The Hollywood Costume Designers Break Down the Show’s Dreamy Fashion

Published May 27, 2020

All photos courtesy of Netflix.

Everybody has been to Hollywood and back. Ryan Murphy’s homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood (streaming on Netflix) is not only a revolutionary and idyllic take on the film industry, but also a fashion show. Every outfit is meant to be savored, like the crisp white shirts seen on the service boys paired with contrasting pitch-black high-waisted trousers and a gold hat, or the elegant exuberance of Avis Amberg‘s wealthy-housewife wardrobe. Though he might be the mastermind behind the worlds he creates , it’s with the help of people like Lou Eyrich and Sarah Evelyn, the show’s costume designers, that Murphy is able to bring his sumptuous vision to life. “He specifically talked about the photographs of George Hurrell during the ’40s, Adrian Greenburg, a costume designer from the ’40s, and a list of movies that he liked,” says Eyrich. The designers revisited some of Hollywood’s classic titles like Casablanca, Voyager, and Woman of the Year to find inspiration and build mood boards that would ensure that the dreamy world of Hollywood would became a reality. “We must have every book on Hollywood in the ’40s,” Evelyn says. “We also researched behind the scenes looks, beyond Hollywood glamour. Stanley Kubrick took some amazing street photos in the 1940s.” Below, Eyrich and Evelyn break down some of the inspirations behind the clothes, their favorite character to dress, and a last minute note from Murphy that took the Oscars scene to the next level.

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CAMILLE WASHINGTON (LAURA HARRIER)

EVELYN: Laura’s character provided a unique challenge because her storyline was not historically accurate. But we looked to the ingenues of the period and then felt like this character would have been a real breakaway character that did things her own way and started her own trends in order to be the kind of person that could breakthrough in the way she did. Camille’s the Katherine Hepburn and the Dorothy Dandridge-type. The girl who puts whatever she wants on and creates trends.

EYRICH: Out of all the characters she was the most authentic to herself. When they said that she had to play the maid, that really upset her. She was groundbreaking and was not afraid to be herself. We tried to mix it up to show that she was glamorous but not in your typical Hollywood starlet way. She didn’t have the money yet.

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AVIS AMBERG (PATTI LUPONE)

EYRICH: Patti appears a lot in Ryan Murphy’s shows, so we’ve worked with her before. She loved wearing the appropriate undergarments that really give you the shape of the ’40s, which is key to building that look and silhouette. And Ryan of course wanted her to always look like a million bucks, the wife of a studio head. And he loves a good sweeping gown worn in the middle of the day by a wealthy woman. Sara and I would go talk to Matthew Ferguson, the production designer and say, “What does Patti’s bedroom look like, what does the hotel room look like, what does the estate look like?” And we built the colors and styles off of the wallpaper or the couch or the drapes in the windows.

EVELYN: We looked at Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck. She could handle the big shoulders and wild hats. Classy, fashion-forward, powerful. 

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ROCK HUDSON (JAKE PICKING)

EVELYN: Rock Hudson sort of had his own unique challenge because he was a real-life person. It was important to really do that justice. There weren’t really pictures of Rock Hudson around before the very late ’40s because he hadn’t gained any fame. So we had to imagine what his fashion trajectory would have been between when he was driving a truck in the Midwest and getting into Hollywood. Rock Hudson is a little bit J. Crew, but unknowingly. He likes a khaki and a pullover shirt and it looks amazing on him. We also got a little bit into the flannels and the plaids and simple sweaters. There’s a scene where he wears a Shetland sweater. There’s a little bit of a Gucci pattern on it, just to show that he wasn’t all the way there, but he was still radiating star power. 

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ARCHIE COLEMAN  (JEREMY POPE)

EVELYN: We were both very inspired by this character. We considered him the artist. He would have probably had some version of a tough life. He would be a guy who was going to get himself to the next level, break barriers, and break ground. He was kind of our jazz baby, and we did look to some of the jazz musicians of the time, which was an amazing reference. He did things on his own terms, and he starts trends. So we would mix patterns and try more edgy clothes. We’d use more unexpected or offbeat color combinations. He always wore his fedora a little bit tilted. 

EYRICH: We were impressed that the men in a lot of filling stations wore shirts and ties then. Some wore coveralls, belted, and then a shirt and tie underneath it. They were all very clean and these gentlemen were service attendants. We would do a tone board then show Ryan, and he’d be like,  “I want it more like this or I want her to be this but always in yellows and reds.” 

EVELYN: I remember the note being “Okay they need to be more golden.” When I finally saw them at the gas station too, it’s this moment where you’re just blown away by the genius of that decision. 

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ERNIE WEST (DYLAN MCDERMOTT)

EYRICH: Dylan is so fun to work with and he’s so involved. He comes into the fitting with an idea of who his character is and he’s already been working on it. You start putting the clothes on him, he was one of our first fittings so I think that’s why I’m picking him. Dylan’s got such a great personal style and seeing him transform into Scotty was really fun for me. I worked with him on American Horror Story.

EVELYN:  We custom made most of these suits which is a whole thing. So Dylan was interesting because his character Ernie wasn’t even just a straight suit. We needed to find upscale, well-fitted suiting that didn’t look like the studio executives that were in the suits. Dylan was a great collaborator, too. He keeps you on your toes but holds you really well. 

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HATTIE MCDANIEL (QUEEN LATIFAH)

EYRICH: Sarah had a matter of days to pull it off and had to do a ton of research because Ryan wanted to replicate the look that Hattie McDaniel wore for that particular Oscar ceremony. So Sara had hired the historic researcher. There pictures of Hattie but no one could tell what the color was. Ryan wanted the flowers in the hair and the earrings replicated. 

EVELYN: Working with Queen Latifah was amazing.

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THE OSCARS SCENE

EVELYN: The Oscars really described just the magical of the whole production and our team,and how delicious, helpful, and collaborative the cast was. We started fitting for the Oscars ahead of time, and then we got this note. I think it was four days before the Oscars, and honestly, it was one of those strokes of geniuses of Ryan’s, but it felt a little late. Which was that the palette was all creamy, pastel—a very dreamlike scenario. Upon receiving this news I was like, “That’s an amazing idea, now how are we going to get that done in four days? We had to pivot our entire team to make this color palette work. It’s a testament to everyone from our supervisor Suzie Freeman to our PAs. It took the entire team to take a deep breath. That meant that all the cast had to be refit, there were some things that we had in the works in terms of made to order and I remember one very late night crying to Lou and asking her “What are we going to do about Patti’s dress?” Lou was like “We’re going to add cream fur to the collar.” Which ultimately took that dress beyond and over the edge, and that look is one of my favorite things in the whole show.