From the moment Jane the Virgin premiered in 2014, the CW telenovela immersed the audience in a candy-colored world whose vibrant pinks, blues, and creams provided a welcome relief from the literal darkness that continues to pervade so much of modern television. As fans fell in love with the show, they also fell in love with its world, dreaming of staying at the crisp, inviting Marbella, with its signature turquoise and white decor, or of settling in on the Villanueva's well-worn red couch to watch the latest episode of The Passions of Santos. While we will sadly never get to inhabit these spaces, there is one aspect of Jane's aspirational world that is delightfully tangible: the wardrobe.
The show, from creator Jennie Snyder Urman, may be larger than life (Murder! Amnesia! Hyperrealistic human masks!), but the beauty of Jane's costume design, led by Rachel Sage Kunin, is that the characters' wardrobes are always attainable but with a little extra oomf, thanks to Sage Kunin's smart styling and strategic use of color. Every character on this show dresses sharp and has their own unique style, but there is one character whose style stands above the rest: that of the melted ice queen Petra Solano (Yael Grobglas).
In the five years Jane has been on the air, Petra has developed into a fashion icon for viewers who want to capture the essence of the shrewd hotelier who hides her vulnerability almost as much as she hides her Czech accent. Grobglas credits the love of Petra's style in part to the style of clothing Petra favors -- sheath dresses, chic button-ups, and bright blazers -- being flattering for many different body types, but she also thinks it's because of what Petra, and her clothes, represent: "She can be feminine and powerful and it shows that it's not two separate things," the actress told TV Guide.
In fact, when Groblgas and Sage Kunin were first developing Petra's style in Season 1, "feminine" and "powerful" were the two keywords Grobglas went into the process hoping to capture in her character's wardrobe. "I didn't know what that would look like, because when you shoot a pilot, you don't really understand the whole style of the show yet," she explained. "You only have the script and what the director tells you and the creator tells you. But once I saw the pilot, I saw the colors, it became a lot clearer to me."
For her part, Sage Kunin said she was inspired largely by Grobglas, an Israeli actress whose only American role prior to Jane was a recurring part on The CW's Reign in 2013. With very little specific direction from Urman, the two worked closely together to develop Petra's look simply by playing dress-up in the fitting room and seeing what worked and what didn't. "Rachel's amazing because she's such a collaborator," Grobglas said. "She's a genius and she knows what she wants, but she will never make you wear something you don't feel comfortable or beautiful in and so really, I think that's how she manages to get her incredible results." When it came to what she helped bring to Petra's fashion sensibility, the actress pointed to her character's affinity for button-downs and formal shorts.
Little did Grobglas know at the time, but Petra's formal shorts would go on to become the character's signature piece. You can see her sporting them as early as the show's pilot, which Sage Kunin did not work on, but it became the favorite look of the designer's from that episode, and Urman's as well. Since then, Petra has worn every type of formal shorts you can imagine -- scalloped, floral, satin, and even tweed. When it was suggested that Petra has now become a spokesperson for the garment, Grobglas laughed. "I love that. ... I had no idea that that was going to have that kind of effect or that it was going to be her signature thing. But it did become that and I'm glad. I love it."
One of the reasons fans have gravitated so much toward Petra's formal shorts is that you don't often see them on TV -- or out on the streets. (Although Rachel Bilson's Hart of Dixiecharacter made a strong case for them in The CW series, which ran from 2011-2015.) This is because "not a lot of people can get away with them," Sage Kunin noted. "I couldn't." But by staying away from cotton and pairing the formal shorts with a dressy blouse and heels, the costume designer manages to elevate an item of clothing that typically reads casual or business casual to outright chic. (And isn't it so perfectly Petra to even have her choice in shorts somehow be pseudo-elitist?)
While Petra has inspired many fans to try their own hand at pulling off formal shorts (for better or worse), Grobglas admitted that she's had to consciously make an effort to not wear them too often outside the show. "I've worn so many beautiful things as Petra, and it tends to be really the things that look the best on me and work with my body. And I have a hard time now trying to find different things to wear outside of work so I don't look too much like Petra," she explained. "I'd love to wear shorts to an event, and I'm trying to kind of steer away from that in my personal life because I feel that then I'll look like Petra all the time."
Of course, looking like Petra all the time is a problem a lot of people would love to have. Sage Kunin described Petra's fashion as "stylish, high-end, [and] fashionable." Outside of her formal shorts, Petra's wardrobe has a little bit of everything: architectural dresses with beautifully structured shoulders, jewel tone blouses paired with perfectly fitted white capris, garments draped in such a way that they seem to embody the play between hard and soft that we so often see Petra contend with.
