Clothes convey a constellation of information to TV viewers about characters — feeling, motives, desires, status. They're as vital as the actor in bringing a character to life. As characters change and grow, so too do their clothes.
The best costumes are not only a perfect fit (no pun intended) with the character and story, but they also don't distract viewers, no matter how grand, fabulous or eye-popping they are. They're carefully thought-out and meticulously crafted under a tremendous time crunch. There's a reason for everything one sees onscreen.
Here are 10 of the most memorable onscreen looks of the past year — from a replicate of an iconic historical wedding dress and recreations of an infamous showbiz night to garbage-inspired (yes, garbage) outfits and dazzling twists on the good ol' fur coat — and the behind-the-scenes stories of how they came to be from the people who created them.
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Joan Crawford's silver Oscar dress, Feud: Bette and Joan
Ryan Murphy went to painstaking detail to re-create every element of the 1963 Oscars, where Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange)'s feud reached a crescendo. Of utmost importance was Crawford's "silver Oscar" dress. Edith Head designed the original slinky beaded gown that completed Crawford's head-to-toe silver look. Lou Eyrich, Murphy's longtime costume designer, said she didn't read too much about the original creation before replicating it.
"It was most likely hand-beaded, whereas we bought the fabric already beaded," she tells TV Guide. "It would've taken 10 beaders two weeks to do it. We just didn't have the time or money to do that. We get, like, four days. We had to find the fabric and it was white and we had to dye it silver."
Eyrich and her team then encrusted the bodice with more beads and custom-made the matching necklace. "We did it as closely as we could with the time and money," Eyrich says. "Ryan had all the details down." But one person wasn't a fan of Eyrich's creation. "Jess wasn't very happy," she says with a laugh. The final product weighed almost 50 pounds and did a number on Lange's back. "It threw out her back. She hated putting it on."
Hedda Hopper's hats, Feud: Bette and Joan
Sure, Bette's and Joan's outfits were fabulous, but it was Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis) and her ersatz headwear that stole the show on Feud. The gossip columnist donned classical millinery in real life, but Murphy asked Eyrich to kick it up a notch. "Ryan wanted everything heightened for her," she says. "So we did a little more with everything." The result were larger-than-life chapeaus that announced themselves before Hopper does.
"She had a lot of hats, and we put a lot of thought into it," Eyrich says. "We started collecting as soon as we heard we were gonna do a Hedda Hopper. We started searching around Los Angeles and we would also look online. We had a couple of them made."
Hedda's feathered hat was the most difficult to make. "The night before, we literally were sitting on the floor at 11 o'clock at night putting feathers together and making that hat," she says. "Bob Blackman, who's been with me since Nip/Tuck and did Glee and American Horror Story, was sewing it together. I think we finished it at midnight and it went on camera at like 8 a.m. the next morning."
It was worth it, though, as it led to one of Eyrich's favorite scenes, when Hedda and Joan chat in the actress' backyard — their bright wardrobes and surroundings bringing into focus the vibrant look Eyrich was going for. "It was such a striking example of what we were trying to produce," she says. "Seeing that kind of caught your breath. You've got the blue pool, the green grass, the purple caftan, the yellow dress with the big white feather hat bouncing all over - it really captured what we were trying to do."
Elizabeth's wedding dress, The Crown
During her Season 6 hiatus from Game of Thrones — for which she has won three costume Emmys — Michele Clapton went on to design for another powerful matriarchy: that of Queen Elizabeth (Claire Foy) on The Crown (which won her another Emmy last month). "It was different from Game of Thrones where we make it all up," Clapton tells TV Guide. "[For The Crown], the reality is there and we're trying to create the story within the reality. It was really fascinating."After six months of research, Clapton knew that there were certain outfits that she would need to re-create as meticulously as possible. "We really felt we couldn't touch the wedding and coronation dresses," she says. "They're just so well known and documented."
Clapton used a heavier duchess satin-silk than the original after learning that the original started breaking down because it was too soft to support the jewels and beading. The train alone took six weeks to embroider. She also slightly altered the shape of the gown — not just to better fit Foy. "The cuts in the '50s were different, so we made some cuts to make it slightly more appealing to the modern eye," she says. "It's how we see the '50s rather than how the '50s saw the '50s. I think it's really important to do it. It's not a historical document; it's telling the essence of the queen, so I think it's really important to do that."
That must have been expensive. "I have no idea the cost," she says. "You can't take shortcuts. They're iconic dresses. If we don't do this properly, how will anyone else take anything else seriously that we're doing?"
