‘GLOW’ Costume Designer on Creating Bridesmaids Leotards, Borrowing a Bob Mackie Original

Beth Morgan photographed by Dan Doperalski at the PMC Studio in Los Angeles for Variety on July 23, 2019

Beth Morgan received her first Emmy nom for the first television show on which she ever worked, “Deadwood.” Now, she is nominated in the period costumes category again for the costume design of Netflix’s “GLOW.” Morgan is up for the second season finale “Every Potato Has a Receipt,” in which she got the chance to create a full set of bridesmaids leotards for a special stunt in the 1980s wrestling comedy. But not to be outdone, she worked hard to top herself in Season 3, when the characters went on the road to Vegas.

In the second season, the female wrestling troupe becomes much more comfortable in the ring and the actresses perform more complicated stunts. How did that kind of wear and tear affect the amount of doubles of costumes you needed?

It didn’t affect it as much as some shows because we don’t have stunt doubles. Really we have a double for an emergency, but the girls really wear their one. The wear and tear on them has not been extreme. We were fortunate in all of the fabrics we chose in the beginning; they can stand the test of time. What does change is the girls’ bodies. In the reality of our show, and in life, as you’re getting better at something and training more and more, your body is more physically fit, so some of the costumes were tweaked a little bit for that.

What is something about the way the costumes are made that you think no one thinks about when they watch the show?

The Zoya costume gets the most beat up because I was insistent that she had the belt. A lot of things about “GLOW” and the ’80s is about the silhouette and it being simple, so a lot of them are very simple leotards — especially in the ring because you have to make sure they can be safe. Everyone except Zoya wears Capezios. But we had to make sure they could grab each other — the wrestling is about interacting closely with each other and making sure you’re a good partner, so what fabrics were too slick, that when they go to grab to turn them around, they can’t get the right grip. All of that had to come into play. Also, we have to think about everybody’s ring looks and their entrance looks. We don’t always see everybody enter, but what is that — because wrestling is about showmanship, but these girls are gritty and they don’t have any money, so they’re putting these things together themselves. So it’s about what found objects can they use? We wanted it to be realistic that they could put this together, so when we were picking fabrics, it was about what would they be able to get and augmented? Season 2 was kind of a leftover from Season 1, but we wanted them to be iconic looks.

Speaking more to that realism, then if something does start to fray, do you leave it, rather than rush to make a new double?

We leave it. Because we’re shooting in chronological order, if somebody would have busted a seam, we would have it look liked it’s hand-stitched up. Carly [Mensch], one of our showrunners, would be so happy if we had a busted seam; she loves stuff like that! And people always notice that we do a lot of repeating — because I wear three pairs of jeans, and I feel like that’s the one thing that TV makes not as realistic. These people, especially in Season 2, have a small amount of money to spend. Rhonda is living in her car; she wouldn’t have this copious amount of wardrobe. And they’re wearing the same wrestling things. So I wanted it to feel realistic and organic. And some people who would have a lot of clothes, like Melrose has a trust fund and Debbie has divorcee money, we do a little more with.

Something really big and new in the second season was in the finale episode, for which you are nominated, when you made bridesmaids leotards and a wedding dress.

That is actually why I entered this episode. In my career, it was my favorite creative collaborative experience to date.

So how did the design come about?

Originally it was going to be that the girls were in their “GLOW” costumes for the wedding, and I was like, “Can I pitch something?” It was my own doing, but we didn’t have a lot of time. My sketch artist and I started working on Rhonda’s wedding dress, but we didn’t know what was going to happen — was she going to have to wrestle? So I decided to make the tearaway leotard. And then we sketched all the girls in the leotards — the pink side and the gold side. I went and pitched that because I knew they wanted “GLOW” costumes, but I thought there was something about the girls being on this journey, and being a bridesmaid for a person is really a symbol of showing up for them, no matter what. And that’s what I wanted to show for the girls, but I just thought it translated better in something new. And bridesmaids dresses in the ’80s were insane, and there’s something about being in an iconic part of each decade that weddings does, and we were going to get that opportunity only once, so I was like, “We need to do the big ruffle and the headpieces and all that.” It was really a time when it showcased how supportive the whole creative process is there.

How functional did the wedding looks have to be, knowing they would start wrestling around the ceremony? 

I was adamant I wanted the ruffles to be off the shoulder for the ceremony, but then they would pull them up when they go to the Battle Royale. But the functionality of building a garment that’s off the shoulders is very different than on the shoulders because of the fit. And we have many different body types in the same look, which is the beauty of bridesmaids dresses: How do you make 15 women look good in the same thing? Who gets what color? Originally it was going to be the good girls in pink and the bad girls in gold, but it didn’t quite work out that way because of how they were walking down the aisles. But then we also had to double the fabric and get cups because we have a nipple issue in general because it’s cold. We love nipples, but we don’t want to distract!

