Warning: Spoilers below for all eight episodes of 'A League of Their Own.'
Just like "Friday Night Lights" isn't really about football, the new "A League of Their Own" delves into personal, historical and socio-political stories beyond the baseball diamond. Inspired by the 1992 film of the same name, the eight-episode Amazon series — co-created by writer and star Abbi Jacobson — takes a fictional deep dive into the boundary-breaking women playing professional baseball in 1943.
The fashion (and fashion rules) for the trailblazing ballplayers in the 1940s extended off the field, all while shedding light on the era's sexist, racist and anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes, policies and laws. From the personalized boilersuits worn by women entering the factory workforce as men shipped off to World War II, to the impractical dresses made for the players who were allowed onto segregated teams, the clothes help tell their powerful stories.
Costume designer Trayce Gigi Field poured "over 2,000 pages of research" to accurately represent the characters' different communities, socio-economic statuses and backgrounds. She and her team both custom-built pieces — from party dresses to athletic uniforms — and sourced a wealth of 1940s vintage through their vast network. (Nancy Steiner of "Promising Young Woman" and "The Virgin Suicides" costume designed the pilot.)
"The whole show is about joy and really just finding your team, finding your people," says Field.
The Rockford Peaches Uniforms
"These skirts are just... I mean, how am I supposed to squat in them?" asks catcher Carson (Jacobson), after trying on her official Rockford Peaches uniform for the first time. "They're gonna see my everything."
It's a valid question — and one the real Peaches probably asked, since Field meticulously recreated uniforms worn by the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, plus the African American men's major league teams.
The branding of the history-making women's league — founded by Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley — was steeped in traditional heteronormative, cisgender standards of femininity: The athletes wore impractical belted dresses, which hindered mobility in, say, catching a flyball, and lacked protection from welts and scratches, acquired when thrillingly sliding onto a base. (They were also fined for wearing pants during their off-hours.)
Field's first challenge was sourcing a contemporary version of the era's four-way stretch cotton fabric. (Her team found it in white after assessing over 20 vendors.) "We needed to dye the fabric to match the color tones of '40s," she says. Through trial and error, the team perfected the Rockford Peaches' dusty rose and their rivals' color: pistachio green for the Kenosha Comets, buttercream yellow for the Racine Belles, and light cornflower for nemeses South Bend Blue Sox.
The players did wear shorts for coverage, which Field also recreated in historically authentic satins and cottons. She also replicated the stirrups, knee-socks, wool caps and cleats.
"Some baseball ladies wore layers, like a T-shirt or a long-sleeve henley or thermal," says Field. Straight-shooting mechanic Jess (Kelly McCormack), for example, wears a white undershirt with rolled up sleeves, which also serves a storytelling purpose: "They each have their own look and vibe. I was trying to give all the characters their own individuality."
'Not a Farm Girl' Carson and Glamorous Greta
With her husband Charlie (Patrick J. Adams) away at war, Carson catches a train to Chicago for tryouts. As part of the team, she discovers her leadership skills and explores her sexuality, but she can't escape her Idaho roots. ("I'm not a farm girl!" she says, repeatedly correcting her teammates.)
Carson's soft pinks, greens and blues — plus her gloves, hats and nature-printed shirts and dresses — speak to her quieter "housewife" days in Lake Valley. "She becomes a little less put-together and more carefree, more falling into herself," says Field of Carson's evolution into relaxed, sporty jeans and flouncier dresses.
Upon arrival in Chicago, Carson is immediately dazzled by confident, world-traveled Greta (D'Arcy Carden). The latter impresses at tryouts with her stellar batting skills and a red- and-white blocked satin baseball-jacket-and-pants set by Steiner. This show-stopping debut look established Greta's alluring deep-red and jewel-toned palette, informing her ensuing practice crop-top-and-pants outfits throughout the season.
"She's our sultry, sassy woman," says Field, who loved dressing Greta in the Old Hollywood-reminiscent silhouette of wide power shoulders, a nipped waist and flared skirts.
Risk-Taking Trailblazer Max
Max (Chanté Adams) should be the ace on the Peaches, but the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League never allowed Black players. (Jackie Robinson stepping onto the field with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 began the end of segregation in Major League Baseball.) Like Toni Stone — the first female professional baseball player to join the Indianapolis Clowns in 1951 — Max tenaciously chases her pitching dreams with her local men's Negro League team. At home, though, her beauty-salon-owner mom Toni (Saidah Arrika Ekulona) hopes she'll play it safe and secure by taking over the family business.
