Everyone involved with a play draws inspiration from multiple sources. None among them, however, makes those sources as visually available as does the costume designer. Emily Rebholz, who is doing the costumes for Nantucket Sleigh Ride, took time the other day from doing actor fittings to comment on the inspiration image boards she put together for the show.
“The first thing I do as a designer,” Rebholz said, “is research images with Pinterest and Flickr. This show is set mostly in 1975, so I also went on eBay and ordered magazines from that era – Vogue, GQ.” She added: “You’ll notice on the men’s boards – the character of Schuyler, for instance – that there are a lot of pictures of Jack Nicholson. I also look at Instagram a lot, and on the Schuyler board you’ll notice two photos on an Italian-style influencer from that platform. It looks like he’s from the 70s, but he’s actually from right now wearing clothing influenced by that decade.”
I told Rebholz that the inspiration board for the characters of Lilac and Poe, which contain a lot of soda-pop colors such as orange and grape, made me cringe: I was a child in 1975, and I didn’t love being reminded that I probably wore that stuff. “Don’t be embarrassed,” Rebholz, much younger than I, reassured. “There was a lot of vibrant color in the 70s, and almost everyone took part.” She added: “Except for one picture taken from ‘The Brady Bunch,’ the images on the Lilac and Poe board are mostly non-celebrity. There are shots from the Sears catalogue, for example.” The board also sported a profusion of stripes and shorts. “Lilac and Poe as children are played by adults,” Rebholz said. “But we decided against the actors going that route. A grown man in children’s-style shorts doesn’t look like a little boy; he usually looks just plain silly.”
Rebholz, who grew up in California and in Tennessee and attended college at Northwestern, has always been very interested in clothing. “I remember being in third grade and being told that if I got straight As I could get a toy. I got the grades and my mother said, ‘Would you like a strawberry-shortcake doll?’ I said: “No, I want to go to Macy’s and get a new skirt.”
Generally, actors have more opinions about their costumes in a contemporary play than in a period drama. (Note to my older readers: the 1970s now constitute period.) “Actors live their lives in contemporary clothing, so it makes sense that they would have more opinions about things worn right now,” Rebholz said. “I’m the costume designer on Dear Evan Hansen, and for each actor we fit we have a huge rack of jeans. Not only because we really have to nail the character through the jeans but because even kids have opinions about clothing like that.” Rebholz added: “You don’t want to force actors to wear things they don’t like and don’t feel comfortable in. Then they will be thinking too much about their clothing when they’re onstage rather than concentrating on the character.”
Returning to Nantucket Sleigh Ride, Rebholz spoke about the inspiration board for the male character called Harbinger. “You’ll notice a lot of turtlenecks, which are such an important part of a 1975 silhouette. You’ll also notice Colin Firth in a movie set in this period. That was an inspiration to me with this project. But I have to say that, even though you can find a lot of available-to-order 1970s men’s stuff on websites like Etsy, for this play we’re actually building a lot of the suits. We have tall actors in this production and it’s harder to find things online that fit them well. And, as I said, if actors don’t feel comfortable in what they’re wearing than I haven’t done my job well.”
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com