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A Conversation With the People Who Outfit ‘Succession’

We talked to the show’s costume designers about Tom’s boxy, corporate look, Shiv’s second-season transformation, and, yeah, Kendall’s custom baseball jersey

HBO/Ringer illustration

In the first season of Succession, Tom Wambsgans had some questions for Cousin Greg upon his first day at Waystar Royco. “Forgive me, but are we talking to each other on the poop deck of a majestic schooner? Is the salty brine stinging my weather-beaten face?” Tom asked. “No? Then why the fuck are you wearing a pair of deck shoes, man?”

Clothes are highly important in the universe of Succession; in the show’s cutthroat, materialistic world, they are signifiers of wealth, status, and experience. In turn, commentary on clothes has been one of these characters’ sharpest weapons through Succession’s two seasons. Tom, once an arbiter of fashion criticism against Greg, often found his own style choices under a microscope in Season 2, a harsh and consistent reminder of where he stands in the Roy food chain. “Where do you buy your suits?” Roman asked him in the second episode of the season. “Maybe that’s why I’m not moving as fast as you, I just don’t have that corporate, boxy look. Right? I mean, I’m sorry but like, what the fuck? You look like a Transformer.” And later, in “Argestes,” Roman said: “Nice vest, Wambsgans. It’s so puffy. What’s it stuffed with, your hopes and dreams?”

But beyond the literal signifiers, the costumes on Succession are an important ingredient in fully fleshing out each character. There is deeper meaning in the way Shiv Roy dresses, in the tailoring of Cousin Greg’s suits, and in the colors Kendall wears. Before Season 2 of Succession came to an end, the show’s costume designer and assistant costume designer, Michelle Matland and Jonathan Schwartz, hopped on the phone with me to delve into those deeper meanings, talk vests, and reveal whether Jeremy Strong dressed up as Kendall Roy at the 2019 Emmys.

First of all, we need to address a major mystery: The suit Jeremy strong wore to the Emmys looked very similar to the suit Kendall would wear a week later at his father’s 50-year celebration in “Dundee”—is it the same suit?

Matland: No, it is not ... it’s a different version of that. It has a vest that we did not use. I didn’t even know there was one. We had to order that from Italy to the United States, then it wasn’t going to be here in time. It was a big drama, because we had talked about getting the suit for that particular scene, and because Jeremy Strong is very, very involved in everything to do with his character—down to his underpants and socks. Every detail has to be fully Kendall. And getting that suit was the biggest drama, and it showed up finally, in Scotland—sans bow tie. Overnight we made the bow tie out of something we found in a fabric store in Scotland, and found this wonderful tailor who could cut it out and make it happen to surprise Jeremy in the morning, within moments of the scene. So, that was the long answer. The short answer is no—it’s not the same exact suit.

It’s a really interesting suit. What made you choose it?

Matland: We started with very definitive choices for him in Season 1, and then by Season 2, he starts to transcend into another Kendall. If you look at the palette in Season 1, it’s very austere, it’s much darker. It’s much more clear what he’s trying to say about himself. And then after he breaks at the end of Season 1, it becomes apparent, the toll that’s been taken. His tonality becomes much more muddled. There’s a lot of muted, muddy greens, a lot of browns. So we ended up going with a suit that was very obscure. I mean, obviously that was a very strange choice for him to make.

You mention Jeremy being involved in everything “down to the underpants.” I’m curious what goes into picking out Kendall’s underwear.

Matland: We know that it’s going to be some incredibly hard-to-come-by European brand that could only be purchased—

Schwartz: If it’s not Swedish, it will not be worn.

Matland: It’s definitely going to be European, that’s for sure. For each character, the detailing has to be discussed and prepared for, so that we know what the reason behind it is, so it’s not just by accident. We try to make sure there are no accidents.

What was discussed for Shiv in Season 2, a season in which she had a lot of ups and downs?

Matland: Well, we started with her as an associate to a political being—she was representing that person. We didn’t get to know her as much in Season 1; we knew her as an operative for someone else. By Season 2, as she leaves the Gil [Eavis] world and moves more into the Roy world, before she transitions into the Shiv who wants to fit into the boardroom, we see Shiv as she inherently is, I think. We see a little bit of her tomboy side, having been brought up in a household of men. We see a little bit of her feminine side, as she is playing with people outside of herself, her flirtations with the world. And then we see her as she transitions into the Roy world, which is into the boardroom. We start to see that one more tangent of Shiv who is fitting into the men’s world, without giving up her own identity. She now knows who she is. She wants to be an equal in the boardroom with her brothers, she wants to be someone who her father can associate with, to have that understanding with and get his respect, so she’s willing to take on some of the masculinity that’s part of that space.

