The Baby-Sitters Club has already been out for a couple of weeks, but fans can’t stop obsessing over the wardrobe!
The woman behind all of those fabulous looks is costume designer, Cynthia Summers. She recently sat down with us to talk about how she came up with each girl’s wardrobe, using the books as inspiration while giving them a modern spin. She also shared some challenges that go along with creating costumes for a younger cast (hello growth spurts!) and how she approaches wardrobe fittings.
Check out highlights from the interview below and in case you missed it, read our conversation with The Baby-Sitters Club’s production designer, Tink!
At what point in the show’s production were you brought into the process?
As a costume designer, especially on a costume-centric show like The Baby-Sitters Club, I started earlier than [I would on] some shows and had a really short prep time. I got the first script and did a mood board to send to the producers and give them an idea of my thoughts. Then we had a meeting where I pitched myself and [my vision] for each character, and I at that point, I didn’t know the story arc of any characters.
Because The Baby-Sitters Club books exist, I could draw from the books and book art and take from those even more than from the previous series and movie. Following the pitch and after the producers, Walden Media and everyone else involved were confident that my vision was something that would accommodate their vision, that’s when I actually started. At that point, I began fleshing out the characters once I had more scripts and storylines to work with. I made a larger mood board for each of the girls, plus some supporting cast and specific events, like the wedding or places, like the camp. This included a color palette and silhouette for each of the characters. And that’s when my team started.
Were there challenges in creating a wardrobe for a younger cast?
A lot of what you see on screen are purchases rather than rentals or builds. There’s a lot to consider when you’re working with kids – like how long you’re working with them, their ages, and possible growth spurts. The cast also had a lot of photo doubles because we’re squeezing a lot into a 12-hour day, including school and break times. Photo doubles are used whenever we don’t have to see a character’s face.
That meant more multiples [of each item] than normal when sourcing clothes because we were addressing multiple sizes for the cast, the photo doubles, and the stunt doubles. Once we had the cast, we fleshed out what I thought they should wear based on their body types, and each actor brought something fresh to what I’d been planning.
What can you share about the fittings for The Baby-Sitters Club?
I had so much fun with these fittings. Because of their age and the timeframe, it was important to have their outfits really fleshed out before the cast even got into the fitting room. Once I had an idea for an outfit, I presented it to the kids and we collaborated at that point. They have to be comfortable wearing it in front of the camera and feel like their character rather than a mannequin. I’d give them an outfit, then we added pieces to make it more personal.
There were approvals in there as well, where I’d take photos once we had our fittings. There are many levels of producers who have to sign off on the wardrobe. So when an actor comes in, I have a photo booth that’s properly lit by the lighting department, and the cast poses as their characters. That’s become very important for costume designers because you really have to sell a look to more people now than I ever used to.
Can you break down some specific character looks for us?
I’ll start with Kristy because she was the easiest and the hardest to create visually. She’s well-defined in the books, and because she is the creator of the Baby-Sitters Club, it was important to evoke her essence from the books. She is the most simply dressed of the characters, a tomboy at heart, and she dresses for comfort. Her family doesn’t have an excess of money for her to go to the mall shopping for clothes every weekend. She doesn’t wear hair accessories or jewelry except for hats. Her clothes are probably hand-me-downs from her brothers. Her palette stayed neutral because she doesn’t want to stand out in the same way that Claudia or Stacy does.
We were also trying to evoke some 90s fashion, like an oversized sweatshirt with a turtleneck underneath, or baggier jeans. She dresses functionally and is maybe hiding in her clothes a bit, but she’s a confident character. The other characters had variety in their looks, but Kristy had a limited palette, with denim, chambray, pale blues, and sometimes a butter yellow or soft-colored denim plaid. Blue is the most common color in fashion and culture except for black, so this was done on purpose, so she blends with the world in a sense. And Sophie Grace really embraced it.
Claudia is on the other end of the spectrum, and her fashion has taken off on Instagram and other social media. Claudia was also well written in the books. Her outfits are the most diverse. They’re quirky and outspoken, and Momona Tamada loved it all. At that time, she was four inches shorter than the rest of the girls so we put her in platform boots, shoes, and sneakers so she was at the same eye line as the other girls. We gave her a bun as well for height. She’s an art student living in a somewhat traditional Japanese-American family. She’s inspired by the world she lives in — whether it’s in her head, what she sees on the Internet, or what she’s creating. Claudia is confident in where she’s at and where she’s going and doesn’t want to look like everyone else. She doesn’t want to be a trendsetter, but is for some people. Her clothes are pieces that she bought, but she also does a lot of thrift-store buying and repurposing her clothing.
You may notice that she paints and doodles on her long pair of overalls. We had [her] start at a certain point and throughout the series, she adds more doodle art and patches of fabric. It represents how her character is evolving and changing, how she’s feeling, and what’s inspiring her in the world. She’s influenced by the artists she finds on the Internet or what she sees on Instagram. She likes color, texture, and unusual pieces. And because Momona is so tiny, a lot of her pieces were oversized and baggy with a rolled-up bottom, cut-off sleeves, or a cut-out neck, and then it was a fashion statement.
For Mary Anne, she doesn’t have a ton of self-confidence. What she wears, the way she speaks ,and the way she styles her hair shows the prepubescent hell she’s stuck in because her father is afraid to move on after losing Mary Anne’s mom. She’s honoring her father by staying in this place until the moment where she feels like she has some leverage to sort of move forward. She’s the one character whose look progresses through the season, and that’s in the books, too.
We found pink corduroy jumpers, Peter Pan collared shirts, ankle socks and tights, sad granny loafers, and the most out-of-date, basic Keds sneakers. There’s also the ski jacket moment inspired by one of the book covers. We found a new one, so 90s fashion is still alive. We hit those notes at the beginning of the series to give us somewhere to go. It’s not like Queer Eye’s Fab Five came in and completely changed her. It has to be something that she could live within and that wouldn’t drive her father berserk. We looked at her silhouette and started giving her skirts and tops or skirts and sweaters that showed she had a figure. The biggest point of Mary Anne’s transition was her hair, which is important for Black girls. Losing those braids and letting her hair down was momentous in the series, culturally important, and liberating for her.
Can’t get enough of the costumes in The Baby-Sitters Club? Add Wiretap to Chrome, then look out for behind-the-scenes commentary from Cynthia throughout the first season!
(This interview has been edited and condensed.)
Images Courtesy of Netflix