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HomeCraftsCostume DesignThe Iron Claw Costume Designer Jennifer Starzyk on the Theatrical Quality

The Iron Claw Costume Designer Jennifer Starzyk on the Theatrical Quality


A scene from The Iron Claw (Credit: A24)

While costume designer Jennifer Starzyk may not have been familiar with wrestling prior to signing on to The Iron Claw, she has definitely developed an appreciation for the way in which the sport is choreographed and brought to life. Mimicking and embellishing the look of notable matches featured in the film was a key goal of her costuming process.

Below the Line spoke with Starzyk about what it was like to work with writer-director Sean Durkin and how she was able to assemble the many outfits necessary for the film’s multiple protagonists. She also talked about the need to prepare for how certain clothing and colors might appear on camera.

She expressed great admiration for the many actors involved in the film, including Zac Efron, Harris Dickinson, Jeremy Allen White, and Stanley Simons as the Von Erich brothers and Holt McCallany and Maura Tierney as their parents. She had nothing but praise for Lily James, whose wedding dress was among the most memorable costumes used in the film. 

Below The Line: Can you tell me about your interest in and relationship with wrestling? 

Jennifer Starzyk

Jennifer Starzyk: Going into The Iron Claw, I had absolutely no idea. I had preconceived notions of wrestling, but I did not know anything about wrestling, and if I didn’t know anything about wrestling, I didn’t know anything about the Von Erichs or Ric Flair or the Fabulous Freebirds or Rick Martel or Harley Race, or all of these beloved, amazing heroes to Sean Durkin that he wanted to write the story about.

To me, just as the costume designer, when I read the script, it was a beautiful script. I was a fan of Sean’s work. Then I hopped online to see what the Von Erichs looked like, and I was like, oh my god, this is such a tremendous costuming opportunity. Not only are they Texas Americana early eighties, but then you also have the wrestling aspect on top of it and recreating all those matches.

It was an opportunity that I literally put it out to the universe. I was like, this is my movie, please let me get it. That’s how passionately I wanted to do the project. So I was thrilled when they offered it to me.

BTL: How did it match up with your preconceived notions of wrestling?

Starzyk: I am a total wrestling fan now. I had no idea. I was so lucky because Sean had written a bunch of montages into the script and some specific matches, but not until he gave me the dates and I had the pleasure of going on to YouTube to watch all the matches, my jaw was dropping and I couldn’t wait to watch them or rewatch them. And then when we recreated everything live, I just really understood the sport on such a different level.

I was just so pleased to see that it’s like live theater. They come in, and not only are they just these amazing athletes and they have choreography, but they are putting on a persona. They wear a costume. They’re playing a part, and it’s an ancient sport, but it’s masculine. It’s very nuanced and they get into these weird positions. I was like, this is the coolest thing. And for someone that likes irony and satire but also live theater and Broadway, I was like, I could watch this all day. It was so amazing.

BTL: I picture a lot of the outfits that they’re wearing while they’re wrestling and it’s a bare chest and then just a bottom. Do you design the costumes that way, where sometimes it’s just a part of it? Or is it always part of an ensemble? 

Starzyk: Well, we had to go through all of the matches and realize that, if they’re going to enter the ring and have that entrance with the music, they’re going to need a ring rope and they will take it off. In the movie, you can see that they take it off very quick to get into the ring, but a lot of them actually started mid-match. Because it was period, and those trunks in the eighties were a little bit higher, they reach up to their belly button and had wider sides, so we ended up making a majority of the trunks.

We did buy some ready-made trunks because there were so many people and so many matches, but a small or medium trunk wouldn’t fit everybody across the board. Where it hit Jeremy, where it hit Zac, where it hit Harris, it was all too different, so we definitely needed to make the trunks. So we ended up partnering with Highspots, a wrestling vendor who kindly put us into their schedule and we were able to give them a pattern, give them our fabric, give them a sketch or an illustration or a picture from the screen grab, and they totally knocked it out of the park for us.

