The clothes make the man. They also make The Good Wife.
"It's been pretty amazing the past seven years. People have been very complimentary and have turned the wardrobe on the show into another character," Daniel Lawson, the show's costume designer, tells TVGuide.com. "It kind of did take a life of its own, and I really appreciate that.
"The clothes," he adds with a laugh, "are all that matters!"
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That might be debatable. What's not, though, is The Good Wife's great influence over office fashion. The '80s begot the women's power suit, but The Good Wife, which ends its seven-year run on Sunday, has single-handedly redefined it.
Chic, form-fitting and sophisticated, the perfectly tailored suits and dresses on Alicia (Julianna Margulies) et al have been the picture of sartorial goals and female empowerment, oozing authority and femininity that makes you wonder why drab, oversized blazers and wonky shoulder pads were ever acceptable.
"I feel like The Good Wife said it's OK to be feminine and look strong," Lawson says. "I feel like in the past, it was always OK to look strong but not feminine too. It was like one or the other. Or you had to look like the dragon lady where you are super-strong, but it's over-the-top with big, long red nails. I feel like what we did was say it's OK to look chic and elegant and feminine and have some power and some strength and confidence.
"The workplace used to be really elegant. Hello, Mad Men! It was gorgeous," he continues. "That period of time, people wore suits and ties, and women dressed up. You were a secretary, but you dressed to the nines to go to work. Through the '70s and the '80s and even the '90s, there was this sort of — I don't want to say rebellion — but we started to go more casual to work. I feel like that The Good Wife made people go, 'Oh, I'm going to dress for work again.'"
Lawson, who has also worked on Lipstick Jungle and Bored to Death, joined the legal drama after the pilot, which featured one of his fashion pet peeves: women dressed in masculine clothing. "I thought the pilot was amazing, and I think the way they looked probably served the story," he says. "But when I started doing the series, my feeling was, why do we have these women, who are powerful and strong and interesting and feminine — why do they look masculine?"
After seeing the sleek sets, Lawson "upped the ante" by also embracing the characters' privileged lifestyles. Yes, Alicia, Diane (Christine Baranski) and Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) are well off, and they own it. Their clothes are enviable and aspirational, even if you can't afford Oscar de la Renta, Ferragamo and Dior. Their outfits don't reek of haughty ostentation, but rather confidence and control. When Lawson presented his concept boards to the network and creators Robert and Michelle King, "one of the producers in L.A. said, 'Oh, we're so relieved that these people will look so chic and elegant. We're really excited that this is going to be a fashionable wardrobe.' So I got the green light to go ahead. I felt like I was going out on a limb a little bit."
But dressing everyone in designer duds was just half of the equation. Their clothes also had to tell their stories. It's professional attire, but each character's look is deeply, uniquely personal. Rescuing Diane from the weary gray pantsuits she was saddled with in the pilot, Lawson put her in striking suits, solid dresses and chunky necklaces and brooches to convey her "regal and classy" Queen Bee rank at the firm. "Diane is the boss and I wanted her to look like the boss."
For everyone's favorite bat-wielding investigator, Kalinda, Lawson played off of her enigmatic persona, creating a dichotomous silhouette of soft fabrics (like a silk blouse) and edgy textures (her patented leather jacket). Kalinda's signature boots and skirt pairing took some convincing for Panjabi, who preferred pants, like she wore in the pilot. "I just remember her saying, 'Kalinda is really strong. She should wear pants,'" Lawson recalls. "I said, 'Exactly! Kalinda's really strong. She should wear a skirt.' I will never forget that in the fitting room. She was like, 'Oh, my gosh. We should try it.' And that was that."
Of course, the wardrobe that underwent the greatest evolution was Alicia's. As a disgraced politician's wife reentering the workforce in her 40s in the first season, Alicia had a "very mix-and-match" style at first since she wanted to "disappear" after her husband Peter's (Chris Noth) scandal. As Alicia found her confidence and drive, it reflected in an increasingly polished aesthetic, which Lawson dubs "one foot in the classic and one foot in the modern."
