The Righteous Gemstones wraps up its second season on HBO next Sunday night, and the Gemstone family at its center may be more aptly described as self-righteous given the enormous wealth they’ve amassed with the help of their loyal flock. Created, executive produced and written by Danny McBride, Season 2 of the hit comedy has only further unveiled the deviance and greed that fuels the famous televangelist family’s charitable work.
The Gemstone clan is led by patriarch Eli (John Goodman), whose dysfunctional brood consists of Jesse (McBride), Judy (Edi Patterson), and Kelvin (Adam Devine), each of whom haphazardly follows in his formidable footsteps in one way or another.
Presenting the Gemstones in all their glittering and peculiar glory is costume designer Sarah Trost, a Los Angeles native with over 20 years of experience in film and television. Her custom fashions stem back to working in the world of rock ‘n’ roll and drag, using lots of color, textures, and unique patterns.
Trost taught herself how to make clothes at the age of 10 when she learned to sew out of necessity while living in relative seclusion on top of a mountain in Northern California. One of her earliest creations was a doll’s dress she fashioned from old upholstery. She has come a long way since then, and she first teamed up with McBride in 2016 on HBO’s Vice Principals. During that 18-episode run, the seeds were being sewn in McBride’s mind for The Righteous Gemstones.
Waylaid by the pandemic, Trost brainstormed ideas over Zoom with McBride for how to dress his celestial characters, who truly own wearing their fantastical garb. The result combines Trost’s flair for glitz and glamour with a touch of zaniness and rock ‘n’ roll accents for good measure.
Below the Line spoke with Trost from her home in Los Angeles via Zoom about the inspiration behind creating the costumes for this heavenly family and injecting a healthy amount of humor into their collective fashion sense.
Below the Line: Tell me about working with Danny McBride, who in the most flattering sense, is a crazy man.
Sarah Trost: I agree with that in the best way possible. I would support the word “crazy” with “incredibly creative,” and “so funny.” [He’s] just a wonderful human being. For this season, we didn’t have a lot of time and any kind of meetings were over Zoom, and a lot of times he was on set, so I would go to the producer’s monitors and we would just have a chat about a couple of pieces of insider information that maybe he’s thinking [about]. Then I take those and see what kind of hook I get creatively, and put together some form of inspiration board or research board of my sketches. I see what he likes and kind of go from there.
BTL: Let’s begin with some of the looks. What inspired the Houdini-esque, billowy garb of the God Squad led by Kelvin?
Trost: That’s so funny. That’s the first time I heard “Houdini” as a descriptor for those pants, but I love it. We were off for almost two years [during the pandemic]. In that time, we kind of had rewritten things. The God Squad was there, but kind of a different version of it. I think it really opened up into the new version of this second season. I don’t think there was a lot of description in the way it was written. It sort of played off that they could’ve been in tank tops and bike shorts, regular workout gear. But then I was imagining going on a mission and how Kelvin really does think he’s some form of Messiah, almost like a cult leader-level status with these men. I thought to do a tragic Ben Hur version of these guys in, like, disciple robes, almost like they’re trying to embody a “last supper meets almost like a Burning Man, or like a Chula Minati party guy.” It kind of spurred from all those different threads.
BTL: You must laugh in the best way possible when designing these costumes, right?
Trost: That is the point, and it’s such a fine line with how over-the-top the characters are in the story. I treat it as though it is a fantasy universe. We’re not in the real timeline, which is also why it kind of feels like it could be a period show. There’s something sort of fantastical and strange about it. Even though the costumes are really funny, they’re still really serious, so in the minds of the characters, there is absolutely a dead-serious situation that is happening. I think that’s what makes it successfully funny because you’re not running off of sight gags. We wouldn’t put them in a prayer hands T-shirt because it kind of breaks that fourth wall and turns it into a joke that’s not funny.
BTL: What inspired BJ’s romper in the episode “As To How They Might Destroy Him,” which is like a classic onesie?
Trost: It was probably one of the first things that we started working on when we went back. It was written as an adult baptism sequence where “BJ shows up in like a pink romper.” So from the scene where his sister and mom joke about [how] had one like that when he was a baby, I thought, ‘what would sort of incite that kind of commentary?’ Then, as I do, I went down all these different rabbit holes. ‘What if it’s for an adult, and [we] pull the inspiration from a child-like wedding onesy? So less than a year old, like a little jumpsuit?’ The boards that I did had all these photos of babies and toddlers in tuxedos or event wear onesys. I just translated that into ‘what would an adult man wear, and what would he have made or Judy have made that this is his coming-out, crowning, beautiful, glorious moment?’ and then everyone just crushes his dreams before him.