Fortunately, Clapton and her team didn't have to make a new coronation dress. Swarovski had made a replica of the original for an exhibition and loaned it the production. Clapton initially didn't think it would fit Foy. "At the time Claire had just had her child and it was like, 'It's not going to work,'" she says. "But, bizarrely, by the time it came to use it, it fit her perfectly. I couldn't believe it. The only thing we had to do was put her in slightly higher shoes."
Clapton, who didn't return for Season 2, also lucked out with the jewelry and the crown itself. She befriended a Polish man — whose name she can't remember — who re-created a lot of the crown jewels. "We went to his house in London. We walked in the front room and there was everything there. He did make most of the major pieces," she says. "We didn't really have the budget to re-create the crown and a lot of the pieces Elizabeth wore — they were all there in his house and he put them together."
Daenerys' white fur coat, Game of Thrones
Clapton returned to Game of Thrones for Season 7 (and Season 8 as well) with "renewed eyes." "Season 7 was a real blast," she says. "I think we took them in a really interesting place we haven't been before and it starts with the story."
For Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), who returned to Dragonstone, Clapton wanted to bring her silhouette in line with someone coming into power, inching closer to the throne. Enter the strong shoulders that echo her brother Viserys' look and her house colors (red and black) into her costume. But for "Beyond the Wall," when she comes to Jon Snow's (Kit Harington) aid north of the Wall, it was time for a whole new look.
"With the white fur coat, it was almost a nod toward Jon — 'I understand,'" she says. "It was really the first time she had gone to the rescue of someone else other than for something she thought would aid her. I thought that was quite interesting and it was a play on the wildlings."
The script did not include any details or guidance about Dany's wardrobe. Clapton turned to one of her favorites — fake furs — but made sure there was functionality as well. "I just wanted something really iconic to really move her forward. The shape was obviously taken from her costume. It was a practicality. You're riding a dragon very fast in very cold winds, so you need a fur coat," she says. "If you're Dany, you're not just gonna wear any old fur coat. We need to see her, we need to understand her intent and we need her to be practical. There's no point in wearing a silky dress riding a dragon."
Clapton and her team created the fabric from bits of fake fur and fake leather, with white rabbit at the bottom of the coat. "It was absolutely every little thing created by hand," she says. "It was such an amazing process from my incredibly clever team. I draw something and that's all well and good, but if that can't be made, then that's no good. It's the joy of being able to draw and go, 'How do we do this?' It's like the best thing."
Cersei's queen look, Game of Thrones
The color has gone out of Cersei's (Lena Headey) wardrobe for very good reason. Her black clothing not only signifies that she is the mourning the deaths of her children, but also that she has become more ruthless now that she has ascended the throne. Cersei's gowns have increasingly become more structured and commanding, starting with the black leather and silver brocade dress in the Season 6 finale that harkened back to one of her father Tywin's outfits.
In the Season 7 finale, Cersei donned another imposing black-molded coat that hid something even more striking: a slashed back that resembles a snake spine. "I wanted it to be very Joan of Arc in a metal dress and heavy shoulders. It's the idea of being slightly unhinged in some ways," Clapton says. "Everything's slightly exaggerated. There's less decoration; it's just about the sense of power and strength. I think there's a bit of madness creeping in to her. It's about making a statement."
Claire's 1968 Boston look, Outlander
After two seasons of extravagant 18th-century gowns, Season 3 of Outlander is far more understated. Claire (Caitriona Balfe) is now a stay-at-home mom in 1968 Boston. "You'll see as we go on, it's just not a fashion show anymore," costume designer Terry Dresbach tells TV Guide. "But there's still character work. What happened to this woman? Where did she go? What was she wearing when she's sitting there uncomfortably with her husband?"
Dresbach turned to old catalogs, where she found an ivory blouse and green skirt, and even her mother for inspiration to dress Claire as one of the women from the "greatest generation," many of whom had to retreat to homemaker roles after contributing to war efforts. "You have the Claires of the world who said, 'No, I'm going out into the workforce.' There's sort of an awkward fit there where you're trying to find a suit to wear to college where you're the only woman in a sea of men in suits. But where is that suit?" Dresbach says. "Her clothes should look a little restrictive and they're restricting her character. Her hair is very neat, her costumes are very neat, everything is perfect, but that's not who she is. But it is a reflection of the times. That's almost the big sociological picture that we tried to convey. We tried to make Caitriona be every woman."