In order to create Petra's wardrobe, Sage Kunin sources clothing from everywhere, from Alice + Olivia and Ted Baker to ASOS and Topshop. And even when Petra is wearing clothing from the more affordable end of the spectrum, she manages to always convey an image of wealth -- which is something Grobglas thinks "really speaks to what she wanted in life," even before the incredibly ambitious, image-conscious Petra secured a fortune of her own.
Petra's ability to "make a $100 dress look like it cost a million bucks," as Sage Kunin so accurately put it, is in stark contrast to Jane's titular heroine, the relatably down-to-earth Jane Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez), who prefers T-shirts and jeans or flowy, fit-and-flare dresses played down with denim jackets. While the two women eventually form a beautiful friendship, they were often framed as antagonists in the show's earlier seasons, with their differences creating obstacles in the way of mutual understanding. "I think of them as opposites even though both are feminine," said Sage Kunin. And in order to emphasize this, the costume designer is conscious of how Petra and Jane's clothing plays off of one another when the women share the screen.
"I've got to say, our color palette is restrictive, so if someone is in pink, another is in blue and the other might be in white or a neutral," Sage Kunin said. "It's kind of a puzzle I put together for each scene."
The way Jane the Virgin uses color is key to the show's appeal, with the show's bright color scheme (which is executed in meticulous detail) encapsulating the series' sunny outlook. While other shows go dark in order to craft an image of prestige seriousness, Jane is proof that there's room for vibrant joy in critical hits as well, and every character reflects Jane's bright outlook in their colorful clothes. That's one of the reasons why no matter what pressing business matters (or criminal matters) Petra is attending to, she projects an image of confidence and strength without caving to the very real social pressure to wear more "serious" clothes (read: drab colors and more masculine silhouettes) to have her talents recognized.
Showing a businesswoman with a style as soft, playful, and feminine as Petra's is also "socially important," Grobglas said. "I think that that shows also that Petra doesn't feel the need to be a man to be in a powerful position, or to look like a man or to look more masculine. I think she feels comfortable being as feminine as she wants to be and still be a boss. And I think that's very important."
This duality between who you are and how you may appear to others is something that Grobglas relates to quite well. Having grown up a metalhead, she recalled that she used to dress the part, "but as I got older, I realized I could still like metal and I don't have to look like it. I don't have to show that on my wardrobe. I can enjoy the music and still dress however I want."
This isn't to say that Petra's clothes don't represent who she is. She just refuses to compromise her femininity -- or anything else, for that matter. Petra uses her clothing to project an image of how she wants the world to perceive her, in all her contradictory glory: soft and hard, sexy and serious, playful and poised, loving and feared. When Grobglas slips into Petra's clothing, she immediately feels herself taking on Petra's qualities as well, particularly her inflexibility -- both figuratively and literally.
"Some of [the pieces] are not very comfortable so they kind of keep you rigid," Grobglas explained. "But not uncomfortable in a horrible way. Just uncomfortable in a way that they kind of hold your body in a certain way, almost like how when people do a period piece and you put the corset on, you're in that time. It's kind of like that. You put the Petra heels and shorts on and you immediately get that poise and rigidness that comes with Petra. So it definitely helps me a lot."
As the seasons have gone on, Petra's hard edges have been softened a bit as she's grown more comfortable with intimacy and opening herself up to others, something you can see reflected in her wardrobe's evolution across the five seasons. When we first met Petra, she was more prone to wear loose blouses and even statement necklaces -- things Petra would never be caught dead in now. Instead, Petra has developed a preference for floral prints, playful ruffles, and sleeker tops. As Petra loosened up, so did what she was willing to wear. "She's a three-dimensional character and her wardrobe needs to reflect that," noted Sage Kunin.
When it comes to favorite looks she's put together over the years, Sage Kunin said there were too many choose, while Grobglas pointed to some of the more outlandish pieces, including her tooth fairy costume from Season 4 and traditional Czech wedding dress from her nuptials to Miloš in Season 2. But for the fans, it's probably the everyday pieces that stick out the most. The blue lace romper she wore when she discovered she was pregnant in Season 2. The floral pencil dress she wore when she tattooed "Not Petra" on her twin sister Anezka's forehead in Season 3. The wide-legged, high-waisted pink pants she wore when the murder case against her was dropped in Season 4. Even the pajamas she wears to sleep.
Thanks to the beautiful collaboration between Sage Kunin and Grobglas (and the guiding vision of Urman), Petra is a reminder that no matter what you're doing -- whether that is running a multi-million dollar business, wrangling your young twin daughters, or holding a gangster hostage in your hotel suite -- you can always bring a little sexiness, some glamour, and a whole lot of confidence to the occasion... especially if you're able to pull off a pair of formal shorts.
Jane the Virgin's final season airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on The CW.
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