From Shoshanna in Tokyo to Marnie’s Red Dress: ‘Girls’ Costume Designer Jenn Rogien on the Leading Ladies’ Style Evolution

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The final two episodes of Girls’ current — and penultimate — season air this Sunday, finishing off an excellent and aesthetically alluring run: from Shoshanna’s Tokyo adventures to Marnie’s wild night out with Charlie to Hannah’s beautifully filmed realization that Jessa and Adam are an item, Season 5 of Girls has been a treat for the eyes.

This season has been particularly notable for the evolution of the characters’ personal styles. I spoke with Girls costume designer Jenn Rogien about Jessa’s jeans, Shoshanna’s Japanese makeover, and that red dress.

Flavorwire: You’ve been the costume designer on Girls since its first season. At the outset, did you know how much the four main characters were going to develop and how their clothing would express that? Or were you just focusing on where they were at the beginning of the series?

Jenn Rogien: Well, with television you never know. You go in for a season and the nature of long-form storytelling is that you know you have a certain number of episodes through which the story will be told. So you expect a certain amount of evolution, special events, dramatic moments, and for Season 1, that’s what I thought I was in for. When the show got picked up for Season 2 we knew right away there would be a little bit more of an evolution, particularly because of the ages of the characters. It’s a time in their lives where change is the norm, and so I did know going in that the one thing that would be constant would be change. So it’s been a really incredible journey to take along with these girls. And the guys! That’s been really fun, to watch the guys have similar progressions.

Right, this season Elijah’s dressing a lot nicer to suit his new boyfriend.

Even Ray, as subtle as his costumes have always been, he’s all of a sudden wearing shirts with a collar. It’s not in your face, but it’s something that people are picking up on. Audiences are picking up on the fact that he isn’t in a graphic T-shirt in every episode anymore, and that’s a very deliberate, slow-burn evolution of his character. He’s now running this coffee shop and sees himself as a little bit more of a grown-up.

Where do you get the clothes for Girls?

I hate that it’s kind of a non-answer, but all over. As the characters have evolved, we have followed where they’re going with our shopping. Last season was a little bit more fast fashion and, depending on the character, more vintage than it had been. For instance, Jessa’s look was more vintage, but specifically denim. All of a sudden, Jessa’s a jeans-and-T-shirt girl. Who would have seen that coming [in] Season 1? So we pulled in a rack of vintage jeans and mom jeans being sold at retail, and we did a fitting where we narrowed it down to, I think, five different pairs: a couple of vintage jeans, a pair of Alexa Chung for AG overalls, a pair of Alexa Chung for AG mom jeans, and a pair of mom jeans from like, Topshop or something. So it really was a mixed bag of new and vintage.

I’ve loved Jessa’s outfits this season. They’re so much more low-key than they used to be, and that seems to really be a reflection her being in a better place in Season 5. When did you start to talk about Jessa dressing a little less audaciously?

It started a bit in Season 4. All of a sudden she was talking seriously about going back to school, and we saw her get cited for a violation by the NYPD wearing a vintage rap T-shirt and jean shorts. It still seemed a little audacious because of the fit, because of the graphic, and you know, the shorts and the heels.

But it kind of started back then, and in my conversations with Lena and Jemima [Kirke] about what we wanted to do for this season, it very much headed off in that direction — a little bit more pared down, a little less outlandish, purely in keeping with her story for the season. She’s spending a lot of time studying, she’s trying to be serious, and that was very much reflected in the paring down of her look. And then, conversely, you have Shoshanna going slightly more outlandish with her Tokyo attire.

That must have been a lot of fun.

It was so much fun. We actually did her fitting for Tokyo during our closet fittings for the season, months before we ever shot the Tokyo work. Because I felt very strongly that Shoshanna should still look like Shoshanna in Tokyo — like, the Tokyo version of Shoshanna.

Her outfits are so different from what she wore in New York, and yet they totally make sense for her — she looks even more like Shoshanna even though she looks so different.

