Designing for Pregnancy
May 8, 2013
One of the greatest optical illusions a Costume Designer can achieve emerges when he or she is faced with pregnancy – whether tasked with concealing a real-life pregnancy of an actress whose character is not pregnant, or simulating a pregnancy for a character by incorporating a faux belly and maternity clothes into the character’s wardrobe. Here, three Guild members share their tactics.
CONCEALING A PREGNANCY
There are numerous tricks of the trade employed to conceal a pregnancy that involve all aspects of production. From camera angles to set design (“hiding” an actress behind a desk or other object) to Costume Design, all of these subtleties work in tandem to achieve the desired effect. The objective is for the audience at home to pay little or no attention at all to an actress’ growing belly.
One recent example of a pregnant actress playing a character who isn’t expecting is Kristen Bell in Showtime’s hit series “House of Lies,” which is based on a group of money-grubbing management consultants. Bell, who welcomed her baby in March, plays Jeannie Van Der Hooven, a promiscuous liar – er, consultant – whose wardrobe is as sharp as her ambition and swagger.
“House of Lies” Costume Designer Christie Wittenborn worked with the petite actress throughout the series’ three-month shooting period, during which Bell went from approximately three to four months pregnant to well into her third trimester.
“When we started, it was pretty easy to conceal because she wasn’t showing yet,” Wittenborn recalls. As the weeks went on, however, Bell’s belly continued to expand and the entire production team worked together to strategically conceal or detract from her pregnancy so that it wouldn’t be a distraction.
“Everyone knew she was pregnant, so they were almost looking for it,” she said. To preempt viewers on the lookout for a bump, Wittenborn employed various tactics to draw attention away from Bell’s midsection. She used a lot of statement jewelry, noting that Bell often wore big necklaces throughout the season, as well as structured jackets with more pronounced shoulders so that the viewers’ attention would immediately be drawn upward. Bell was also often seen carrying an oversized tote bag or other items, such as folders, in front of her stomach.
One common misconception people have, according to Wittenborn, is that loose fitting clothing is used to conceal a pregnancy, but in reality, tighter fitting pieces in darker colors are most effective. Bell’s character on “House of Lies” is often wearing business attire, so the suit jackets she wore throughout her pregnancy were fitted on top and tapered in at the waist.
“Structured pieces were our friend,” she says. “Even if we couldn’t button a jacket, we were able to make it look like she had a small waist.”
One of Wittenborn’s favorite tops that Bell wore during the season is a white 40s-style Marni blouse with a black panel on the front that gave the illusion of a waistline and had wider shoulders.
While statement jewelry, accessories and structured tops and jackets played a big role in Bell’s wardrobe last season, Wittenborn says that comfort is always a major priority when working with a pregnant actress. When it came to Bell’s skirts and pants, it was all about continuously checking in for fittings, letting waistbands out and ensuring that the clothing “moved with her as opposed to against her.”
SIMULATING A PREGNANCY
On the flip side, many female characters on TV and in movies are pregnant but the actress playing the role is not. In this scenario, costume designers and other members of the production team are tasked with simulating a pregnancy as realistically as possible.
This past season on “Modern Family,” Sofia Vergara’s character Gloria was pregnant. The show’s Costume Designer, Alix Friedberg Maurer, had six different bellies made (two for each trimester) by Mary Ellen Fields at Bill Hargate Costumes. She would switch the bellies approximately every four episodes to show growth throughout the course of the season. “The suits are surprisingly light,” she says. “They are filled with batting, but if an actress wants to feel the actual weight of pregnancy to help with a realistic performance, they can be filled with a heavier substance, like birdseed.”
“One [of the bellies] was built with a G-string back, and one was built with lycra shorts so that we had the option of tight fitting jeans or a dress without any of the seams from the suits showing,” she said.
In some instances, however, there are scenes in which Gloria is getting an ultrasound or wearing a midriff top, which required a realistic looking prosthetic belly that would be painted to match Sofia’s skin. Gloria had two of these bellies, for her second and third trimesters.
Fans of “Modern Family” know that Gloria’s style transitioned pretty seamlessly into maternity wear. Friedberg Maurer says she was able to use a lot of the same designers and “non-maternity clothes” through the final trimester, at which point they had to buy garments specifically from maternity retailers and tailor them to the actress.
“Gloria wears a ton of stretch, which was incredibly helpful when trying to squeeze a belly under a form fitting top, or wrap dress,” says Friedberg Maurer. “In one of the episodes, Gloria refuses to acknowledge her growing physique until she starts to literally bust out of her clothes. At that point, her son ‘Manny’ lovingly escorted her to a maternity shop.”
After a character gives birth on a show, there is still a period of adjusting her wardrobe to demonstrate a realistic transition from post-baby weight back to normal weight.
“As a recent mother of two myself, nothing annoys me more that seeing no sign of post baby weight and seeing a baby delivered within an hour of arriving at a hospital,” said Friedberg Maurer. “So we tried for at least a few episodes to show some postpartum weight by using caftans and slightly more flowy silhouettes.”
A LITTLE OF BOTH
And finally, there are those rare instances in which these two worlds collide, as was the case when “How I Met Your Mother” star Alyson Hannigan’s character, Lily, was newly pregnant at the beginning of the show’s seventh season. Costume Designer Reiko Kurumada fitted Hannigan for four different sized faux bellies to show the various stages of pregnancy, but a few months into shooting, the actress revealed that she was pregnant in real life with her second child.
“Once she started showing, we hollowed out the fake bellies so that her real bump could rest comfortably inside the faux one, until her real stomach was large enough to where she didn’t need a faux bump at all,” Kurumada says of dealing with the unique situation.
Despite having to work around two bellies instead of one, Kurumada made it a point to remain consistent with Lily’s style. “We kept her in the same designers even when she was pregnant, we just adjusted sizes,” she says. “We didn’t want to put her in classic maternity wear. Instead, we chose current ensembles, replacing regular jeans with maternity jeans of course!”
Color schemes were also chosen to stay in Lily’s same, pre-pregnancy style vein, so Kurumada used darker bottom layers with colors on top. If the overall outfit had a darker tone, she would use pops of color in Lily’s shoes and bags, she says.
Since “How I Met Your Mother” has a lot of scenes on New York Street on the FOX lot, Kurumada uses a lot of Burberry coats. “We would pair [the coats] with a simple black jean or black legging, black boots, and a simple Alexander Wang t-shirt. The simplicity of the outfit made the coats the focal point, while keeping Aly warm and feeling stylish!”
One of her favorite looks for Lily from that season was an Isabel Marant earth-toned silk dress with a tree pattern. “I paired it with brown textured tights, knee high brown Prada boots, and some long gold layered necklaces, with a hunter green Balenciaga bag to top off the outfit. Aly felt comfortable with her baby bump underneath while still feeling on trend.”
To sum it all up, a word for the wise: never ask a woman if she’s pregnant—just ask her Costume Designer!