We adorn our bodies with clothes that fit our mood, and sometimes those clothes can even brighten our spirits. Think about your favorite sweater or a dress that always makes you feel sexy–our entire outlook can change depending on what we wear. For Zach Braff’s emotionally affecting film, A Good Person, costume designer Tere Duncan matched the journey of self-love and redemption by dressing characters struggling to find their best selves.
In Braff’s film, Florence Pugh plays Allison, a young woman who has everything going for her. Her fiancé, Nathan (Chinaza Uche) adores her, and she has a life full of supportive family and friends. When she is the sole survivor of a horrible car accident, Allison descends into depression and addiction, but she begins taking the steps towards a fuller life.
The first time we see Allie, she is playing the piano for guests in her and Nathan’s home. She is wearing a bright orange dress that hints at the brightness of her spirit. Even the hat she wears on the day of the accident is colorful. Duncan only had a few scenes to establish her personality with her clothes.
“We only see her in a few changes before the accident,” Duncan says. “I wanted something vibrant and happy. I kept those changes a little cleaner and put together in terms of style, so that there would be a contrast. But I still wanted it to look like the same person.”
After the accident, Allie is living with her mother and struggles to get out of bed. Duncan wanted to show how Allie was responding to her own feelings and dressing for comfort. Think about what you wore during, say, the height of the COVID pandemic. Duncan’s work in Allie’s darkest moments is a fantastic example of how we unknowingly respond to our feelings when picking out an outfit but she kept sparks of her personality.
“I wanted her to be kind of sloppy and random, because she’s out of it and just choosing clothing based on comfort,” she says. “Nothing could look like an outfit. Florence and I would always change something to be a little off if it started looking too thought out. I didn’t want the clothes to be her drug addict clothing–she’s not homeless and it’s only been a year. They needed to look like pieces that she had before, but she’s just not paying attention to it in the way she used to. I actually kept a lot of color in her wardrobe in the addiction section, counter intuitively, and I didn’t go super drab. Zach had mentioned very early that he didn’t like it in movies when the addicted person is all of the sudden in bland clothing that doesn’t look like them anymore and I agreed. So, I used a lot of pattern and color, but I mixed it up to show the haphazardness & lack of effort.”
Morgan Freeman’s Daniel becomes more connected with Allie after she stumbles into the same AA meeting that he attends. Daniel, a former cop, is a well-dressed man in shades of blue with sweaters and sports jackets. We get a sense of Daniel’s desire to maintain some form of control even if it’s in his attire.
“I kept him in cooler, darker colors for that reason,” Duncan reveals about Daniel’s palette. “Even in his style, you could just add a tie and he would look like a detective. We kept him very buttoned up and put together. He likes order. Even though his life is unravelling, that is a way that he can keep in control, similar to the train town that he works on.”
Nathan is estranged from Daniel, but you can see shades of Freeman’s character in Uche’s clothes as well. When we are younger, we see our parents get ready, and, perhaps, we adopt the same fabrics or pieces of clothes without realizing it. There are similarities between these two men, but Duncan also brings a warmth to Nathan.
“That started out by accident,” Duncan admits. “But I noticed that I was doing it early on and I thought it was right, so I kept doing it. Nathan has cut Daniel out of his life, but he has been influenced by him. But Nathan isn’t as strict, with himself, or others, so he’s a bit more casual and easy in his clothes. I wanted Nathan to look like the perfect boyfriend, the one that got away. Because he is.”
The character of Ryan is different than anyone else in the film. At the age of 15, she is the youngest lead character, and she finds herself hiding things from the adults in her life. She is someone who is experimenting with what she likes and what she thinks works for her, and she is unafraid to try new things. The 90s and Y2K fashion are big influences with high school students now (I can’t believe I am saying that…), and those bursts of colorful are key to capturing Ryan’s exuberance.
“For the bulk of the film, she’s 15–which is such a precarious time– and doubly so for her since she’s lost her parents,” she says. “She doesn’t have anyone to guide her; Daniel is trying, but he’s a much older man. She has a difficult time relating to him. I put her in clothing that made her still look like a kid at times. She’s also an athlete, so we did a lot of cute hoodies to nod to that. But, other times, like when they go into the city, she’s experimenting with more adult clothes. It’s a little over the top, bright and super sexy, because it’s still her idea of what a woman would wear to go out. With the necklaces, I knew I wanted her in those from the beginning. The kid’s just love the 90s! And it’s so cute! Unfortunately, the ones I chose kept breaking.”
There are many pieces that I would want for myself–all of Allie’s patterned sweaters cause envy–and she wears a silk robe in a scene where she tries to get more pills from a pharmacy. In a scene where Allie gets high on pills. her shirt literally has small images of other pieces of clothing on it. I could wear an entire jumpsuit of that. What would Duncan snag for herself?
“That shirt was a thrift store find; it’s a PJ top. I was obsessed with robes looking of the perfect one! The one we ended up with was from a brand called We Are Hah. They have great robes & pajamas. It’s also made from recycled plastic bottles, so bonus that we got to use an ethical product. We thrifted clothing for her as well as shopped new to get some wear and realness to her wardrobe. My favorite piece is actually my own. The sweatshirt with the Hawaii graphic. I’ve had if for a million years and knew that it would be perfect. Florence loved it.”
A Good Person is in theaters now.