Welcome to our TV Fashion column, where TV Ate My Wardrobe‘s Emma Fraser discusses the trends in television apparel. This week: a reflection on 1980’s womenswear wrestling couture.
In the first episode of GLOW it is established early on that Ruth Wilder is struggling financially; she is an out of work actor and she’s leaving answer machine messages for her parents asking for money to pay for utilities. She has the perfect power suit audition outfit in the form of a mint green Escada number that costume designer Beth Morgan found in a vintage store, but even that isn’t scoring her the job. Ruth has different methods for standing out such as ‘accidentally’ reading the lines intended for a guy and hiding out in the bathroom until the casting director comes in so she can get some feedback. None of these things work, but Ruth is both resourceful and doesn’t take rejection as the final word on a matter.
Cut to Ruth getting cut from the GLOW – Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling – audition process after once again thinking outside of the box to her detriment. Alison Brie is particularly adept at playing the thin line between overachiever and desperation (see also Community and Mad Men) and in GLOW, a strong dose of personal relationship self-sabotage thrown into the mix. There’s an inherent loneliness to Ruth and this is in part her own making after she sleeps with her best friend’s husband; she loses her closest ally in this act of betrayal, but it also gets her back on the GLOW team.
Instead of returning to the audition grind after Marc Maron’s Sam Sylvia has booted her from the group she goes home and studies wrestlers such as Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair. Taking style pointers so she can look the part when she launches her quest to change Sam’s mind about cutting her. What Ruth lacks in natural charm and likability she definitely makes up in her ability to research using her bed as a pretend wrestling ring and perfecting her smack talk in the mirror. Because she is so broke (so much so that her stolen burrito was both her lunch and dinner) she really needs this part and so the only way to fashion a costume is with items she already owns.
She practices in leotards over shorts, vests that she cuts with scissors to aid with the Hulk Hogan style ripping, a duvet cover cape and workshopping the name Pre-Menstrual Syndrome putting all those acting classes to good use.
Making her grand return Ruth constructs a whole red, white and blue motif with the items from her wardrobe (and kitchen cupboard) including a leotard we have already seen her wear to the jazzercise class. Dressing it up with a yellow dish gloves (with the fingers cut off), a shoelace tied around her head, a pair of white boots, Lycra bike shorts, a red belt and an oversized coat as a cape for her entrance. She has come up with a whole backstory, but it is her real life fuck up that leads to her second chance.
Enter Debbie; former soap star and best friend of Ruth until she found out that Ruth has been fucking her husband (played by Mad Men’s Rich Sommer and messing with my brain a little). Debbie interrupts Ruth’s re-audition and a real fight in the wrestling ring erupts. Cue a fantasy version of what is taking place as Sam gets a vision of what GLOW could be complete with sexist imagery from his coke-addled skeazy mind. The costumes here are fancier versions of what they are already wearing taking Debbie’s earth toned styling – that is giving me Indiana Jones vibes – and turning it gold, while polishing Ruth’s DIY wrestling attire interpretation. This sequence also gives a snapshot of what we can maybe expect costume wise when these ladies step into the ring in front of an actual audience. But probably not quite as polished due to budget constraints. DIY is where it is at.
Something I have discussed in the past is when a character’s wardrobe matches their financial situation; this can often be a costume blindspot if a character is wearing a constant stream of $200+ sweaters even though they can barely scrape the rent. There are many reasons behind costume choices, often dictated by how something looks on camera that ignore economic factors and sometimes you have to suspend disbelief. But I am always thrilled when affordable brands feature among the designer and shows such as Riverdale and Jane the Virgin deliver here.
With vintage it is slightly different at costume designers are somewhat restricted by what options are available from thrift stores and suppliers. Sometimes contemporary alternatives are used when multiples are needed and items are built from scratch. On GLOW there is a lot of clothing repetition and this is another way of showing a character doesn’t have a lot of money to spend on a vast wardrobe. Ruth does have a designer suit as mentioned earlier and in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, GLOW costume designer Beth Morgan mentions the process of figuring out Ruth’s style included questions such as “What did Debbie get rid of and give her?” The Escada suit is not an outlandish item in her closet, if it came from her much more successful (former) BFF.
Workout clothes make up a lot of the rehearsing and workshopping outfits prior to figuring out what persona their wrestling characters should be. Because GLOW is set in the mid-80s this means a whole lot of Lycra and velour, much to my delight as I am low-key obsessed with sportswear from this period. Pop culture influences character costume choices with Tammé (played by real-life wrestler Kia Stevens) working the Debbie Allen Fame vibe, Melanie leans heavy on the Madonna look and Justine has a rotation of punk tees. A lot of these outfits could double as going out attire, Then there is Sheila who is very much living the wolf aesthetic. The pilot establishes all of this and sets the style tone early on.
Athleisure and exercise clothing continue to be big business and if this show was set in 2017 there would be an influx of Fabletics, Lululemon and Victoria’s Secret sport branded items. SoulCycle, LEKfit and yoga classes have replaced jazzercise, step aerobics and ThighMaster as the big exercise trends, but there is something super appealing about sportswear of the ‘80s. Brands such as Adidas have been dipping into their archives with reissues of designs extending beyond sneakers and the casual companion of the leotard – the bodysuit – has been making a comeback. I am less enthused about the latter mostly due to nightmare induced flashbacks of crotch poppers.
Whether wearing vintage or looking to current brands there are plenty of options for creating your very own Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling inspired outfits; in the home switching out a Jane Fonda (I had a Cindy Crawford one) VHS workout for a 20-minute YouTube routine. You might want to add some ‘80s flair to a running ensemble or for your spin class. The list of options is long. But it might be best to leave the shoestring headband and dish gloves at home.