The Chi

June. 21st, 2019

By Anna Wyckoff

Nancy Ceo was given one clear, concise direction by show creator Lena Waithe. “Keep it real,” she said. While veracity is frequently a goal of Costume Design, Ceo knew that in this instance it meant more than believability. Her costumes had to be of the place, not just represent it. “I had to get in the heads of the characters—which is what we do as Costume Designers anyway—but I also had to get into the place and the people of the south side of Chicago,” she explains.

Realizing the world required stepping into the shoes of her characters in a very practical way that made this project unique. Says Ceo, “The sneaker culture is a big deal. Your sneakers are clean and they are fly. When they’re not, you retire them. Shoes are the one thing that normally you would age and dye, but not with this project.”

When it came to the color palette of the characters and the city, Ceo was careful to show the characters as part of the city and in interaction with one another. “No one has a specific color. I didn’t want it to separate them. I wanted to weave them together, because the story was interwoven like that. One person did something that affected another person, and that one affects yet another, even though they don’t know each other.” Because contemporary Costume Design is about employing every tool available, Ceo even used the hues of tech whites to a purpose. “In the beginning the t-shirts were gray or the neighborhood kids were warmer techs and whites, while the street gangs and the police are cooler in tone.”

Ceo found the show rewarding both personally and professionally. “We were dealing with really tough storylines and real, honest stories. So, I had to try to mold it and not make the costumes stand out. For me the biggest compliment was when the guys that were friends with some of our South Side actors came to set, and he said, ‘Hey Nance, you know, it’s looking right.’ Those were the guys that I wanted to hear from.”

The Chi is on Showtime Sundays at 10 pm.

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