'Girls' Costume Designer Jenn Rogien On Mesh Tanks, Shorteralls, And More Of The Show's Iconic Outfits [Interview]

Girls, lena dunham

A still from 'Girls.'
Photo: Getty Images

Just as Girls has become your mom's, grandfather's, and basically everyone's conversational lightning rod for discussing the "twenty-something" phenomenon these days (exhibit A, B, C...), an equal amount of ink has been spilled dissecting the show's costumes. It might seem weird, considering the fact that Lena Dunham, Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, and Zosia Mamet's characters don't dress THAT differently from the majority of kids flooding the streets outside our apartments right this second...but then again, that's exactly the point. Costume designer Jenn Rogien manages to hopscotch the line between being relatable (sometimes wrinkled, outfit repeats, and decidedly imperfect) while still making sense for TV. Easier said than done, right? After all, if Jenn just decked them out in clothes we can pick up ourselves at Urban Outfitters, it would be beyond boring. It's Hannah and the rest of the crew's kookiest, most unexpected outfits that make the show's costumes so freaking fun...and cement them in your memory long after the episode has ended. Just before the Costume Designers Guild Awards happen this week (it all goes down on Thursday!), Jenn let us pick her brain on dressing the Girls in mesh tanks, sleeping bags and everything in between. Get her secrets (plus vintage shopping tips) in our interview below!

Girls, lena dunham

A still from 'Girls.'
Photo: 'Girls' Facebook

MTV Style: Alright Jenn, so you're taking us on a trip down Girls costume memory lane. Let's start with one of the most memorable outfits from season one, when Hannah, Shoshanna and Jessa are sitting on the park bench.

JENN ROGIEN: These looks were a direct extension of the action in the episode, as all of the characters are coming from very different places. Hannah has a job interview, Shoshanna is coming to support, and then Jessa is about to go to the clinic. In any scene I look at the colors and patterns the characters are wearing to see how they interact with each other. For instance, if Hannah is going to be with Marnie or Adam or whoever, then I wanted to make sure that if it clashes it clashes on purpose. I want the colors to play well together, so that the harmony in the colors helps support the connection.

Girls Lena Dunham

A still from 'Girls.'
Photo: 'Girls' Facebook

Totally. What can you tell us about one of our other favorite outfits, Hannah's goth look?

That was actually a scripted costume; it was written that Lena was dressed that way, and she's part of a joke about putting a hex on the popular girls. We had that information when we went out shopping and knew that the look would play for a long time throughout the episode; she would go out, stay at Adam's, have a dramatic scene between two of them, and then there was the next morning. One of the secrets is the fact that there are two hoodies built into the look. This is actually the only time we've seen Hannah wear this leather jacket, and it's because she's sort of wearing a costume to play a role in this scene with Adam. Just like the rest of her closet, the outfit is a complete mishmash of various stores.

A still from 'Girls.'
Photo:'Girls' Facebook

Whereas Hannah's goth outfit is sort of a costume, the girls' Bushwick party looks are more of an extension of their characters...

That's exactly what we were going for; something that's perfect for the character in the moment. The feather piece that Jessa wears was actually intended for another episode and a different character that we didn't end up using. Lena had said, "Hold on to it, don't send it back; it's going to come back later on," and that was a great heads up because we were able to work it in later. And then for Marnie, she's dressed for a party. She doesn't really know what a Bushwick loft party means, and of course it's inappropriate and over the top as usual. Jessa is dressed for a party (as always) but not for this specific one [laughing]. Hannah is not dressed for a party at all because she didn't want to go out in the first place. Also, we knew that would be skinning her knee later in the episode when she falls off the bike with Adam, so we needed a way to protect her knee but also show blood. That's why we used tights, when she hadn't worn tights in a couple of episodes.

Girls

A still from 'Girls.'
Photo: @GirlsHBO Instagram

Something that Hannah IS loving these days are rompers, or "shorteralls"...

Oh yes, the shorteralls! That was a total organic evolution of the costumes. She actually wore a pair of denim shorts in a scene that was cut from season one, and then we used some denim shorts early on in season two. After that they just evolved into a romper. A lot of this has to do with what's available on the market, and whether Hannah would be attracted to it.

Will she continue to wear them throughout the season?

You'll have to wait and see! I will say, though, that they're everywhere these days...so that's saying something.

Girls Lena Dunham

A still from 'Girls.'
Photo: @GirlsHBO Instagram

We've saved the best costume for last! Hannah's mesh shirt from season two, episode four is burned into our brains.

[Laughing] Oh yes. Well, the joke in the story is that she changes tops spontanesouly with another clubgoer. We actually chose that costume because the mesh tank needed to be a believable enough item of clothing for a club kid. We tried a variety of different widths of mesh, like texture, length and were all set to go with a different top that had a finer mesh across the top- almost like a censorship bar. But at the last minute Lena changed her mind and we decide to do the other one. She's said that she wanted the outfit to be the most awful and most awkward thing to have to wear while having these very awkward instances, and that was the mesh top!

When you're going shopping for the show, do you have a specific list of items you're looking for, or do you wing it?

It's a little bit of both. We have to do the planning to allow for the spontaneity to work; if you go out without any direction or a list, the result won't make any sense. That said, if we see an item that we can't resist, then we'll grab it. You never know when you're going to have a joke or moment that the piece of clothing will just fit.

You're nominated for a Costume Designer's Guild Award for Girls, which is partially due to your ability to tread the line between keeping the clothes from being TOO perfect, while still making them look good on TV. What's your secret?

Well, it's really a balancing act between both of those things, and that's the challenge of the show. We have such an amazing array of characters and it's really all about what works for them and how they're feeling in that moment.

Girls Lena Dunham

A still from 'Girls.'
Photo: 'Girls' Facebook

How involved are the cast members in their character wardrobes?

It depends on the actor. Some actors really like the wardrobe process, like clothes, and feel like the transformation happens with the costume. Some aren't that involved, they're not that into the costume process. But at the end of the day it's important to feel like the wardrobe is in character and doesn't let them lose focus in the scene.

Girls Lena Dunham

A still from 'Girls.'
Photo: 'Girls' Instagram

What was the most difficult outfit to come up with?

Coming back into season two with the sleeping bag with armholes! Oh my gosh, we were all set to either make one ourselves, or cut armholes into a real sleeping bag. But then my brilliant team member saw that a company called Poler had already produced it, so what we thought would be a huge challenge actually wasn't a challenge at all. But that's the fun of working on a show like this, finding different ways to create these various types of costumes.

Considering you're basically a pro shopper, what are some vintage shopping tips people should know?

I carry a measuring tape in my bag every time I go out, because vintage sizing and contemporary sizing are very different. Know your measurements, measure the garment, and always look at the condition. Make sure there aren't rips of tears or holes, and make sure that the fabric still has life in it. And if you can go vintage and still have it tailored or altered, then you can get a lot more mileage.

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