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Broad City's Costume Designer on Crop Tops, 'Rihanna Moments'

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Broad City costume designer Staci Greenbaum's shopping process is twofold. One: choose looks that reflect Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer's onscreen personas (the former romantic yet practical, the latter IDGAF personified). And two: keep in mind that unlike the IRL show runners, fictional Abbi and Ilana are broke twentysomethings, and their closets should reflect that (Greenbaum has no patience for Carrie Bradshaw levels of wardrobe-income disconnect).

So, like any New Yorker on a budget, she gets creative—pulling pieces from the Salvation Army, Topshop, Madewell, and, on one occasion, a trash bag, with the occasional big-ticket item (like Abbi's blue freakum dress) thrown in. "When you're young, and you're newly graduated, and you like to go out, and you like to smoke weed, you have these moments where you have to splurge," Greenbaum says.

We caught up with the costume pro to talk about her favorite looks from season two, what makes a "Rihanna moment," and that bra.

How did you get into costume design?
I worked for a costume designer all through high school who did all of the high school plays in the area. I really thought I wanted to be a fashion designer, so I went to school, and had a really excellent mentor, and I just wasn't sure if it felt like the right fit for me. The more we talked about it, I felt like costume design is so collaborative, and you get to work within the confines of a story you get to tell, which I really love.

So how did you start working with Broad City?
It was kind of happenstance. I had just finished working on The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman Part II, and I was really tired and kind of wanted a break. I knew a few people that were starting a show and I said, "Whoever you end up hiring, I'd love to assist them and try a different scale of production." I guess it didn't work out with the designer they had in mind, and he said, "I kind of threw your name in to the ring for design. Be ready to interview in four days." And I was like, "What?" I was on my way to Fire Island for a bachelorette party. But I interviewed with the girls and the producers and gave them a little schpiel about how I related to the characters and my interpretation of how they dressed. And that was it!

Do you remember what you said in that meeting?
I didn't get it totally right at first. I definitely could sense Ilana's wild abandon and outlandishness, and I thought that maybe that would be a little more visible and the way she dresses—graphic tees, shirts that said things on them. I found this very funny animal print shirt that said "mazel tov" and thought it was hilarious. Even though she cares, there's a carelessness and an ease to the way she puts things together, and my initial interpretation was a little bit more intentional.

And Abbi, I could sense her romanticism. She's really the dreamer. She's the practical rock in the relationship, the pragmatic one. I felt like the way she dressed had more utility to it. She wears a uniform, which, everybody does. Very few people dress in a way that is so completely different from one day to the next.

Do you get to see the entire script before you start conceptualizing the costumes?
Every project is different. With season two, we had the luxury of getting all ten scripts at once. Not that those are locked, but you get a sense of the big picture, which is remarkable and very unusual. We had a lot of subject matter to work with up front. It's kind of like planning for a five-hour movie.

Are their on-screen styles different from their real-life personal style?
It's a delicate line that we've had to find the balance of. I think there is a distinct difference. Abbi in real life, I think, is very chic. She wears things you'd find at like, Creatures of Comfort. She has very good taste and buys things that are certainly more expensive than what we'd buy for character Abbi. But character Abbi is younger than actual Abbi, so we also hone in on the fact that their circumstances are very different. We like when character-Abbi missteps, we like when Abbi wears something that isn't quite right or takes her out of her comfort zone. She is, in her own way, a creature of comfort. Even though it's summer and it's sweltering, she's wearing jeans in the season two premiere, because that's where her comfort level is. Abbi doesn't wear shorts. Like, she goes into Topshop and buys more jeans! She could have bought anything else! There's often a joke that makes Abbi uncomfortable in what she's wearing, like when she's making out with Seth Rogen and those jeans get glued to her legs—it couldn't be any more awkward if we'd wanted it to.

Ilana in real life is a little bit more alternative, but she's still got that laid-back sensibility. Her character is really like, "I found this on my floor, it smells…okay, and it looks cool." Or she dresses for the occasion, like you saw in the season two premiere. It's hot, she's wearing barely any shorts and a jersey, which is really billowy, and it makes sense to have your hair up and back, but we do it in a way that makes it very Ilana—outlandish, and we made the hair and makeup a little ridiculous to match. That lip gloss was in her ring! It was a skull with the black lipstick inside it.

