The Peacock series, Girls5eva, is named for the one-hit-wonder girl group from the ’90s. In the series, their members are made up of Grammy winners Sara Bareilles and Renée Elise Goldsberry, comedienne Paula Pell, and actress Busy Philipps. When an inopportune gig to back up a young rapper on The Jimmy Fallon Show gets the girls back together over a decade later, they reunite despite growing out of their popstar getups. That’s where Costume Designer Tina Nigro steps in.
Perhaps Nigro’s flair for the ’90s was first recognized in her work on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, for example, dressing the character Titus Andromedon in none other than gold leggings and a sequined top. Reuniting with the producing team of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, and writer Meredith Scardino, now the creator of Girls5Eva, Nigro embraces those bold looks and much more.
A former fashion designer with family ties in television, Nigro made the switch into serial crime dramas through an introduction to Tom Fontana of Homicide: Life On The Street fame. She doesn’t like to think of her clothing designs as costumes, and so she finds them everywhere from vintage stores to online shopping sites. Covid lockdown proved especially challenging because most of her go-to places were closed, and shipping was unreliable for an on-time television schedule. She made it work with creative alternatives.
Nigro tells Below The Line how she was inspired by a mash-up of girl groups in their heyday, featuring plunging necklines, bustiers, and corset tops, to create 30 and 40-something outfits for performance wear which were more about the sparkle and sophistication rather than the attention-grabbing garb. She discusses how she matched the characters with real clothes that fit their individual styles when they were pop stars to where they are today.
Below The Line: What were your initial inspirations to come up with ideas for the characters’ various styles in the series?
Tina Nigro: Each woman is very different which is really fun for me because their styles are so different. I start out doing tons of research, especially for the ’90s stuff. I’ll do character boards and I’ll show them to Meredith and Tina. It was all on the page. We talked about the character Wickie [Goldsberry] losing her money and how she always looked fabulous without having money. She kept a lot of things from back in the day but style things and make them look good even though they’re cheap. She makes earrings, a little bit like Titus in a way who used to make his own clothes too but she was much more stylish and fabulous.
BTL: What were the specific girl groups that inspired the 90s style costume designs of Girls5eva?
Nigro: In the ’90s, the girl groups all had kind of a specific look in that a lot of them matched. Our girls all matched but they all had their own individual styles like The Spice Girls so I kind of mixed them with Destiny’s Child, with En Vogue. I took all the top girl bands and put it all together to come up with a look for Girls5Eva.
BTL: How did their clothes differ from their heyday as popstars to who they are today?
Nigro: Back in the day, Summer [Philipps] wore the crop tops and always had a heel on and wore really short skirts. She kind of still does that whether it’s age-appropriate or not. Wickie was the one who wanted to make everybody’s head turn when she walked into a room and she still does that today. Dawn [Bareilles] was more girl next door. Gloria is interesting because Paula didn’t play herself as younger but today she’s a dentist and clothes are not a priority in her life. I could see Dawn and Wickie helping Gloria get ready for a show. I feel like they’re all sort of the modern-day versions of themselves of when they were younger.
BTL: Would you agree that the character of Summer played by Busy Philipps is all about dressing outrageous and sexy?
Nigro: In her present-day, she’s a little Housewives where she’ll match athletic wear with a fabulous jacket when she goes out and looks amazing. Busy is fun because she’s so into it and she loves clothes even though it might not be her personal style, she owns it for the character which really helps a costume designer. I try not to make things look like a costume. She dresses maybe a little too sexy sometimes for the occasion and is very girly. When she was younger she was a little Britney, a little Baby Spice, those kind of sweeter, sexier girls. Also, anything that shows a little cleavage. Summer was all about her boobs. She jokes to the costumer that they keep track of where they’re supposed to be!
BTL: Where do you source the clothes from?
Nigro: Everywhere. Some of Wickie’s clothes came from The Rainbow Shop. A lot of the ’90s performance stuff was built for them just because they needed to match like the pink and denim. I have an amazing tailor who put all that together. For a lot of ’90s stuff, I also went to Etsy and to vintage stores. It was interesting with Covid because things were limited but we did it. You’d place orders for things and you just never knew it would show up in time. We were always on the edge of our seats hoping it showed up in time! Plus a lot of the stores weren’t open, especially the vintage places that I would normally go to in the city. I felt like Covid taught me not to get attached to anything for an idea. It made me be even more creative because I had to think out of the box and come up with something else than you originally intended.
BTL: Can you give an example of when you had to switch gears?
Nigro: For instance, Summer’s denim wedding dress. I had ordered dresses for it and then the photoshoot scene happened earlier than expected and things didn’t show up. So, we took the white denim jacket and made a bustier and took half of a wedding gown and attached it.
BTL: What is the main difference between designing for dramas vs. comedies?
Nigro: I love doing drama and things that aren’t necessarily pretty which is kind of why I like working with Tina. Everyone is such an individual character and sometimes it’s not that pretty and it’s real. The only big difference is you can use a lot of color whereas in dramas you don’t use color and texture. A lot of times in comedy the clothes are the joke and in a drama, you don’t want to be distracted by somebody’s sweater when they’re crying over their sick child. Clothes play a different part in it.
BTL: Coming from a family that works in television, did you appreciate the opportunity especially coming from fashion?
Nigro: I never even knew I wanted it. I thought I wanted to do fashion. But I love the fact that this always changes and you never go to the same place every day. I like the hecticness of it. I like the unpredictability, so it was definitely for me. I remember in school I had to take a make-up test in my last semester and it was very stressful but I did it. The teacher said to me, “You work really good under pressure.” I feel that’s the only way I know how to work. Give me three weeks to do a project and I’ll do my best work five days before that. In this business, that’s the way we have to be. I had no idea that this is what I’d end up doing, but I’m happy that I’m doing it.
Girls5Eva is available to watch on Peacock. All images courtesy of Peacock, unless otherwise stated.