After the austerity of the 1940s war years, the 1950s were one of the most important periods in women couture clothes according to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel costume designer Donna Zakowska. “This was such an exciting moment for clothing,” she said.
She turned to books and magazines of the era, such as Vogue and French Vogue, for her research into the New York fashion of the period. It was an opportunity for the designer to have a lot of fun with color, for example with the pink coat that exemplified the main character Midge’s idea of the world at that moment.
“When I use pink, it is a little bit of an echo of certain emotional things for Midge, evoking her memories,” explained Zakowska.
While she did use some found accessories, such as some of the bags, Zakowska said that 95 percent of the clothing in the series was designed and built especially for the show. This allowed her to not only the perfect fit but also the vibrant colors that wouldn’t have been possible if she’d relied only on vintage clothing.
During the post-war years, aprons were a common clothing item for women, as were must-have accessories such as hats and gloves. Zakowska approached the design of these items as creative expression that qualified as art. She designed and built all of Midge’s hats, and for some of the other characters she used some of her mother’s massive collection of hats as well as a collection she acquired from a collector in Long Island.
“Designing a hat is one of hardest things, especially with the really specific shapes of that era. Back then, women really loved their hats. There were many milliners who could build your hat, which is something we barely have now,” said Zakowska. “The hats were like beautiful little sculptures.”
Designing for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was especially rewarding as it explored so many different worlds — downtown, beatniks, the university, Paris, and the Catskills resort. Zakowska delved into all the different locations and the types of people who inhabit them. “They create the background and the environment for each character.”
Zakowska is most proud of Madge’s pink coat, her blue nightgown, and the Paris costumes. She is especially gratified that the costume design elements came together in the collaborative environment of a series with great writing and a team of artists contributing their talents to an award-worthy show.
In addition to the 18 episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Zakowska has most recently worked on feature films The True Adventures of Wolfboy (2019) and Gringo (2018). She won an Emmy award for Outstanding Costume for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special as well as a Costume Designer’s Guild Award for John Adams (2008), and a Costume Designers Guild Award for Excellence in Period Television for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, for which she was also nominated for an Emmy.