‘Veronica Mars’ Costume Designer Salvador Perez Reveals Style Secrets From Original Series

The many looks of Veronica Mars.
Photo: Warner Bros.

OK, Marshmallows, the fan-funded Veronica Mars movie is only a day away from theaters. Are you as excited/relieved as we are (impossible) that Veronica will finally be reunited with Logan, her one true love (sorry-not-sorry, Piz), as well as Wallace, Mac, Dick, and the rest of the Neptune Pirates?

Top: Lilly and Veronica in a flashback, Bottom: Logan and Veronica
Photo: Warner Bros.

Well, not so fast. First, let’s wallow in our nostalgia for creator Rob Thomas’ brilliant, short-lived series, which aired on UPN/The CW from 2004 until 2007 and starred Kristen Bell as a droll teenage detective trying to solve the murder of her best friend (Amanda Seyfried) in the small beach town of Neptune, California. The series ended after three seasons with things between Veronica and (obligatory-psychotic-jackass-turned-epic-love-interest) Logan (Jason Dohring) left tragically unresolved. The open-ended, unsatisfying finale only served to spur on a fandom that multiplied like gremlins in water over the six years since the series was yanked from the small screen, with the result being enough wallet-wielding followers that the proposed film version raised and surpassed its Kickstarter goal of $2 million within its first 11 hours, breaking records, causing aftershocks in pop culture, and becoming a cancelled-series fandom/crowd-funding legend.

The characters all grown up in stills from the ’Veronica Mars’ movie.
Photo: Warner Bros.

And who could forget Veronica in those chunky Fluevog boots and military jackets? Or Logan’s triumphant smoldering amid all that orange? Or Dick (Party Down’s Ryan Hansen) rocking those smarmy statement tees? You’ve already seen the trailer, so you probably noticed how all growed up everybody is. Veronica is wearing black(!) pantsuits now, Mac (Tina Marjorino) has an awesome hair cut, and is that Logan looking perfectly at home in a fitted dress shirt? But before we swoon over the characters’ updated styles with the film’s costume designer, Genevieve Tyrrell, which we will do next week (so check back), we wanted to talk to the man who first put puka shells on Logan Echolls: series costume designer Salvador Perez (Pitch Perfect, The Mindy Project). “Rob created those characters, and he made them interesting, but I made them look cool,” says Perez. Indeed, and we have about 97 questions for him.

When you signed on, what were you told about the main characters?

Well, you know, part of the job as a costume designer is you get a sheet that says Veronica, wrong side of the tracks, edgy, and you have to interpret that into clothes. The characters were never defined for me—the way Veronica dressed was never discussed in any dialogue, in any script, it was completely my concept. I went in to meet with Rob Thomas with nine great presentation boards, and I remember he was just mesmerized, and I walked out being like, “I got that job.”

So Rob didn’t give you any direction?

No, that’s why we get along so well, because Rob does not have a fashion dialogue in him. I would talk about brands and fits and silhouettes, and he’d look like I was speaking Chinese. Obviously, if Rob didn’t like something, he would tell me. One time I pulled a T-shirt for Veronica that had a unicorn on it, and he was like, “She would never wear a f****** unicorn!” Sometimes conversations would happen, and then he would write them into the script, which was funny. He made several references [on the show] to how horrible unicorns are after our conversation.

That’s right, there are so many unicorn jokes! Veronica gives herself an ironic fake prison tattoo that reads “Unicorns Save Lives,” and Mercer-the-rapist (MTV host Ryan Devlin) gets stabbed with a toy unicorn. Was there anything else Rob objected to?

Butterflies. He was working out of the L.A. office, and we shot in San Diego, so I would photograph every outfit and send them to him so he wasn’t surprised when he saw them on camera. Another time I picked out what I thought was a Rorschach T-shirt—it had those blotches on it—and he was like, “Goddamn it, Sal, you put a butterfly on her.”

Veronica’s military-inspired wardrobe was her armor.
Photo: Warner Bros.

How did you conceive of Veronica—who she was to you, and how did that determine what she wore?

