Tom Broeckerand Jenny Gering, costume designers on, respectively, House of Cards and The Americans, discuss the state of fashion in D.C., the inspiration behind their characters' style choices, and more.
Today, costume designers Tom Broecker of House of Cards and Jenny Gering of The Americans will visit the nation’s capital for two events: first, a meet-and-greet at the Ann Taylor on Connecticut Avenue, where their curated looks will be on display, and, second, an evening lecture at the Smithsonian Associates titled “Dressing DC for the Small Screen.”
Here, we chat with the style experts about D.C. fashion, what it’s like to dress stars on screen (including our past cover stars Robin Wright and Keri Russell), and more.
You dress Keri Russell on the set of The Americans, where she plays undercover Russian spy Elizabeth Jennings. What inspires the character’s clothing?
Jenny Gering: She’s feminine, strong, and sexy, but not overly girly. Her clothes are classic sportswear with an eye toward fit and quality.
How is her double life incorporated into her style?
JG: The fun thing about Elizabeth is that she’s such a pro. She can handle herself in almost any situation. That includes being kidnapped barefoot in the middle of winter. She doesn’t dress for action unless she knows she’s on a specific mission.
The Americans portrays Washington in the early 1980s. What are the differences in the city’s approach to fashion between then and now?
JG: I honestly don’t think it has changed much. It will always be a conservative town. There seems to be a desire to portray comfort and affluence but without snobbery or elitism.
Tom, what elements of D.C. do you draw upon when designing costumes for Robin Wright’s character on House of Cards, Claire Underwood?
Tom Broecker: I look at the lifestyle of [a] busy, working woman [in] D.C. What events [she] goes to, how [she] travels in the city, what her day [is] like. I wanted her to feel like a real person, and real people get up in the morning and get dressed based upon what their day entails.
How do the show's themes, like power and manipulation, play into wardrobe choices?
TB: I wanted Claire to be the female equivalent of her husband. As powerful looking in her clothes as her husband… but I never wanted her to lose her femininity. I never wanted her to have to “put on pants” to feel his equal. I wanted her to show her power through her actions. I wanted the clothes to be strong and tailored looking. Like a suit of armor ready for battle at all times. Claire knows how to use clothes to project an image, and so I think there was never any doubt as to how she was using her clothes to project what she needed.
Most people seem to focus mainly on Claire’s approach to fashion. What about the men on the show?
TB: It was fun dressing the men, because there are so many levels to dressing them. What we tried to do with them is really show their status in the pecking order. The more important senators wore more expensive suits and ties. Also, it depended on what state you were from and what your politics were as to what fashion statement we tried to impart on the character. And, of course, the color of the ties—how each tie coordinated with the suit, but also with the party line.
What are the challenges in styling for shows set in a city that is still evolving and trying to find its fashion identity?
JG: I think the biggest challenge is getting it “right.” The D.C. look is in some ways so iconic. It’s the perfect mix of professionalism with an every man quality [to it]. TB: The thing that is so great about our job as costume designers is really getting to go in and understand the place the show is set [in] to really see what the world looks like. We tell stories using clothing, we use these costumes to [impart] information about our characters. We ultimately create these worlds and therefore it’s easier to give them more style perhaps than the "real" world.
How is D.C.’s style scene going to evolve?
JG: D.C. has the potential to be a very chic town! As stylish women occupy increasingly higher roles in government and business, they will influence the general culture. TB: I believe fashion is changing all across the county. People are much more fashion aware these days, more fashion savvy. It seems like people are more attuned to trends and how fashion can make a statement.