August 7, 2015
The television comedy “Playing House” returns for a second season this week on USA, with Costume Designer Molly Grundman-Gerbosi at the helm.
The show explores the complications of two women who aren’t romantically involved but who raise a child together. In the first season, Maggie (played by actress and show co-creator Lennon Parham) discovers that her husband is having an affair while she’s expecting a baby. As Maggie’s life unravels, Emma (played by actress Jessica St. Clair) gives up her career to return to their Connecticut hometown and help Maggie raise the baby.
Maggie, usually the rational, calm friend, and Emma—her best friend since childhood, and undeniably the bold and assertive half of the relationship—prepare together for the birth of Maggie’s child. Off screen, however, the whole maternity theme carried over into real life and was a lot more complicated for the staff and stars.
“Last season, [Costume Designer] Beth Morgan did the pilot, then went to have a baby,” said Grundman-Gerbosi. Shortly after she took the reins, Grundman-Gerbosi then had to work around her two leads’ real life pregnancies.
In the pilot, Parham, who plays Maggie, was 8 1/2 months pregnant and co-star, St. Clair, was three months pregnant. And yet to adhere to Maggie’s pregnancy in the storyline, Parham still had to wear pregnancy pads (including one that could get wet). “Through wardrobe magic, everyone looked just right,” said Grundman-Gerbosi, who finished season one and stayed on as costume designer for season two.
Creating wardrobes for the women was an exercise in restraint. “These girls are hilarious, but even though this is a comedy, I think it’s especially important that their character looks are based in reality,” Grundman-Gerbosi said. “In comedy you usually have an absurd character that comes into their life, and that character is the one who gets the costume you can play with.”
The co-stars dressed as most new moms in Connecticut would–in traditional silhouettes. For a scene where the women dress up for a “family” photo with the new baby (and a comical giant banana), the women wore simple dresses. Maggie is practical, but sweet, so Grundman-Gerbosi found a suitable feminine, coral lace dress at Brooks Brothers. “She’s from Connecticut, so we do try to go back to that vibe.” In contrast Emma, a former high-powered corporate type, favors chic elegance, and wears a navy sheath dress the designer bought at Reiss on Robertson Boulevard in Los Angeles.
The clothes were selected to seem relatable: “We wanted all the new moms out there to think that this can happen.”
The co-stars are more than just actresses and new mothers. They’re also the show’s creators, writers and executive producers. To get approvals of new costumes, Grundman-Gerbosi often corresponded online. She sent photos through her iPhone’s Photo Stream function, and created private boards on Pinterest for the producers to approve.
In place of fitting the costumes on real actors, the designer dressed up a body form with a choice of looks and sent photos.
“It’s really hard to get them for fittings because they are stretched so thin,” Grundman-Gerbosi said. “I don’t know how their heads don’t explode.”
“Playing House” airs on the USA network Tuesdays at 10 p.m. / 9 p.m. Central.