Well, the whole point of the show was that it was supposed to be the wealthy beach kids and the kids on the wrong side of the tracks. So we didn’t want Veronica to be a fashionista. And my whole point with the character is that she had armor up. She had been emotionally abused, she thought she had been raped, she needed to be protected from everybody around her. I wanted her to be a warrior, so there was a militarist vibe to her clothes.

Was there every any pressure by the network to sex her up?

On the contrary, because at that point, Kristen was a 23-year-old woman, and I had to make her look like a 16-year-old girl.

Veronica Mars in pink and green.
Photo: Warner Bros.

We noticed that Veronica wears a lot of pink and green. Is that your favorite color palette?

I love mixing unusual colors, so you often think of pink and blue together, but if I was going to put pink on her, it had to have a contrasting color. So if she wore pink, she wore it mixed with brown. Also, I wanted the clothes to echo her past life, when she was wearing them in different ways. We were very conscious of what was in her closet before going “bad,” and what was she still using. Because she wouldn’t have had the money for a whole new wardrobe.

This aqua jacket made multiple appearances.
Photo: Warner Bros.

And she sometimes wore things more than once.

Most TV shows, they never repeat outfits or garments, but I made a point to reuse garments, because you had to believe that she was a have-not. This is the first TV show I did on a regular basis, and my philosophy as a costume designer was that this is the character’s closet, and the audience knows the character, so why not reuse certain clothes? And I remember there was a website—and this was 10 years ago, before social media—just dedicated to when I reused pieces.

Yeah, how did you feel about that kind of obsessive reaction from fans?

It taught me quite a bit about how to react to audiences, because you can really get a sense of what they’re responding to and what they’re not. In that first season, Kristen had found a woman who made leather chokers, and I think I bought 30 of them because they were really fragile, and then I layered it with a little tiny star on a silver chain, so it looked like it came from Tiffany’s. And I decided that it was a present from Lilly. And I told that to Rob, so it was later written in that it was a present from Lilly. I just wanted her to have a piece of history, so she wore them both that first season. And then one episode, Kristen didn’t feel like wearing it, so we took it off, and the fans were like, “What’s the significance of that?” I was like, “Oh my god!” You had to be very careful with every decision you made, because there was meaning to it.

Veronica’s choker + silver necklace combo.
Photo: Warner Bros.

Then this next question won’t seem too weirdly specific: Did Alona Tal, who played Meg, also wear pink and green because the actress was originally considered for the part of Veronica, and you were trying to make them doppelgängers?

She wasn’t just considered, she was the first choice, but she was Israeli and couldn’t get a green card. That was divine intervention, though, because Kristen Bell was Veronica Mars. It really needed to be Kristen. I didn’t do as much pink and green on [Alona], and again, it was the young girl thing—I was trying to keep them looking young.

Meg gets in on the pink and green, too.
Photo: Warner Bros.

So no, I just think of pink as being very youthful, and also we’re doing summer colors, so I tried to stay away from anything bold and dark. And the reality is that it’s my world. One thing you may have noticed is that no one wore athletic shoes, except for Wallace. Because I hate athletic shoes for daywear. Unless you go to the gym, why are you wearing them? And I just decided it wasn’t happening. So that was the fun thing. I wear pink, so there was a lot of pink.

Wallace in green Nike sneakers.
Photo: Warner Bros.

Then what’s up with Logan and orange?

When they first cast Jason Dohring and Teddy Dunn as Logan and Duncan [respectively], they were afraid they looked alike, so they asked me to put Duncan in blue and Logan in other colors. And in my first meeting with Jason, he said, “Oh, well, I wear rack colors. The colors nobody wants, and that’s why they’re on the sale rack: browns, oranges, rust green.” Rack colors. That became our joke. And they looked so good on him, I made a conscious effort to put Duncan in blues and grays and Logan in browns and oranges.

Logan in so much orange.
Photo: Warner Bros.

Where did you shop for the clothes?

It was a very small budget, especially since Veronica changed 15 times an episode. I don’t even know if I should say this, but most shows are between $26-30,000 per episode, and I think this was $16,000. And that’s for everybody: cheerleaders, extras. And it was an investigative show, so Veronica was always talking to lots of people.

