The Television Series: "Ally McBeal" (Fox Channel 11, Mondays, 9 p.m.)
The Setup: Bright, young Boston attorney Ally McBeal (Calista Flockhart) copes with single status, legal practice and some very cool-looking associates.
The Costume Supervisors: Loree Parral (women's costumes) and Shelley Levine (men's), who also both work on creator David E. Kelley's "The Practice." Their credits also include "Doogie Howser, M.D.," "Picket Fences" and "L.A. Law."
Dressed for Success: They're young, achievement-oriented and fit, so it doesn't really matter whether these legal hotshots dress more like up-and-comers in some kind of forward-thinking business--say, talent agency, TV network, retail buying--rather than the stodgy Boston legal world. Think teeny, thigh-high skirts and clingy tops--and that's Judge Whipper (Dyan Cannon). Picture Ally associate Georgia Thomas (Courtney Thorne-Smith) in curvy, Easter egg-colored suits. Imagine the firm's male partners in un-Brooks Brothers three-button suits, rowdy ties. One lawyer, Richard Fish (Greg Germann), has the audacity to wear vests that don't match his suits.
The Ally Formula: It's not easy for a character to find a signature look so compelling that she is instantly identified by it and still makes a real fashion statement. Following in the pumps of other stylish TV protagonists such as Murphy Brown, Ally succeeds nicely in that department and, at the same time, shows her svelte 5-foot-5 1/2 frame. If you've tuned in from Day One, you can also see how her look has evolved and been pared down. She now favors a strict tailored minimalism that almost always involves a plain, single-breasted suit or blazer cut along slim, straight lines; a very short, straight skirt and a Lycra V-neck sweater or T-shirt. To be sure, there's no mistaking an Ally suit for a Georgia suit--Georgia's are always curvier and worn with silk blouses. Ally also wears contemporary, chunky-heeled loafers (Georgia prefers strappy shoes); nude pantyhose (all the women wear Hanes in different skin-colored shades) and the barest suggestion of jewelry with tiny silver drop or stud earrings and an occasional skinny choker. (Georgia always wears a gold pendant.) It's also comforting to know that Ally dresses price-appropriate for her station in life, with suits retailing between $300 and $800.
The Ally Closet: Lending a dose of reality is a working closet that forms the foundation of her wardrobe, just as it would for any working woman. Early on, Parral
asked the producers, "Are we doing a reality-based show or a soap opera?" A reality-based show was the answer. "A closet like you have at home makes her more real to viewers," Parral says. It contains 45 active suits and 10 blazers in muted, yet lively colors such as French blue, moss green and purple; a few black and brown skirts; 100 tops; three everyday pairs of loafers; two pairs of boots; and sneakers for weekends. Jackets, skirts and suit parts are interchanged. The most frequently worn suit labels are Bebe; Parallel; Tahari; Emporio Armani; Christian Frances Roth; DKNY; INC. at Macy's; Laundry; and Claudio, from the store of the same name in the Beverly Center. Shoes are from Charles David and Kenneth Cole.
Quoted: "When they're off-camera, they're in their sweats and jeans," Parral says of the actresses, explaining the reality of enduring long working days in tight skirts and buttoned-up jackets. "They're not the most comfortable things. If the shot is on somebody else, and if there's time, [the actresses] will change into something else. That's the secret of Hollywood."