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Closing The Marvellous Wardrobe

Prime’s stellar costumed series says thank you and goodnight

A Barbra Streisand track plays, shots of a bustling NYC fill, and amidst the faceless crowds a petite woman draped in pink taffeta storms the screen with her distinctive nasal tone. Enter Miriam ‘Midge’ Maisel, the eponymous lead from Amazon Prime’s comedy-drama The Marvellous Mrs Maisel which closed its fifth and final season in May 2023.

The show, written by Amy Sherman-Palladino, follows Jewish upper-middle class housewife Maisel (played by Rachel Brosnahan), who is jilted by her husband and subsequently discovers her talent for stand-up comedy. Set in 1950/60’s New York, the show, following Midge’s career highs and lows alongside her pint-sized and rather coarse manager Suzie Myerson (played by Alex Borstein), has garnered a mass following and won countless creative and acting awards including the 2018 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series. None, however, are as well-deserved as its five costume awards for designer Donna Zakowska who, I and fellow viewers can assure, has costumed one of the best dressed characters to grace our screens.

The late Queen Elizabeth painted rainbows with her wardrobe, however, I believe Midge Maisel would’ve put her to shame. Maisel has dresses, hats, swimsuits, nightgowns, shoes…wait til I catch my breath…shirts, earrings, necklaces, in every colour, every shade and every style you could imagine. Period costumes always gain the wandering eye from viewers, they reinstate the golden age and are a natural elevation from Kat Slater’s leopard print coat on weekday nights. Throughout five seasons, the show’s costumes have remained an esteemed permanent fixture, lending a hand to Sherman-Palladino’s remarkable writing and becoming intrinsic to Midge’s character.

Period costuming peaks with Mrs Maisel; Zakowska with pastel and fluorescent palettes, cultivates a show that adds a je ne sais quoi to the norm. She reinvigorates the portrayal of fifties and sixties fashion to convey just how innovative, bright, and precise a woman’s wardrobe was to the naked eye. Eye-catching is the term that comes to mind, however, I believe that falls short.

Throughout the five seasons, Midge strives to become a household comic amidst patriarchal shortcomings, through the path of seedy nightclubs and strip joints. Midge gets so far only to be thrown back down due to her outspoken Joan Rivers-esque humour while manager Suzie is left pondering her next steps. The unlikely friendship between Midge and Suzie is inherently and archetypally comedic, however, the pair’s polarised styles instrument natural comedy from the offset given Suzie dons the same masculine cap and trousers for the show’s entire run, amidst Midge’s immaculate dresses.

Opening the doors to this marvellous wardrobe, one collection comes to mind instantly: The Catskills. Season two, episode four named ‘We’re Going to the Catskills!’ sees Midge and her parents the Weissmans, played by Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle, attend their annual residency at a resort in the Catskills Mountains. Vacation would seem a period for Midge’s wardrobe to condense and become practical, however, it becomes a feast for the fashion-eyed with dresses and bathing suits lining the rail. One outfit in particular is a staple, for a boat-ride Zakowska dresses Miriam in a pale grey-toned striped dress, wearing a cream bucket hat alongside cat-eye glasses. Something about this costume always flickers in my mind as while it is as far toned-down as the Maisel wardrobe is often willing to go, it still remains a beautifully crafted ensemble, indicative of the Maisel versatility.

Elsewhere, during her stand-up sets, Midge is always dressed in a demure black dress which, whilst not as saccharin as some of her bow-trimmed ones, remain firm classics. Though the same colour, they diverge across the show’s run from low-trimmed to silk, often aided by black gloves and pearls which pay homage to that age-old Audrey Hepburn appeal. The black dress allows Midge’s character to flourish within her sets; it strips back the floral and places all emphasis on a working female comic.

Midge has more swear words in her vocabulary than us students at ten o’clock before an essay deadline, she is unfiltered and runs around New York holding plates of brisket, swatting away her neurotic parents, in-laws, and ex-husband, while facing the odd night in jail. Yet her wardrobe never interferes in her life, it is an empowerment which provides armour against the male-dominated scene.

The endearing and frankly ironic factor I find within this show’s costuming is that within the show the characters know how many clothes Midge has, and we know, too, how many costumes Brosnahan has gone through. According to Zakowska, approximately 98% of the show’s costumes are custom-built, meanwhile two costumes have been introduced into The National Museum of American History by the Smithsonian Institution. This just shows the importance of costume within the show, and how it has partly made its name by placing them at centre-stage.

Saying goodbye to the series is sad not only because of its comedic value, which I can vehemently argue for, but packing away the shoes and hats closes a comedy where costumes are their own character. One can only hope that fellow period comedies/dramas follow the same electric path as Zadowska and costumes are born and appreciated with an intenser value.

In the words of Midge: ‘Thank you and goodnight!”

Illustration: Lauren McAndrew

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