The young characters of Tamra Davis’ 13: The Musical aren’t afraid to confront their fears and anxieties head on. Perhaps we should all take a page from their exuberance? The Jason Robert Brown adaptation has a great ally in costume designer Emily Gunshor. Not only was she thrilled to deliver explosions of color throughout the film, but she wanted to create designs that would get young teenagers excited about expressing themselves through their wardrobes.
How does an adult get into the mind of a teen? Some people would be too nervous to embrace the challenge (I sure would), but Gunshor knew she had inspiration at home.
“I have two kids, so coming off a bunch of horror movies and coming from the theater world, I was so excited to tell the clothing story of kids. Not only just what kids are wearing on TikTok and on social media but also what I want my daughter to be looking at or have the body confidence for. There is a fine line to be drawing, and I wanted every child who watched this movie to find a kid in our group and think, ‘I want to dress like that kid!’
A lot of costumes–particularly in modern or contemporary films–have an aspirational quality to them. If we see a character wearing a certain cut of a jacket or a splashy shade of color, we want to find out how we can put it in our own closets. For the lead character, Evan, Gunshor knew that she had to create two distinct worlds and show the bridge in between his busy home of New York and the slower-paced Indiana.
“I wanted a clear definition of kids in New York versus kids in Indiana and what that means color-wise and style-wise. One is not better than the other, but they are just different parts of the country. I was also aiming to have aspirational qualities in all of the clothes. Even in the midwestern kids, they are more mallrats than style gurus. My goal was to keep Indiana full of bright colors, and I looked a lot at Jacques Demy’s The Young Girls of Rochefort. The colors of that is something that Tamra [Davis] and production designer Almitra [Corey] and I looked at a lot. The colors are so bold in that film. When we get to Indiana, there is no black–there aren’t even any black cars. Navy blue is even very sparse.”
13: The Musical features a lot of hues of blue from beginning to end. This is important to Evan’s family’s Jewish faith, but it extends through the sports themes as well. Not only was it a sunny color to include, but Gunshor reveals that it was a constant color to show a continuity between New York City and Indiana.
“Blue was the binding color of the movie. It was one of the few colors that flowed through as a unity color. Evan wore a lot of blues and greys, and the school colors feature it as well. You might think that it was an even color, per se. Brett is in yellows and bright tones and Evan didn’t have a lot of that until the end of the movie. Once they arrive in Indiana, Ruth is wearing a flowered blouse, and, from that moment on, it’s a color explosion. A Crayola box.”
One of my favorite things that Gunshor revealed was that all of the graphic tees were made for the film, but they all echo an Old Navy or Target-like brand that we might see in everyday life. The character of Archie wore a different science-related graphic every day (I want that periodic table shirt despite being a disaster in science), and that is a seemingly small detail that informs the audience of the personalities of these young characters. They can let their clothes do the talking.
“I kept coming back to remember that Evan is twelve years old, so it couldn’t be a fashion parade. We made all of those graphic t-shirts, and we tried to think of what a kid on the Upper West Side would be into. When he wakes up in Ruth’s house the first time, he is wearing a Natural History Museum tee. Maybe he went to camp there when he was a kid, and he’s not wearing it around his friends anymore? We made the pizza shirt and the Basquiat one. I wanted to hold onto him being inspired by city street art, and maybe kids in Indiana wouldn’t know who some of these artists are. In a twelve year old’s mentality, we talked about pushing him into the baseball or sports themes that felt more grounded and wouldn’t separate them from the other kids.”
For a lot of costume designers, research entails sifting through archives or even taking a look at older films of the era. Since 13 takes place in the present day, Gunshor relied on the magic of TikTok to make sure she was on top of big trends and fads. She also turned to the attitudes and opinions of the cast members. If a young person doesn’t like a shirt or dress you selected, they will tell you. We have come a long way from dusting off books to look at garments.
“It’s time consuming. I like going through the Instagram [pictures] a little more since you can screenshot whereas, with TikTok, everyone is moving. Or you might need to go back and find something you just saw very quickly. With 13, I was looking at bigger names and cheerleaders. It’s all about finding the right word search to find the right people. I was leaning so much on our young stars, too, because they would come into these fittings and if they didn’t like something, I felt like I was failing. Everyone was so honest and great. Another part was about finding out who the characters were with the actors who hadn’t had a lot of experience. Some might be very timid, and I had to create a safe space to tell their thoughts on clothes. If they weren’t saying something, I started to sense it in their body language. We spent a lot of time talking about what they thought was cool.”
In addition to telling me what she would steal for her own closet (“I like Charlotte’s vibe or I could steal from Debra Messing’s character,” Gunshor admitted), I couldn’t let the designer go without asking what it was like to bring back Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott for the latest installment of the Scream franchise.
“It’s a big responsibility when you get into these horror franchises. The fans know more than I do. I always start with the research to dig into what she wore in every movie. At one point, I had boards up to show everything that she has worn in every chapter of the franchise. I needed to find out who this woman was. Forget about the franchise or movie element. Sidney has fled and now she is a mom, but we needed to tie it back in to make us remember that she is still her. Even her necklace was a looped gem that was reminiscent of the one she wore in Scream 2. I tried to find little things to pull from her past.”
13: The Musical is streaming now on Netflix.