Welcome to FrockTalk, the web’s only costume-based movie review site. The goal of Frocktalk is to shed light on the magnificent artistry of costume design in motion pictures. Reviews on this site are written by working costume designers in the entertainment industry – people who know, better than anyone, what it takes to make it all happen. The focus of FrockTalk is not to comment on the big flashy costume dramas, but to call attention to the seemingly ordinary costume design work in film that silently and persuasively moves the audience toward understanding the characters. Costume design for motion pictures is an art form that deserves more recognition than it usually gets. Fancy, pretty costumes do not always equal effective, appropriate costumes. The art of the costume is in letting the audience know who the character is, before the actor even has a chance to open his mouth. Read on, and enjoy. ** CAUTION: ALL REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS! **

GLEE

Network: FOX

Airdates/times: Wednesday Nights, 9PM

Costume Designer: Lou Eyrich

When I started Frocktalk, I wanted to keep my focus on feature films. It’s easier to break them down, get pictures, and re-watch scenes if I need to analyze something further. Television is much more ephemeral – the show airs once, and you’d better watch carefully unless you have TiVo. Try getting pictures (stills) of a TV show off of your TV. It’s impossible. When I saw Glee, I thought I needed to write about it here, because the costumes are outstanding.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to. Here are some links to episodes on HULU (another great invention of this decade):

http://www.hulu.com/watch/93370/glee-pilot—directors-cut

http://www.hulu.com/watch/94447/glee-showmance

http://www.hulu.com/watch/95842/glee-acafellas

I am going to paraphrase the basic elements of the show here, so don’t get mad at me if I don’t mention every detail. The show takes place at a McKinley High School, somewhere in Ohio. Matthew Morrison plays nice guy Will Schuester, Spanish teacher and coach of the school’s Glee Club. Glee Club is show choir, and it doesn’t get any geekier, any way, any how, in high school. Glee Club is the antithesis of cool.

Schuester twists the arm of Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith), a hunky football player, to join the Glee Club. Finn fears harassment by his teammates, but (put in a corner by Schuester) joins anyway. He discovers he loves to perform.

Meanwhile, goody-two-shoes/overachiever Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) falls for him, and she falls hard. Too bad, because Finn has a girlfriend, the conniving cheerleader Quinn Fabray (Dianna Agron). Quinn is part of the “Cheerios”, the powerhouse high school cheer squad, coached by the maleficent Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch). Sue Sylvester wants nothing more than to see the Glee Club wiped off the face of the planet, so she can take all of the school’s money allocated to Glee for herself and her precious Cheerios. I sense that there is probably more back-story here that will be revealed at a later time; it’s just my gut feeling.

Mr. Schuester is hogtied and P-whipped by his atrocious (but beautiful) wife Terri (Jessalyn Gilsig). She is a spoiled, self-centered pig of a woman who works at Sheets-n-Things; she is the epitome of the American greed that caused the current economic crisis. Terri has champagne taste on a beer budget, but she doesn’t let that beer budget stop her. Her husband is forced to take on janitorial work at the school, after hours, to provide for her selfish needs.

At school, Mr. Schuester has a fan in Emma Pillsbury (Jayma Mays), a doe-eyed, germaphobic guidance counselor. It appears that Emma and Mr. Schuester went to high school together (though this back-story has not been told), and she is (still?) quite smitten with him. To cover her tracks (pretending she doesn’t like him as much as she does), Emma starts dating coach Ken Tanaka (Patrick Gallagher), a beast of a man. However, she can’t hide her admiration for Will.

Glee succeeds because it does not rely on the cliché “stock” characters we’ve seen a thousand times. The Glee Club is comprised of some interesting new types: the fashion-obsessed closeted gay guy, Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer), wheelchair-bound nerd Artie Abrams (Kevin McHale), sassy diva Mercedes Jones (Amber Riley), and quasi-alternative, shy Tina Cohen-Chang (Jenna Ushkowitz). And guess what: they can all really sing!

This is the right TV show at the right time. Glee is an exceedingly entertaining mish-mash of great comedic acting, brilliant singing, fabulous dancing, and interesting storyline. The song and dance numbers are wonderful to watch – they are exciting, high-energy, and crowd-pleasing. I mean, look at the list of some of the songs performed in the pilot alone: Don’t Stop Believin’ (By Journey), On My Own (from Les Miserables), Can’t Fight This Feeling (by REO Speedwagon), and Rehab (by Amy Winehouse). Later episodes have featured songs by Kanye West, Salt-N-Pepa, Rihanna, Duffy, Bell Biv DeVoe and Color Me Badd. It’s pretty awesome. AND, you can buy most of these songs (as performed on the show) on iTunes.

