Behind the Scenes of "Army Wives": Dressing Fort Marshall
Which "Army Wives" character is the most fun to dress?
Depends on the storyline of the episode. I try to stay consistent. Sometimes the storyline provides something more fun for us to do that person has more color, et cetera. All in all and you might think I’m going to say Roxy, but I’m not! I’ll say Claudia Joy. She has so many roles to play; she becomes sort of a chameleon. Sometimes she’s meeting someone in a nice dress or she’ll wear something less formal when she’s doing something for the FRG. She’s the most fun because she changes it up the most.
How do you go about designing the character’s wardrobe?
There’s two parts to it. This season we have the DOD’s [Department of Defense] support. We were also able to acquire someone who had been recently in Iraq, Captain Gavin McCulley, who helped us with the accuracy of our uniforms. Sometimes we have the characters wearing their Class A or Dress Blues uniform, or let it flow as it should be.
She is having a baby, and without a lot of changes, we have, yes indeed. We tried for her a lot more than not to have her out of uniform. I would say, “I think this scene would be a lot nicer as ‘wife/mother’ and not ‘soldier/wife/mother.’” The conflict might be good visually in some scenes, and sometimes we think maybe a bit too much.
What kind of challenges do you face in creating these looks?
It’s sometimes tricky for me, because I’m not from a fashion background, so I work from scripts as they are written or as the director sees it. It’s a perfect fit for me in that way. It is TV, which means there are a lot of producers and the network involved, and sometimes they want to kick it up a notch here and there. If it looks real and feels real, the audience will respond to it. I have to be prodded to go further than reality. When you think about real-life Army wives, they have a job of waiting at home for the return of their spouse. None of it includes shopping at Saks! I think it should look real.
How do you make those decisions?
The reality is there’s a lot of subjectivity to it. It’s all women, for the most part on this show, and women are very conscious of their bodies. You can’t just say, “I’m going to put you in a muumuu.” The sheer number of bras we go through is huge I’ll count them for you! Finding the right bra for the right top is a big task!
Are you using genuine U.S. Army uniforms?
Yes, 100 percent real. The only thing we do with the uniforms is that we created a fictitious airborne division, the 23rd, so there’s a patch and a symbol for them that we added to the uniforms. We’re mirroring them after the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and operate assuming their rules. Each post has a commanding officer, and there are times when they would say, “Today is Class A day; everyone could wear our Class A uniform.” They’re real uniforms and the same real machines that sew the names on them. People who are really in the Army know the 23rd patch is fake. We have a fictitious police department on post too!
What’s your background story?
I’m the costume designer on “Army Wives” and I’ve worked in wardrobe for 25 years. I was working in the theater department at Summer Stock, and an opening came up to be a PA or assistant to the designer on a film. I did that, and this designer was great. I knew nothing about clothing. I was thinking about going into lighting or production at time. It was an opportunity, and I took it.
How did you get involved in “Army Wives?”
When “Army Wives” came along, it was a strange stop-and-go. They had another designer do the first season. I knew [Co-Executive Producer] Marshall Persinger. She knew I was doing “The Wire” on HBO, and she wanted me to come and get something started for the pilot. She basically needed someone to put it together and then hand it off. So I handed it off to the designer they hired. After “The Wire,” they asked me to come back because Marshall wanted me to do it full-time. Here I am!
Do you ever have any moments where were you wished you ultimately had gone with another garment?
Honestly, we try to make it all work. Then we look at it and say, “That was too tight” or “That was the wrong color.” We don’t actually have any time to do actual fittings. We put things in their dressing room with notes and ask the actors to let us know which one looks the best.
What's the best compliment?
When an actor comes to you and asks to borrow that blouse or that dress. Kim borrows lots of clothes. Sometimes Sally Pressman (Roxy LeBlanc) will be in a hurry and she’ll come back in her costume. It’s funny to watch her running around in her Roxy platform heels!