I wanted to curl up with every piece of costuming from Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers. There’s something about the puffy coats and the knit scarves that got me in the mood to stay at Barton Academy over the Christmas holidays. The characters of Payne’s latest film may not have the most enviable duds, but costume designer Wendy Chuck still infused them with character, purpose, and humor.
Even though the Paul Hunhams of the world may not inspire someone while shopping for clothes, the late ’60s and early ’70s have a lot to admire. Chuck admitted that these character might not be on the forefront of the latest trends, but this era lent itself to a lot of memorable duds.
“Not that this was a fashionable movie in any way or that Alexander would want these people to be fashionable, but I like that this was a period where bodies were different,” Chuck says. “It was before fast food came to worldwide culture. Fast fashion wasn’t around and things were more tailored. The silhouette was interesting as we moved from the ’60s where things were more shapely to the ’70s where lapels were big and bell bottoms were coming into fashion.”
While a lot of the professors wear corduroy or heavier fabrics in their jackets, Paul Hunham’s colors stand out just the right amount. Paul Giamatti sports a tannish gold jacket that I am obsessed with. Chuck reveals that it’s construction was created from a jacket from a retailer we are all still very familiar with.
“It was a Brooks Brothers suit–that’s a little secret,” she says. “I’m not sure if it’s still available or not. It was difficult to get that since there wasn’t a lot of corduroy around. Brooks Brothers has been helpful to the studios over the year, and I pulled some options from the store in Boston. We fitted it for Paul, and I knew Alexander [Payne] and David [Hemingson] from the get-go. I modified the jacket, because it looked too modern with a zipper in the front. This character had to be schlubby, and David had remembered that fabric from his days in school. We had to alter it to make it look like it different fit, and then we had to age it and throw some paint on it. It needed to look very worn. We washed it and put the cheese grater on it–that’s what we do. Rumpled corduroy all the way.”
It feels like Hunham has a better style or a better eye with his bowties and his variety of hats. I originally thought that Hunham wanted to purposefully set himself apart from his colleagues, but Chuck reveals that it was more about the time period. Maybe Hunham is a style icon and he doesn’t even know it yet?
“It was more about that culture,” Chuck says. “I have a lot of reference material of a lot of professors not in neckties. It was all about finding the right tie, because it’s almost always the center of the camera. I originally went to Western Costume and pulled outfits together, but they weren’t Paul’s size. They served as a real inspiration, though. I pulled some great bowties from there. Also comfortable shoes were key for that character.”
Think about the Barton Academy students sitting in class. Depending on where a family shops or how they get their clothes, a character’s costume would be dictated by a lot of circumstances. Maybe someone’s family passes neckties down when they no longer like the style? Perhaps a jacket no longer fits one brother, so it’s passed to another. Even how loosely one student wears his tie from another is indicative of how they want or do not want to show up to class. What did Chuck think was in the Barton Academy handbook?
“We were originally going to do uniforms,” Chuck reveals. “This was such a transitional time for all the schools there and we discovered that having the uniform would be a button-down shirt, a tie, a jacket, and pants. We got a yearbook from one of the schools, and I also had a friend who attended a school in the area, so I have first-hand information of all the photographs in the book. I learned that rich kids didn’t want to look rich. The more frayed your clothes looked or the scruffier the lines became, the cooler you were. It was a mix of maybe having hand-me-downs from your older brother or maybe one boy would be big enough to fit into his father’s jacket. Or maybe a dad gave a tie? Maybe they bought something with their parents as they traveled through Europe. Most of the photos were in black-and-white, but when we did see something it color, they were wild. They looked like The Beatles. There were big belts or fun colors.”
Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s Mary is still grieving when our story begins, and you may notice that she wear a lot of darker hues: blacks, navy blues and purples. It reminded me of a bruised heart. Chuck admitted that it wasn’t an intentional choice, but it’s marvelous that that’s how it might read to a viewer.
“A lot of the palette of the time wasn’t really black–it was more brown,” she says. “I came home over the holidays during the hiatus during the Christmas and New Year’s. I was playing with her clothes, and I found a few paintings that inspired me for color. I then thought of the Virgin Mary blue. The purple was the next opportunity on the palette to move her to, so that’s how the color scheme for her came about. Alexander called me and told me that he thought she should be in purples and blues, and I was so happy that I nailed what he wanted. We swatched a lot of fabrics and got ambitious of what we would build for her. Some things were built and some were purchased and modified.”
If I could, I would steal something from each one of these characters. Mary’s glasses would fit right into my obsessive eyewear collection. I would want to swipe Angus’ darker winter coat, and I’m sure Paul Hunham wouldn’t immediately notice if I took a hat and matching bowtie. Chuck would want to take something from the party scene from all the characters milling about.
“A couple of us on the crew threw on the letterman’s jackets and took a photo. Those are a good memory. I love Lydia Crane’s Christmas dress. There are a lot of people in that scene that you don’t see. If you put it on slow motion, you might see the characters more, and there’s a father-son pair in matching turtlenecks–his character’s name was Turtleneck Brad. I love those. I love a lot of clothes from the party.”
The Holdovers is available to stream on Peacock.