A scene from The Iron Claw (Credit: A24)

BTL: I also assume that sweat factors into what they’re wearing and those and there are certain things that are going to look different on camera than they might in a real wrestling match. Did you encounter that?

Starzyk: Yes, with our time and resources, we had made four trunks, just about four trunks total for everybody unless I knew it was going to be worn in multiple matches, so that if Zac needed two or something, then his stunt double would need two. That way, we could switch it out if it got too sweaty, or if it did actually get some blood on it, or if there was a tear, you don’t want to hold up camera. But for our camera test, that was really interesting. We shot on film, which is kind of making a comeback now and definitely for beautiful reasons.

At our camera test, I just had racks of fabrics so that we could read how it read on the film and what Mátyás was using, the DP, his color timing and stuff like that. It was interesting to see how a blue would read, usually blues and greens read differently anyhow, so we could hit the right tone so it looked like the YouTube match I was trying to recreate. That was a lot of fun. That’s a really fun part of costume designing is us, the R&D and figuring it out and working together as a collaborative team. That’s really why you’re doing the job. You want to get in there and really have a moment with everybody.

BTL: Was there any particular outfit that was especially hard to create?

Starzyk: The Ric Flair. I’m such a fan of this guy now. What an over-the-top, fun character. He looks like Liberace meets Zsa Zsa Gabor and his nickname is Nature Boy. All of his ropes were so iconic. Sean basically gave me carte blanche, so I wanted to make sure it was something that was completely and different from all the other robes. We did the pink. It was Pepto pink, flamingo pink. A very peacocking robe, right? Basically with the feathers and the sequins. That was a team effort, for sure.

There was so much sequin that my cutter fitter could never have done it in time hand sewing it. His machine would have broken. He ended up gluing it. We partnered with somebody in Atlanta, God Save the Queen, they made the letters for us because it’s a special way to applicate those letters, and it was just so much fun to go back as he was making it and seeing feathers and glue and sequins everywhere. It was like, it’s coming along! It was great to see that it hit the note. Everybody seems pleased and it looked amazing on camera.

BTL: Was there anything that was either completely invented or done differently for the film?

Starzyk: No, I would say that, upon choosing The Fabulous Freebirds, their whole persona was very southern. There was talk of, do we pick what they actually wore in some of these matches, if we were going to try to replicate versus, it’s 2023, let’s recognize that things change. So that was kind of interesting. Aside from that, they’re real-life people. When you do a biopic, the same thing with Maestro or Oppenheimer or all these biopics are coming out this year, you have a baseline of research and you know you’re actually looking at actual reference. And now we’re making a movie, so you blur the lines between a real person and the character, because we’re not making a documentary and there’s got to be artistic license.

Obviously, we’re fleshing out a lot of scenes. We don’t know what they’re saying in those scenes. So yeah, you have to embellish the characters and really make them a persona of their own. I think we definitely do that. Kevin was the jock. And Kerry was the rock star type of vibe and David is, you know, the Western vibe, a little country, a little rock and roll. Mike stood out as not fitting in and he really wanted to be a musician, so he played into that vibe. It was so much fun working on this project. I’m very passionate and so pleased people want to talk about it. I’m very thrilled.

A scene from The Iron Claw (Credit: A24)

BTL: There’s also that wedding scene where we get to see everyone wearing a variation of the same clothing. Did you make multiple versions of the same outfit?

Starzyk: No, we lucked out there because my fabulous ACD Aileen Abercrombie knew a guy, I don’t really know the story, because, of course, I’m so focused on just making sure everything’s ready for camera. But if I recall, it was like a firefighter who rescued a burning building of tuxedos, and, by this point, they’re vintage tuxedos, and he holds on to them, and you can access them for costumes! So we were able to get vintage tuxedos from him that look, because they’re real, they’re so perfect. They’re in perfect condition. And we could get the size run for our cast and we ended up, when I was fitting Lily, just trying to make sure that she looked the most eighties as possible.

Being Lily, she could pull off anything. I just love her so much as a performer and she’s so beautiful, so we definitely ended up in that Cinderella silhouette. But it was so much fun to see her just embody it. She was like, I’m going to do this. Let me give you the cowboy boots and I’m going to dance and rock it off. She just loves picking up that big petticoat and dancing along to the song. I was so pleased everybody looked amazing in that scene as well and rocked it.

