Mary Zophres Shows Up and Suits Up

Slide 1: Mary Zophres, Suited Up

It only took one day on set for Mary Zophres to realize what she wanted to do in film. “I started off a costume production assistant on Born on the Fourth of July,” explains Zophres. “On the first day, there was a big pile of clothes, and the designer asked me to divide them into the 50s, 60s or 70s. I was so happy that day; because I had been a thrift store rat my whole life, I knew exactly what I was doing. From that day, it was very clear that not only did I want to become a costume designer but I was cut out for it.” Working her way up the ranks, Zophres eventually came under the wing of costume designer Richard Hornung, who’d worked with the Coen brothers on several films. In 1996, when Hornung was unable to do Fargo, he pushed his protégé to the front of the line. From then on, Zophres has been costuming the Coen brothers’ films. “Ninety percent of the reason that I love my job so much is that I have been so fortunate to work with the Coen brothers. They have assembled an amazing group of people to work with but they are also such an amazing couple of people to work for.” Click through the following slides and let Mary explain her work on a range of films.

Slide 2: A Serious Man - Making the 60s Square

“When many people think of the sixties, they think of the hippie movement. But A Serious Man was set in 1967 in the Midwest. That was before anything like bell bottom jeans or fringe suede jackets. My research at the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest solidified all this. (They have a large photo archive that they were kind enough to share with me.) A Serious Man takes place in a very square community. They were dressing like they were living in the early 60s. Since it was springtime in Minneapolis, I knew there should be color. There was a page in a Sears catalog which had both autumnal colors, but also those from a sixties kitchen–– avocado green and a pumpkin orange.”

Slide 3: A Serious Man - Clothes Make the Swinging Man

“Our color palette set the tone for the period without being distracting. The prints we chose were rather conservative. The only time we used a loudish print was on Sy Ableman, since he imagined himself to be more continental. He went a cruise, and so now that he’s single, he’s a bit of a swinger. We put him in a tropical print shirt.”  

Slide 4: Fargo - Before Its Time

“Minneapolis is one of my favorite cities. It is intellectual but pretty conservative. It’s in the same city as A Serious Man, but Fargo is in a different time period with a much less colorful palette. In the same way A Serious Man looks more like1965 than 67, with Fargo, we erred a couple of years before.”

Slide 5: The Big Lebowski - "Terminally Relaxed"

“There is a line in the script in The Big Lebowski that says he was terminally relaxed. That said it all. He doesn’t have a job; he doesn’t clean his house; he was not a particularly organized man. I remember a picture of Brian Wilson on the beach, and thought he has the feeling of the Dude. So I started looking in thrift stores in Venice, and while I didn’t really know what I was looking for, I knew that I would find it there. That is where I found the sweater that he wears a lot. I remember thinking also that there are very few buttons or zippers for the dude—it’s all pullovers and drawstrings. The bathrobe came out of a fitting. He threw a robe over a pair of shorts and was wearing a pair of flip-flops. When we saw it, we were, ‘Oh my God, that is what you should wear to the supermarket.’ I mean, who goes to the supermarket in a bathrobe? It told us who he was without being distracting.”

Slide 6: O Brother, Where Art Thou? - Dressing Down

O Brother, Where Art Thou? was tricky, because the characters had just escaped from prison, so the clothes they stole from the first farm house were going to be what they wore during most of the movie. We tried George Clooney in different ensembles before we landed on the overalls. I had sketched him in overalls, and Joel worried that we wouldn’t be able to get away with it. But Clooney wearing overalls was a funny dichotomy. Because George is so handsome, it counterbalanced how good looking he is. What really helped in developing the look of the film was discovering in a Miami bookstore a photo book, One Time, One Place: Mississippi in the Depression by the writer Eudora Welty. It had the perfect look.”

Slide 7: The Man Who Wasn't There - Putting Color in Black and White

“For The Man Who Wasn’t There, I did a lot of reading to see how people who did black and white film approached clothing. And I took a lot of photos. I wanted to know how they got a certain depth, especially in the crowd scenes. The one thing that you don’t do in a black-and-white movie is use a monotone color palette. You use a lot of medium tones in a million different shades. When I looked at the dressed actors before they went on set, I would want to scream, ‘Ugh! What is going on with that group?’ But on screen, a purple, a red, a blue, and a gray looked great because with a group of 200 people, everyone was defined. The texture of thing is the most important thing on a black-and-white film.  We had to make a lot of clothes for the movie. And I took tons and tons black-and-white photos before I got the hang of what texture and color would work.”

Slide 8: Catch Me If You Can - A World of Costume Changes

“I think why I really love period film is because I am a bit of a control freak. On a period film, no one questions that you should dress everyone. On Catch Me If You Can, everyone looked great because we controlled the dress, and we had great hair and make up. The challenge was that we shot 90% of the film in Los Angeles, but we had to make it look like it was taking place all over the world. So how do you make it look like they’re in Atlanta? In New York? In France? Since most of the action takes place in the sixties, we made just slight changes in the types of clothes to suggest the different places.”


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