When Ruth Wilder (played by Alison Brie) reads from the male part in a script (versus the female receptionist role she was meant to audition for) in a mint green Escada suit in the first season’s opening scene of Glow, it was clear from the get-go that clothing would become an integral character in itself on the show. Glow, now on its second season, with a June 29 release date, follows a misfit group of 15 women who comprise the professional wrestling TV series, The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, which ran from 1986 to 1989. The show-within-a-show makes powerful social commentary through the lens of race, class, and gender at a time when women were struggling to be taken more seriously in the workplace and beyond. Costume designer Beth Morgan used clothing to speak volumes about the relationship between wealth and appearance.
“The reality of the story is that these girls don’t have a lot of money so the fun in the costumes really comes through our characters that have a little bit more disposable income,” Morgan tells CR, explaining that it took six months of scouring the Internet and consignment shops to find authentic vintage threads for the characters. “There are specific reasons why these girls are picking certain clothes and it serves the story and plot in season two.”
For Wilder, a down-on-her-luck actress who finds her last-ditch effort to stardom when she lands a part on the show, fashion is the furthest thing from her mind as she and her fellow wrestlers struggle to make ends meet. As Wilder battles both in the ring and on set with her former best friend-turned-rival Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin) as well as director Sam Silva (Marc Maron) for more control over the show, clothing becomes a way for the women to gain agency. Even though Wilder strives to become involved in the filmmaking and even directs the opening title sequence for the series against Silva’s wishes, the only way she exerts any significant power is when she’s wearing a furry ushanka cap and red leotard as her wrestling persona, the Soviet-inspired Zoya the Destroyer.
Morgan referenced a curly-haired Sarah Jessica Parker from Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, vintage Meryl Streep, and jazzercise leotards and spandex for Wilder. While she plays a villain on the series, Wilder sticks to pastels and earth tones in her everyday dress, showing a more vulnerable and softer side to her character.
“Fashion is not her forte and so for Ruth, she still has this utilitarian persona in her clothing,” Morgan says. “As she pursues a leadership role, she would always think of it as dressing for a play or for a film part. She would think ‘Why would I pick this outfit? What does it serve for the story and define who I am?’”
Season two also delves into the backstories of the minor characters, inspired by the real-life Glow wrestlers, and the exploitation of racial stereotypes. The women embody caricatures through their on-screen personas: Jenny, a Cambodian fashion designer played by Ellen Hong, portrays “Fortune Cookie” in the ring. The hardworking black mother Tammé (played by real pro-wrestler Kia Stevens) becomes “Welfare Queen” for the show. Another black woman, Cherry (Sydelle Noel) is the stuntwoman behind GLOW‘s moves and plays “Junkchain,” a female rapper.
To clothe the diverse group of women, Morgan looked to different ’80s icons. While there are plenty of retro windbreakers, scrunchies, and big teased hair, the women are mostly casual and comfortable in their day-to-day clothing. There’s Reggie (Marianna Palka), the failed Olympian whose outfits were inspired by Jodie Foster in androgynous blazers and real athletes from the ’80s. Rhonda (Kate Nash), a British model who plays “Brittanica,” got her crop tops and mini skirts from the vixens in the music videos for hair metal band Twisted Sister. For Carmen (Britney Young), a heavyset woman who comes from a professional wrestling family, Morgan looked to JCPenney children’s catalogs.
For characters who have more disposable income, like Eagan, party girl Melrose (Jackie Tohn), and rich-kid producer Bash (Chris Lowell), Morgan had more fun dressing them in high-fashion designs. While Melrose was inspired by Madonna, Eagan’s aesthetic was meant to evoke a preppy vibe. As the characters embark on a journey of self-discovery, those charnges are reflected in their clothing. Bash transforms from Miami Vice suits to David Bowie-inspired jackets as he explores his more vulnerable side this season.
As for Eagan, who gives herself a producer credit on the show, the former soap actress decides to ditch her Gucci velour sweatsuits, soft Ralph Lauren sweaters, and tight silhouettes for business suits to achieve a more masculine and powerful look. When dressed as her wrestling alter-ego “Liberty Belle,” Eagan is the picture of a wholesome all-American woman, even though she’s struggling with a faltering relationship and new motherhood behind-the-scenes.
Female solidarity and sisterhood are recurring themes, despite the in-fighting between Eagan and Wilder. Ultimately, the show still boils down to a ragtag group of girls trying to prove themselves to Silva and other men in power. But the women have the chance to showcase their unity this season through uniforms, like matching Madonna-style leotards in the eighth episode and bridesmaid dresses in the finale.
“You get to watch these girls come together for a common cause and help each other and find each other’s strengths and so it’s really amazing to watch them grow as a unit and bond in that sense,” Morgan says. “You see them borrowing each other’s clothes here and there in a fun little nod to female life and how it can be when you become a sorority. All of these things happen when you co-habitate as one big unit.”END
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