Vintage Clothing in TV and film
Updated: Dec 6, 2019
Many people assume that all costume designers love to do “period”, major “costumey” pieces like “Downton Abbey” or “Little Women”. Not me particularly. But I do love vintage clothing from the 1900s on, and even co-authored a book on vintage fashion called “RetroChic”. Therefore I was ecstatic to be hired in 1992 by Penny Marshall to costume design the TV series “A League of Their Own”, based on the film of the same name, and set in wartime 1940s. All of the outfits had to be found, made, rented or purchased except for the uniforms which we rented from Sony Studios where they had been in storage since the film.
Since I already loved vintage clothing and over the years had purchased items from the ’30s and ’40s for myself, I was in seventh heaven! I had even co-authored a book on vintage fashion called Retro Chic (http://www.amazon.com/Retro-Chic-Fabulous-Designer-Shopping)
I visited every vintage store in Los Angeles (and there were many) and bought two or three of their best items. In the 90s there were still many 1940’s dresses, jackets, skirts, even nightgowns, robes and underwear still available and in good condition. Each new find was like discovering a hidden treasure and most of the dresses the girls in the TV series wore were original pieces.
We had a very large cast plus extras who were in several different outfits for each episode. We shot all the baseball scenes on location at an old baseball field in Pomona, Ca, which was a blast. We had four teams in four different sets of uniforms (as, of course, the Peaches had to play various opposing teams) and everyone got pretty bruised and banged up. Penny (Marshall) who directed is not known for skimping on the number of takes!
One day on location we had about 200+ extras who played the baseball goers in the bleachers. You have no idea how much wardrobe is needed for 200 extras - they need everything from tops and bottoms to hats and shoes, and they MUST look authentic for the period. We had men, women, and kids, we had all sizes and shapes - it was quite a challenge. Just getting that many people outfitted top to bottom in a short time and off to the set was an accomplishment, and only achieved because of the great help of my team of costumers.
Another interesting story about vintage comes from “Passions”, where often we would do flashbacks or dream sequences. One time one of the male characters was seen in a flashback to the 1980s, and after checking with the producers that this was a one-time shot, I found a vintage shirt that was perfect. But soaps being what they are, in a couple of months they did ANOTHER flashback to the same scene, only this time they needed a stunt double. Oh-oh! What to do? There obviously wasn’t a second shirt like it. What I eventually did was to take the shirt apart. I made the front of shirt #2 from the back of the original shirt, substituting plain fabric in the back, and made the collar and cuffs for shirt #2 from the sleeves of the original. Then I added a jacket to the actor and the stunt double and they both appeared to be wearing identical shirts, since only the front, collar, and cuffs were really showing!
I must have been doing something right, as I won Emmy nominations
for both “A League of their Own” and for “Passions”.