“When we were told to give up our mini‐skirts for midis, there was a semi‐conscious boycott on the part of American women. We were fed up with being manipulated. We now wanted to make our own decisions on hundreds of things, not have them handed down from on high.” A soundbite from activist and writer Gloria Steinem in the 1970s, and one that perfectly encapsulates how clothing came to be seen as a symbol of women’s liberation. She proved, then and now, that an interest in politics does not mean one should have to deny the pleasure of personal style.
“She is a fashion icon,” says Bina Daigeler, costume designer for Mrs. America - a BBC series dramatizing America’s sex equality war - in which Rose Byrne portrays a young Steinem. “She has such an effortless style and always looks amazing. And so contemporary. I would love to dress like her!” To build an accurate wardrobe replica for the trailblazing feminist, she combed through a library of TV appearances, photos, books, magazines and archival footage (“I really tried to reproduce the 1970s, with a contemporary touch,” she adds). Below, Bina unearths the secrets to recreating Gloria’s signature look, from vintage trawls to planning ahead.
These women were powerful, and they dressed to [mirror] their power. In the same way a businessman would wear a suit, [Gloria] was wearing knee-high boots and mini-skirts. A uniform, like the suit, but worn in a more creative way. Of course, I had never met Gloria. Though, it looks like she was conscious of her style - dressing in a way that sparked a level of attention. When someone creates an iconic look - like Gloria Steinheim with her big aviator sunglasses for example - everybody will be drawn to it.
I mixed a lot of pattern for Rose Byrne’s wardrobe in the show. In one scene, she wears this green, black and orange Yves Saint Laurent skirt and I combined that with a plain black top. It’s more about the combination and the situation. When she goes to her Ms. Magazine (a liberal feminist magazine she co-founded with Dorothy Pitman Hughes) ball at the Guggenheim, she wears stronger colours and pattern. It’s a party outfit. It’s not about specifically zoning in on a specific colour with her, usually [it’s] a combination of many.
There’s a lot of bespoke looks in the show – maybe 80% is bespoke. But otherwise, I sourced clothes from vintage fairs. I have a lot of shoppers around the world. Sourcing from places like A Current Affair- they have several in the US - and of course Portobello Market in Notting Hill, I have a lot of fabulous vintage sellers on Portobello, like @selfishmaids and @lucindaportobello. Vintage shopping is great because it’s safer for the environment, creative, and very unique. And it’s usually cheaper, if you’re not going super high-end!
My advice when vintage shopping is to seek classic items. Sometimes you can buy things in a market that look great in that setting, but then you get home you think “ugh!” Ask yourself: is that wearable and useable for me? Classic items; a belt, some bags, denim etc. are easy and versatile and can give you a more individual style. If you think, “OK, my wardrobe is [mostly] softer colours"... stay there. Then you can combine pieces with other things you own really well. Expand on what you already love and translate that to maybe another period.
Images | @mrsam_fxonhulu, shutterstock