Dresbach retained the green palette for a silk two-piece dress suit Claire wore to celebrate Brianna's (Sophie Skelton) graduation. She accessorized with a brooch but otherwise left the look plainly elegant. "Today, in our world of going out the door in a pair of ripped-up jeans and an old T-shirt, [women's clothing in the '60s] looks very exotic," she says. "You see those women on the streets, they're 95 now and they're still wearing those suits. They're proper ladies."
Claire's print shop dress, Outlander
For Claire and Jamie's (Sam Heughan) much-anticipated reunion in the print shop, Dresbach opted not to follow the book's description of Claire's dress, which she puts together before traveling back to the 18th century. Dresbach's goal was answering one question: How do you dress to go back in time? "If you know you're going back in time, and you've been there before, what are you going to wear? Certainly not something that's going to get you stoned in the streets."
Dresbach focused on practicality, fashioning layers made from raincoats with lots of hidden pockets for Claire to bring things back with her. "If we could figure out a way she could store a year's supply of toilet paper under her costume, we would've done that too," she says. "What do you take with you? There are secret pockets in there and it's practical and it's made out of raincoat fabric. It's designed with the knowledge of what she has in store for her."
She also had to take into account the physical demands of the rest of the shoot for the season, which will have the couple setting sail for America. "We knew that Caitriona was going through it, potentially be really hot and really cold and really windy," Dresbach says. "We wanted to support Cait as much as we could to put on and take off depending on what the physical circumstances were. You're designing for two masters: the character and the story, and the other is the practicality of the shooting."
The Scavengers, The Walking Dead
Perhaps no one embodies "you are what you wear" more than the Scavengers, the junkyard-dwelling crew in Season 7. The Scavengers are not in the graphic novels, of which costume designer Elaine Montalvo, who joined in Season 7, took advantage. "There was an extra amount of creative freedom I was able to enjoy," she tells TV Guide, adding that executive producer Scott Gimple gave her the gist of their backstory.
The result was a black, militaristic silhouette for Scavengers leader Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) — Montalvo's favorite look from Season 7 — and her gang, with clothes that literally look like they scraped garbage to put together. "This community was artistic, but there was always a function and practicality. They made use of their surroundings to create their clothing and repair their clothing, and that's represented in the garments that they wear," says Montalvo, who estimates that 75 percent of the show's clothes are bought and aged. "Some of the details, like metal, some aluminum cans or a spoke from a wheel or a chain from a bicycle. ... Their environment is directly integrated into their clothing."
Olivia's wedding dress, Scandal
Lyn Paolo knew exactly how to handle Olivia Pope's (Kerry Washington) fantasy wedding. For Scandal's alternate-reality 100th episode, in which Liv and Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) tie the knot, dozens of designers sent in high-end, couture gowns for Paolo to select for Liv's big day. But the costume designer decided to go a different route. "I had seen a picture of that particular gown in a bride magazine and I just thought, 'Instead of going with a designer that is really well known and something that Kerry wears all the time, why not go with someone that just designs bridal gowns?'" Paolo tells TV Guide.
The Anne Barge "Berkeley" gown from the Fall 2016 collection (retail price: about $4,000) — made of Italian silk Kalika, and a ruched silk-satin chiffon bodice with a ball gown skirt — is stunning in its simplicity and timelessness. It's also something Olivia Pope arguably would not wear in reality — all the more perfect for a fantasy sequence.
"I would not see Olivia wearing that ever, so it was really this moment of, 'OK, this is a dream. We need to be outside of her reality. What would she wear that was in a dream-like state?' That's why we ended up there," Paolo says. " There were so many stunning couture gowns, but the Anne Barge was so simple and classic and princess-like. It was the only one we had that had the full skirt. Kerry and I both thought, 'This is it.' It went against our instinct of what Olivia would wear. It's stunning in its own way, but it's so simple that it's not anything that the audience would be expecting. It just wasn't really Olivia. It was a fantasy."
Nikki Swango's fur coat, Fargo
With a name like Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), you need a wardrobe with that same amount of delicious 'tude. "I was looking for something that expressed that she was a strong woman, willing to use everything she had to make her way," costume designer Carol Case tells TV Guide of styling the savvy criminal/aspiring bridge player. "She may not have been the most worldly or well traveled person, but she understood the game. The mere name 'Nikki Swango' tells you a lot."
Nikki's most memorable look is topped off with a fabulous multi-colored faux fur coat, which served dual purposes. "Mary and I spent a lot of time together to create a look that both flattered Mary and that worked for the story within the Fargo world," Case says. "We also needed to be aware of the practicalities of shooting in wintry Canadian nights. The costumes had to work on their own to keep her warm, so what better than a faux-fur coat for a small-town girl. Luckily, Mary rocked every look."