I remember shopping at Fashion Valley Mall in San Diego like a mad man. On my fourth trip to Wet Seal, I’m buying $5,000 worth of clothes, and they were like, “You shop an awful lot of your daughter.” I was like, “Really? (a) I couldn’t have a daughter old enough. And (b) you think I’m buying this for one kid?” At that time, Abercrombie & Fitch was big, and Ruehl, which was an offshoot of Abercrombie.

Photo: Warner Bros.

Oh, and I probably bought the entire collection of Lucky. Remember Lucky brand? It’s still around, but the designer has changed. Oh my god, it was hip, it was cool—it was a little higher of a price point than Veronica would have worn, and they actually gave me a huge discount. Every hoodie you saw on that show was Lucky. The bag I brought her the first year was on sale at Lucky for $14.99. I wanted her to have a bag that wasn’t really girly, so I got a boys messenger bag in canvas and I bought two. The second season, I got another version of the bag, and they sold out of that one. People loved that bag.

Veronica’s messenger bag.
Photo: Warner Bros.

Why the switch from the messenger bag to the studded hobo bag in season three?

The third season they had someone from Lucky call me and ask, “What are you buying this year?” And I said, “Uh uh, she’s going to college.” Now that everybody expects me to do one thing, I had to do something different, and I bought the leather bag with the studs, maybe at Nordstrom.

Veronica goes to college with a new look.
Photo: Warner Bros.

How were you able to distinguish the rich kids and give them nice enough clothes while working with such a small budget?

It was tough, because it was supposed to be haves and have-nots, but there were a lot of haves. My philosophy with the rich kids is that even though they have more money than everybody else, they’re all shopping at the same stores. The only difference is really the accessories: Logan drove a better car, he had a nicer watch, he had better shoes. I put him in a really great Diesel leather jacket that was like $1,000, which at that time was a lot of money to spend on one item. But I figured I’ll just make sure he wears it a couple of times to justify it.

Logan’s Diesel jacket.
Photo: Warner Bros.

Of course, once we built a spectacular wardrobe for him, remember his house blows up? I was devastated. I was like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” So I rationalized that my favorite pieces happened to be at the dry cleaner.

Speaking of, do you remember a navy-blue argyle—


All the boys in argyle.
Photo: Warner Bros.

—a navy-blue argyle sweater that Duncan wore, and then Logan, and then later Piz.

Once Logan lost his clothes, we decided that Duncan had enough clothes, so that Veronica gave some to him. I think that was actually in the dialogue between Duncan and Logan, and then for Piz, Rob thought it would be funny. He was like, “Do you still have that?” And I was like, “Of course, I have everything.” All of the clothes for the entire three seasons were catalogued in a warehouse, because you never knew when Rob was going to flash back to another episode. Anyway, Rob was like, “Let’s put it on Piz.”

Logan’s puka-shell necklace.
Photo: Warner Bros.

How did you get the idea to put the puka-shell necklace on Logan?

I get so much flak for that! But it goes back to, at the time, Logan was not supposed to be Veronica’s love interest. I dressed people the way they expect to be dressed, not the way I always thought was nice. I would see kids in San Diego all the time wearing those, so I put the puka shell on him, sort of to be like, “He’s a douchebag in a puka-shell necklace.” I saw a list once, like the 10 Best Things About Logan Echolls, and one of them was, “He could rock a puka shell like nobody else.” So it worked.

For a beach town, everyone looks pretty toasty. Were you trying to make their world less sunny?

No, that was a technical thing. Kristen was always, always, always cold. A lot of times you have to make design decisions because you don’t want the actresses to suffer. So we always had to give her a layer, like a long-sleeved T-shirt with a T-shirt over it with a jacket with a scarf. She is a little tiny thing.

Dick Casablancas’ statement T-shirts are the best, not-so-hidden gems of the series. How did they become associated with his character?

