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Costume Designers Behind 'The Borgias,' 'Game of Thrones' and 'Boardwalk Empire'

WWD chats with the designers about the devotion required to perfect the look for these popular period dramas, historical fiction and fantasy venues.

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John Dunn and Lisa Padovani of "Boardwalk Empire."

Photo By Christopher Polk/Getty Images

JOHN DUNN

The costume designer for “Boardwalk Empire” has wardrobed numerous motion pictures, including “Casino,” “Pineapple Express” and “The Women.” For “Boardwalk Empire,” he works closely with co-designer Lisa Padovani, whose background includes associate costume designer for Fox’s “Fringe” TV series as well as the motion picture “The Departed,” where she served as assistant costume designer.

Dunn and Padovani give a snapshot of the Roaring Twenties.

“We made a conscious decision not to do corsets,” said Padovani. “Of course, there were still a lot of women wearing corsets in the Twenties, elastic long-line girdles down to the knee and up to the bust, but there was a softening up of wearing a cami underneath clothes....We had not been using vintage underwear, so we came up with our own undergarments like camis with no support that still keep the bosom together...We discovered that if you have a woman wearing a modern bra underneath Twenties apparel, it doesn’t look correct for the period. The right foundation is the key to the silhouette.”

Dunn called lingerie of the Twenties “exquisite.”

“We love the lingerie of the period, which still looks gorgeous today. Lingerie in the early Twenties was just exquisite.…The more fine and delicate the undergarments, the higher the station of the woman. Underwear and lingerie were definitely important and it was a status symbol, especially layering beautiful lace and silk underwear underneath a beautiful chiffon or georgette dress so it could be seen. A woman of means would definitely have had an extensive wardrobe of underwear and lingerie,” said Dunn. “We’ve often thought we should do a line of lingerie. It would be interesting for women to be able to wear Twenties-style lingerie because you don’t need all of that molding, stretching and underwires.”

He added that while there was no color photography or films during the era, there was an abundance of color, especially in lingerie and hosiery.

“There were only black-and-white movies and photos and it all looked very gloomy. But a lot of people don’t know there was a lot of color — bold brights, prints and embellishments,” said Dunn.

Padovani said re-creating the look of vintage hosiery was a  “real challenge.”

“Hosiery was all silk and back-seamed with clocking at the foot and women would roll the top of their stockings, while some wore rolled knee-sock looks...sometimes women wore garters or preferred to roll the band down. It was all about the length of the stockings, all about the seduction,” said Padovani. “There was a lot of color and different patterns in hosiery —superbrights, hot pink, purples and stripes. And when you see how high up the decorative element is on the band, you know how high the dress hem should be.”

Dunn noted that a certain sense of eroticism gleaned from a variety of elements — ranging from Vaudeville and the Ziegfeld Follies to silent-screen vamp Theda Bara and King Tut — influenced the impact of color during that decade.

“There was a strong European and Russian influence, mythology, and Egypt with the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, and a lot of exotic clothes were coming in.…There was a huge visual impact and influence, especially with what they were doing on stage. The Ziegfeld Follies were not allowed to be naked on stage, but they did everything they could to expose every inch of the body with shiny, see-through fabrics. It wasn’t until the Thirties that people got all up in arms about sex in the movies,” Dunn said laughingly.

 

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