INTERVIEW: Beth Morgan, Costume Designer of Netflix’s GLOW
GLOW – The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling is based on the real experiences of female wrestlers in the 80s, before women properly broke through on the wrestling scene and were taken as seriously as the men, as they are today. In the 80s, women wrestlers were pretty much equated with strippers and pornstars, with much of the cast and crew crossing over from the porn industry. GLOW features wannabe ‘serious’ film director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron) teaming with producer Bash (Chris Lowell), to form a team of lady wrestlers for a TV show. The wrestlers include Ruth (Alison Brie), Debbie (Betty Gilpin) and Justine (Britt Baron). It’s incredibly well-scripted and both hilariously funny and heart-breakingly sad at times. The acting is phenomenal and it authentically captures the era like almost no other TV show – of course, the costuming is a huge part of that. The first two seasons are available on Netflix, with a third season on the way.
How much did you have to make from scratch for the series and how much were found vintage pieces?
We made all of their wrestling persona looks and all of the crazy looks for the finale – we made the bridesmaid dresses, all of those bridesmaid leotards for our cast. Really we made the majority of stuff that – the workout wear and things like that and the leotards because the elastic is so old that even if we found amazing vintage pieces, the elastic would be worn out of it, so the spandex doesn’t really stretch anymore. So we tend to make a lot of that. We probably find 70% of the ready-to-wear at vintage stores and rentals around town and then we make the rest, about 30% of the ready-to-wear, depending on what it is. A lot of our cast repeat some of their looks for their casual looks, so Ruth has a couple of pairs of jeans, a couple of pairs of pants. So we brought those through, even season one and season two because there hasn’t been a lot of time passage and the girls really are just starting to make a little bit of money.
How much separation did you want between their wrestling personas and their real-life characters, how much distinction did you want to bring between those two things?
As much as possible and it was appropriate that they were very different. And also I like that idea that you’re putting on a costume to give a performance – you want them to feel like they’re becoming a different person and really lean into that. For example, for their wrestling looks, we wanted to give the impression that they made them all themselves or Jenny made the majority of them and they had a big say in it. So we had to think “what would Dawn think would be the right fabric or dress to buy to be a biddy?” We really had to do these layers of design. “OK if Ruth was buying a Zoya coat, where would she go to get it?” Like she would go the library and research what it would really be like and go to the Army/Navy surplus to buy real Russian emblems, she would know that the hat should be a certain way. She would be the most well researched. Whereas Melrose would be like “whatever I look good in and is sexy and is fun” So we had to think about them having so much say in their own roles.
I love the first episode of Season 2 where they go to the mall to shoot the title sequence. What were the challenges involved in staging that?
It’s really about more than costume challenges, it was about collaborating with set decoration and production design to make sure that the stores look true to the period because it was so many clothes to find. It wasn’t even that we couldn’t find the period clothes to put in there but it’s about having the same period shirt in size 2, 4, 6, 8 or at least having the idea of it. We spent a lot of time manufacturing looks and sourcing the stock that had multiple pieces in the same style so we could stock all those stores to look a certain way. We had all these vintage shoes that we wanted to use we had to find vintage shoes which were in perfect condition, so that was really part of the challenge. We all grew up going to the mall before cellphones, to meet up and we really wanted it to have that feeling that invoked in all of us the feeling we had growing up so I feel like we really got to have authentication.
I love some of the costumes you do for the male characters, particularly Bash. I wanted to talk to you about Bash’s jackets in particular – his Miami Vice look…
Well you know, Bash has the most money. So he’s the one character that we have where we can be like “we’re currently in 1985 and on the cusp of fashion.” You know he’s so handsome and young and he is a person who is trying to fit in and please. There’s that great line where he’s wearing a preppy outfit because he thinks it’s a prep look – prep as in getting ready for the show, so he’s so eager to please everybody. So we really just made sure that all the things for him are just really fashion-forward, but I think he’s also an outlier in the group. It’s only him and Debbie who are the ones who feel very “of the moment.”
You brought in a couple of the 80s counter-cultures as well, so one episode features break-dancing and also there’s the punk scene, with Justine’s boyfriend’s band. So I wanted to ask you about going for those less well-known 80s looks.
Yeah the great thing about the punk world in LA in the 80s is that it’s so well-documented. There’s an amazing documentary about the history (of punk) in the United States, I can’t actually think of it off the top of my head – it’s an amazing punk documentary that we looked into. Those kids were really on the edge of starting something brand new. Jesse Peretz, one of our directors, he directed the pilot and some of the episodes in season 2 – he was in The Lemonheads. Me and him sat down and did so much research identifying Justine’s character, to make sure she seemed real and not just a bubblegum TV version. The kids in that documentary were just so dirty, their hair is greasy, they have acne, it’s really an anarchist look. So it’s such an awesome culture to be able to dive into, so we got to show that side.
