ABC likes to remind viewers that no season of "The Bachelor" or "The Bachelorette" is quite like the one before. Year after year, episode after episode, Bachelor Nation watches the twists and turns that promise the most "dramatic" journey yet. Every so often, though, the show does manage to deliver — especially when it plays with its familiar format.
No announcement has surprised longtime viewers quite like the news that, for season 19, we'd be getting not one, but two "Bachelorettes": Gabby Windey and Rachel Recchia, both from Clayton Echard's stint as "The Bachelor." And it wasn't just fans that were caught off-guard.
"I never [thought], 'Oh. Guess what? You're going to be doing both of them,'" says Cary Fetman, who's been the show's main wardrobe stylist pretty much since the beginning "It was that initial shock of, 'You're joking right? For a whole season?'"
Though it's the first time Fetman's styling two leads simultaneously, there's some precedent. Before Kaitlyn Bristowe embarked on her journey in season 11 of "The Bachelorette," she arrived at Bachelor Mansion alongside Britt Nilsson, and the men voted on who they wanted to be the lead. Then, there was season 16, which started with one "Bachelorette" (Clare Crawley) and ended with another (Tayshia Adams). The two seasons that followed — Katie Thurston's and Michelle Young's —also saw Bristowe and Adams return as co-hosts and mentors. Fetman dressed them all.
"For the last couple of years, we've had a bunch of things that I never thought we would be able to do, that we've accomplished and done," he says.
Even before he finds out who he'll be dressing on any given season, Fetman will start mentally plotting out the possibilities of what their wardrobes might look like. Historically, the lead will be plucked from the top four of the previous season of "The Bachelor" for "The Bachelorette," and vice versa; though it's not a hard-and-fast rule, this trend provides a helpful framework for when it's time to hit the ground running.
"In my head, I knew it was going to be one of those two," Fetman says. "When I began, I was looking for if it was Rachel, like, 'This is the look that I would do for her.' There was Gabby, so I looked and shopped for Gabby. I also looked and shopped for Susie. I went through the groupings in my head, like, 'Who else could it possibly be?' And I found different feelings for them."
Fetman will always dress the two finalists for the finale — i.e. the proposal (usually) — "but a couple of seasons ago, we started realizing that towards the middle, after the hometowns, you're running out of clothes," he says. "So I started taking over a little more, and dressing them a little earlier." That meant that, by the time he got the green light on both Gabby and Rachel, Fetman had already done fittings with them.
"I got to know them a little ahead of time, and also got to know their style a little earlier than I used to. I'm not walking into it as cold as before, when we would start a season and I had never done them. Katie, I walked in and met for the very first time; there were people like Clare, where I walked in like, 'I love you because I did you four years ago on the show, and now we have you back and you've changed. Your taste is completely different.'"
Even if he's familiar with them, though, Fetman says there's a shift when someone's announced as "The Bachelorette." "Their style has evolved. They've seen themselves on TV already. They see what people have commented about their style. They want to change it up a little."
Beyond putting them in the clothes they're wearing to fall in love on national television, Fetman sees his job as translating the lead's personality into their wardrobe in a way that's primetime-ready, but also comfortable for them. There are the few recurring sartorial themes that emerge in the "Bachelor" universe — the beaded gowns, the jewel-toned cocktail dresses, the Randi Rahm — and Fetman's aware of how it looks.
"Every season, I try to do new designers and new things that I've never brought in before, just to see," he says. "[Leads] have such an abundance of choices that when they do go back to the same look, it's not my look — it's their look. Especially those first nights when you're there and cameras are on you and boys are arriving and you're scared out of your mind, you want to feel gorgeous and comfortable in what you're wearing. The idea that I would ever push somebody into a dress is just so silly to me."
The night-one dress can really set the tone for the season, sartorially speaking. It's the first thing the Bachelorette wears to meet her suitors (and often the first image the audience sees of the lead in the role, as ABC will often release it ahead of time as a teaser), and the first big fashion moment we get. Historically, the women have chosen Randi Rahm for the occasion; Gabby and Rachel are no exception. Rachel wore creamy beaded gown with a slit up the leg, Gabby a navy beaded see-through slip. Fetman insists that it was the leads themselves who gravitated towards them.
"Everybody thinks that when they come onto the show, they get Bachelorette-ized where everybody's just going to wear a Randi Rahm beaded gown and I'm going to change their look — that it's all me, and it's not them. It's so not the truth," he says. "There are at least 60 different designers. We have 45 racks of just gowns." He even asked this season's stars why they chose it it. "They were like, 'There's just something when I put it on, it made me feel different than that dress did.'"