BTL: What about the Von Erich parents and giving them their more muted, buttoned-up look?

Starzyk: Yeah, I would not say Fritz was muted. Fritz is very overbearing. I love Holt so much. He’s one of my favorite character actors. I was lucky enough to work with him on Mindhunter. When I knew he was being cast in this, I was like, oh my god, this is perfect casting. He’s very passionate about his work, just bringing his A-game all the time.

When you look at Fritz, it was always like, chest open, unbuttoned, legs spread. It’s very masculine, but also kind of interesting because there would be a lot of tracking of little calico prints and floral prints on Fritz. I made sure some of his seventies shirts had this feminine edge, which is again, a nod to wrestling. It’s this masculine sport, but it blurs the line. We had a lot of fun making sure he had that silhouette. Holt naturally has that silverback gorilla-type thing to him.

Doris, Maura Tierney is such an amazing actress, too. Sean is such a huge fan. I think he had her in mind the whole entire time he had written the script. She did have the least amount of changes, and I think it was interesting because we definitely had to collaborate. I was like, listen, Doris dresses like this. Maura is very naturally young-looking and super fit and very petite, so I was like, I’m putting you in polyester and she was like, can’t I just wear jeans? I was like, everybody else is wearing jeans. You need to wear what Doris wore.

I think, in the end, ultimately, when she finally wrapped her head around, it she was like, I get it. When I kept showing her actual pictures of the real Doris, she was like, I get it, I get it. I loved that maybe she stepped out a little bit outside of what she would have been comfortable. Who wants to wear polyester, right? She looked great, and she looked like the character, and she had the least amount of changes, least amount of lines, and it’s so impactful and effective on camera. Just her looks or when she’s looking in the mirror and she’s crying. Without saying much, she said so much.

BTL: One of your most recent credits as a costume designer was for The Staircase. Do you like working with this somewhat recent period, large family ensemble, real people genre? 

Starzyk: I think it just happens to be how it works, because even Mindhunter is loosely based on two real FBI people that coined the term serial killer. I think that there are just a lot of interesting period pieces out there based on true stories, and I was lucky enough to be a part of them. I love all those projects so much. I am also very versatile.

My next project that’s coming out is contemporary, billionaires. We filmed it in Greece. I did Bill and Ted, which was obviously wacky and zany and fun. And as someone that grew up in the eighties and nineties, it was like some coming-of-age moment for me. I just think that sometimes it just lands that way. It just happens to be maybe more so the people I want to work with, and if you like the script, you want to be a part of it.

BTL: Is there anything you haven’t done yet that you’d really like to try in the future?

Starzyk: I would love to do historical fashion. I’m blanking on the words of the terminology, but it’s basically historical fashion, but in a fantasy-type setting. The perfect example right now would be Poor Things. But like Crimson Peak, or there’s a lot of like films or even Bridgerton, especially the first season, it’s a nod to it. They have the silhouettes, but they’re not doing verbatim. You’re not making an extreme period piece where people are nitpicking the ribbon you used.

I would love to do that where you have these beautiful silhouettes in history but you get to recreate them in any fabric you want today. I definitely, definitely, definitely would love to design something for Broadway one day because. Taped theater has nothing on live theater. I think seeing something live, like a wrestling match or Broadway, is just an incredible feat. It would be amazing to be a part of something like that.

The Iron Claw is now available on VOD. 

Abe Friedtanzer
Abe Friedtanzer
Abe Friedtanzer has been the editor of and since 2007, and has been predicting the Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards since he was allowed to stay up late enough to watch them. He has attended numerous film festivals including Sundance, TIFF, Tribeca, and SXSW, and was on a series of road trips across the United States with his wife, Arielle, before they moved to Los Angeles. He is a contributing writer for Above the Line, Awards Radar, AwardsWatch, Below the Line News,, The Film Experience, Film Factual, and Gold Derby.
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