The influential 20th-century costume designer Irene Sharaff was once asked to name the most essential qualities for a sustained career in her profession. She didn’t answer: “Know how to sew.” Instead she said: “You have to love and respect actors. And you have to be discreet – you’re in an intimate relationship when you dress people so you hear secrets that you must be ready to take to your grave.”

For my second conversation with Jennifer Moeller, the costume designer of J.T. Rogers’ new play, Corruption, (our previous interview took place a year ago), I wasn’t interested in eliciting secrets about the actors’ private lives. I was interested in Moeller’s professional interaction with performers. I was reminded in our conversation the other day that she is blessed with the first of Sharaff’s stated prerequisites: respect for actors.

“In doing my work I always find actors and their opinions very valuable,” Moeller said. “I like to say that actors are a play’s unnamed dramaturgs. How they wear their clothing onstage is really important to telling the story.” Which in Corruption is about a phone-hacking scandal that rocked the U.K. more than a decade ago.

Another reason Moeller likes collaborating with actors on their costumes rather than imposing her own vision on them: “After the show opens most of the designers go away but the actors have to live in the costumes every day for weeks or months. They have to feel right with what they’re wearing or the discomfort can show up in their performances.”

Listening to the Corruption actors, Moeller went on, was especially critical because the majority of them wear only a single costume – there would be no chance to escape one look for the preferred fit or fun fantasy of another. And there really wouldn’t be much time for time-consuming costume changes, anyway. “The play,” Moeller said, “has 90-plus scenes and a nonstop pace.”

“It might seem paradoxical,” Moeller said, “that most of the actors play more than one character but have only one costume. But that simplicity gives them more freedom to interpret their characters.” What’s more, she went on, it was clear already from the workshop reading she attended months before Corruption landed onstage “that we were going to have actors skilled enough to differentiate their characters through voices and movement – without necessarily needing to wear something that their real-life counterparts had in their closets to signify those particular people.”

Moeller told me that the production’s relative simplicity was maintained by adhering to a fairly basic scheme. “We employed a tight palette,” she explained. “There’s a lot of blue in the show. And a lot of suits.” She added that this choice made sense given that two of the three main communities in the play come from blue-suited tribes: politicians and corporate executives. (The third grouping are journalists who, unless they work for style-based media, are not known for their sartorial splendor.)

Because Corruption takes place in the fairly recent past, there was no need for Moeller to include much noticeably elaborate period detail in the costumes. She didn’t have to rent outfits from costume-warehouse companies specializing in specific eras. “We purchased everything, “Moeller said. “But there were still quite a few alterations.”

Moeller may not have endlessly combed vintage shops or websites for Corruption but that doesn’t mean she avoided doing hours of research. Before choosing what became the approximately 60 costumes that contribute so beautifully to the play’s narrative, she craved factual background. “Many of the characters are based on real people,” she said, “so I had to have a sense of who they are.”

But in the end neither J.T. Rogers, who as the author set the template for all the other Corruption creatives, nor Moeller, nor the other designers, nor the production’s director, Bartlett Sher, were aiming for an exact replication of characters. Moeller commented: “There’s a reason that authors of realistic plays or movies specify that their stories are ‘based on true events’ not that they are being rendered exactly. What matters most is to distill the essence of human beings and their behavior.”

Now that the show has opened, carrying out that philosophy rests with the actors. “They aren’t aiming for exact impersonation, either,” Moeller said. “The fact that all of us lucky enough to be involved with Corruption shared this approach is one of the many things that made working on this project so thrilling.”

Brendan Lemon is a freelance journalist in New York.