How 'The Bold Type' Costume Designer Is Redefining Business Casual

Phillippe Bosse/Freeform

"I think that lately, for women in positions of power, the dress code is shifting," said Frank Fleming of the nontraditional office attire worn by the ladies on Freeform's summer hit.

It's easy to roll your eyes at the idea of The Bold Type, Freeform's new dramedy about a trio of young women working at a Cosmo-esque women's magazine, Scarlet. But before you write off the show as just another fluffy "fashion girls just want to be taken seriously" feature, you should give it a chance — and not just for the fashion (and Sam Page).

With reviews like, "Freeform’s The Bold Type Is the Best TV Surprise of 2017 So Far" and "I Can't Believe I Love the Show About Cosmo Girls Screaming on the Subway," The Bold Type, which is executive produced by former Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief Joanna Coles, is quickly becoming one of the most-talked about shows of the summer.

While much has been written about the diversity depicted on the series, including the storyline of Kat, a woman of color who is questioning her sexuality after falling for a queer, feminist, Muslim artist (a triple crown of representation), there is no denying that the costumes, too, are breaking the mold.

We're not just talking about the envy-inducing fashion closet brimming with designer goods, but the ways that costume designer Frank Fleming is redefining office dress codes for both the 20-something leads as well as the editors at the top of the food chain, who are known to go sleeveless, and even sheer, while strutting around their top-floor offices. Crop tops, leather pants and sneakers also make for a nontraditional work environment that somehow feels bold and daring, and also perfectly professional.  

With all the talk of female dress codes of late — from Capitol Hill to women's golf — The Bold Type is a show that proves "office-appropriate" doesn't always have to mean a stuffy pantsuit. (Sorry, Hillary.) The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Fleming to talk dress codes, the girls' individual style and where he shopped to create a believable high-low wardrobe on a young media professional's budget. 

Jacqueline [Melora Hardin] is loosely based on former Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief Joanna Coles, who is also an executive producer on the show. Did Joanna have any input on Jacqueline's costumes?
No, not really. But I did use a number of references for each of the characters, I tried to base them loosely on real people in the industry who are doing similar jobs, including Joanna. I guess, the most significant reference to Joanna would be in the jewelry and accessories, clean lines, and simple and strong silhouettes.

She's comfortable showing her arms, too. You get a lot of women around her age who aren’t really comfortable with that, but that's a bit of her signature, so I tried to incorporate a little of that, definitely, into Jacqueline's character.

The girls talk about their measly media salaries, but they also have a fashion closet filled with designer pieces at their disposal. What's your strategy for pulling pieces that are a mix of high and low?
My strategy is to create real closets the way we do in real life. You have your favorite pair of jeans, and you'll notice — or you may not notice — that Kat has a signature pair of jeans, too. Those could be the one piece that she invested in. Through the season she probably has only three pairs of jeans, and they just circulate like it's a real closet.

That's how I approach the fact that yes, you might have invested some money in a piece or two or been gifted a piece from the closet or from the designer. You take that high piece and you throw a white tank under it and throw it over jeans and you have your silver signature boots that you've worn pretty much throughout the season — that's your go-to. So it is a mixture of high-low for each, but I feel like that's most represented in Kat and in Sutton.

Where are you shopping?
We shoot in Montreal — we're doing Montreal as New York, and it's a mixture of both cities. There's definitely Zara and the H&M, but equally there's Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman. There's a boutique in Toronto called Cahier D’exercises which we pulled from, and SSense was an amazing resource out of Montreal, too. Their storefront boutique is quite small, but they would let me put together a shopping cart and they'd pull it from a warehouse. (SSense is also an online retailer.) The girls wear a combination of those with a little bit of thrifted stuff thrown in.

There are several outfits on the show that would be considered risque in your typical office setting — for example, Jacqueline's sheer shirt and Kat's crop top. How are you defining what's appropriate for a modern, fashionable young woman with an office job?
Carine Roitfeld, she's a fashion editor [former editor of Vogue Paris, current editor of CR Fashion Book] that I used as inspiration, and also the editor for Teen Vogue, Elaine Welteroth — those are the two references for Kat.

I have a friend who was the CMO of eBay [Richelle Parham] for a while. I think that lately, for women in positions of power, the dress code is shifting. They're not as traditional as we think they are. So I maybe pushed the boundaries a little bit in terms of a sheer blouse for Jacqueline, but she was also going to an event later that night, so character-wise she was dressed for day-to-evening, knowing that there was something special going on.  

My strategy is to choose the right piece for the right time [in the character's story arc]. I use my friend Richelle as a reference — she for years worked as an intern at a fashion house and she ended up on the business side in marketing, but she still had such a passion for fashion. She rarely dressed in a suit, she's more likely to throw a leather jacket on. But because she is the boss, she still looks appropriate and she looks nice, but maybe just not like someone that we would think of traditionally in that role. I try and think outside of the box so it broadens our perspective of what powerful women look like. 

What has been the most challenging aspect of working on the show so far?
Probably our gender fluid episode. Only in the sense that the story needed to have an element of lightness to it, but it also needs to respect fashion.

I also didn't want it to come across as a parody. Matt [Ward] is the actor who plays Alex and is tasked with the assignment [to explore gender fluidity], but his natural personality doesn't lend itself so much to that, so the challenge was to find a way to make it look organic to him without it being forced or comedic and ridiculous.

Tell me what distinguishes each of the girls in terms of their style?
Jane always has an element of being a lady, and is a bit more proper. What I found with Kat is that everything is slightly off. Everything is slightly askew — you'll notice that her ponytail is always off to the side. Everything has a counter-proportion to it. Meghann Fahy, who plays Sutton, is weirdly the one person that just falls into this place of being able to hit delivery and be funny — she's like Lucille Ball — and I feel that way with clothes for her too. For example, you'll put clothes on her and you'll say, "Hmm, I don't know," but when it comes time for her to turn on, she turns on and you're like, "OK, that works." She's very good at coming to life when the camera rolls. It's a great bunch of women to work with.