Q&A: ‘Salem’ star Janet Montgomery discusses her own and Mary Sibley’s styles
British actress Janet Montgomery, who plays the quite fashionable and powerful witch Mary Sibley on WGN America’s period drama “Salem,” wings back for a supernatural second season on Sunday. Set in 17th century Massachusetts during the Salem witch trial frenzy, the series features a sartorial vibe that is decidedly not all white-hat-and-white-collar Puritan. The wealthy Mary wears elegant low-cut gowns, fur-trimmed capes and other luxe fashion of the day.
In contrast, the 29-year-old Montgomery describes her evolving style when she’s in Los Angeles as laid-back. “I never go out to dinner in New York or London in flip-flops,” she tells a reporter over the phone. “And you’re in flip-flops now?” she says and laughs. “Well, I’m barefoot, so there you go.”
Can you describe your personal day-to-day style?
It’s pretty casual, because when I’m working I’ve got to get up early, or I’m working late and I like to feel comfortable. I take a lot inspiration from French designers. I like comfy trousers with a slightly high waist and cut at the ankle, stripes and nautical stripes, and nice fabrics that skim the body since I’m quite thin and they give me a shape. I’ve now a more androgynous look the older I’ve gotten, I think because I’ve become more comfortable in my own skin. When you’re younger, you’re quite girlie in your fashion and then you find your own way in it.
Do you have a stylist you work with for the red carpet and how has that shifted your red carpet fashion approach?
Honestly, I think before I went with [current stylist] Jeff Kim, I wore whatever I was told to wear. I’m now much more decisive about what I like regardless of the designer. I always like to feel comfortable on the red carpet and if I have to wear a dress I try to find something I feel I can move in and not worry about being exposed in odd places.
Since red carpet dressing is so different than every day, you have to experience it over time to get good at it, yes?
Yes. And I do think with red carpet dressing you have to be a bit more daring than you would be in your real life. That takes time. You have to trust the people you’re working with. I always think it’s better to start off with something you’re comfortable in — whatever that is — and then move on from there.
When I first heard about Salem, I thought, “It’s the Puritans and what interesting fashion could it have?” It’s kind of an oxymoron. But, really, Mary Sibley is quite chic!
She is, she’s very chic. Joseph [Porro] our costume designer, he’s done a great job. He sticks to the shape of the clothes, but he takes artistic license with the fabrics and accessories, and that’s what really brings Mary to the forefront of fashion. In those times, things were brought over on ships from England, and she has more money than most other people in Salem, so she gets access.
The black cape she wears often with the fur hood, that’s beautiful. You could wear that as a modern piece.
Capes really came in last year when we were filming and I said, “I’d love to have a Mary Sibley cape for my own life!”
What are the difficulties of 17th century dressing?
I think the biggest struggle is you can’t do it on your own. Of course, you can’t put on and take off a corset by yourself, so you’re always needing assistance. When you’re shooting 14 hours in a corset, you realize you’re not getting much oxygen to your brain and then you wonder why you have a headache. But for me, the way I hold myself as Mary Sibley when I’m in a corset is very different, it brings something to the character. So they do it up pretty tight.
Do you see Mary as a feminist character?
I do, actually. In all honesty, it’s not historically accurate, there are a lot of moments when I get to speak in the meeting house and I’m controlling my husband but it’s fun to be able to give a voice to a period where women didn’t have voices. I can’t think all feminists are going around controlling their husbands and killing people, but what she’s fighting for is a world of equality and a world where people aren’t oppressed.
Do you watch “Fashion Police,” those kinds of celebrity fashion shows?
I’m interested in fashion but I don’t like judgment on people for what they wear. Sometimes people just wear what they like, and then they’re given a hard time for it. And that only really happens with women; and it doesn’t happen with men. Which irritates me. You should wear whatever you want, and we should all be celebrating each other’s own personal style.
I read one of your tweets: “I’m perpetually tired and addicted to online shopping.” What are you shopping for? Clothes and shoes?
It’s ridiculous. I’m shopping for fashion, and I do a lot of shoe shopping. I think it’s because I’m in Shreveport, Louisiana, [filming Salem] and there just aren’t many places to shop. I like Net-a-Porter, Polyvore and I like to browse and see what’s coming out. It’s become a new obsession of mine. In fact, just before we got on the phone together I was calling about an Emilio Pucci dress.
Did you have a sense that “Salem” was going to come out of the gate so strong?
Honestly, I had no idea. When I join a project there’s just no way to know. You can’t focus on “Is this going to be a hit? Is this going to be a success?” You have to focus on your part of the puzzle. So much of it is way out of my control. I tend to focus on my acting, being truthful, telling a story and leave the rest to fate.