High-End Looks

Costume Designer Daniel Lawson On Signature ‘Good Wife’ Style (PHOTOS)

Jace Lacob talks to the show’s costume designer Daniel Lawson about design, color, menswear, and more.

Courtesy of CBS

Courtesy of CBS

Jace Lacob talks to ‘The Good Wife’ costume designer Daniel Lawson about drawing inspiration from the set’s design elements, the show’s use of color, Jackie Florrick’s ‘Elizabethan’ styling, political iconography, Matt Czuchry’s Cary, menswear, and more.

Justin Stephens / CBS

DESIGN

It’s no coincidence that the clothes that the lawyers at Lockhart/Gardner wear look so good in their sleek offices, according to The Good Wife costume designer Daniel Lawson.

“I looked towards our production designer, Steven Hendrickson, for inspiration, and what he was doing with the set, and the high-end locations that we were using and sets that we were building,” he said. “I knew that our law firm was going to be glass, chrome, and light-colored woods, and just really modern, elegant, and chic. The wardrobe would step into that world well.”

Jeffrey Neira / CBS

HEIGHTENED REALITY

It’s the rare show that gets compared to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, yet The Good Wife’s sartorial leanings tend toward the slightly heightened.

“It helped that the network was really eager to have a show that was classy looking,” Lawson said. “In that movie Brazil, the reality scale is a 10, and people are wearing shoes on their heads as hats. On a show like Third Watch, which I designed, we tried to make it as realistic as absolutely possible. [The Good Wife] probably falls somewhere as a seven, maybe. It is high end, but we do try to make it seem real. We’ve had so many lawyers stop Christine [Baranski] or Julianna [Margulies] on the street and say: ‘We want to dress like you. It is so appropriate for court. It looks amazing.’ We just take that as a real compliment.”

John Paul Filo / CBS

COLOR

Margulies’s Alicia Florrick is often dressed in purple and red, which is clearly the signature color of the show. Lawson distinctly uses color to make actors pop in different scenes, and uses Alicia’s wardrobe palette in specific ways.

“I definitely use the color to emphasize her or deemphasize her as the story dictates,” he said. “There’s been a couple of times where we’ve gone into military courts, and everybody’s in that olive drab green tone, and I have her stepping in in a big red suit. Whoa, talk about being out of place. She looks great in black, and as much as I try not to use black, sometimes it’s just a great color to put in there. It’s definitely one of the major tools in my box of tools for helping to tell the story and help create the palette.”

David M. Russell / CBS

JACKIE FLORRICK

Mary Beth Peil’s Jackie Florrick, the closest thing American television has to Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess, is both meddlesome and gorgeously dressed on the show, her looks connected to both political iconography—first ladies, anyone?—and even royalty.

“I went to school at Northwestern, so I saw these women all the time in the suburbs and on the north side of Chicago, and they were just so perfectly put together, and you just felt like if you just touched them they would just shatter into a million pieces,” said Lawson. “Her hair is just so, and every single strand is in the right place. We haven’t seen her in a few episodes and I really wanted her to start off the episode with a big splash of color. She’s wearing this huge white blouse with a big bow on it. The neck was a standing ruffled neck, and I just wanted her to feel just royal. We treat her almost like royalty, and the way I dress her sometimes is sort of Elizabethan, things at the neck and things standing.”

“The next time that we see her in the episode, she’s been demoted to speaking at a community center to about 10 retirees, and so we took all of the color out of her. We made it very neutral toned and sad colors…When she ends up at the straw poll, I made her very red, white, and blue. When her son was running for state attorney at the very end of the second season, I dressed her very red, white, and blue, and I wanted to do it again. She knows how to dress for an event.”

David M. Russell / CBS

DETAILS

Viewers this week saw that Jackie’s mental state is still in question after last season’s stroke. She was shown hallucinating a series of bugs throughout the episode, as they appeared on a lectern and in a glass of wine. Astute viewers may have picked up the bug motif on Jackie’s accessories as well.

“I don’t know if anybody noticed that we had like all of these little bugs on her,” said Lawson. “Little bug pins. She’s worn them before, but we thought, ‘What’s real, and what’s not real to her? Where did this fascination with bugs come from? And why is that what she’s seeing?’ I wanted to just put that little touch in there and just sort of support that story with her.”

Heather Wines / CBS

MENSWEAR

The show’s male characters are almost always wearing suits on the show, given the setting, but Lawson infuses each of them with an innate sense of individuality.

“I worked really hard on that,” he said. “One of the really difficult aspects of modern dress is how you create delineation between characters with men’s suits. It’s about not letting any detail go by. What is that fabric? How wide is the lapel? How many buttons are on that jacket? Is it a French cuff shirt or a barrel cuff shirt? Is it a spread collar or a point collar? Does the shirt have color to it or is it a stripe? How wide is the tie? How big is the knot? How do they tie the knot? What kind of shoes? All of those elements, they are teeny tiny elements, but I feel like they all add up to creating a specific look for a character.”

“[It’s also about] paying attention to all of the details with Peter’s suit versus Will’s suit versus Cary’s suits versus Eli’s suits. We can hold up a suit and say, ‘Oh, that’s so and so’s,’ because of how thin it is, or how thin the lapel is, or how cinched in at the waist it is.”

Justin Stephens / CBS

CARY AGOS

In this week’s episode, Matt Czuchry’s Cary walks into the office that he now shares with Alicia, and there’s no other character on the show who could pull off that suit, which speaks volumes about his character and his slick ambition.

“In the first season, he wore very nice suits, and they were slim and all that, but we really stepped it up going in to the third season,” said Lawson. “We started doing much slimmer suits. We started custom-making his suits. We changed shirt labels. We changed ties. We went with a French cuff…Matt was the one who said, ‘I need to step it up.’ He and I talked about it, and the producers were thrilled. It’s such a team effort.”

JEFFREY NEIRA

CHALLENGES

With a fashion-forward show like The Good Wife, the biggest challenges aren’t the ones you expect, said Lawson. “The things that you think are going to be the hardest turn out not to be. It’s the piece that you are like, ‘Really? It’s just a nightgown and she’s just in bed, why is this so difficult?’ that turn out to be the hardest. We’ve only had one episode, in all four seasons so far, that had them in evening wear, and we were just like, ‘Oh my gosh, evening wear?’ [But] the first dress we put on Alicia was the one. We tried others, of course, because I’m just like my dad: I buy something and then I just keep shopping.”

Justin Stephens / CBS

“OH, DARLING…”

But with so many costume changes per episode, which ensembles does Lawson get the most excited about?

“The outfits that I get particularly excited about are the ones that the actors put on and really respond to it in a very positive way,” said Lawson. “When Christine put something on that she loves, she always says, ‘Oh, darling, I’m going to have to borrow this for Paris.’ That means she really loves it. For Julianna, when she puts something on, she strikes this certain pose, and it’s such a runway pose. I don’t even know if she knows she does it, but when she does it, I’m like, ‘OK, she loves this.’ I take such pleasure in making them so happy with their wardrobe.”