Shrill’s Costume Designer Had to Make Aidy Bryant’s Outfits From Scratch

Shrill’s Costume Designer Had to Make Aidy Bryant’s Outfits From Scratch

Hulu’s Shrill isn’t interested in makeovers. Based on Lindy West’s memoir of the same name, the new comedy doesn’t put Aidy Bryant’s character Annie in a constant battle with her bathroom scales or the food she eats, and she isn’t relegated to being the funny fat friend or the punch line. Style is something Annie already has in abundance — a mix of retro and contemporary, featuring eye-catching prints, vibrant colors, and feminine silhouettes — and it subtly evolves as she becomes more confident.

But the fashion industry hasn’t always been supportive or even aware of those who fit within certain “plus-size” criteria, despite it being a market worth an estimated $20.4 billion. As Annie laments in Shrill’s debut season, women like her are left with few choices: “Everything is either a big Indiana Walmart sack or it is some cutesy shit covered in Eiffel Tower postage stamps.” Bryant herself has raised the issue, citing a particularly awful experience at a photo shoot with her Saturday Night Live co-stars Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong where she had to wear her own clothing: “This is a fucked-up situation, and it’s purely because of my body. Not because I’m less funny — it’s my body. It’s the only reason that I’m treated differently right now. And it lit a fucking fire in me.”

Shrill costume designer Amanda Needham was expecting a challenge when she joined the show, she tells Vulture, but finding the right clothes turned out to be even harder than expected. The majority of Annie’s outfits had to be made from scratch because choice is so limited, and the ones purchased off-the-rack were often altered. “Once you get to a certain size, people sort of want you to disappear,” Needham said. “What about the people who aren’t ashamed of showing their bodies, who want it to be more tailored and appealing stylistically?” Below, she walks us through ten key outfits in Shrillseason one, and how exactly her team put each look together. Collectively, Needham hopes that Annie’s clothing extends an inspiring message to the audience: “You can be whoever you want, wear whatever you want, and feel confident in that.”

Bryant and West are both fashionable, so Needham says she took some cues from their personal styles, but when it came time to specifically defining Annie’s fashion, it was “more about letting this character become something of her own.” Rather than look at “who is influencing the plus size world,” she said, “it was really about imagining our own world.”

When Annie is introduced in episode one getting ready for work, she’s seen doing a highly relatable post-laundry trick: stretching a top over her knees so it’ll fit properly. “That stretch was really important,” Needham said. “We’ve all had those times where we have taken things out of the dryer and they’ve shrunk or don’t fit quite right.” This look was a case of redesigning an off-the-rack garment, as Needham wanted to “celebrate the body,” but the Forever 21 top had “a bunch of big ruching on the shoulders we didn’t like.”

Annie spends a lot of time in this outfit, first at work and then hanging out with her sort-of boyfriend. Ryan (Luka Jones). “I wanted it to be stylish,” Needham said. “We really strived hard to have all her pieces feel pop-y, colorful, stylish, and structured.”

“You look fucking amazing,” Annie’s roommate Fran (Lolly Adefope) tells her when she puts on this red floral dress. Annie is reluctant at first about taking the freebie, but really feels herself when she dares to wear it. At this early point in the season, Needham wanted to establish Annie’s “bright, pop-y, and structured” look and highlight her confidence, using clothes to underscore this realization without resorting to “a crazy ass tutu.”

This outfit was one of many custom builds made for the show, since the off-the-rack looks they pulled were nowhere near as striking, structured, or beautiful enough. “It is so hard. As a designer, you are used to working with so many shapes, our industry just caters to [straight sizes],” Needham lamented. This is also what Annie wears when, after many rejected pitches, she is finally assigned her first story for the Portland alt-weekly where she works; it is a celebratory moment matched by her ensemble.

The second episode kicks off with Annie’s first assignment, so Needham turned to a favorite outfit: this green-and-blue plaid dress, which reflects such a pivotal career milestone. “We wanted her to feel cool and stylish. She got her first job, she’s really excited about it,” Needham said, explaining how it strikes a balance between being “serious, but also playful and fun.”

This costume is mirrored in episode five when Annie has a huge blowout with her boss Gabe (John Cameron Mitchell), but on that occasion, it is a bold pink plaid dress worn with a leather jacket. Was the allusion intentional? “I think every moment was intentional, but you are definitely seeing some psychology in it that is really valuable,” Needham said.

Later in episode two, Annie takes a walk with her mom (played by SNL alum Julia Sweeney), who suggests her daughter should exercise more often. “We wanted it to be a juxtaposition between what her mom was wearing, because her mom is obviously really serious about it,” said Needham. “We wanted Annie to feel light and ‘take me as I am.’” This particular top is ASOS, a brand that Needham says is generally pretty good for plus-size clothing (a lot of the denim used on Shrill was ASOS). Needham’s team did encounter some challenges, though, in which they had to strip back “frilly” pieces and “bring some structuredness.”

For her first public date with Ryan, Annie looks cute as hell in a cobalt blue dress — yet another custom-made outfit — but unfortunately the best he can do for a compliment is, “You look really clean.” The next morning, in another highly relatable move, she returns home and takes her bra off while still wearing the dress, before finding out her first article has been published.

