They Were Masters of Their Wardrobes
The Series: “Seinfeld” (NBC).
The Setup: A bunch of thoughtless, self-centered, single New Yorkers--Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld), Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), George (Jason Alexander) and Kramer (Michael Richards)--stick together in spite of themselves. Even if you never noticed what they wore, there’s no mistaking them for anybody else. That in itself is a costume success story.
And, of course, many episodes revolved around clothing gags--remember Kramer, the pimp, in his Technicolor dream coat? Then there were Louis-Dreyfus’ two pregnancies with which to contend.
“It was like, ‘Hey, we’re going to pretend she’s not pregnant,’ ” costume designer Charmaine Simmons says, relating the company line during her tenure throughout pregnancy No. 2. “We got away with basic shirts worn out over narrow pants with jackets for a long time.” In the later stages came bona fide maternity suits in dark, thick wools. “Lightweight fabrics flutter,” Simmons says with Seinfeldian reasoning. (That means they reveal what’s underneath.) “Heavy fabrics don’t move.”
Of course, fashion cognoscenti reveled in J. Peterman (John O’Hurley), a character who was based on the real-life clothing catalog mogul. However, he didn’t actually dress from the books that bore his name, with the exception of a Norfolk jacket, a duster coat and a few collar band shirts. (Indeed, most of Peterman’s wardrobe came from J Riggings. Must be the J.)
On the chance that the Smithsonian Institute ever calls, Simmons made these hall of fame picks:
The Look: Boyish, generic sportswear topped with yummy leather and suede jackets. Levi’s 501s, a buttoned-down shirt worn jacket-style over a T-shirt and Vasque hiking boots made up the uniform.
How the Look Evolved: The leather jackets got better.
Trivia: Mid-run, Jerry retired his entire wardrobe of Nike Air Mowabs, Air Huaraches, Air Jordans and Cross Trainers, which were once the mainstay of his shoe closet. Along the way, his fashion idol must have changed too. He once said it was Bill Cosby wearing Adidas on “I Spy.” “I really don’t know what happened,” shrugs Simmons. “It just happened overnight.”
You Should Know: “Jerry never liked choices. He wanted me to put one thing in his [dressing] room so he could put it on and go out to the set,” says Simmons. “He said, ‘I don’t like choices.’ ”
If the Smithsonian Calls: A “puffy” shirt, a ruffled white shirt with leg-of-mutton sleeves and jeweled buttons that proved even more humiliating than the “man’s European purse.”
The Look: Manhattan somber, hip, but never what you’d call sexy. Lots of narrow pants and fitted blazers, some short cashmere cardigans, knee-length skirts, Calvin Klein and Emporio Armani suits.
How the Look Evolved: She dumped the baggy floral dresses and cowboy boots and trimmed off some hair.
Trivia: Kept the same vintage, distressed leather motorcycle jacket for years.
You Should Know: No costume jewelry for Louis-Dreyfus--she wanted Elaine to have the real thing, especially Wendy Brigode pearl and stone necklaces and delicate drop earrings and necklaces in gold or platinum with stones by Cathy Carmendy. Simmons ventures that “Seinfeld” became the only network series with its own jewelry safe.
If the Smithsonian Calls: A long black velvet dress with huge cutouts in the sleeves and front that looked good in a skinny mirror at Barneys New York but looked terrible at home.
The Look: Goofy vintage stuff revolving around rayon or silk shirts in weird patterns (actually custom-made from vintage fabrics), flecked jackets and cotton cuffed trousers that were always too short.
How the Look Evolved: It didn’t.
Trivia: Richards wore the same shoes for the entire run of the series--two pairs of identical black Doc Martens.
You Should Know: Richards was very attached to his shoes. “Every day for rehearsals he wore the shoes and usually grabbed one of his flecked wool blazers,” Simmons says.
If the Smithsonian Calls: A rust suede jacket with acrylic orange fur collar insets, circa 1970. “Michael loved that jacket,” Simmons says.
The Look: Straight and serviceable. He favored plaid (shirts, sweaters, scarves, probably socks too), pleated Dockers in all colors, cardigan sweaters and anoraks. For a little excitement, he opted for an argyle pattern.
How the Look Evolved: It didn’t.
Trivia: Alexander doesn’t like to wear neckties. “We’ve had a few incidents over ties,” Simmons claims.
You Should Know: “The guy’s cheap,” says Simmons of George. “That’s where his look came from,” recalling shopping expeditions for him in strange, far-flung clothing warehouses “like jobbers.”
If the Smithsonian Calls: A parka stuffed as big as the Michelin Man, given to him by his father, that he should never have worn inside a wine store.