Emmys: 'Sons of Anarchy's' Costume Designer Reveals How to Earn the Respect of Rival Gangs

Michael Becker/FX
Hunnam in Jax Teller’s signature sleeveless leather jacket on 'Sons of Anarchy.'

And that's just one tale from the year's top contenders in wardrobe design as they open up about conscripting a local theater pro's wife to sew, discovering the drawbacks of 3D printers and more challenges.

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

1. Michele Clapton
Game of Thrones (HBO)

A member of the rebel group Sons of the Harpy in season five of HBO’s Game of Thrones.

I wanted the [rebel group] Sons of the Harpy masks to look disturbing, to totally remove any personality — like the costumes for [Daenerys' army of] the Unsullied. I researched the ways people try to obscure their identity and why, and I worked with my armor maker and breakdown artist on textures, materials and an androgynous shape. We were very inspired by origami paper masks. When the mask was 3D-printed, we were alarmed that it looked computer-generated — so all the masks were broken down, bashed in and sanded, with gold leaf applied in pieces so each one looked like it had a history. To obscure the eyes and remove all emotion, I put black gauze inside so the wearer could still see out. We padded each mask inside and built a strapping system to keep them on for fight scenes and make them easy to remove.

2. Terry Dresbach
Outlander (Starz)

Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall, wearing her wedding gown on Starz’s Outlander.

We discovered the monumental scale of the show after arriving in Scotland to find the entire film industry was also there shooting. We had only seven weeks' prep, and there were no clothing rentals available. We had no phones, desks or sewing machines. We cobbled together a crew who had never worked in TV — local theater people and someone's wife who knew how to sew. None of us slept for months; it was a constant breakneck race to make camera. By the wedding episode, we finally felt we were really designing. In fact, that gown is my favorite garment of my 30-year career. Before that, we were making sure no one was naked and we had a palette. Oh, and I had to use a lot of wool because the Scottish climate will kill anyone who doesn't wear it.

3. John Dunn
Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

The premiere episode of Boardwalk Empire’s fifth season debuted a new slate of costumes as the characters — Nucky Thompson, played by Buscemi, and Sally Wheet, played by Patricia Arquette — entered the 1930s.

The last season of Boardwalk Empire got all shook up. We had been going strong for four years with 1920s costumes, but the final season picked up in 1931. Of course the fashions had completely changed, so all the wardrobes I had were worthless. I had no closets to work with and had to start from scratch. We also had flashbacks to the 1880s, with a young Nucky Thompson [Steve Buscemi] and his family, so that was an adventure. This was my first TV venture in the late 1800s, and learning the ins and outs of corsets and crinolines was challenging — but it was also exciting. It really felt like a brand-new show.

4. Jenny Gering
The Americans (FX)

In season three of The Americans, Taylor’s character, Paige Jennings (left), learns the truth about her parents. For the scene, Taylor donned a more grown-up, tailored look — similar to the styles chosen by her mother, Elizabeth (Russell, right).

The big hurdle for me this season was dressing Paige [Holly Taylor], who is the daughter of Elizabeth [Keri Russell] and Philip [Matthew Rhys]. She needed to look more grown-up, but she is a very petite actress and clothing from that era swallowed her. I was at my wits' end scouring vintage shops until it dawned on me that she would emulate her mother's tailored look. We made her palette quieter and reduced the layers. The defining moment is when she visits her parents at the travel agency wearing a maroon velvet jacket, jeans and stacked-heel boots — a mirror image of her mother. That's when Paige finds out her parents are spies and nothing about her life is real.

5. Kelli Jones
Sons of Anarchy (FX)

The challenge was what I've always faced: making sure there were the right differences in the way the gangs dressed. I studied Mexican, Asian, black gangs and motorcycle gangs. It's the jewelry or no jewelry; it's the Dickies, the color of the bandanas, the cuts, such as the sleeveless leather jackets. Young biker-gang members dress more urban, hip-hop. Neo-Nazi skinheads wear army boots. The challenge was to make sure the viewers in those subcultures related to the costumes and respected them. The SOA audience puts the costumes under the microscope: Fans commented that Jax [Charlie Hunnam] wore boots when he died in the last episode, not his white Nike Air Force 1's. Well, he got his sneakers bloody when he killed someone, so he wore boots. Fans notice everything.

6. Dan Lawson
The Good Wife (CBS)

In season six, episode 16 of The Good Wife, Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies, in a bright-red Roland Mouret suit) finds her campaign for state attorney imperiled after her husband, Peter (Chris Noth), gives an interview that could affect voter turnout on Election Day.