"Gabby's was by mistake," Fetman adds. "When we first tried the dress, it had a beautiful sheer navy blue lining, and even though Gabby immediately liked it, the lining made it heavy and ordinary. Playing with different nude options underneath, we found that the naked look was the prettiest and also showed off Randi's beautiful beading the most. Randi then added some heavier beading in specific areas to make the dress wearable for ABC and this first-night appearance."
Rachel, meanwhile, "loved the fact that [the gown she chose] showed off her leg," Fetman says. "That was a part of her body that she loved. I even had to say to her at one point, 'Not every dress has to have a slit going up to your crotch.' But it was a look that she felt the most comfortable in. It cut beautifully. She felt like she was showing skin, but she wasn't showing that much skin."
According to Fetman, both Bachelorettes had picked out their night-one dress and their finale dress by the end of the first day of fittings. "It's so odd, it still blows my mind," he says. "I keep thinking that I'm going to wake up and find out that it was a mistake, that they shouldn't have been wearing the finale dresses because they picked it so early on. But they both knew immediately what their [night] one dress was and what they wanted to get engaged in."
Overall, Gabby and Rachel "have such completely different styles — they're such completely different girls and have such different personalities," Fetman says. "Gabby loves to be as naked and show as much as she possibly can." Rachel found her way to more revealing looks as well, but in a different way.
"People have always said I look like the mother of the bride," she apparently told Fetman. "So I said, 'Let's change it, if that's uncomfortable for you.' What I did find is that sometimes, those are the looks that she gravitates towards. I certainly hope she doesn't look like the mother of the bride this season — I hope that we did a good enough job — but her style certainly wasn't going to be the same as Gabby's. Nor did I want it to be."
In spite of this, there were some commonalities (neither wanted to wear skinny jeans, for instance, preferring baggy-fit boyfriend styles), and even a few moments where they gravitated towards the same pieces.
"The fittings weren't done together, but it was amazing how many dresses that I did that they both chose — as different as their styles are," Fetman says. "Fortunately, they're such good sports." Usually, instead of competing for a dress, they would decide that neither one of them would wear it. But not always.
"They both chose a dress from Randi Rahm that was burgundy, beaded... I won't tell you which one ended up getting it, but it was enough skin for Rachel to show where she didn't feel uncomfortable, and Gabby had 25 others that were even more risqué and showing more leg and more body."
The main challenge of styling a two-lead season was ensuring that both Bachelorettes, with their different sartorial preferences and comfort levels, were dressed for the same occasion — as Fetman puts it: "One couldn't look like they were going to a tea party when the other looked like they were going to dinner at Buckingham Palace. I'd have to step in and go, 'You at least have to look like you're going to the same party.'"
Then, there's the unpredictability that Fetman is very familiar with, having worked on the show for so long.
"We plan these dates so far in advance, when we get to the location and the weather isn't anything close to what you had prepared for... You find that it's 15 degrees colder, or the whole week you're there it's raining or cloudy, or it's chilly and you have a date where they're outside all day long," he says. "It's up to the date team to figure out at the last second, 'What are we going to do about this?' And I go, 'Well, if you're not going to change the date, then we need to change the clothes, because you obviously can't be freezing.' [It's about] having all of those extra toys — the extra glove, the extra scarves, the long underwear hiding — or having a square heel or having a wedge because you're insisting you can walk all day long in heels because you like the height, but you're going to be on cobblestone."
You also have to consider how the lead will be feeling on any given day. They might wake up in the morning after a group date gone sour, a stellar one-on-one or a tough rose ceremony, and suddenly, the outfit you'd prepped doesn't make sense.
"It changes based upon somebody having had a bad night and now all of a sudden, waking up in the morning and wanting to feel either extra pretty or, 'I don't care. Just throw anything on me,'" Fetman says. "This isn't a fashion show. The show is about love. It's real, and it's real people's emotions. The last thing I'm ever going to do is have somebody be upset over the fact that they're wearing something that they're not feeling good in, or that they wanted something that they couldn't have." (The stylist argues it was much harder to get the "Bachelorettes" dressed in casual clothes than anything else: "It would've been easier to wear a gown every single day.")
This season, you'll spot pieces by The Sei, PatBo, LaMarque, Mackage, Naked, 360° Cashmere, Douglas Says, Fe Noel and more, as well Fetman's "go-tos": "We did a lot of Randi again, we did Faviana, we did gowns by Mac Duggal and Anne Barge." There's a coat by Stello that Rachel wears in Paris that stands out because she had been "dying to wear it," according to the costume designer: "It's never really the whole outfit as much as that one piece that you just look at and go, 'Oh my God, that ties it all together.'"
What stands out to Fetman about working on Gabby and Rachel's unprecedented "The Bachelorette" is how much fun both leads had when it came to the fashion and beauty of their journeys. "They loved that part of it," he shares. "They loved the collaboration of, 'I'm wearing this outfit. What should I do with my makeup and hair today?' I hope people will be able to tell that they were having a blast."