How Lena Dunham Gets Dressed for ‘Girls’
As the ‘Girls’ grow up, so does their style. The HBO show’s costume designer Jenn Rogien reveals the transition from Brooklyn hipster to ‘put together.’
Girls returns on Sunday night, and with it Hannah Horvath’s head-scratching clothing choices.
They’re not all grown up just yet, but much has changed for the show’s characters: Hannah’s off to a writer’s workshop in Iowa, Shoshanna’s pounding the pavement for jobs, Marnie’s trying on yet another new identity (this time in New York’s indie music scene), and Jessa’s adjusting to life post-rehab.
Exploring new phases in their lives, the women are adjusting their wardrobes accordingly.
The Daily Beast talked to the show’s costume designer, Jenn Rogien, about each character’s look this season, how she incorporated “normcore” and other trends into the show, finding a balance in Marnie’s latest try-hard transformation, and why Hannah looks slightly less disheveled.
We’ve seen the girls evolve so much from Season 1, but with her move to Iowa, it seems like this season could see a particularly noticeable change in Hannah’s aesthetic.
She’s still Hannah, so she still doesn’t have her act together entirely on the clothing front. But she’s so confident about her decision to go to Iowa, and that confidence definitely informs her wardrobe. There’s a touch of an academic inspiration in her look going into the season. You see some of that in the trailer with that vintage, varsity sweater she wears. So we’re pulling pieces from her closet for her to wear in a fresh way, and then combining them with pieces from our favorite thrift and vintage stores in Brooklyn to highlight that academic look.
And I’m building off of what I call the “GQ advertorial effect” from Season 3, because she worked [at GQ] briefly and being in that environment required her to be a bit more pulled together. So we added a few low-heeled shoes and I was able to build off of that going into Season 4, making little touches that make her look ever-so-slightly more pulled together.
In the past, I would purposely tailor her clothes to be ill-fitting. I would move waistlines so that everything sat on the wrong place on Lena’s body. I adjusted hemlines to look intentionally awkward. I’m not doing that this season.
I remember Hannah’s clothes were often rumpled and wrinkled in the first two seasons.
And that was deeply intentional! I would ask for her clothes to be steamed the evening before we shot and then dropped into the bottom of the garment bag so it would come out of the bag looking as though she’d grabbed it off the floor.
One of my first notes on the show from Judd was, “Our audience won’t believe that Hannah is this much of an emotional mess if she looks this good.”
Thankfully she was dressed for a job interview in that particular sequence on the first day that we were shooting, so we could get away with her looking relatively good in that scene! But immediately after that we went through and stopped ironing a lot of her wardrobe. We took out the belts that would emphasize Hannah’s waist.
We took out the heels that gave her better posture. We took the Spanx out of pieces that were fitted with Spanx, so that when worn without them they looked especially awkward. It was all part of our efforts to make Hannah look like she didn’t have it together.
There’s a scene in the trailer that shows Hannah going wild at what looks like a campus house party, wearing a graphic black-and-white shift.
There were a lot of special requirements for that sequence because she ends up in some goo, so we needed multiples of that particular piece, which was made by a very young Brooklyn designer that Hannah has worn several times on the show.
We needed a piece that would make her really stand out at the party, so the black and white print was great. It really pulls her out but not in a way that would strike anyone as being too unlike Hannah, something that she wouldn’t ordinarily wear.
It’s a very Hannah silhouette. We’ve seen her in graphic prints before, and this one really helps drive the narrative of the sequence of events that unfold that night at a particularly raucous party.
How do the clothes in ‘Girls’ reflect the show’s cultural politics and modern, millennial feminism?
My job is to support the story wherever I can visually, and the girls’ style is meant to reflect their realities: where they are in time, where they are emotionally, and where they are physically in the world.
So I don’t set out to dress the girls in a way that ties into larger themes with the show.
My choices are more scene-by-scene, character-by-character, and I really try to reflect the characters as much as possible through their wardrobes.
What about Marnie’s latest transformation? She’s gone from gallery girl to indie musician.
