Amy Parris reveals what she looks for when vintage shopping for the cast – including her one rule for ’80s jeans.
’80s style doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. After all, it is the decade that locked in classics now seeing a sartorial resurgence like Levi’s jeans, great leather or bomber jackets, and Reebok sneakers. Stranger Things season 4, which is set in the mid-1980s between the beloved fictional towns of Hawkins (Indiana) and Lenora Hills (California), has sparked a revival of the era’s aesthetic thanks to the series’ incredible costume designer, Amy Parris.
Here, Parris discusses her approach to character building through costumes, her favorite vintage item that made it on screen, and her tips and takeaways you can apply when shopping for your own authentic styles.
Men’s Health: The incredible costumes for Stranger Things season 4 come from a range of different sources! You’ve tailor made so many iconic pieces like the boys’ ‘Hellfire Club’ tees, Eleven’s milkshake dress, and Dustin’s scantron shirt. What was your process for sourcing vintage pieces for season 4?
Stranger Things costume designer Amy Parris: I usually start in Los Angeles at some of the big warehouses known as Rag Houses that sell wholesale vintage in bulk. I’m lucky to have made some really great relationships with vintage dealers all over the country and even internationally, so I give them a list of what we are looking for and they will send it to Atlanta where we shoot the show. When I need something specific, I look online and when I can’t find the perfect thing, we make it! Ideally, when we remake something we hope to use vintage fabric and vintage notions or at least the closest to it.
Read more: Best Stranger Things Outfits to Buy Online
What were your favorite vintage items that made it to the show?
A favorite would be Eddie’s Levi’s blanket-lined trucker jacket made into a vest because when we got it, it was so worn in and aged perfectly from many years of wear. We needed to find many multiples of it for stunts, etc., so matching it was difficult but rewarding.
Those that didn’t?!
What we didn’t get to see yet was some of the stuff we have for Steve. I hope we get to put him in more costumes next season because he has a pretty incredible closet waiting for him.
You’ve spoken about looking at films and California and Midwest yearbooks from 1984-1986 to accurately capture the trends of the time. How would you describe the style of that period?
It depends on which part of the country you are in. California was a little more fashion forward, while the Midwest was a good five or more years behind in trends. Fashion moved slower back then without everyone being connected digitally. So the stonewashed/acid wash trends that would have only barely started in 1986 on the West Coast wouldn’t reach the Midwest for many years after.
We see a ton of Reebok, Converse, and Levi’s as integral parts of the main characters’ costumes throughout the series. What were the clothes that defined this specific part of the ‘80s?
In addition to those classics that are still around, brands to covet would have been Sergio Valente jeans and Bally Sneakers were huge! Esprit, Sasson, Camp Beverly Hills, Details, and Shah Safari are just some fun fashion labels of the time. Brands like Jordache and Ellesse are still around and making a comeback. (Clothing) silhouettes of the ’80s were more voluminous.
What qualities or markers were you looking for in the vintage pieces you ultimately chose for the show?
We look for it to be in great condition with little need for repair or alteration. I love a piece that is super unique and screams the character’s name when you first look at it. It’s important to reflect a unique closet for each person so we try to make each outfit significantly different from each other.
Authenticity is a term that surfaces when referencing both costume design and the vintage market. We’d love to know more about what you think makes something authentic and how the everyday shopper can apply these concepts when looking for genuine ’80s pieces themselves.
I find that looking at a tag on the garment helps validate its age. Branding and care tags on clothing were made with a higher quality and often made out of cloth vs. the cheaper paper and plastic tags that we see today. The care instructions were woven on a tag, unlike today where they are often printed on a tag, which is cheaper and quicker for the speed of contemporary fast fashion. Contemporary clothing of at least the past 10 to 15 years is blending lots of elastic, essentially for comfort, into fabric. Denim is now often blended with stretch which was extremely rare and non-existent in mens’ denim in the ’80s so we have a rule–no mens’ jeans with stretch!
When in doubt we Google it. If a brand name is familiar but we are unsure of the date, we’ll check online to see when the brand was established. I have a running list of ’80s brands for myself and my shopper to be on the lookout for.
You’ve spoken about the amount of work that goes into “aging” and “wearing” clothing on the show to give the appearance that it has been genuinely worn over time. Is this also a marker that you look for in vintage items?
It is something I look for when it makes sense for the story. If a character is a blue collar worker it makes more sense to do a deep online search for that piece that was worn by someone for many years and has true wear marks. If that person was a painter, you’ll have all the signs of past projects in the way the paint is organically placed on the clothing, which is possible to replicate but can be quicker to find the real thing.
What other advice would you give the average Joe who is looking for authentic vintage clothing?
With all the resources available online it can be very overwhelming to start searching for vintage. I would recommend starting by looking for something specific whether it’s by a particular brand you’ve noticed or a specific piece. Visit your local vintage or second hand store and try on different pieces to see which silhouettes are most flattering on you so when you find something online you’ll have an idea of how it will fit you. Also–take a risk, try something you haven’t worn before or thought you wouldn’t like. You’d be surprised how much better clothing can look on a body than a hanger.
Sara Klausing is a contributing style editor with over ten years of experience.
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