BTL: In terms of owning it, Judy’s costumes seem like the epitome of that, no?
Trost: It’s really funny because a lot of her really great looks, going back to the first season where she’s in this drop-dead stunning, hot pink sequined dress for Easter service. We’ll try all of these things and there’s always a couple of “Hail Marys” at the end of the wrap where it’s like, ‘this could be a horror story or it could be incredible.’ A lot of times Edi will be putting it on and I’ll just hear her laughing from inside the little fitting chamber. She’s so game for it and she is just terrific. Her look is sort of a mix of classic conservative evangelical women influences to the point where some of the garments that she wears this season we have tried on Jennifer Nettles [who plays Aimee-Leigh], so she is taking some of the style cues from her mother, but it’s a little more modern and updated. There are photos where they are in the same dress, as though Judy inherited it and that’s how she’s running her style options.
BTL: What are the differences between their casual wear and their performance wear when they’re preaching?
Trost: It’s incredibly funny to me, especially in this season, where Judy is the star. So she has specific performance looks per episode for any time she’s on stage performing for Sunday service, [and] when they go into church lunch, or as we call it, “chunch.” She has separate day-wear chunch outfits. That outfit mirrors whatever she had been wearing for her performance because it still has to match with her husband because all of the paired husbands and wives match in color. With Kelvin, I pull out things that weirdly make sense to me or that I like, but he just gets crazier and crazier, too.
BTL: There’s a jacket that Jesse wears that is white with leopard prints and chains going through it, which strikes me as another very unique riff on animal prints.
Trost: That is just simply a personal love of mine that they let me do. You don’t really see them very often, so I love that they’re out in the world. We used that in a scene that got cut out from the first rendition of the second season. This is such a ridiculous outfit because the shirt itself is the print that matches the jacket and we bought them together. There are a bunch of places we go to prep where I’ll buy what I find interesting. A lot of it comes from different sources in booths from Santee Alley in downtown Los Angeles, and that’s where that came from.
BTL: Jesse also wears a signature black leather jacket this season. Where’d you source that?
Trost: That I found at a vintage store in Pittsburgh, which is one of my favorites — Three Rivers Vintage, which is incredible. It was just sitting there. I was working on something else actually at the time and I bought it because I felt like it would fit Danny and might work for the season. It’s one of my favorite things on him. I honestly think he looks great as Jesse Gemstone. It’s so weird because no one is going to wear a three-piece burgundy suit with a floral shirt just in general. I wish they would, but he looks great in it.
BTL: You’ve designed for “irreverent rock ‘n’ rollers” and drag queens, so how do you feel your versatile background helped you in terms of getting the Gemstones gig?
Trost: The information they had on me was [from] almost 10 years ago. I had done a handful of really weird independent films. I made the costumes out of trash, very Mad Max-type [stuff]. I know they had seen that and I heard through the grapevine that they liked that creativity and universe world-building.
BTL: What is your favorite piece in this season?
Trost: The episode “After I Leave The Savages Will Come,” across the board, is such a fun sequence, riding a fine line of conservative old Texas money with that sort of influencer Christian pop star. That mix was really interesting. Oddly, that was a suit that we had for Jesse that was in the office. We were trying [it] for something else but then the western theme came up and it fit right in. It’s sort of over-the-top because it’s like they’re rhinestone cowboys and exaggerated party looks of what they think they should look [like] at a western party, which is also so funny to me. The leopard cape which Joe Jonas wears in the scene, I love. I love that he wanted to wear it because as a prominent pop star, he has an incredible sense of style, but it was like, ‘how do we top that?’ We pulled that from Amber Gemstone’s (Cassidy Freeman) closet. That happens a lot, where we have pieces that didn’t make it into the final outfits.
BTL: What would you say is most rewarding about your designs for The Righteous Gemstones and how they reflect the tone of Season 2?
Trost: It really is just over-the-top with so much happening. From my perspective, it’s a complete spectacle. The Gemstones (Jesse and Amber) are just trying to level up, becoming hoteliers, [so] it’s just bigger. I do think it’s important for a designer to understand not only the construction but the function of a garment because it changes what your actor is able to do and how they’re able to move. The way they hold themselves in the clothes provides a springboard for the work the actors are doing, too. My inspirations and any of the boards and sketches, I think it’s all pretty close to what we ultimately do. There are more texture choices for sure, but I think that’s me just sort of running through as much as I can and seeing what I can get away with. I can’t believe they let me do some of the things that I’ve done, but I love it.