How Logan Lerman's 1950s Wardrobe Came Together in 'Indignation'

Indignation - H 2016
Alison Cohen Rosa/Roadside Attractions

With help from costume designer Amy Roth, Lerman and Sarah Gadon transform into college students from a past decade.

Former Focus Features CEO James Schamus' directorial debut Indignation, based on Philip Roth's novel of the same name, takes working class Jewish kid Marcus Messner (played by Logan Lerman) from New Jersey to Ohio, where he scores a scholarship to attend Winesburg College, in the 1950s. As a student coming from small town Newark, Marcus tries to re-invent himself on campus and the first sign of that comes courtesy of his wardrobe on the first day of school.

Costume designer Amy Roth shares that she was inspired to create Marcus' outfit — a tweed jacket, argyle sweater vest, button-down shirt and tie — after reading Philip Roth's The Facts: A Novelist's Autobiography, in which the author describes a friend coming home from school wearing a similar look. "He thought that was the college uniform and he wanted what that guy had," says Roth.

"In a way, I guess he thought if he put on that jacket, that somehow magically he would become that character in a sense. That’s basically what I did for Marcus, in that I gave him a whole new costume in which to go to school and it wasn’t like the kicked-in, broken-down look," she says. "It was actually a very East Coast, Ivy League look at the time."

FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL: Logan Lerman as Marcus Messner in Indignation. (Photo: Courtesy of Roadside Attractions)

But maintaining his new image doesn't last long when Marcus realizes he doesn't assimilate well to the school's rigid system. That's when viewers start to see him resorting back to the rayon, Eisenhower-like jacket that he first wore in the beginning of the film when he was still living in Newark.

"I felt that he would go back to what he knew, and it was almost a sign that things weren’t really going so well at school for him when he started to resort back to his old look," says Roth, who designed his suits and found his shirts at Brooks Brothers. She also shopped for his wardrobe at vintage shop Stepping Out in Bucks County, PA.

During Marcus' freshmen year, he also has his first sexual experience with wealthy and well-dressed Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon), who is unlike any other girl he's met back home.  

Despite Olivia's sexual promiscuity, Roth says, "There's nothing about the way she dressed that would ever lead you to think she was about to do what she did. I think it was unexpected and that was the best part of it — that I dressed her like a good girl."

FIRST DATE: Sarah Gadon as Olivia Hutton in Indignation. (Photo: Courtesy of Roadside Attractions)

Instead the costume designer wanted to emphasize Olivia's well-to-do background (her father's a doctor) through her wardrobe.

"I dressed her like her parents paid for her clothes," says Roth, adding that Olivia would have been the girl in school who would have gone shopping before each new school year. "I thought she would have fuller skirts like the New Look, even though it was just at that time coming into fashion. She would have certainly been the girl having the new skirt."

Among one of Olivia's most memorable outfits is the look she wears for her first date with Marcus: A white blouse (cut from a dress) paired with a rose-print skirt, which Roth says were both found in a barn in Pennsylvania. She also found pieces for Olivia at vintage costume shop Daybreak in Albany, NY.

Says Roth: "I had this skirt, and I said, 'Maybe I’ll make something like this.' And he [Schamus] said, 'Why not that?' And, you know, it was great — all you have to do is get permission from your director."

Before you catch Indignation in theaters July 29, check out an exclusive featurette on the film's costumes below.