"Max is trying to fit into a box of who she's 'supposed' to be — what her mom wants her to be," says Field.
Max embarks on a costume journey from Toni-approved dresses — like the custom marigold wrap-front, ribbon-embellished dress (above) for best friend Clance (Gbemisola Ikumelo)'s housewarming party — to vintage men's jeans for practicing outside the salon, to confident trouser co-ords as she realizes her professional goals, sexuality and identity.
Max also exhibits a bird theme — with delicate embroidery on a blouse and dress — which hints at her urge to break the barriers set by her family and greater society. "Birds are free, and Max is really looking for some type of freedom for herself, to be who she wants to be," says Field.
Max's flying-free motif also connects to her biggest supporter: Clance.
In the penultimate episode, the aspiring comic book artist wears a pair of bird-shaped drop earrings, with one of her signature vibrantly-printed dresses (above), to excitedly watch Max in her professional baseball debut.
"It's tying their friendship together," says Field, also pointing out that unconventional accessories highlight Clance's individual sense of style. "She's my fashion-forward girl, in terms of not conforming to fashion norms [of the era]."
Another Easter Egg: The bold red, white and blue pattern on Clance's dress illustrates (sorry) her drawing talents and ambition to decolonize superhero stories in graphic novels. "If you look close enough, [the print] looks like a comic strip," says Field, who custom-made it.
Clance brings her sense of style to work, too, even if she's in uniform to weld on Max's team at the factory.
"I just wanted to make sure that Clance's quirkiness came through," says Field. "We did some colorful belts and printed shirts or a solid pop of color [with the boilersuit]."
Clance, Max and their fellow female colleagues also wore bandana hair wraps for safety purposes, considering the dangerous, heavy machinery. These also help convey their personalities, per Field: "I did want to have individuality as much as I could."
The True Max
Max reconnects with Toni's estranged sibling Bertie (Lea Robinson), who — along with partner Gracie (Patrice Covington) — created a haven for the Black LGBTQ+ community in the area. Bertie, a trans tailor, offers a sartorial allegory for Max's journey of self-discovery.
"It's all about the suit, right? You cut it right, and it commands respect," says Bertie in the show, gesturing to his three-piece pin-striped suit — another immaculate vintage find by Field.
He sends Max her own pinstripe set, which she modifies into her own self-expressive look for the exuberant and transformative party at Bertie's. Max debuts a new look, too (above and below): a pixie cut, tailored trousers, brooch-adorned vest (sans blazer), a beautiful yellow silk shirt — also all perfect vintage.
"If it's actually from the '40s and it's not disintegrating, let's use it," says Field of her approach to sourcing vintage.
Max takes in the joy of the revelers and finally feels like she belongs. "She naturally becomes more comfortable in her skin and finds her own vibe and what she's comfortable wearing," says Field.
1940s Chicago by Way of Paris
Some of the most freeing, illuminating, exhilarating (and brutal) off-the-field moments take place in queer-friendly party spaces, which went against the era's anti-LGBTQ+ laws. (Illinois was the first U.S. state to decriminalize homosexuality — but not until 1961.) Finding documentation of these celebratory gatherings proved a research challenge for Field; instead, she looked abroad for paintings and photographs of LGBTQ+ celebrations from the '20s to the '40s.
"Paris was so far advanced from the U.S. Here, you had to really hide who you were in the '40s," says Field, who considers Bertie's party one of her favorite episodes to costume design. "You really feel how cool everybody is. A lot of those clothes — the choice of colors — it just felt sexy."
She imagined that the party guests — adorned in a profusion of feathers, sequins, crystals and sheer, glittering fabrics — would have customized their own outfits for the occasion. "I tried to do some gold shimmer, like whatever could just amp up what a regular piece of '40s clothing would be," says Field. "You're not going to find that at a store."
Along with members from rival teams, Jess and her best friend/Peaches pitcher Lupe (Roberta Colindrez) frequent The Office, a queer speakeasy run by pinstripe-suited Vi (Rosie O'Donnell in a meaningful cameo.) Carson convinces Greta to go for what turns out to be an ill-fated, heartbreaking night, which starts out in a jubilant fashion.
"I wanted that to be fun, and for everybody to really be feeling comfortable in their skin and doing their thing," says Field. "Like, Greta in a gorgeous dress and Jess in what we like to call her 'thirst-trap outfit.'"
All eight episodes of "A League of Their Own" premiere on Friday, Aug. 12 on Amazon Prime.