I loved that ring! Where did you find it?
That actually came from the hair and makeup trailer, but I don't know the brand. We saw it and were like, that's amazing. That was just one of those perfectly placed things. (Editor's note: A tipster tells us that it's Wet & Wild, and you can find it here.)

Do you remember where you found that jersey she was wearing with it?
Topshop! It was a freak moment last summer when they were selling this jersey that wasn't bedazzled or fringed. We put a rainbow mitten clip—those things little kids use to affix their mittens to their winter jacket sleeves—to cinch it in the back. We thought she would kind of look at that and be like, "yeah, that's cute!" and go. That was one of her Rihanna moments. She has a lot of those.

Where do you go usually shopping for them?
There are some similarities with their costumes—you have your twentysomething-in-New-York mainstays, like H&M, now there's a little bit of Topshop and American Apparel. They start to differentiate in that Abbi loves Madewell, and a little bit of J. Crew. We don't do Frye boots, but she wears a nice utility boot.

Ilana's a little bit crazier. We go to vintage stores for both of them them, but Ilana is more of an American Apparel and Topshop person. We'll go to the usual places, Beacon's Closet, the Salvation Army, where there's always new things coming up, and we'll just happen to be there at the right time. There's an episode where she's babysitting, and she's wearing like, a fanny pack and digital-print Froot Loop leggings by a brand called Zara Terez, because that's what all the cool kids were wearing. Obviously, the idea of Ilana watching your child would be a little disconcerting.

What's the craziest place you've found an item of clothing that made it on the show?
One day we found a trash bag in our office, and we had no idea what it was, but Ilana had like, found all these clothes in her life and just donated them to us. So we get clothes in all different ways.

Another costume designer has a pretty extensive collection that's basically a barn full of clothes in Pennsylvania. We call it the Depot. That's where we get our more interesting, unusual, one-of-a-kind pieces that I've never seen anywhere else.

Do you design anything especially for them?
There have been pieces that we've made especially for them. But unless there's a specific reason or a fantasy—there's a lot of fantastical things that happen this season and we make things specifically for those—we try to be honest about these girls. We make a lot of graphics for t-shirts, but for the most part, we try to be honest about who these girls are. They would shop.

Do you think their styles have changed from season one to season two?
I do. I think the circumstances of the seasons were particularly different due to the seasonal change. Abbi is starting to sort of find herself more. Because of the heat, we were working within those confines. Abbi is a character who only wears pants, but we see her in a more vulnerable place; we see her a bit more feminine. Not that she wasn't the first season, but you'll see her being a bit more conscientious, and in a later episode, you'll see her in a way you've never seen her before. She's becoming more confident. But, then of course, the minute something great happens, then something funny and weird happens. So she's not so far from where she started.

Will we see a return of that blue freakum dress she wore on her birthday?
There's a chance that she didn't make that 30-day return policy, and so to make the most of it, she might wear it again. In the first season the audience got these really big moments with Ilana, and this season, we're going to see a lot more of Abbi exploring new things.

Do you ever worry about making them too stylish?
I'm okay with them exploring things that are on-trend, because I think that has to do with the culture of disposable clothing and living in New York, where everything is so accessible and reasonably priced. The only time I feel like we've ever made them look too trendy was for a promo shoot that we just did, which we then redid because it didn't feel like them.

I'm more worried about making them look too put-together. I think there's a real level of consciousness there, and these girls are like, scraping by. Their focus is elsewhere. If a shirt is supposed to look like it came off the floor, I don't want it pressed or steamed. We know some of Ilana's stuff comes out of the hamper. If there's a crease or a wrinkle, that's intentional.

Abbi and Ilana repeat outfits a lot, was that something you wanted to do from the beginning?
Absolutely. Don't you repeat what you wear? I think we try to stay really honest. It's more important to me that the costumes on screen look real-real, not necessarily TV-real, which can be a little bit more polished. We made a very conscious decision at the beginning of season one to say "we know the budget that these girls probably have, we know what their salary would be." When you're young, and you're newly graduated, and you like to go out, and you like to smoke weed, you have these moments where you have to splurge. Like the blue dress—that was out of Abbi's comfort zone, that store was out of her comfort zone. She just had this really desperate need to do something different.

Speaking of, the lattice bra! i was so excited to see it come back for season two.
Oh, my god the bra! You know, there's a Broad City app where there's an emoji of that bra. Here's Ilana, who's this busty girl, and yet she wears a bra that doesn't have a whole lot of support. It's from that store LF, which, I cannot tell you how many people have missed that I said LF was a store, and that it's only in New York and LA. People who aren't familiar with it always think it's a typo. But that's THE bra. Ilana has the most extensive sock and bra collection of any character I've worked with.

