How 'Orange is the New Black' Dressed Its Final Season
The show's costume designer, Jenn Rogien, discusses giving the show's seventh season a sartorial direction.
Photo via IMDb.
The seven-year run of Netflix's astoundingly popular prison dramedy Orange is the New Black has spawned endless thinkpieces, but one aspect of the show that remains relatively unexplored is its costuming. After all, the female prisoners portrayed on the show are mainly seen in their signature bright-orange uniforms; how much could there be to it?
Quite a lot, as it turns out. Jenn Rogien, who has run the show's costume department since its first season and previously dressed the Brooklyn-dwelling ladies of 'Girls,' spoke to GARAGE ahead of the show's final season premiere last week to discuss everything from her favorite storyline to dressing a newly released Piper to studying real-life headlines in order to accurately portray ICE detainees' uniforms.
WARNING: Minor spoilers ahead.
GARAGE: Now that Piper is out of prison, how did you tackle the challenge of dressing her in real-world clothes?
Jenn Rogien: In my start up convos w Jenji [Kohan, series creator] at beginning of the season, my first question was, “Where are her clothes coming from?” My theory was that we had seen [Piper's ex-fiance] Larry hand off bags of clothes at some point. Piper is also living with her brother Cal and his wife Neri, and Neri’s an extraordinarily talented thrift shopper, so Piper's wearing a mix of her pre-prison clothes and thrifted finds to signal that she’s out, but she’s not doing great right off the bet.
Where did you source Piper's new-old wardrobe?
There's bit of a visual difference from when we’ve seen her in her street clothes in flashbacks — we did a lot of Postmark, Nordstrom Rack, and eBay to find stuff that's a few years old. Piper's wearing the same brands as before without the same resources, and her clothing feels a little 'off' to reflect where she is. She doesn't look as contemporary as when we saw her before priso, it felt a little bit sad intentionally; it was a really fine line to walk in that we wanted her to look like the old Piper, but Piper has changed so much that it makes it awkward to go back.
Flashbacks play such an important role on the show, giving us visual cues for who the characters were before prison; how do you address those cues in costuming?
In flashbacks, we’re seeing a character we know quite well in street clothes for the first time, and the question becomes, how do we delicately transform them in a way that still rings true? One of the challenges of my job was to make sure the character still felt like the character — I was offering lots of choices to Jenji and to our writers and directors, and sometimes in the fitting we would share a gut instinct to make sure they looked right.
Much of this season takes place in a detention center. How did those costumes differ from the standard prison uniform we've seen for six seasons?
For the detention center, we designed a whole new set of uniforms — in our research we found that the detention center guards are not necessarily trained at all, and there’s obviously an ICE presence, so we did research on what that looks like and modified it to the circumstances. For detainees, there’s a system of color coding in place depending on the infraction or reason the detainee is being processed, and we modified a version of that to distill it for our facility. Something we had to be careful about is that an inmate is convicted, whereas a detainee is in limbo waiting, so we had to be very careful with terminology — it was some of the hardest research I’ve ever done in my life. It’s literally what’s happening right now, and we had to translate that into clothing in a way that was respectful.
How much does real-life prison clothing influence Orange's sartorial choices?
There was so much thought put into the uniforms — in Season 1, we talked so much about what colors we wanted in the environment and why, what colors would be in maximum security, minimum security, et cetera. We had chosen navy in glimpses of maximum security early on, so we had to stick with that in later seasons. The thing with uniforms — military, correctional, what have you — is that you can get them wrong because they are real things that exist in the world. It was something we thought about going into the first season; there are things inmates and correctional officers really wear, so how do we translate that to our world? The inmates' boots were a real signifier of a lower-security environment, and when we moved to Max the boots were gone. There were early scripts that involved shoelaces and I had to remind writers that we no longer had those. Subtle things like that really inform our decision-making process.
Do you have a favorite look from the show?
(Laughs) We've done so many that I think it would be impossible. I loved the Miss Rosa flashback, which was sort of a late '70s/early '80s heist-movie homage, and was really fun to do form a costume standpoint. In Season 7, we did so much wardrobe; the show expands costume wise, whereas it was really contained during the prison riot (which all took place over three story days.) We didn’t see a lot of flashbacks that season because it was all about the drama inside the facility. In Season 7, we expanded a little more, and with Piper being out in the world we see her family, meet new people; we have a lot of clothes this season, which was really fun to tackle.