Is that sort of hybrid version of her something we saw in “DC” and then beyond?

Matland: Absolutely. That’s where you can see that she does not lose her femininity to become part of the gang. But she is willing to put on a veneer, that feminine-touch suit that has power to it. She does not want to lose her economy to her father. At the same time, she is willing to represent herself in a way that she can compete like the men in the room.

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As for her husband, Tom—Roman has literally made fun of the way he dresses and wears his suits. Have you been deliberately dressing him that way all along?

Matland: Well, there is a peacock-esque sense to him. In Season 1, he’s a bit of a robot. He’s not prancing yet. He’s just trying to muddle his way through to glean as much information as he can. By Season 2, he’s absorbed quite a bit. He now has decided what he thinks will make other people think something specific about him. And so, he is full of pretense. No one else in the family will look at the price tag. They will buy something because they can afford it, and they love it, they like it, whatever. Tom doesn’t know what quality is, it’s not part of his history. Money equals quality to him. Whereas, for the rest of the family, they know the difference, they were trained to know the difference.

Tom’s just trying to exist in this family.

Matland: He’s a monkey. He’s learning the detailing as he goes along. What we tried to do was give him subtle detailing that would enhance that desire to show himself as something important in the room—like the pocket squares, the suspenders. His shoes are highly polished, whereas Roman would never look down. For Tom, there’s a lot of posturing going on.

And what about his protégé/best friend, Greg? I have noticed that his suits seem to be fitting a little better these days.

Matland: Oh, absolutely! He’s come into money. The first time we see him, he’d never owned a suit in his life. When he goes to the thrift store and he buys the suit and the shoes, that’s one of the greatest moments in a character study, for me personally; watching him walk through the park, trying to get his shoes to stay on. It was something Nicholas Braun brought to the moment that just happened organically. But it was a stroke of genius that made you understand that this guy’s never owned a pair of laced-up leather shoes.

Schwartz: In real life, in the fitting room, Nicholas will say, “I love Kendall’s suits. He looks so great. Shouldn’t Greg be in a Kendall suit?” And we’re like, “Greg, you’re not there yet.”

Matland: By Season 2, when he’s come into enough money, he is now taking on what he sees when he walks through the hallway. He’s now wearing Hickey Freeman, instead of a thrift-shop version from Men’s Warehouse. He’s starting to pick up on where you buy it, how you buy it, how you get it tailored if it doesn’t fit, because obviously he’s a very different fit. He couldn’t walk into any store and just buy a suit. He’s 6-foot-7, you know?

How much of your job is spent picking out vests?

Matland: [Laughs.] Are you talking about “Argestes?” I would love to take credit for all those vests and say I created the image of what these tech geeks wear; these multimillion-dollar boys. But, the reality is, this is what these gentlemen wear when they go to these conferences. For example, Tom is wearing a Moncler puffy vest that’s very iconic.

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Schwartz: There are a couple of iconic photos of Jeff Bezos all puffed up for the Sun Valley Conference.

Matland: But for Kendall, his is a Cucinelli. The subtle differences—they’re all wearing puffy vests but they’re all unique to the character’s story lines … I think they wear them because they make them look tougher than they actually are. These are guys who never played football. The vests are something that make them feel bigger than they physically are.

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To go back to “Dundee,” can you tell me about picking out the jersey Kendall wears for his performance of “L to the OG?” You had a pretty major role in one of the best, most cringeworthy moments of TV this year.

Matland: The “L to the OG” … Well, there were obviously numerous ways that we could go, so we did a little bit of homework. What the look of it would be, where the logo options were, what the number would be? We did create the options and then choose. We could have done a basketball jersey, but we decided to do the button-up because, on a practical level, how would he have put it on if he were going through the process he does in the scene. But it started by looking at the real thing and trying to steal from that as accurately as we could, without making fun of it. The humor is in the acting.

Schwartz: [Succession creator] Jesse Armstrong doesn’t want any costume comedy. He wants all of the comedy to be organic, through the characters.

Was there a specific reason you went with a pinstripe jersey? I wondered if it was a suggestion that Kendall’s a Yankees fan.

Schwartz: Most rich white guys are.

Matland: Oh, God, don’t say that! That’s heartbreaking. We’re in the playoffs. We just have to let it ride.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.