That is the distillation of our fitting right there. We did a tremendous amount of research. We did a lot of looking at Tokyo street style — a little bit of Tokyo fashion, Tokyo bloggers, independent fashion catalogues — during the prep process for those episodes. But there were some things that I left to shop in Tokyo. Shoshanna’s pajamas are all from Harajuku Street in Japan, because I really wanted that to be authentic to where Shoshanna might have shopped while she was living in Tokyo.

But I felt very strongly that it should still look like Shoshanna, and that’s the greater challenge with all of the girls — that it should always feel like the character. As much as these characters have almost completely inverted in their looks, you should still recognize the character visually, instantaneously.

The most striking change, I think, has been Marnie’s.

We were joking in the shop that Marnie’s in sweatpants for half of the season. If you had told me that Season 1, I would have said you were crazy. She dressed in little tiny blazer-y jackets and now she’s in her version of festival wear. But I think that mirrors real life in a lot of ways.

She began to get a little more hippie-chic when she started playing music with Desi. And those silver pants!

Silver sequins! I love the silver sequins, I think because they’re so ridiculous. They’re actually Michael Kors silver sequined jogging pants [ed. note: they’re sold out!]. They were in the stores last season when we were shopping for her closet. We bought them thinking this would be a funny joke, and they were sort of the beginning of Marnie kind of falling apart. So they started as a glam, boho, musician-casual outfit, and were kind of the gateway to Marnie wearing a lot of sweatpants for Season 5.

I’m sure Allison Williams isn’t complaining.

I’ve heard that actors love showing up to work to get into their sweatpants!

When I think back on some of the moments from the series that stick out in my mind, so often I picture certain outfits — like Hannah in the mesh top with no bra, or the crazy feathered vest that Jessa wears to the Bushwick party in Season 1. What are some outfits that stick out to you over the course of the series, or this season in particular?

Hannah’s pajama T-shirt when she has the Q-tip in her ear always stands out for me. She walks out of her house! She’s actually really in a bad place, and that really sad T-shirt — I found it in a Salvation Army and I picked it up and was like, this is the thing. I knew it was gonna be “the thing” for something.

Marnie’s plastic dress — it’s sort of a personal/professional thing. That was one of the first things I made for the show. That plastic dress in Season 2, I remember being on the floor of the costume shop hammering grommets through the plastic. But it was such a signifier of where Marnie was at that moment — it’s Marnie trying so hard to impress this guy that we as the audience can see is not the right person. It’s yet another example of Marnie trying far too hard. Marnie overshoots, that’s her thing, and that’s a huge example of that.

With Marnie’s red dress from this season, weirdly, all of a sudden, it didn’t feel like she was trying too hard. It was a dress that we made for her, because it had to survive that whole episode, so a vintage dress would never have actually worked. We actually needed multiples of the dress: We had a pristine dress that Allison wore to the Plaza sequence, we had a mangled dress that was actually dry but painted to look wet and muddy that Allison could wear in the sequences that appear after the pond, and we had a couple more that actually fell into the pond.

I wanted to ask about Marnie’s “Laurel Canyon” wedding look. Her wedding dress actually reminded me a lot of Jessa’s from Season 1. Was that intentional?

There was not a deliberate parallel in the dresses, partially because in the conception of Jessa’s dress, her wedding was a surprise event. It was all about finding a dress that was very much a Jessa dress, but happened to be white, so that in the first moment of the event, the audience would know right away: oh — this is a surprise wedding. Marnie’s dress was very deliberately planned and sourced and conceived to be part of her current aesthetic, which started in Season 4 when we saw her really go heavy into her music. If anything, it was more directly tied to her “jazz brunch” look than consciously being anything like Jessa’s.

I love how her ridiculous makeup is kind of an outward indication of the mess she’s about to make with this marriage.

Yeah, mess has been consistent for the girls from a costume standpoint from our very first episode.

I read that you were told at the beginning to make Hannah look less polished.

Yeah, we got some notes saying, “No one’s gonna believe she’s this much of a mess if she looks put together.” Usually in television, when you get hired, it’s to make your leading character look good, and that was not necessarily the objective here. It was incredibly refreshing. And also incredibly challenging for that first season, to reframe my approach and really key into what the character’s reality was and make that the priority to support with clothing.