A new brand of fashion crime: the "Mahalo" Hawaiian bear tee, worn by Melissa McCarthy as the title character in "Tammy." Costume design by Wendy Chuck. Photo credit: Michael Tackett.

“Tammy”

July 3, 2014

The ultimate bad day is great fodder for humor in director Ben Falcone’s debut comedy, “Tammy,” starring his wife, Oscar-nominated actress Melissa McCarthy.

In short order, Tammy totals her junker car, gets fired from her miserable fast-food job and comes home to find her husband cheating on her with the neighbor. With few options left, Tammy hits the road with her grandmother, Pearl, played by Susan Sarandon, and, to quote the movie’s tagline, the road hits back.

Costume Designer Wendy Chuck enjoyed a generous amount of artistic freedom on the project, which shot in Wilmington, N.C. But she also took cues from McCarthy, particularly on a key item of wardrobe—the oversized navy T-shirt Tammy wears to hold up Topper Jack’s, the fast food chain that fired her.

Looking like a souvenir shop staple, the shirt features a Hawaiian shirt-wearing cartoon bear standing upright, his headless body aligning so that McCarthy’s face substitutes for his. Beneath the image is the Hawaiian word meaning thanks and gratitude, “mahalo.”

“It’s a Hawaiian bear—completely preposterous,” said Chuck.

Chuck built the T-shirt to mirror the fit of one she selected for McCarthy, but that featured a hard-to-license Disney character. Seeking a new cartoon character, Chuck subcontracted the design to an unlikely source—Hugo Maldonado, a craft services worker and graphic designer McCarthy befriended on her TV show, “Mike and Molly.”

“I think she sees an opportunity to raise somebody up and she takes it,” Chuck said of McCarthy. The graphic designer didn’t disappoint.

“He delivered pretty early on close to how it ended up,” said Chuck. The design team loved the idea of the headless bear, particularly in the robbery scene where McCarthy uses a paper bag as a disguise. “We thought, how funny is it going to be when she puts the paper bag on so that it looks like it’s the bear wearing the paper bag on his head.’

Chuck shopped at JCPenney to find the extremely ordinary, drawstring-waist, beige and baggy cotton pants McCarthy wears with the mahalo shirt. Like the T-shirt, the shoes are functional, but funny—squishy Crocs.

“Those shoes came up at the first fitting when we were looking for a signature shoe,” said Chuck. “She wore them through her pregnancy and they were really comfortable. We amped up the comedic factor with the white socks.”

The combination of a cartoon bear T-shirt and Crocs to commit a stick-up illustrates a lot about the character, beyond her utter lack of style.

“It shows how far she is from being a bad guy. It also shows how much she wasn’t thinking,” said Chuck. And it perhaps sets a new precedent for crimes of fashion.

New Line Cinema’s “Tammy” is playing in theaters nationwide.


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