Surprisingly Simple Style Tips to Steal from the Set of 'The Americans'
Enjoy wardrobe wisdom from the costume designer behind Keri Russell's sexy spy character—just in time for the season premiere of the FX series.
Although she must keep her identity a secret, Elizabeth has a surprisingly strong sense of self on The Americans. Keri Russell portrays a Russian spy posing as an American wife (to Matthew Rhys' character Phillip) and mother on the hit FX series, which premieres its third season tonight. While her character gets to dress up in many guises, the show's costume designer, Jenny Gering, shares her surprisingly simple style tips with us.
Since the show takes place in the past, where do you turn to for wardrobe inspiration? "I try to keep it timeless for Elizabeth because she’s not a trendy person. I wouldn’t say that she’s influenced by trends, but she certainly is someone who is aware and is current in her look. But I do try to incorporate trends of the time on other characters whenever possible just to help ground the sense of time and place. When I’m vintage shopping for The Americans, the clothes are not meant to look vintage; they’re meant to look like they’ve been purchased in the last year or so. I’m drawn to more classic styles—I don’t like things to look too retro or costumey, so I’m always drawn to clothes that look fresh, are made from finer fabrics and are in good shape."
What do you try to convey about Elizabeth through her attire? “She’s very strong and confident. She doesn’t need to be sexy in an overt way. I think that her sexiness comes from her confidence. If the character is feeling particularly vulnerable, it would make sense to have her more exposed visually and to show more skin. And then there are times when she is completely invulnerable, when she's really being badass Elizabeth, and then it’s more of a shell—a protective armor kind of thing. It really just depends on the context of the scene.”
As for her as a spy, do you have any favorite disguises of hers? “I love it when she gets to really, really step outside of who Elizabeth is. In the past, she’s dressed as a bookish, very shy girl, which was so much fun. At one point, she played the sister of Phillip’s Clark character. Her name’s Jennifer, and she was just a blast because Jennifer was happy but in a mainstream way—just really the opposite of Elizabeth. I love that character; I hope we get to see her again."
How has Elizabeth’s wardrobe evolved so far? “When we started the show, we were set in 1981 so her look was more of a late ‘70s aesthetic in terms of palette and tone than what we would think of as classic ‘80s. As we get further along in the decade, that’s reflected in her palette and silhouettes—things become a bit looser and the palette goes from warmer to more cool tones. For instance, when we first started, I rarely used black on anyone because it just wasn’t mainstream. But now, the colors are getting a bit darker and [the styles] a little bit edgier.”
You put together many cold-weather ensembles. What tips can you share with our readers for looking stylish in winter? “I think it’s important to do your best to keep things as fitted as possible. Layering is great for transitioning from outdoor to indoor; you want to be able to still see the person underneath all those layers once you reach your destination. It’s a great time to have fun with accessories: scarves, hats and gloves. That’s why I love winter: you just get to have a lot more fun."
What tips can you share with our readers about developing their own personal style? “I think the most important thing is to really pay attention to what makes you feel comfortable. If you feel physically comfortable in your clothes—and I don’t mean sweatpants or pajamas—your confidence and sexiness will come across. Don’t be taken up with trends if they don’t work for you. Think about yourself in different situations, about that one dress that you always go to—why is that? Is it the cut? Fabric? Then try to build on that. Try to get more pieces that incorporate those common threads. I think that’s really your best bet: just try to be true to yourself."
Tune in to the season three premiere of The Americans tonight at 10pm PST on FX.