But actually, this season, we kind of found Abbi's bra. It's not the one in the season two premiere—that's an underwire bra, because she was on a date, so that was a conscious decision for her to wear that cute little white bra. But we had these Free People lace racerback bras that we'll see Abbi in a lot these season that she wears under tank tops. It's just this nice peek of color for her.

A lot of the times we see Ilana, she's wearing a crop top. What is Ilana's love affair with them all about? So few people can pull them off!
A lot of it's about proportion. We'd never put her in a low rise short and a crop top. There's still a lot of coverage there. It hearkens back to a vintage silhouette, with high waisted shorts with pleats and a cuff at the bottom. The crop top doesn't overpower her, and it's a fun way for her to express herself and to show a little skin, but not in the way that's overtly sexual at all. It's a way for her to be fun and comfortable in the heat. She doesn't wear a lot of pants either, she only wears leggings, and what goes better with a legging than a looser crop top?

Do you have a favorite look from season one?
Naturally, my favorite look from season one is the Missy Elliot episode where they go to the bank. But that's a fantasy. I really love her floral outfit she wore in "Broken Phone." She's wearing that floral crop top with washed out cutoff shorts and floral Doc Martens with socks. It encapsulates all the things I love about Ilana. The floral has nothing to do with it. It's not about being feminine, it's sort of like she said, "Oh, that's flowers, that's flowers, that's flowers, so it goes."

And season two?
Without giving too much away, this season there's going to be an episode that takes place on a ship, and I really, really love what Ilana's wearing on that. You're going to see something that's repeated from this season already. Ah, I'm going to give it away.

There's also going to be an episode where the girls go out for an entire night and Abbi wear this dress that's not typically what we'd see her in, yet it feels so right on her. It's a very easy, breezy dress, and it's black with a speckled confetti print. There's something very ethereal and whimsical about it. There's some crazy other things, but you're going to have to wait for those!

What about Lincoln and Bevers? How do you describe their styles?
I just thought of Bevers and it made me laugh, because all you've seen of him so far is that horrible pair of underwear on the bed while he was sweating and eating ice cream. Bever's style is like the boy you went to high school with who just sat and played video games all day. He dresses for comfort only. He does strange things like wearing flip flops and socks.

I love Lincoln. We try to be a bit more attentive to detail about the things that enter his closet. The shirt that he was wearing in the premiere of season two had a little dot in it, and near the buttons there was a ribbon down the side. I feel like he sees things and is like, "Oh, that's interesting." He does things in a very thoughtful way. He dresses much more like an adult than the others.

Often times with the younger ones, it's important to be keenly aware of how they look at the occasion. We're going to see Ilana later on at a shiva, which is what you go to after a funeral in the Jewish tradition. To be appropriate, you'd wear a long skirt and you'd have your shoulders covered. Well, she does all that, but the shirt is lace and completely see-though, and the skirt has sheer panels starting up like, two inches below her under-bits. And it's just so ridiculous. And she's wearing this leopard hat. She thinks this is perfectly natural.

How much of a role do the real Abbi and Ilana play in the process?
Oh my god, well, most actors don't have a hand in that many decisions, but they're also the creators, so everything is collaborative. Every idea, concept, color, choice that we make is a discussion. It's not an absolute from any angle. I always want to be true to the story, and nobody knows the story better than Abbi and Ilana because they wrote it.

Do you ever find that you treat yourself like a character, and dress yourself as a costume designer would?
What's so amazing about my job is that you're always being put into a new world. You start to become overexposed, and sometimes that influences you a little bit, but for the most part, no, I spend so much time thinking about the way other people dress, that I wear mostly black, gray, and blue.

Where do you shop for yourself?
I love Creatures of Comfort. Love, love, love them. Clothes fit everyone differently—for me, I'm curvy, so it's not always about the store, it's about fit. I found these really great Catherine Malandrino pants at Housing Works and they were huge on me, but I pleated them so they'd fit my little waist and also my hips. Stores like Zara make great pieces—not necessarily well-made, but for a run. For the most part, I'm so overexposed to clothing. But this job is so fun, and obviously I wouldn't want to be doing anything else.

This interview has been edited and condensed.