Exactly. Marnie’s wardrobe always reflects what she’s currently focused on, so at the moment the clothes are very much what being an indie folk musician looks like through Marnie’s lens. For instance, Marnie’s version of what a ‘70s musician would have worn is a vintage-looking suede jacket over a long maxi dress.
She’s really committing to this new path that she’s on, as well as her look, and we’re having a lot of fun with it this season. She’s wearing booties, which were never in Marnie’s closet before. She wore working-girl pumps when she worked at the gallery, which again is an example of Marnie being committed to a look that wasn’t quite right, but she was intent on getting it right for her.
Overall, the clothes on set seem less “schlubby-hipster-living-in Brooklyn”
It’s true! And that’s because the Brooklyn aesthetic has changed, which has impacted the atmosphere of the show. When we started shooting Season 1, the aesthetic was sort of the Salvation Army runway. We used to joke in the shop that you could pull six things from a rack of clothes and put them on a background character and they would look like a hipster.
That’s not the case anymore. Williamsburg isn’t the same Williamsburg as it was four years ago. The average rent has gone up significantly since we started shooting, and what we used to call a “hipster” doesn’t live in Williamsburg anymore.
We were also dealing with the “normcore” effect this season, which we really handled delicately because we didn’t know if the trend would die before the show aired. And what we were calling normcore when the show wrapped has already shifted!
Shoshanna has always followed fashion trends more than the other girls
She’s certainly trend-aware. We joke about her reading fashion magazines, following fashion bloggers, and being obsessed with whatever celebrity fashion is most prevalent at the time. While I want her to look like she’s trying to be trendy, I have to be careful about dressing her head-to-toe in whatever is on trend in June, because it may not be on trend when the show airs the following spring.
We see her in a lot of fashion-aware ensembles in the trailer, when she’s pounding the pavement for job interviews. What can we expect to see this season?
We left at the end of Season 3 her finding out that she didn’t graduate, and that’s a big blow for Shoshanna. So her wardrobe is a little bit scattered in the first episode this season. Then she does eventually embark on a job hunt, and it was fun to was interpret that in a way that would be Shoshanna’s version of “youthful but professional.”
We also had to make sure that we were hitting the context of the types of jobs she would be interviewing for. Because you still do need to dress appropriately for a job interview, which means different outfits for different fields.
Jessa’s life is always all over the place, but her style has been fairly consistent. Will it remain so this season?
It’s very funny that the show’s least predictable character has had the most consistent wardrobe so far. Jessa dresses in whatever wants to wear and feels good wearing, which can be situationally appropriate in a way that resonates with all of the characters.
But this season, her wardrobe ends up being the least consistent because she’s more scattered than we’ve ever seen her. We started hinting at that at the end of Season 3, dressing her in fewer long, flowy gowns—less of that eclectic goddess look that we’ve come to associate her with. And with her rehab storyline, she started wearing boots that didn’t have heels, and I definitely carried that through to reflect where she is in Season 4.
How much say do the actors have in what they wear?
Some actors love being in the fitting room picking things out, others less interested. I feel like I know the girls so well—both the actors and the characters—because I spend a lot of time breaking down the scripts with them.
Allison [Williams] and I had a big conversation about Marnie’s look this season because it’s so different from what she’s worn in the past. It was both really fun and a little bit scary to take her in this direction, because it was really easy to get wrong and turn it into a parody. And neither Allison nor I wanted that.
Is it less of a challenge to dress the characters when you know them so well?
It’s more of a challenge because the characters are getting into more complicated scenarios and more complicated relationships. And then we have to deal with the new, complicated characters that come into their world.
But it helps when you know the characters so well, because my instincts are honed to immediately recognize a piece that would be perfect for Hannah or Jessa. I also know the actors’ bodies better so I can look at something on a hanger and say, “That’s going to be great if we alter it in this way,” or, “This is never going to work because we’re going to have to rebuild it entirely.”
But I’m a costume nerd. So the more complicated the character, the more fun I have.