And the break-dancing. Well I grew up, my favourite movie was Breakin’ 2: Electric Bugaloo. So I said to our director that we need to be a bit more flashy, so we agreed to meet in the middle, I was like; “oh my God they’re going to look like fucking Kelly – it’s going to be amazing.” We ended up watering it down a little bit, just to keep it real. You know these girls are not…we wanted to keep the real version as opposed to like a movie version. Like I said, break-dancing is my all time fave 80s moment so I was so happy that we got to showcase that a little bit more. I really wanted to play into that look for Yolanda for her regular looks too, she did have Kellyesque vibes, with the fingerless gloves and feeding that into her casual looks as well as her moments in the ring.
You touch on gay culture as well – when Bash is looking for Florian and starting to realise things about Florian – they go to a club to look for him and it turns out to be a gay club. What were some of your costuming decisions in that scene?
Whenever we’re going into these sub-cultures to tell these really delicate stories, you want to ensure that they’re really true to what the people who went through these experiences will remember. So there was a lot of flamboyant dress happening within that sub-culture in the 80s but we kept it more every day because it was your every day hang out gay club, it wasn’t an over-the-top drag club or anything like that. So we wanted to show that these were normal people living their every day life, trying to connect with others. So I think that episode was so beautiful, just with Bash in general fashion, wide-eyed at these experiences for the first time.
I have to talk to you about Episode 8, which is just a phenomenal episode. It’s the show within a show. You have a couple of music videos within that episode, so there’s the Makeover video and the Don’t Kidnap video. The Makeover video in particular must have been so much fun to costume…
Yes, especially once we got into the show within the show, now you’re taking even that level of when you’re developing their ring personas, it’s now if they were planning a makeover, what they would think would be the coolest makeover for TV. So it was a heightened version of everybody and it was really a time where we got to see a prommy, Madonna, over-the-top look of the 80s which we don’t really see in our show – we’re very much a T-shirt and jeans show. So that was a real joy to bring out the beauty of all those stereotypes that we have of the 80s. That’s what I loved about the finale too as well, getting to do the bridesmaid leotards, the shoulders were so over-the-top and they’re so stunning in them and they have those crazy headpieces that they’re all wearing. I always think that when you look back at family photos from the time and you’re like “oh my god, they’re so ridiculous” but they’re actually really well-crafted beautiful designs of the time. So it was fun to be able to bring out all those awesome pieces and showcase them.
Talking of proms, in Episode 9 you actually get to do a proper 80s prom when Justine has her prom and I want to ask you about that.
It was fun to think “what would Justine even consider wearing to the prom?” Even though she’s on the fringe of High School, doing her own thing, there is a desire to have the traditional High School experience in a way where she can really kind of lets go for a second and enjoy that. It was nice also to show her classmates and how much older she seems – we really wanted those kids, the kids at the prom to be the youth of the 80s prom. People were much more innocent than they are now, there was no social media, I feel like there was comaraderie in a way that now doesn’t exist and people had to interact more, there were the cliques and all that. There’s obviously a range in the people who go to the school – the jocks, the cool kids and then the nerds. We just wanted to show the innocence of an 80s High School.
You mentioned that the characters don’t really have any money, but Debbie has a little bit more than the rest of the characters. She gets to wear some really nice suits and things. The episode where she goes to a convention with Bash and she’s wearing a pink suit with a pink hat – I absolutely love that outfit.
We made that, I designed that and we made it and had the hat dyed to match because that was such a quintessential 80s power look with the matching hat and the matching shoes, she had the whole head-to-toe. And it’s really hard to find out there in the world, so we thought this was the perfect moment to make a change from her always being in these body-conscious skirts, as opposed to wanting to take on that role where she shows some parity with the men, so we did the pantsuit and the hat was such a key element to that look and she looks so stunning. It’s really the first time we see her in a richer colour, it’s not too exaggerated by any means but she’s really been in these Ralph Lauren sandy dusty colours throughout the whole season. But there, where she’s really starting to take back her own power, we wanted to show a bit more of an arc with her with the colours. With her whole wardrobe, she’s the one who doesn’t really repeat a lot, maybe a couple of jeans. But she lives in Pasadena, she has money from the husband, when she wasn’t working and pregnant I’d imagine that she was very busy going to the mall and picking up extra stuff. So it was fun to see her arc which is the biggest of season 2, of her going ahead and wanting to take on this role of producer and wanting to be taken seriously.
Thank you – I’m excited for you to see Season 3!
I can’t wait!
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