Impeachment: American Crime Story – how clothes tell the story of a scandal
When Meredith Markworth-Pollack began working on Impeachment: American Crime Story, she was determined that Monica Lewinsky’s now infamous blue dress would be as understated as it was when she first bought it. The costume designer studied photographic evidence of the original garment (which Lewinsky had purchased in Gap) before recreating a similar style.
âThe blue dress is literally the first thing everyone wants to ask for. But I think it’s really beautiful, the way Sarah Burgess wrote it in the script, in that it’s so insignificant that most people miss it, âsays Markworth-Pollack. “It was a navy blue dress, and it almost looks black on camera, so people are expecting that big moment but it’s not that.”
The costume designer says it wasn’t until later in the series, “when we see him on the floor in [Lewinskyâs] closet and Linda asks about it, as we realize it’s the dress. I think it’s played really well because this show changes the narrative that Monica is just known for a blue dress.
The blue dress in question – much like the OJ glove or Jackie O’s pink Chanel suit – has become one of the most memorable pieces of clothing in history, not for its sartorial value but for the role it played. in a scandal like no other. . It became the fatal evidence that proved Clinton’s vehement denial of the case – “I did not have sex with this woman” – be pure fiction. (âWe put a stain on the costume, but I don’t want to talk about it,â Markworth-Pollack says of that particular production detail.)
She won’t go in there because Accused it is not a question of rehashing the salacious minutiae of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair. Ryan Murphy’s latest opus American crime story collection – which has already addressed the trial of OJ Simpson and the murder of Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace – instead looks back on the events that led to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in 1998, refocusing them around Lewinsky’s point of view.
In many ways, he seeks to right the wrongs in the media portrayal of the then 22-year-old White House intern. Featuring Lady Bird and Booksmart‘s Beanie Feldstein as a Lewinsky White House intern, he also introduces Sarah Paulson (8 from the ocean, Bird box) as a friend and traitor of Lewinsky Linda Tripp and Clive Owen (Children of men) like Clinton. Lewinsky, who once said Vanity Fair, “It’s time to burn the beret and bury the blue dress.” And go ahead, âproduced the series and oversaw the scripts.
Markworth-Pollack was in high school when the scandal happened, but remembers it nonetheless. âWhen the story broke, I remember the news went crazy – its sensationalism. But as I get older I realize that Monica and I aren’t that far apart. She looked so mature and behaved in such a mature way and dressed like someone in her forties or something, people didn’t realize she was so young. But of course I remember how she was basically a shameful slut in the media.
The level of press attention to the story had an advantage for the costume designer: âMonica and Linda’s everyday looks were really captured by the paparazzi once the story broke. From that point on we had hundreds of photos every time they left the house. So the challenge was less imagining what the main characters might have worn, but âmatching the photos and deciding what freedoms we were going to take,â she says. âIn a way, it’s easier because everything you need is there. I haven’t worked on a show where I reproduced clothes from real people, but then you feel the pressure to do it right.
Lewinsky was an asset in this regard, offering his “incredible photographic memory” to help Markworth-Pollack and the costume department. âShe was able to note exactly which designer she was wearing in these photos. She also had a few really special pieces that she was wearing when she let us check out – we ended up using a Gap floral dress that was hers in the ninth episode.
Lewinsky grew up in Beverly Hills, California, and like most young people in their twenties, loved following fashion trends. Her Prada nylon backpack (an iconic accessory of the era) appears in the first episode when she is approached by the FBI in a mall. âShe also had all these Kate Spade handbags, so we found the exact bags, the exact coats,â says Markworth-Pollack.
Representing this love of fashion was important to the costume designer, who says that’s what makes the character stand out in her surroundings. âWhen you take that person and put him among a sea of ââ40- and 50-year-old men in the White House and the Pentagon, we really needed to blow him up,â she says. âIt wasn’t through a bright red dress that got too much attention, it was subtle. We did it through silhouettes and patterns.
The âdrab costumes,â as Markworth-Pollack describes them, had to be adapted from the boxy styles of the West Wing in the 90s. âWe would get these vintage costumes from the 90s and they would eat our actors alive,â she says. “We couldn’t film them like that because they looked like a parody of themselves. So we cut out these suits and some were even custom made.”
When it came to dressing Edie Falco (The Sopranos) as First Lady Hilary Clinton, Markworth-Pollack designed sophisticated looks that “would serve as her armor.” “She was always ‘done’ and followed appearances – even when her job fell apart, she went out every day until the end.” It’s an attitude that “if I look like nothing’s wrong, then nothing’s wrong,” says the creator.
The president wore custom Armani suits, which didn’t leave much room for team embellishment – but when it comes to Clinton’s ties, the costume department was able to have fun. “This man made some very odd tie choices,” jokes Markworth-Pollack, pointing out that “for the deposition he was wearing this navy blue tie with bright polka dots. It’s such a humorous tie to wear for such a serious event. She marvels. The team scoured eBay and Etsy for something similar. “In a sea of ââmen’s suits, you have to go one way or another.”
Paulson’s turn as Tripp sparked controversy when viewers criticized the show for putting her in a big suit to play Tripp – something Paulson has since said she has “regrets.” To dress it up, the team had to tailor each item to make sure the public couldn’t see the prostheses, “and to help accentuate them,” says Markworth-Pollack. “For me too with Linda there were the props, Linda really liked the gold jewelry so we had those basic pieces for her throughout the show.”
The recent fashion obsession with the 90s has made it easier to source additional items. âWe could run and grab things, especially when we needed several,â explains the designer. “I could go to Urban Outfitters and grab a sweatshirt that looked like something from the era.”
With most of the scenes taking place in formal settings, there wasn’t much room for casual streetwear, but Markworth-Pollack and his team ‘threw in’ classic ’90s items – big gold jewelry for Tripp, Calvin Klein and a Rock the Vote T-shirt for Lewinsky in rest. âWe also had this Bum Equipment sweatshirt that Beanie was wearing in a scene. Bum Equipment was a big brand in the 90s, but Beanie was too young, she kept saying, “What the hell is that bum?” “” Feldstein loved the sweatshirt so much that she finally asked to keep it.
For Markworth-Pollack, it was the costumes during the impeachment trial itself that were the most difficult and rewarding. âThat’s when we did all of Monica’s great historic games – the scenes where she testified,â she says. âThe paparazzi were following her everywhere, so we paired everything with a T-shirt. I am really proud of this work.
Impeachment: American Crime Story is on BBC Two, October 19 at 9:15 p.m.