Undergarments posed an issue for Shrill’s costume design, Needham explained, because there are a lot of aesthetically unappealing options. In one of the first shots  of Annie in the first episode, she’s in her underwear, so finding a brand that defied stereotypes was important. Rihanna to the rescue! Savage X Fenty was the solution. “It was really amazing to see bras and underwear in that size that weren’t just ugly,” said Needham. “Once you get to a certain size, the options become pretty dismal. It was nice to see really beautiful colors [and] lace lingerie, instead of thick pads people wear.”

Fran’s peacock Urban Outfitters bomber jacket in the third episode is a perfect example of her effortless style. “We wanted to show the absolute versatility and comfortability with being in her own skin, and confidence with her sexuality,” Needham said, also referring to Fran’s costuming as being fluid. It is “not one specific look,” but rather a mix that incorporates an “Afropunk vibe, bright colors, interesting patterns, [and] crop tops.”

The episode also finds Annie experiencing a revelatory moment: After she apologizes to a car while trying to cross the street (despite having the right of way), out of nowhere a goddess of a woman appears dressed all in red, with a red beret to complete the look. This was another of Needham’s favorite outfits — and the rare one that was actually off-the-rack, although some modifications were still made to the Anthropologie jumpsuit. The message of this outfit is clear: This woman is not afraid of taking up space or standing out. She is just going about her day and Annie is awe. “I wanted a full-on mono-color statement that felt really like a wow moment,” Needham said. “Unapologetic.”

After many false starts, Annie finally decides to introduce Ryan to her work colleagues in episode three. Though Gabe is throwing a fancy art party and orders his employees to “dress like you have been to New York at some point in your life,” Needham said that Annie’s choice of dress is not really “motivated by his threat, it was more about her feeling good.”

Though she’s excited about having a boyfriend she can bring to work events, unfortunately the night doesn’t go according to Annie’s plan: Ryan is a no-show, opting to host a pencil-fight tournament (yes, really) instead of supporting his girlfriend. Still, it does lead to a stunning visual when she confronts Ryan at his basement party, “Having her personality shine through in a sea of people who were so basic made me feel, Yes, this is a real true moment capturing Annie as a character onscreen,” Needham said.

Offering an abundance of glitter, Annie turns the glam dial up in a glitzy rainbow sequin minidress. She does not hold back, wearing the party dress to end all party dresses. To match such a transcendent sartorial event, Needham turned to another custom build: “We knew we wanted it to be a standout moment and we weren’t seeing anything off-the-rack that was really doing it for us.” Needham also said she’s received a lot of questions about the availability of this dress, particularly after Bryant posted an image of it on Instagram. It’s disappointing that nothing like this is currently available in plus size, but as Needham hopes, “Now, maybe someone else will make it.”

After Annie’s “Fat Babe Pool Party” pitch gets turned down by her fatphobic boss Gabe — he schedules a mandatory bicycle ride for later that same day — she decides to go with Fran anyway. In a flashback to the start of the episode, a young Annie is shown choosing to read rather than go in the pool on vacation, despite her mother’s protests. Wearing a blue shirt and jeans, her outfit mirrors the one we see in the present. “It was intentional to have a similar palette, to feel a familiarity with Annie as an adult,” said Needham.

The pool party is a transformative moment, both for what we see onscreen and what occurred behind the scenes when fitting the actors. “We really scoured, begged, and made so pieces. We rolled in with so many racks of options,” Needham said. “It was such a beautiful scene to see these women feel seen and heard in ways that they didn’t. There was really options for them.”

These pieces came from a variety of outlets and brands including ASOS, CoEdition, Nordstrom, 11 Honoré, Alpine Butterfly, SHEIN, and Forever 21. Fran’s new love interest Vic (Melanie Field), who organized the party, can be seen leaping into the pool in separates from Macy’s and Torrid.

After a frozen margarita and a “dance like nobody’s watching” moment to Ariana Grande’s “One Last Time,” Annie ditches the button-up and denim, revealing a color-block Mara Hoffman swimsuit. Needham wanted this moment to be a surprise: “We didn’t want people to think she has a cover-up on, or she has a bathing suit under what she is wearing.” Again, this shows Annie’s growing confidence and desire to take up space rather than shrink away — an evolution that fuels her to later write and publish her “Hello, I’m Fat” essay as a rebuke against Gabe’s “lazy bodies, lazy minds” comment (and his other fatphobic remarks).

The season’s final two episodes see Annie pushing back against those who have pushed her around, with varying results. She goes on a “troll hunt” to find the person that has been spewing insults at her in the alt-weekly’s comments section. Stripes are a repeated theme, with red popping up during her most confident moments. This particular button-up style became an “aha moment,” according to Needham, that also appears in a red-and-pink version in episode three. “It is so gorgeous and it looked so good,” she said, noting how the dress style is emblematic of “building this character together with Aidy.” In the season finale, Needham explains, this outfit is “a real middle-finger moment to anybody that is in her way.”