‘Abbott Elementary’ Costume Designer Breaks Down Season 1 Looks
Second-grade teacher extraordinaire Janine Teagues is one to be friendly with the employees at her local Old Navy. And because of that, Abbott Elementary costume designer Susan Michalek also shops there.
Created by Quinta Brunson, who also stars as Janine, “Abbott Elementary” follows a group of teachers who work at an underfunded school in Philadelphia, leading Brunson and Michalek to decide to limit the costumes for the show to the budget of a realistic teacher. H&M, Zara, Target and Old Navy became Michalek’s go-to stores, with occasional splurges at Anthropologie.
“We really want to stick to what these people can afford, as much as possible,” says Michalek. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, and through the ages, it’s all Gucci and Prada. This is the first show for which I had a limited budget, and it is [out of] 40 shows.
But keeping it cheap didn’t force Michalek to sacrifice his creativity. Janine is known among her colleagues (and Fans on Twitter) for the eccentricity of her wardrobe – many a heartfelt moment is spoiled when a fellow teacher notices her contradictory patterns or extravagant accessories.
“It’s joyful — and a bit quirky,” Michalek says of Janine’s style. “When she walks through the door, she really thinks she knocked, but obviously she didn’t. But it’s so endearing!
As ‘Abbott Elementary’ Season 1 draws to a close, Michalek picked out six of his favorite outfits to go down with. Variety.
Abbott Elementary Student Uniform
Much of “Abbott Elementary” is inspired by Brunson’s mother, who is a retired elementary school teacher from Philadelphia, as well as her own experiences in the Philadelphia public schools. Growing up, Brunson’s school uniform consisted of khakis and a navy polo shirt. Willard R. Abbott Elementary students wear something similar.
“We changed it to light blue just to make the color a bit more invigorating, and we put a logo on it. And it’s all sand washed,” Michalek said, referring to the process used to soften and bleach the fabric. “We’re exhausting it. We like it messy and real. And these kids are so adorable, they look individual on each kid. It’s a great mix-match of whatever feels most real.”
Child actors receive shoes and props, but are also encouraged to bring their own. And there’s no science in the fact that some kids wear their shirts tucked in while others dress more loosely. Michalek lets them get comfortable: “It’s like, ‘Here’s the shirt and the skirt that looks best on you. What shoes do you want? What jacket do you want? Wear it how you want. Put any bow in your hair you want.
Coral dress and Jelly Bean belt by Janine de Zara (episode 4)
Janine’s most notorious fashion faux pas occurs in episode 4, “New Tech”. When teachers at Abbott receive brand new tablets equipped with a program designed to make reading lessons easier, veteran teacher Barbara Howard (Sheryl Lee Ralph) struggles and begins to feel insecure about her age, until to a moving scene where Janine joins her. it’s normal to need help.
Desperate for Barbara’s approval since her early days at Abbott, Janine asks, “Do we have a moment right now? Confusion and dismay cross Barbara’s face when she notices Janine’s outfit: “Is that candy on your belt?”
“Janine is always trying to get that love, and she doesn’t quite get it,” Michalek said, comparing the character’s social skills to her fashion skills. It’s not real candy – the belt and dress she’s wearing are from Zara – but the costume is a good representation of Janine’s enthusiasm, even when it’s too much for the others.
“I give [Brunson] a big selection of stuff right before every scene, and she puts in a weird thing that she finds from that, and rolls right into a shot,” Michalek says. Therefore, whenever a character makes fun of Janine’s clothes – which happens almost every episode – the joke is written on the fly. “There is a writer, Patrick [Schumacker], who is one of the executive producers, who is on set all the time. And often the writer of the particular show’s episode is also on set. So Quinta will deal with them when she wears the outfit.
Green and purple dress with puff sleeves by Janine de Yevu (episode 5)
The almost neon striped dress that Janine wears in episode 5, “Student Transfer”, is from Yevu, a small brand based in Accra, Ghana, which aims to employ women in a sustainable way. Their website mentions that they pay above living wage, provide employees with 380 hours of training, run a free apprenticeship program, and also work in Accran communities to provide menstrual hygiene products and educational programs.
Yevu parts are high quality and handcrafted, which comes at a price. The dress worn by Janine, entitled “Puff Sleeve Midi Dress” in the pattern “Ice Cream” is listed at $260. But Michalek justified the cost as part of his low-budget philosophy by considering parts of Janine’s personality outside of her salary. She has a big heart and lives to give back, and it only made sense that she would admire a brand like Yevu and save her money to support it.
“It’s a special company, and we were lucky to find it,” says Michalek. (Yevu popped up as a targeted ad as she scrolled through Instagram.) “They noticed Quinta was wearing it and they were so happy, and that makes me happy too. This dress is just a little weird, and also cool, and slightly weird. It’s just fine.
Lightweight sweater and pants by Gregory from H&M (episode 8)
Day in and day out, Gregory Eddie (Tyler James Williams) wears well-tailored shirts and ties in an understated color palette. He’s a longtime substitute teacher who was snubbed after training to be principal, and his clothes reflect that. But in episode 8, “Work Family”, he learns from Barbara and Melissa Schemmenti that rigor isn’t always best for children’s learning.
“He’s so uptight, but a scene at the end gives Gregory a chance to relax in front of the kids,” says Michalek. In “Work Family”, Janine’s boyfriend, Tariq, is hired to write and perform an anti-drug rap at a school assembly. Noticing that his class is having less fun than the other kids, Gregory drops his polite demeanor and starts dancing wildly. His pupils soon join them and are agitated with joy. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him experience joy before,” remarks Jacob Hill (Chris Perfetti), another teacher. “It’s strange!”
Gregory is dressed in a comfortable – but still fitted and collared – sweater, with brown pants that stick to his business casual repertoire but allow him a wide range of movement. Michalek describes the slight change from his normal costumes as a “little” progress as he finally learns to relax in the surroundings of Abbott Elementary. She adds, “And the ladies on Twitter really liked this outfit. They loved him very much. »
Abbott Step Shirts
In episode 9, “Step Class”, Janine finds an unlikely collaborator in Ava Coleman (Janelle James), Abbott’s usually indifferent and incompetent manager. Janine begins teaching step classes after school, but takes a back seat in the program to star Ava, who, all faults considered, is a much better dancer. This is the first time in the series that Ava has truly shown up for the Abbott community, and the students’ Abbott Step shirts and matching black leggings help commemorate that united front. (Although, true to form, Ava glamorizes the outfit with more sparkly leggings and a chunky gold necklace.)
“We just decided that the school colors would be royal,” says Michalek, referring to the bright blue fabric and shimmering gold lettering on the shirts. She credits neat but flawed lettering assistant costume designer Kate Lombardi, who hand-painted the shirts instead of printing them to make it look like Janine had taken her limited resources and made something special. Lombardi also painted sequins on the hair bows some students wear.
Ava’s tracksuit from Adidas x Marimekko
Ava is too cool to go to school, and it shows. She got the main gig by blackmailing the superintendent, whom she caught sleeping with a deaconess from the church, and so moves through the halls of Abbott Elementary like no one can touch her. When it comes time for an open house, instead of working to connect with parents or impress the school district, Ava appoints herself a DJ for the evening. She dresses for work in a sleek black and yellow tracksuit from Adidas’ collaboration with Marimekko.
“Marimekko is a Finnish company that started in 1951,” explains Michalek. “So she’s the flashy and irreverent one.”