The Cost of a TV Show’s Wardrobe

When I was in college, I saw a movie that had Ben Affleck in it (Jersey Girl, perhaps?) and he was wearing the same shirt that I had on, which I had bought from Urban Outfitters for $20. How did they come to choose that shirt for that particular scene?

Our pal Jon Custer sent me this post by Jezebel showing what certain outfits cost on Parks and Recreation (that Madewell top Ann Perkins is wearing is $108), and poses these questions:

Do they get some kind of promotional consideration from the brands? And why do characters always either wear the same outfit constantly, or never wear the same thing twice—wouldn’t it be cheaper and more believable just to buy a normal human-sized wardrobe for each character on a long-running show?

Anybody know the answers? Anyone know a wardrobe person who works in TV who could tell us what happens behind the scenes? Help us pull back the curtain a little bit.

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37 Comments / Post A Comment

RachelW (#2,605)

One of my favorite aspects of the show Raising Hope (which is a great show, btw) is the costuming. Burt, Virginia and Jimmy constantly rewear shirts, which is completely appropriate and realistic. Also alot of the shirts are jokes in and of themselves (“Virginia is for Lovers,” and “I’d Rather Be in Virginia,” etc.).

OhMarie (#299)

Tom and Lorenzo have a series about Mad Men costuming called Mad Style (http://tomandlorenzo.com/tag/mad-style) that I’ve always really enjoyed. One of the most interesting parts is how they point out that outfits are reused at a reasonable rate or that, for Peggy in particular, her wardrobe slowly grows nicer and more up-to-date with the occasional older outfit thrown in as she moves up in the workplace and makes more money.

EM (#1,012)

@OhMarie Yesssss I love those Mad Style posts!

If anyone knows, I’m also curious about why wardrobe items don’t get reused! It’s not like viewers would be mad to see repeat outfits on the characters. (Though, I’m also coming from a cheapskate high school and college theater kid mentality, where you’d scour thrift stores and reuse costume pieces til they were too smelly or deteriorating.)

ATF (#4,229)

I’d love to know why they don’t wear the same things but then a tv series usually has about 22 episodes in a season and 22 outfits is not an usual number of outfits for a person to have or wear over the course of a year, which is the general time frame that a show takes place during a season.

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

@ATF I’d never thought of it that way, but that makes a lot of sense.

bgprincipessa (#699)

@ATF But I think fairly often one show takes place over several days? There are definitely plenty of examples where they wear more than one outfit over the curse of an episode.

Runawaytwin (#2,693)

They borrow them from designers or are given them by designers for exposure. Even when they dont- the budgets are huge. They also get 50 outfits for every one you see and many get returned to the store (or were only borrowed in the first place)

105$ for a shirt on a tv show is nothing. much of the other clothing you see is many many many times that.

@Runawaytwin That’s what I thought was funniest about this particular story. Someone thought, “OK these ladies need to look like small-town frumps, so let’s keep the clothing budget to $15,000 per character.”

@Runawaytwin but why not just buy some of that stuff from less-pricy places? is it somehow more practical/easier for them to use a $100 plaid shirt than a $25 one? (i guess yes, if they’re borrowing from somewhere $$$. but it still seems crazy!).

joyballz (#2,000)

@Runawaytwin I remember feeling all warm and fuzzy when I found out Tammy Taylor didn’t wear designer stuff. When they did the auction after the series ended most of the items were Gap and Banana Republic.

Runawaytwin (#2,693)

@Shan Palus@facebook Tt is a combination of reasons-

1. Fit and quality. This is of the utmost importance when you have a moving active character (no photoshop). THe fit, look and feel of a fast fashion garment is not comprable to a designer one. ever. And if hte actor looks sloppy- the blame falls on the costume crew (or they have to make alterations which makes a 10$ shirt a 300$ one. It becomes more obvious when you ahve characters wearing ‘fancy’ dress (date nights, prom dresses etc) Fact is- the cheap ones do not look the same on film as the good ones. Any anything you see in ads are faked in photoshop. its not the models figure they retouch.