Ha! I went to a novelty store and I bought this T-shirt that said “I Heart Dick.” And I loved it, and I said, “Can I put this on one of the girls?” And there was a whole back and forth with the studio, and they were like, “You cannot.” So it had to say “I Heart Dick Casablancas,” and I added Casablancas in really small letters, and I put it on an extra. And then it just became, How obnoxious can a shirt be? Like “Mustache Rides Free.” At that time, Urban Outfitters was making all those weird T-shirts, so I would just buy the most horrifying ones and start putting them on him. And [Ryan Hansen] was totally up for it.

The original ’I <3 Dick Casablancas.’
Photo: Warner Bros.

Dick’s slogan T-shirts.
Photo: Warner Bros.

Obviously, Lilly doesn’t have much of a wardrobe, but how much thought went into choosing the dress she wears to the prom in the flashbacks?

I designed and made that dress. We had found that dress, a version of that dress, and we loved the neckline, because it was supposed to be inappropriate for a young girl, but it was in burgundy. I thought burgundy was wrong, and we wanted it to be gold and we wanted it to have a train, so I copied the neckline and made a completely different dress with different fabric, so that it was sparkly and almost nude on her. And it was less expensive for me to make the dress than to buy a designer version.

Photo: Warner Bros./GIF: Jenny Shafei

Photo: Warner Bros./GIF: Jenny Shafei

Did you ever encounter any resistance from the actors in terms of their wardrobe?

No. I remember, I met—you can’t do this anymore, but Kristen was an unknown actress at the beginning, so I said, “Meet me at the mall.” So we spent the day at the Westfield Fashion Square in Sherman Oaks, and we tried lots of things on, and it was great to be able to weed out so much stuff. But as a general rule, I just put 15 outfits in Kristen’s room and she put them on. You hear stories about other shows where actresses need to have five outfits to choose from for every change, but she just trusted me.

And Jason, I’ve worked with him so many times. I did [the series] Moonlight with him, and he was supposed to be a wealthy 400-year-old vampire, and afterwards, he was like, “Will you take me shopping in real life?” So we spent the day in Beverly Hills and got him a whole new wardrobe. He was like, “I want this nice [Dolce & Gabbana] suit [from the series] in real life, just make it the Logan version.” A lot of times you work with actors and you never want to see them again, but these guys are great.

One of our favorite scenes is Logan’s drunken conversation with Veronica at Alterna-Prom when he describes their relationship as epic. (We can STILL hear the bells.) What can you tell us about her prom look? With the side-swept ponytail, it was more elegant than we’d seen her before.

She wore a beautiful blue, lace, strapless dress from J. Crew that I completely recut. And then we found these spectacular Marc Jacobs pumps that looked like a ballerina shoe, but they were chunky-heeled, and they were like $700. And she just fell in love with them. It was completely out of this world that Veronica would ever wear them, but we got them. And even though you never saw them on camera, they made Kristen feel special.

Veronica and Logan at Alterna-Prom.
Photo: Warner Bros.

Oh, Logan.
Photo: Warner Bros.

At one point, Lilly tells Veronica, “You are not a yellow cotton dress. You are strapless red satin.” Was this another conversation between you and Rob that made it into the series?

Wow, you guys really watched this show. That was actually Rob. The message was just be bold. Don’t be the shrinking violet.

Photo: Warner Bros./GIF: Jenny Shafei

Were you surprised by the success of the Kickstarter campaign?

Honestly, no. I mean, I’m a donor. But five years ago, I had people coming up to me and talking about Veronica Mars, and that was five years after it started, and it was only on for three seasons. So it obviously struck a chord with people. We made that show interesting. People had such a passion for it, and that’s why the film was made.

Why didn’t you do the styling for the movie?

I had booked another film before they green-lit Veronica Mars, and I just didn’t think I could give it the time it needed, so I called my friend Genevieve Tyrrell. And I know she worked with Kristen before, and we just talked about the backstory and basically everything I just told you—from Wallace and Mac to the principles. I don’t think she had seen the show more than once. But it’s almost a good thing, because she was able to come in with fresh eyes. I am so close to those characters, I might have had a hard time letting go.

You’re not the only one, Sal. Neither could we and about 91,583 other Veronica Mars stans. Veronica Mars opens in theaters and is available via video on demand this Friday, March 14.

Additional reporting by Jenny Shafei.


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