My biggest concern was delineating Alicia [Julianna Margulies] from her sophisticated, neutral designer clothing worn in the legal world to the public political arena when she runs for local office. I decided to infuse her politician wardrobe with color and dial down the sophistication to be more accessible to voters. The peak moment for me was at the victory party when she wears a bright-red Roland Mouret suit that almost looks like a dress. I had shopped and never found what I wanted, then I remembered this suit that had been in her closet the whole time. It was the perfect marriage between her legal sophistication and her boldly colored political attire.

7. Ellen Mirojnick
The Knick (Cinemax)

Clive Owen in circa-1900 New York civilian doctor attire on The Knick.

The initial challenge was costuming all of New York City, circa 1900. Every section of the city had its own identity: the hospital, the immigrants, the prostitutes, the Tenderloin district and the very wealthy upper-class areas. We built 10 principals' closets and had to make 80 percent of the rest, including designing surgical gowns, doctor and nurse uniforms. I used Thomas Eakins' 1889 painting of The Agnew Clinic's surgical theater for inspiration. Another challenge was making the costumes look authentic but also modern, not old-timey or precious. The other challenge is that Steven Soderbergh shoots quicker than you can say your name.

8. Gersha Phillips
The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe (Lifetime)

Starring in Lifetime’s miniseries The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe: Susan Sarandon (left) as Monroe’s mother, Gladys, and Kelli Garner in the title role, wearing the notorious “nude” gown the screen icon wore to sing "Happy Birthday" to President John F. Kennedy in 1962. All of Garner’s gowns were draped over padded bodysuits to resemble Monroe’s hourglass shape more closely.

I have to lump the three iconic Marilyn dresses into my biggest challenge: The Seven Year Itch dress, the "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" dress and the 1954 Photoplay Awards gold lamé gown. Luckily, Kelli Garner has a fabulous decolletage, but she doesn't have the hourglass Marilyn shape — so we built padded bodysuits to give her bigger hips and designed all the gowns and dresses on that. I managed to find Bob Mackie's assistant because Bob had been Marilyn's designer and William Travilla's assistant. Well, he told us the fabric Travilla used, a souffle fabric, isn't made anymore because it's flammable. And the new stuff is not as dense and just doesn't have the same look. We used two layers of stretch chiffon, five different sizes of Swarovski crystals, and I learned a lot about beading. We also made nude underwear so Kelli would look nude under that gown.

9. Anna Robbins
Downton Abbey (PBS)

Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary finishing first in the race at Canningford Grange in season five of Downton Abbey.

One scene stands out as the most challenging: the point-to-point horse race at Canningford Grange, in which Lady Mary was the first woman to thunder over the finish line. It was the largest in scale with the whole family watching, a 200-plus crowd and a large ensemble cast. Achieving the sheer number of costumes while continuously filming at pace was challenging. Every person on camera is a vital component; giving this depth and range across the full social spectrum required careful research. I also tried to create harmony within palette, tone and texture. I was inspired by Alfred Munnings' paintings, and the filming was so resonant of his work. Every costume was designed to work with the rest of the ensemble. The subtle palette of country colors was set off brilliantly by the landscape and magnificent skies.

10. Genevieve Tyrrell
House of Lies (Showtime)

A pregnant Bell went from size 2 to size 6 during season four as Jeannie Van Der Hooven on House of Lies.

This was my first season on the show, and the biggest challenge was dressing a very pregnant Jeannie (Kristen Bell). She was nine months along at the end, but we only used one piece of maternity all season. She wore a lot of neutrals — black, eggplant and navy. We used many Diane von Furstenberg and Alexander McQueen stretch-sheath dresses with crop tops layered over them. We bumped her up to size 6, from her usual 2, and added Rebecca Minkoff blazers, Vivienne Westwood, Helmut Lang and Proenza Schouler jackets for dimensionality. She wore eight different pairs of shoes but ended up wearing a lug-sole Gucci boot because at some point it was more about her safety.

11. Donna Zakowska
Turn (AMC)

Solo as socialite Peggy Shippen and Ralph Brown as Gen. Henry Clinton in season two of AMC’s Turn.

It's always a challenge to present the 18th century and deal with viewers' expectations. In season two, we had more than just uniformed soldiers. It was a season of transformation for original characters like Abraham Woodhull [Jamie Bell], and we see more facets of society: urban and country folk, pirates wearing New England whalers' silhouettes, theater people, street vendors and prostitutes wearing corsets over brightly colored degenerated dresses. We even have some elevated fashion worn by Peggy Shippen [Ksenia Solo]. She's the most heightened character in the show, a Philadelphia socialite who would have followed Parisian styles — corseted waists, full-skirted dresses — with a Marie Antoinette edge.