The costumes in Glee serve to define and delineate the characters. We clearly know who these people are by what they wear. Observe:

Rachel Bell: overachiever, goody-two-shoes, socially awkward, not popular. Look how her clothing precisely defines who she is: pleated skirts, argyle sweaters, prim, covered-up, kind of uptight.

Quinn Fabray: Alpha-female, Cheerio, extremely popular. Quinn has never been seen (since I’ve been watching) out of her cheerleading costume or some facsimile thereof. Her association with Cheerios IS her identity.

Mr. Schuester: kindly, creative, down-to-earth, spineless in the face of his wife… these pictures are just one illustration of his “look”, but I think it does a good job of leading us to understand what kind of a person he might be.

Emma Pillsbury: look at that face. Look at the hair. Look at the colors, the jewelry, the details. When I first saw her costumes, I thought “early Marc Jacobs, on color steroids”… but these costumes are not as monied or refined. I think the way Emma is costumed on this show is sheer genius. We see right away that she is particular and exacting about her appearance. This helps us to get on board with her germphobia and general OCD. It’s wonderful.


Kurt Hummel: here is the skinny, wimpy, homosexual blueprint for many young men who would later become fashion designers and/or Broadway types. This kid is unashamedly fussy about what he wears, and is not afraid to wear pink clothing or white dress shoes. This is a character that we designers dream of costuming. It’s a fun canvas for expression through costume!

Mercedes Jones: she has no Gaydar (as she kind of fell for Kurt), but we don’t know a whole lot about her yet. We know that she’s sensitive and that she can blow it out of the box – this girl can really sing. I’m going to go out on a limb and also mention that she is a big girl with some great style. I am encouraged by this portrayal, both in costume and in the acting, as I think it more accurately reflects the reality of high school (as opposed to everyone being skinny, spotless, and neatly fitting into some kind of mold). I like the way costumes are shaping up for Mercedes.


Tina Cohen-Chang: her style is harder to nail down, because it kind of looks like Hot Topic with a twist. Is her quasi-gothiness related to the pervasive teenage angst, rebellion or is it something deeper? We don’t know a lot about her yet, but I look forward to learning more about her background, and the basis for her rebellion.

Finn Hudson: at the risk of being unprofessional, I am here to tell you that this guy is a stone-cold fox. Finn is a football star who is experiencing an epiphany with Glee Club and the experience of performing. It will be interesting to see if his “jock-y” clothing will evolve into something more enlightened by the end of the season. As he softens and begins to understand himself, will he reject the social status quo at McKinley High?

Sue Sylvester: never in the history of sportswear has an Adidas tracksuit been used with such precision. Jane Lynch is absolutely unbelievable in this role. I smell an Emmy for her next year at this time!! The Adidas tracksuit (and let’s TALK about the great product placement opportunity this has become) is the uber-uniform for this Cheerios coach. And I might also add that her Adidas tracksuits feel slightly vintage to me. I am going to need to do some research, but these color schemes and fabrics feel a bit dated, which completely works for the character. She became the Cheerios coach (the apex of her professional career) and everything has stayed the same since that time. This character is fabulous, and I hope that the brass at Adidas are kissing Lou Eyrich’s feet for the nice plug!

Here is a picture of the Glee Club performing. Notice that they all wear red, but the garments are different. Each garment is specific to the character – Kurt wears a tuxedo shirt (gay/fabulous). Finn wears a t-shirt (jock-y, simple), Tina wears her studded belt and hand mitts (Hot Topic), and check out Artie’s polo shirt and sweet headband (Geek!!)!

And here, in a picture from their rehearsal (below), check out both the colors AND the styles of these costumes.  These are four people from very different worlds.  Costumes are the defining element.  Really nice work here.

And here, at another rehearsal – look at the way the costumes define and inform these characters:  Mercedes in her awesome shoes and hoodie; look at the white shoes on Kurt! Bliss!  This is excellent costume design, because it unambiguously tells the audience who these characters are.  And it’s costuming with a sense of humor – I really love Glee. These beautiful costumes are really exciting to see!  I look forward to next week’s episode already!

Stay tuned for more Glee, Wednesday nights on Fox.  Come for the singing and dancing, stay for the costumes!

— KMB

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