By Jane Wollman Rusoff
City & Shore Magazine
In The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s third season, Rachel Brosnahan’s 1950s era New York City housewife-turned bawdy stand-up comic will take a crack as a roadshow performer braving a six-month U.S.-European tour as opening act for a singing star. It’s almost certain South Florida will be one of the stops along the way: This past June, the Amazon series was on location in Miami Beach to film scenes at the beach, boardwalk, parks and the landmark Fontainebleau, as well as in Fort Lauderdale. Extras were required to have a genuine 1950s look: women’s hair shoulder-length at the extreme; onset mandatory short haircuts for men; for all, no visible tattoos, excessive tanning, surgically altered faces, bejeweled face piercings or braces. Also, perhaps tellingly, no wool allergies.
Midge Maisel’s emotional evolution – pivoting on “strength and assertiveness, or lack” thereof — is shown through her wardrobe’s color palette, Donna Zakowska, the series’ costume designer, has noted. Midge’s raunchy stand-up comedy contrasts sharply with her fashion-plate attire. “It shows the opposites that exist in one person.” Throughout the series, the designer has used color swatches – brilliant tones and pretty pastels — to chart the patterns. Influenced by French couturiers, Zakowska researched designs in photos and magazines, especially French Vogue, coming up with an a la mode wardrobe that’s feminine and dressy but with heightened style and color – and a soupçon of humor. This is accentuated by exquisite attention to 1950s detail: matching hats, gloves and shoes to the main garment.
Pink, in various hues, is Mrs. M.’s signature color, initially representing her seemingly blissful state as a homemaker with two young kids. In the actual late-’50s, pink was super-trendy. Indeed, the 1957 film Funny Face, starring Audrey Hepburn, featured a big production number, “Think Pink,” sung by a trend-setting fashion magazine editor. Hepburn’s costuming in the movie influenced Zakowska, the designer has said, as evidenced by Midge’s pert wedding dress. In the series’ opener, Midge rocks a baby pink coat. Later, that color morphs into magenta, raspberry, burgundy, bright red and a dark pink hat she wears on a trip to Paris. “Red is the color of blood, the color of passion, of strength,” Zakowska has said. But for bailing Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby) out of jail, Mrs. Maisel is dressed in green. “That green, to me, is a heroic color,” Zakowska has said.
Shortly after dipping a toe into stand-up, Midge steps out on the path to independence working a job at B. Altman, a now-gone New York City fine department store. There, she wears subdued shades of gray and navy, blouses accented by crisp striped or polka-dot bow-collars. At night, when she sallies forth to observe comedians performing in bohemian Greenwich Village, her outfits are darker in color. By her first TV appearance, she has donned what Zakowska calls her “performance uniform: black cocktail dress and pearls (a la Joan Rivers at the time). It “looks a little bit like [a] housewife [outfit] in a more formal context. There’s an upscale quality to it,” Zakowska has said.
Unlike nowadays, mainstream 1950s fashion stuck to a reserved dress code, even in casual clothes. For summer holidaying, women’s structured cotton “playsuits” were a staple. For instance, on a boat ride at a Catskills resort, Midge sports a “split dress” revealing matching shorts underneath. But she also dresses up in a yellow-flowered print frock accessorized, of course, with a hat and heels. Another time, in her parents’ apartment, she listens to records in cozy pastel-striped shirt and pink capris – a subtle mood reference to when she was a child, Zakowska has said.
The ideal 1950s female silhouette was hourglass: nipped-in waist; full, pointy bust; curvy hips. For the series, Playtex created a custom-designed bra – used with pointed bra pads – that lifts the bust to show off form-fitting dresses. “Underwear,” Zakowska, has said, “is one of the most important accessories on the show.”