The San Diego setting of Netflix’s Grace and Frankie manifests itself most blatantly in Grace’s (Jane Fonda) beach cashmere looks, says Allyson Fanger. She buys most of the coastal costumes in Santa Monica or Malibu — Grace’s sweaters have been from California-based label Margaret O’Leary since the pilot episode. In later seasons, Grace starts getting playful with printed shirts, custom-made by Fanger using archival Carolina Herrera fabrics.
For Sol (Sam Waterston), Fanger goes to a store called Malibu Lifestyles for linen and drawstring pants: “I literally cannot find those anywhere in L.A. unless I go to the beach.” This spring, she was visiting Palm Springs and spotted a shirt for Sol, so she bought 10. “They’re like my children,” she explains. “I think about them all the time.”
To fit Frankie’s (Lily Tomlin) bohemian lifestyle, Fanger dresses her in California caftans and Danish-inspired outfits she mainly finds in the San Fernando Valley. “Everything Frankie wears now is something she ‘made’ herself or that she found on a travel,” Fanger says. “She’s so California because she’s so free-spirited and artistic.” Fanger was inspired by artists like Judy Chicago and Agnès Varda to create a realistic aesthetic, enlisting indie designers or brands from Instagram, such as Shrimpton Couture, Rice and Beans Vintage, and Marcy Tilton, who makes dresses in her garage with rust as dye. Fanger also checks out vintage fairs in L.A. like A Current Affair. “I find great treasures there,” she adds.
Hala Bahmet also took into account the more carefree style of the Golden State when dressing Chrissy Metz and Chris Sullivan’s characters, Kate and Toby, on NBC’s This Is Us. “This is a great example of the contrast between the L.A.-based people in the family versus the East Coast siblings,” she says of Toby’s blue chinos and Kate’s colorful, floral dresses, often made by purchasing two dresses online and cutting up the second to use as “pizazz” — ruffles or embellishments at the waist or neckline.
For HBO’s Insecure, Ayanna James wanted to showcase the areas of Los Angeles not normally seen onscreen. Issa Rae’s comedy is set in South L.A., so James — the costume designer for seasons one, two and part of three — featured local and black designers to mimic the offerings at places where character Issa Dee would have shopped, like the Crenshaw Mall or Leimert Park.
“When shows are based in L.A., we’re always talking about Hollywood or Melrose Place or Echo Park. Very rarely do we get to see the inner workings of South L.A., of Crenshaw, of Inglewood,” says James, who pulled from places like L.A. thrift store Jet Rag, L.A. boutique Collection (for vintage Levi’s) and L.A. brand 69 U.S. “So just being in alignment with the storytelling and the importance of it to Issa, I wanted to supplement that with the costumes.”
Having lived in L.A. for 10 years, James sees “a totally different vibe, particularly within black culture” between NYC and L.A. One Insecure character demanding particular authenticity is Blood gang member Thug Yoda (Tristen J. Winger); James “had to abide by a specific street code” with requirements about the colors and shoes he wore and how he wears his belts.
Likewise, Starz’s Vida authentically depicts streetwear for the Latinx community in L.A. by using various hoop earrings to distinguish different levels of cultural pride. Costume designer Hannah Jacobs says hoops are symbolic of “reclaiming your culture and reclaiming your identity,” so the type of hoop a character wears demonstrates “to what degree you’re showcasing it and to what degree you’re proud of it.”
Other clothing choices also convey culture. For example, Emma (Mishel Prada) opts for a French-influenced outfit with cigarette pants and striped tops — something “specifically not Latina … She’s fought against her roots and has rejected this part of her.” But those roots peek through with her small hoops, as opposed to the ones that young activist Mari (Chelsea Rendon) wears, which are large bamboo “classic” hoops.
Emma’s more bohemian sister, Lyn (Melissa Barrera), illustrates California couture by being “forever Coachella-ready” with crochet tops and paisley wraps from Revolve and Free People. Jacobs adds: “There is this play dress-up world for her, this romance, and her not ready to really grow up — playing with a fantasy world.”