Written by Charna Flam, Variety
In preparation for her latest production, “Tiny Beautiful Things,” costume designer Alana Morshead “stalked every book [Cheryl Strayed] wrote and everything [she] ever said, and put it into this show.”
Hulu’s newest limited series “Tiny Beautiful Things” released all eight episodes on April 8, and is based on Strayed’s best-selling collection of her “Dear Sugar” advice column, “Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar.” Kathryn Hahn stars as Clare, a mother and wife whose world begins to crumble — just in time for her to become an advice columnist.
Morshead immersed herself in the author’s previous work, diving into “Wild” and “Brave Enough,” in an effort to bring Strayed’s story to life through costuming nods and references to the author’s personal history. “It’s such a personal story,” Morshead told Variety. “I just wanted everything that Cheryl told me to be in the show.”
The show follows Clare as she tries to repair her relationship with her husband Danny (Quentin Plair) and daughter Frankie Rae (Tanzyn Crawford ). As the family of three slowly returns to their former dynamic, Clare begins to reflect on her family of three before she was a mother, and when her identity was just tied to being her “mother’s daughter.” Through a series of requests for advice, the anonymous “Sugar” reflects on the disastrous and rewarding realities of her life, beginning with loss of her mother at 22 years old to unexpectedly becoming a mother fifteen years prior. Flashback sequences follow Clare in various stages with her family, audiences are taken back to the memories that spark “Sugar’s” advice.
Hahn’s counterpart is portrayed by Sarah Pidgeon, with Merritt Weaver portraying Clare’s late mother, Frankie.
Morshead turned to Etsy, Poshmark and eBay for vintage and second-hand garments. Her team also explored the racks of vintage dealers throughout Los Angeles. Hahn even suggested during a fitting for Morshead to check out Tommy Dorr whom the actress calls “the most amazing vintage dealer in LA.”
With the introduction to Dorr and his company Moth Food, Morshead collaborated and pulled perfect vintage pieces that elevated Clare. “I got so much stuff on the show from him,” says Morshead. “Like her suit at the graduation, it was like a vintage men’s Japanese suit from like the 40s. No alterations, just slipped it on. It was meant to be.”
“Buying mostly vintage and thrift for the show made everything more real for me. If it had a slight hole in the armpit or a paint stain on the sleeve I loved it and left it alone.” says Morshead.
Here Morshead shares the story behind five of the series’ most meaningful looks.
The series begins with Clare reflecting back on her final Christmas with her mother.
After her mother gifts her a mustard yellow and navy blue reversible puffer coat for her big move to New York.
Morshead reveals when she first learned about the coat, “It was scripted as an ugly mustard coat. So when you think of that, it just sounds as horrible as I feel it would look.” Morshead continues, “I really wanted to play up this coat where you’re like ‘Oh God,’ I have someone looking at you just [as you] open your present and you’re like ‘Oh… I love it.’ But really everyone’s like, ‘Oh no.’”
After Danny kicks her out and she has to start sleeping at her job, disheveled Clare only sports a series of graphic tees. One t-shirt gets the most screen time, after Clare walks in on her daughter Rae engaging in a threesome in her parent’s bedroom. While mother and daughter are reeling from the uncomfortable situation, Clare finds comfort in her go-to outfit, a classic graphic t-shirt with jeans.
Morshead explains that Clare’s wardrobe began with garments that she could “just shove in her bag.” Adding,“[Clare] sleeps in her t-shirts and then wears them the next day. It’s just stuff that’s reusable that you can shove in a bag and kind of throw together but still giving her like a personality.” Morshead also revealed that the wardrobe comprised garments that would “fit everyone on the show,” so the characters could “all kind of wear each other’s clothes a couple of times.”
Once Clare comes back home she has the freedom to rummage through her closet once again. No longer searching through her purse, Clare wears a brown suede midi skirt with an olive green tank top and navy blue striped overshirt. Morshead reveals she also worked closely with the owner of The Curatorial Dept., a Los Angeles vintage dealer, and the suede skirt was pulled and supplied by the shop’s owner.
After one tense therapy session with Danny, the couple finds their way back to each other and by episode six, Clare is seen in the suede skirt and continually fashioning a color palette of warmer autumnal tones. Morshead explains the use of the warmer color palette with a variety of textures was to keep Clare “separate from the other cast [members]” and embody Clare’s “approachable and kind of cozy” demeanor.
Once Frankie learns of her diagnosis, she sits Clare and Lucas down for an impromptu dinner to let her children know. At the dinner, Frankie wears a green floral sundress with a pair of sentimental earrings. After Frankie passes away and receives her posthumous degree, Clare wears the same dress and earrings to the graduation ceremony.
Morshead reveals, “Cheryl actually wore her mother’s dress and earrings to her college graduation.” In an effort to pay homage to Cheryl and her mother, Morshead wanted to include all the little details. She says, “No one will ever notice that it’s the same dress or the same earrings, at least we know — I know, Cheryl knows, Kathryn knows — so that’s something that’s really special.”
As a tribute to the author and her mother, Clare’s wedding dress in the penultimate episode was the only garment the costume designer made herself. “Her mother was such an amazing seamstress and they had no money. I just kept linens, curtains, handkerchiefs and vintage lace, and embroidered them into a dress,” says Morshead. The costume designer pulled inspiration from the production as well, finding aprons and leftover fabric from around Frankie’s home, that she believed Frankie would collect in an effort to make her daughter the dress she deserved.