Clothes may make the man, but on Netflix's sci-fi/horror series Stranger Things, ill-fitting Lee jeans make the kid.
Stranger Things introduces us to Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), a trio of kids in 1983 Indiana who are investigating the disappearance of their best friend, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp). The show relies on a number of supernatural elements to propel its plot and maintain suspense, but creators Matt and Ross Duffer insisted on a completely grounded '80s setting, driven primarily by the music and fashion favored by the young protagonists.
For Season 1, costume designer Kimberly Adams-Galligan, the primary objective in bringing the characters to life was authenticity.
"The Duffer Brothers' biggest focus was that they wanted the characters to be real and not kitschy versions of what people remember of the '80s, which happens a lot," says Adams-Galligan, who also worked on another '80s-set series, AMC's Halt and Catch Fire.
Ahead of Season 1, Adams-Galligan created meticulously detailed sketches and tear sheets — which are essentially "mood boards" — for each character, bringing the fictional adolescents to life and imparting individual characteristics through their wardrobe choices.
"I had to figure out who could handle which type of patterns and colors and combinations, so that they could each have their own looks," she explains. "Just trying to really feed into the reality of these kids' characters and have that reflect through their closets was really important."
Onscreen, that approach meant the costumes not only signified the quirks of individual characters (like the athletic, upbeat Lucas' penchant for bandannas), but also made larger, albeit more subtle, statements about the differences among this particular group of friends and their families. Take, for instance, the characters of Will, the boy who goes missing, and his best friend Mike, who spearheads the search party.
"[Will] is the youngest in the family. His mom doesn't have a lot of money. He would have had hand-me-downs... I really tried to get, same with his brother as well, just that kind of that odd, ill-fitting, not trendy-of-the-time kind of fit," Adams-Galligan notes. "Different than somebody like Mike, whose family was upper-middle class [and] conservative. He would have had newer things for the school year."
Translation: L.L. Bean basics for the wealthier Mike, Lee jeans that were intentionally distressed by the costume department for Will, and clothes from the late '70s for Will's struggling single mother Joyce (Winona Ryder). Even Will's shoes were intentionally broken-in so that they would have the appearance of being previously worn by his older brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton). In contrast, the other children's shoes were aged only minimally to make it appear like they had gotten them new at the start of the school year, just a few months before the events that occur in the show (which takes place around Christmas).