Do you have to use special fabrics or line the costumes so they stay perfectly in place while the women are moving so vigorously to avoid other wardrobe malfunctions?

We’ve had no wardrobe malfunctions. There’s not a lot of coverage, and every once in awhile I will watch something like, “When is there going to be a slip?” We are so lucky; we’ve never had anything pop out. Season 1 we used this Bikini Bite and these different things to keep the wedgies in place, but as we were watching it — and as you watch ’80s wrestling and aerobics — wedgies were such a part of it. So we stopped. We really only used it for the fantasy match in Season 1, Episode 1. We used it and then we stopped, and it’s a wing and a prayer, and that speaks to how perfectly fit how all of those leotards are that we’ve had no slips.

Going back to the philosophy of reusing certain looks, how did those bridesmaids’ leotards end up in Season 3?

I didn’t make them specifically to reuse them. I had specifically said to my assistant, “Don’t worry, they’re only going to wear these once.” Because they were such an engineering feat — they’re delicate costumes to wear — we assumed they would only be in that one episode, but then they loved them so much. They weren’t meant to be worn again, but usually I am thinking of how they can be. Like, in Season 3 now that they have more of a bond and they’re living in the same place, you see them wear each other’s things. It’s that thing that girlfriends do, so I always try to think of, “Oh, this piece would be great on multiple actors.” And when they’re at the pool, well I know for each season I usually have one piece and a backup, so we have to really love the looks because we’re going to see them again and again, and that does inform the idea of signature pieces. Ruth’s jeans with the seam down the front, the minute she tried them on, we knew everyone would know we were repeating because they’re so obvious.

When you end a second season in such a big way, do you feel you need to go bigger the next year to continue to challenge or further inspire yourself?

It’s hard because you have to hope the story lends itself to that. This one, luckily, we go to Vegas, so it’s easy to top [Season 2] because we’re in Vegas and everything is bigger there. I love the storytelling part of what I do, so that’s what always draws me in. One of my favorite jobs was “Key and Peele,” and when it started we had no money and I had a department of me plus two and every day they’d be, like, vikings in the morning and DJs in the afternoon. It was the best training ground, and because I had assisted on “Deadwood” and “John Adams,” these amazing period shows, I was able to take that knowledge and underappreciated genre of variety sketch and make it historically accurate.

Was there one of those big moments in Season 3 that stands out as a favorite?

The Geena Davis Bob Mackie Jubliee outfit. In general Season 3 is like Season 2 on steroids. Everything is bigger: People are in formal wear, we had so many more background fittings, we had so many more changes, the girls had money. Basically it was like the finale every episode. But the Geena Davis moment at the end when they’re at the ball — the writers had gone to Vegas and they got a tour of the Jubilee costumes, and then I got in contact with them and we were able to actually rent them, which has never happened. Bob Mackie is one of the reasons I got into costumes. I’m a “more is more” type of person and when I started, he was the master, and the fact that I got to pay homage was amazing. I added pasties, but we took a Jubilee costume and put it on Geena Davis, and she was game for it, and she looked amazing. I did get to design originals for our Fan-Tan girls with our show in mind, but the Jubilee is a special aesthetic. So we definitely got to have the best of both worlds in Vegas.

Your first Emmy nom was for a period piece, as well. What keeps you coming back to that realm?

I think just because you have perspective. You have research that you’re doing. It’s hard to say today what exactly the forecasting of the future will be — especially working on Netflix when it’s a year to go. But I think you can really develop a character in a different way when you’re doing a period show — because you have all of the information already. You know what the outcome was. So you’re getting to delve deep into the character aspect, and usually you get to make more. You have a little more of a budget, where typically on modern shows you’re doing more shopping, more putting pieces together, and you don’t have the budget or freedom to create your own things. It depends on the show, obviously, but for me, I love that we can create so many original pieces and delve deep into what was happening in the time period, what was going to happen, what happened already, and how that informed the characters at the time.

What are the quintessential colors, design aesthetics and style pieces that you try to infuse in all your jobs, no matter the time period?

I have an insane love for vintage belts, and I feel like it’s something that’s an insane hole in the market. I always use vintage belts on any show I’m doing, and I feel like it really becomes my favorite thing that ties everything together. But it’s hard to say that there’s something quintessentially me because I want to be here to serve the characters, so of course my stamp is on it — it can’t not be — but it’s about thinking with the character’s brain: What about these characters, when they went in their closet, would they pick this particular outfit in this particular moment?

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