"Seasons 2 and 3, Julianna and I fondly reference it as Rosie the Riveter because her clothes had a '40s thing going," he says. "It was stronger shoulders, extra design detail and they had more going on. By the time we got to Season 5 and 6, her wardrobe started to hit head-to-toe ensemble. Anything that was around the politics, we would punch it up with color. In [Seasons] 6 and 7, her color palette was really neutral and sophisticated — grays and navys and blacks. In Season 7, because her workspace was now her house, she needed to look professional, but we wanted there to be a comfort to her clothes too.
"That's one of the great things about The Good Wife. Robert and Michelle are so great with the way they write," he continues. "Alicia was so alive and vibrant and breathing. She was growing and regressing and growing again and changing, so her wardrobe needed to do that too. I always think about how wonderful it's been to have that experience for seven years and let the wardrobe change and grow. I know on some shows they buy clothes at the beginning of the season and that's it. We were able to continue to tell the story with the clothing and it was great to see people respond to it."
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Lawson points to two instances at the end of the first season when he realized the show's fashion was making an impact. The first was in July 2010, when he received an Emmy nomination. "[That was] before they had separate categories for contemporary versus period and fantasy costumes. To be nominated against a show like The Tudors was like, 'Really?'" he says. "It was just that ... Emmy voters realized, 'OK, it's more than just contemporary clothing. There are real designs going into it.'"
The second was when he started to hear real-world feedback from his muses. "Julianna and Christine would start to come into work and say, 'Dan, I was on the sidewalk the other day and a woman stopped me. She was so happy to see how I dressed on the show because she was so tired of dressing all boring for work and she saw what I wore was perfectly appropriate for the courtroom or the law office or boardroom, and she said she was inspired to dress differently now,'" he says. "Julianna still tells me that people would stop her all the time and say this to her. I would say that was when I was like, 'Oh, gosh, I think we've tapped into something that people haven't really been aware of.'"
The series' influence extends beyond everyday women. Michelle Obama memorably donned a Michael Kors tweed suit at the 2015 State of the Union, more than a year after Alicia first wore it on The Good Wife. (Kate Middleton also wore a L.K. Bennett peplum jacket in 2012 that Lawson had already ordered for Alicia.) And the show, which premiered in September 2009, was the first in what has been a healthy line of powerful and powerfully dressed female leads on TV. It might be presumptuous to say there would be no Olivia Pope without Alicia Florrick, but it is not to say that Alicia's business chic attire set the stage for Liv's cream-colored structured capes and wide-leg trousers on Scandal.
"I definitely think Robert and Michelle blazed the trail for that and what you see now on other shows," Lawson says. "They're all strong women making a statement with their wardrobe. There's power in femininity. Having a leading lady like Julianna and our second leading lady in Christine really be able to hold that tentpole up this whole time, that's quite a feat."
Over the years, Lawson has amassed more than 600 outfits for The Good Wife, including items from 35-DL, his own high-end women's business wear line inspired by the show. Now comes the hard part: Parting with the clothes. Some of them are being used on the Kings' upcoming summer series BrainDead, on which Lawson works, some were bought by the actors and crew members, but the majority will be sent to L.A. to be sold in stores. A few "iconic" pieces — including Alicia's suit in the pilot when she slaps Peter, her white Akris skirt and jacket when she first sleeps with Will (Josh Charles) and Kalinda's boots (duh) — are being kept for future display opportunities.
"That's what happens to it and it breaks the costume designer's heart!" Lawson says. "It's almost like a huge Thanksgiving dinner that you spend three days preparing and everybody eats it in 30 minutes. That's what I feel like. We spent seven years putting this together and it all comes apart in two weeks."
There is one more outfit that might be filed in the "iconic" column: the final one Alicia wears in the series finale. "I had a custom Lafayette 148 piece done for Julianna," he teases. "It's a gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous piece. I had worked with Lafayette 148 over the years on the show. The piece is just really beautiful. I think the story ends up exactly where it should wardrobe-wise. I just feel really good [about] where her wardrobe ended up.
"It makes me cry. I really, really loved working on this show. I really loved my actors and I loved my crew and I loved my producers. I loved my directors. Everybody says, 'I had the best.' But we really did. It was a really special place to work. I was very lucky to be able to be part of it and to make my little contribution."
The Good Wife series finale airs Sunday at 9/8c on CBS.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)