2. Timing. Shows are filmed months before they are filmed. If it is a very ‘trend’ show they need access to clothes when they are still trending. yes fast fashion has a fast turn around time but they are very buy it today wear it tomorrow. For a show you need to buy it today- let it sit aroudn for 6 months and still ahve your character look good (if not fashionable) in 6 months, 8 months etc.

3. the fashion industry is incredibly incestuous. So it tv and film. Im sure there is not more than a little you scratch my back I scratch yours. + im not sure how likely fast fashion places are to even want to be involved. They make their money knocking off hte designers seen in the show. Heck half the time they are prob designing it because ” new girl” (or insert other trend character) are wearing it. Characters from shows can set the trends even more than designers can.

4. advertising= big $$$
4. I could go on and on… but at the heart of it- I personally feel that designers should get paid and recognized- . Using knock off clothes in shows..is just in poor taste. And when you look at the budget of a tv show (think how much an actor makes an eposide) 15K or even 100K is really a drop in the bucket.

For the record- I studied costume design and now work in the fashion industry (not as a designer). I have many friends who still work in costuming. They have some really crazy stories :)

@Runawaytwin Thanks for the long answer! That definitely makes sense. I mean I wouldn’t have spotted out the fact that Parks & Rec characters are wearing stuff that is slightly out of their price range — the only thing that’s really noticeable to me, as a viewer, is just the sheer SIZE of the wardrobes TV characters seem to have (e.g. today is casual Friday, so I’m wearing one of my two highly-recognizable Friday shirts). Especially for a long-running sitcom where the characters aren’t supposed to be particularly trendy, you’d think having some recognizable pieces that recycle would even help build character. Also see @sherlock below.

In men’s fashion what’s much more noticeable is just how well-fitting everyone’s clothes are, and how they never get wrinkled, and how you rarely see men, especially men who are not punchlines, in the shlumpy biz-cas uniform that predominates in most of the country. One of my absolute favorite things about a show like Homicide is how the cops don’t dress like GQ models all the time.

Runawaytwin (#2,693)

@stuffisthings I dont think it would be awful to have pieces reused but in terms of a filming perspective it might be a nightmare. Reusing means the clothes would have to be cleaned, stored and accessible for reuse.That amount of storage along would be crazy. Plus you cant only have one of a shirt- they normally have a few incase one gets damaged during filming or incase some scenese are shot on location, on different days etc. Dont forget you may see a character in an outfit for 3 minutes but the ACTOR may have worn that for 3 days.

In historical shows, however, you more often than not see characters wear the same thing becuase it would be ludicrous to think anyone below(and even including) aristocrats would change their clothes that quickly. Even so- the set always has more than one of a garment around in case of damage. (it would cost epic amounts of money to have to refilm something because lord so and so stained his coat in the breakroom but then to not have that coat to shoot with)

As an aside- I always encourage my (non fashion) friends to buy less clothing but buy better clothing. It is preferable to have a few key outfits that are well made, natural fabrics and fit you perfectly than an entire closet of junk. I buy this way myself and as a result have many well made clothes that are- on paper- outside my income bracket. If I am only buying a new dress every season (or even better – every season and on sale) its actually not a hardship for me.

@Runawaytwin Incidentally, the other thing that annoys me but is totally explained by shooting logistics is how NOBODY EVER FINISHES A GOD DAMNED MEAL on TV. Six Feet Under was a worst offender, they’d sit down to dinner, start arguing, and everyone would leave the table after taking 2 bites.

sherlock (#3,599)

I find that I am generally willing to suspend disbelief in terms of characters not re-wearing outfits, with the exception of coats. It always drives me crazy when characters wear a different winter coat in every episode, somehow it just seems even more unbelievable to me.

Runawaytwin (#2,693)

@sherlock Personally it frustrates me more to see the size of their “newyork” (urban) apartments.

Blackbird (#2,196)

@Runawaytwin I’ve gotten the impression that the reason the apartments are so big on TV is because it’s very, very difficult to film in a smaller apartment/space. Apparently the reason that the crew on Angel got moved to big fancy upstairs offices after the first season was because the filming crew was having too hard a time filming/framing everything in their tiny basement office.

