Interview: TV Costume Designer Kiersten Hargroder

courtesy of WB/CBS- Darren Michaels (photographer)


Interview with Supergirl Costume Designer Kiersten Hargroder
by Jeremiah Murphy

Kiersten Hargroder may be one of a few people who knows how hard it is to wear a cape.

She was the costume designer for the TV show Supergirl for seasons one and two and has designed five costumes for season three. She got the job while working with Colleen Atwood who designed Supergirl’s costume for the show. But excluding characters who crossed over from other programs, Hargroder designed all clothing for both seasons she worked on the show.

That includes costumes for villains, other superheroes, and creating a look for Supergirl’s secret identity: Kara Danvers.

Via e-mail Hargroder was super in her own right, taking time from her busy schedule to answer my questions about Supergirl and costume design.

The first of which was one from my daughter: “Why don’t Wonder Woman and Supergirl wear pants?”

“That is a great question,” Hargroder responded, including with reasons related to storytelling, “I think it shows that you can fight crime and evil–no matter what you’re wearing.”

Movies, TV, and even on toiletries–super heroes are everywhere these days. I asked Hargroder why she thinks super heroes have so much appeal. “I think they work in a similar way to religion, helping us feel like we belong,” Hargroder wrote, “or how we can explain good and bad–on a very simple level in a way.”

Supergirl’a Costume

As someone who’s always wondered if super hero costumes could endure things like flying through the Earth’s molten core, I asked about the durability of Supergirl’s outfit. It’s “made out of a fabric that is similar to a bathing suit,” Hargroder wrote. Supergirl “has probably 15-20 suits that we make for her throughout the season.”

In addition to the actor’s costume, the stunt performers have a “whole different set of suits” built for the physical demands of being Supergirl. According to Hargroder, these stunt versions are made out of “materials that would withstand the wear and along with colors that don’t show certain problems on camera.”

What about the cape, would it be easy to wear as one leaps over a tall building?

Hargroder responded: While the skirt is made out of silk, the cape is “quite heavy,” made out of leather and supported by a corset. “But it is surprisingly comfortable,” Hargroder wrote, “that said, the actor does love getting out of it all.”

Would the suit survive a trip from Krypton?

“The suit would survive in space, but is hard to say how long or how well!”

Costume Designing as a Career

As for kids who enjoy playing with costumes and experimenting with their own clothes, does Hargroder recommend being a costume designer?

It can be a challenge with no “direct approach to become a costume designer” in an industry that is “so fluid and ever changing.” But Hargroder added the job is “so rewarding to bring these characters to life. So, if someone is truly passionate about it–I would highly recommend it–with full disclosure that it can be difficult!”

Costume Designing Challenges

One of the hard parts of designing costumes is bearing the brunt of misdirected feedback. “The things people say can very harsh!” Hargroder wrote. “I think a lot of people don’t understand that (depending on the project), the costume designer rarely has SOLE responsibility for the look of a character design.”

Another thing audiences might not realize, the amount of work that goes into producing the designs: “We [are] often making or modifying almost every piece of clothing so that it fits the palette, or serves a specific purpose.” This work includes dying fabrics, printing patterns on clothing, altering sleeves, or designing “a dress that might look like it was just purchased.”

On top of the volume of work, television production schedules require a quick turn around. Hargroder wrote, “there are tough limitations to what you can accomplish in two weeks and still make it look amazing!”

Designing costumes for each of the episodic villains took Hargroder around one to two weeks. The construction of these costumes was another two to four weeks depending on the character.

Superman’s Costume

While Hargroder didn’t design Supergirl’s costume, she did design Superman’s when he appeared in season two. I asked what kind of liberties she had with designing such an iconic character and if there would be any changes she’d like to make that wouldn’t be allowed on the show.

Hargroder answered: “Yes, this was an incredible honor to be able to do a version of Superman, and of course looking at it now, there are things I would tweak. But that being said, obviously DC is protective of the Superman image and so they have to approve what we do. With that in mind, I also wanted to make sure that he fit into the Supergirl universe. What I mean by this, is that the colors needed to be in the same family and there needed to be some similar elements to tie them together for the story.”

“Beyond that, there was not a lot of notes, other than that they didn’t want to use the red underwear look of Superman. So, we made the belt wider to help break up the silhouette and have a nod to the iconic look. mostly I feel there is not a dramatic amount that can be done in a way, as you want him to feel iconic and sort of simple and classic, if possible. At least that is my thought.”

If you want to see some of Hargroder’s designs, she has a website, however it’s still in the process of being built: