When you think 1981, hold the big hair, neon and parachute pants. Please hold the parachute pants, preferably in a locked, dark closet. 1981, the setting of the FX sleeper-spy drama “The Americans,” reflects the fashion dictates of the 1970s, but the classier aspects. And yes, those did exist.
“1981 is a transitional time,” Jenny Gering, the show’s costume designer, tells Zap2it. “Most people do wear clothes that are between 1 to 5 years old.”
In the drama, Elizabeth and Philip (Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys) are KGB spies posing as a husband and wife running a travel agency.
“The thing to take into account is where they are living,” Gering says. “The East Village in ’81 is very different from suburban Virginia in ’81.”
Gering says Elizabeth has “a certain classic element to her. She is not particularly trendy. However, she is very aware of her beauty. She takes pride in her appearance. Her look is fitted.”
“The ’70s silhouette was bigger on the bottom and more shrunken on the top — the polar opposite of the ’80s,” Gering says of “the tight jeans tucked into boots, sometimes flared, sometimes fitted.”
Jeans were high-waisted, especially compared to several years earlier when ultra low-riders were the fad. “It was very much about exposing the waist and shape,” she says.
In the pilot, Elizabeth wears scoop-necked bodysuits as tops with jeans.
“It was Danskin, leotards heaven,” Russell says of her wardrobe in the pilot. “There were a lot of leotards happening. Now that the series is a full-time series, we are doing a lot more silk shirts, which isn’t so bad. It is a step up from the leotards. It is kind of Lauren Hutton-ish, shoulder pads and permed hair. We do wigs for all the disguises.”
The deep V-neck of this blouse reveals nothing more than the woman’s confidence. “It is Charlotte Rampling in her ’70s glory,” Gering says. “She is a woman very confident of her sexual attractiveness.”
This blouse, which is used throughout the season, is perfect for the character because it can be worn with jeans or a suit. The wardrobe choices also reflect the colors and fabrics of the time.
“The palette, at this point, is very little black in people’s wardrobes,” Gering says. “It was much more of a muddier palette, rusts and browns and navies and forest greens. It’s a few years later where you get the neon and black and white. We are not there yet, especially when this is taking place. The other thing about this period is that it was extremely textural: a lot of corduroy, velvet, suede and leather.”
The rich textures extended to men’s clothing as well, as Philip proves. “He is wearing a navy turtleneck and a brownish tweed trouser,” Gering says. “There is very little about the look that would have sheen, it is so tactile.”