop the red dress and there's a matching blue peignoir underneath. Three layers. Then she just winks at the camera and goes right back in and continues to sing. I love figuring these things out." More at williamiveylong.com.

RuPaul in a custom Zaldy costume. Photo: Logo

RuPaul in a custom Zaldy costume. Photo: Logo

Zaldy Goco, "RuPaul's Drag Race" (Keeping It 100!)

"The most challenging aspect to costuming a monumental figure such as RuPaul starts at the foundation. It takes custom corsetry and padding to create Ru's magnificent shape. Having worked together for so long, this is not so much the challenge anymore. I would say that the most challenging obstacle is working on dress forms so tall that everyone has to get up on chairs or ladders to get to the top of the gowns." Follow @zaldynyc on Instagram.

Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong and Ryan Gosling. Photo: Dana Edelson/NBC

Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong and Ryan Gosling. Photo: Dana Edelson/NBC

Tom Broecker and Eric Justian, "Saturday Night Live" (with host Ryan Gosling)

 "The hardest sketch (they all have their own issues), I would say, was the alien ['Close Encounter'] sketch with Kate [McKinnon], Cecily [Strong] and Ryan [Gosling]. It had to be really subtle costuming. Each outfit had to be very specific for that particular character and it had to be so spot on. [McKinnon's] words were so funny and we just didn't want anything distracting from what ultimately was going to be the performance." Follow Broecker @bro_ker326 on Instagram.

The Wiz (Queen Latifah) and the Emerald City citizens. Photo: Virginia Sherwood/NBC

The Wiz (Queen Latifah) and the Emerald City citizens. Photo: Virginia Sherwood/NBC

*Paul Tazewell, "The Wiz Live!"

"The citizens of Emerald City. That scene needed to look as fashion-forward as possible to set the tone of an elite and exclusive night club. I also chose to use light up accents within the clothes of Emerald City to have that scene feel as modern and electrified as possible, in contrast to, the lair of Evilene [Mary J. Blige], the 'boileroom/powerplant' of the land of Oz. The design elements aside, all of the costumes needed to function well for the extensive dance movement that was choreographed by Fatima Robinson. Looking back, I feel it was a very successful marriage." Follow @paulgtazewell on Twitter.

The Creative Arts Emmys air on Saturday, Sept. 17 at 8 p.m. ET on FXX.

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