@sherlock Incidentally, Sherlock, the character Sherlock on the show Sherlock has a signature coat (IIRC with a red buttonhole) that he wears in basically every episode.

thatgirl (#1,965)

Even when they do use off-the-rack clothes, they are tailored so that they fit the actors perfectly, which makes sense but is also oddly disheartening?

@thatgirl I think that makes it better, knowing that off-the-rack clothes don’t fit anybody perfectly, not even beautiful Ann. You, too, can tailor your clothes so they fit perfectly! As long as you can find a good alterations place.

NoName (#3,509)

@cuminafterall Yeah, they do, unfortunately. I have an office full of women who are a perfect size (fill in number), but I work in fashion production so it’s a self-selecting population.

muggles (#1,525)

It’s partly playing into the fantasy aspect of any TV show/movie–sure, it’s unrealistic that an intern would be spending $5000 on her wardrobe, but it’s also unrealistic that every fictional world is populated with 99% unbelievably attractive people with perfect skin. Almost every aspect of media is going to be biased towards giving viewers pretty things to look at, which the studios think is going to make it more likely that you’ll tune in next time, on whatever subconscious level.

Also, if you’re filming on a studio lot, they have a huge pre-existing warehouse of costumes to choose from that are shared among the various shows/films. So in some cases that $200 blouse might only cost the production a couple bucks to rent for the week of filming, and the studio gets that initial money back by renting it out 300 times.

Based on the consistent designer usage on Parks & Rec, I’d guess that they also have relationships with a few brands that give them clothes to use on air. From the business side, it’s in Anthropolgie’s interest to send over a few bags of merchandise for every episode, as the publicity they get from posts like this is way more cost effective than buying air time for an ad during the episode.

ellabella (#1,480)

Oooh I will say that I own an Anthropologie dress Lena Dunham wore on Girls (from spring 2007, by the way, and a sweater from Banana Republic circa 2007 as well that Zooey Deschanel wears in 500 Days of Summer. Not sure if these are really things to be proud of, but I kind of am?

loren smith (#2,300)

@ellabella I have a pair of shoes a girl wore on the new 90210, and it was exciting to see them.

TARDIStime (#1,633)

@ellabella I have a shirt that Abed wore in 2 different episodes of Community.

DarlingMagpie (#1,695)

I must point out that on Gilmore Girls, they are CONSTANTLY rewearing dresses, shoes, skirts, coats, etc, and I NOTICE it and LOVE it.

bgprincipessa (#699)

@DarlingMagpie And I love that they are exchanged – Lorelai will be wearing it one time, and Rory another.

TARDIStime (#1,633)

@bgprincipessa It is actually so representative of life between lady friends – it’s a really nice detailed touch.

DarlingMagpie (#1,695)

@bgprincipessa I especially love when they have a CONVERSATION about said article of clothing and then a few episodes later, one of them is wearing it (i.e. when Lorelai finds some old sweaters that Rory had nicked)

NoName (#3,509)

@DarlingMagpie Also, all their clothes were insanely expensive gorgeous designer stuff, but they implied that Lorelai was an excellent seamstress so PLAUSIBLE. I love that show.

inspector_tiger (#2,651)

I read that Sookie on True Blood gets to wear cheap and kinda out of date clothes, because the character is poor on the show.

andnowlights (#2,902)

I’ve noticed that Sheldon on Big Bang Theory re-wears t-shirts! Or did I imagine that?

jfruh (#161)

It saddens me to think that someone else got all the men’s shirts from Dexter now that it’s off the air (though Masuko and Batista have the best ones and I don’t think either of them are my size).

sesomai (#3,874)

This is something the first couple seasons of Law and Order got really right. Look at Logan’s ties sometime – he wears the same handful of ties over and over. Same thing for overcoats. And the detectives are sporting suits that are less well cut than those the ADA wears, but no one is wearing anything that looks expensive.

NoName (#3,509)

THIS is relevant to my interests! I will watch any show that has good costume design, even if the show is not that great. My favorite show for costuming (which is also a good show) is Perception on TNT – everyone is always dressed beautifully on that show. http://www.tntdrama.com/series/perception/photos/

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