A Q&A With Fleabag’s Costume Designer

Have you seen the movie Fleabag? I binge-watched the second season over the weekend and have developed an unhealthy crush on creator and actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge. I met with costume designer Ray Holman to find out more. He talked on how to outfit a complex character, the necessity of inexpensive apparel, and those little too-short skirts…

As a fashion journalist, I couldn’t help but notice Fleabag’s outfits throughout the season. It’s not a fashion show in the same way that Sex in the City or Girls were. The majority of the sequences rely primarily on close-up camera angles, making it difficult to see the entire ensemble. However, if you take a look from head to toe, you’ll notice that the apparel is actually rather nice. It’s stylish in a manner that makes you think, “Wait, I’d actually wear that.” I’m not the only one that notices. The beautiful keyhole jumpsuit from the second season’s opening episode sold out in a day, and fans went crazy over her distinctive red lipstick, Mac’s Dare You.

According to costume designer Ray Holman:

How do you outfit a character as complex as Fleabag, especially for a program that isn’t focused on fashion?

They’re more of a supporting character in Fleabag. We worked extremely hard to make sure that every character was dressed in the most appropriate outfit for the script and the scenarios. We attempted to clothe Fleabag in a way that was appropriate for her surroundings. ‘Why don’t we do a flowery dress with a denim jacket?’ I suggested in Episode 2, when she goes to the priest’s jumble sale. It looked as though she was attempting to impress the priest in a subtle manner.

What do Fleabag’s clothing tell about her personality?

Fleabag is a city lady who owns a café, not a woman who dresses up in luxury clothing and walks around the city. She is a realistic person. She’s not wearing high heels; instead, she’s wearing her Superga shoes, which are really comfy.

Fleabag is partially French, so there’s a perception that the French are stylish, and Fleabag is stylish in her own right. We threw in a couple striped outfits, and I did purchase her berets, but they didn’t make the cut – we joked about it. Her trench coat and denim skirts appealed to us. She has an excellent sense of what she loves and what looks nice on her.

Fleabag also avoids wearing anything that is too expensive for her. That is the key to understanding it. Benetton, Muji, Cos, Zara, and Reformation were among the stores represented in the presentation.

Despite the fact that sex plays a large role in Fleabag’s narrative lines, she never dresses in a particularly revealing way.

It didn’t feel right to do so. These days, sexuality is flexible; it all depends on what’s going on in your thoughts. You are not required to dress in a specific manner. She dresses for functionality as much as a dash of elegance.

Fleabag does wear a skirt that is perhaps a tad too short, don’t you think? It’s not sexual in any manner, but it’s just a smidgeon at the knuckle. She had to keep the hem down in the wedding episode when she walked up to the attic to talk to her father. Her clothing fit her nicely for the most part; nevertheless, some of her skirts are a touch too short.

Tell me about the first episode’s jumpsuit. I like how it’s both revealing and strong at the same time.

I recall the first time I saw the jumpsuit. ‘Look, I’m going to show you this, just put it on,’ I said during the fitting. ‘Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh It was stunning on her. It was a statement, because she hadn’t seen her family in a year at that point in our journey. She did, after all, make an attempt. Not with her high heels, but with the jumpsuit and her flat Supergas.

For you, what was the most challenging ensemble of the season?

The attire for the funeral. Everyone in the screenplay complimented Fleabag’s appearance, as in ‘You look beautiful — even at a funeral.’ It was the worst day of her life, yet everyone is complimenting her on how beautiful she looks. Fleabag didn’t care about her appearance, therefore her burial attire had to be plain. It would have been utterly wrong if I had clothed her in obviously sexual attire. That was a difficult thing to nail down, but we accomplished it with the help of a Reiss dress.

Do you have a favorite outfit from the Fleabags?

Fleabag is dressed in a pair of wide-cut trousers, white Superga canvas shoes, a striped shirt, and her coat in episode four. It appeals to me because of its simplicity. You knew it was her when you saw that shadow.

You also clothed the show’s other characters. What was it like to put Fleabag in the same room with her sister, Claire?

It was actually rather simple to change their appearance. Claire is a businesswoman who is a little preoccupied with her appearance and what she wears. She dresses much more conservatively than Fleabag, in suits and bodycon dresses.

The wedding attire was my favorite Claire moment. I picked it up and said, ‘I’d want to try this on,’ while shopping with Sian [Clifford, who portrays Claire]. ‘It’s naked,’ I said. That meant a lot to us since it represented her raw emotional state at the wedding. She took some life-altering choices and exposed herself. Then I purchased her the most stunning emerald green shoes and a matching emerald green handbag. You didn’t see them much, but when you did, they stood out, which we enjoyed.

Then there’s Olivia Colman, Fleabag’s godmother-turned-stepmother and a boundary-pushing artist.

“Oh well, we’ve gone to Japan on the art trip,” her character remarks in Episode 1. So I went out and purchased some gorgeous Japanese textiles. I fashioned head wraps out of them, and you wouldn’t know they were Japanese materials if I didn’t tell you, but we both liked them.

Was dressing Boo, Fleabag’s long-dead closest buddy, a challenge? We only see her in flashbacks.

I couldn’t go shopping for her in the same manner I could with Fleabag, so I chose the vintage route. Because Boo is more of a hippy, I went to thrift stores and found stylish vintage clothing that wasn’t too expensive. It gave her the impression that she was a different person than Fleabag.

And then there’s the priest! What an intriguing and complex character he is. What did he wear to express this?

Phoebe and I intended to gradually disclose that he’s a priest at the start of the first episode. If we had put the collar on him from the start, the audience’s opinion of him may have been different. He opted for a basic tee instead. Then you find out he’s a gorgeous, cursing priest during the dinner sequence. Allowing him to reveal it on his own was a wonderful touch. When he was on official business, he wore his collar after that.

We determined that his off-duty attire would be a little worn and out-of-date, but still appropriate. He didn’t spend a lot of money on the shirt he wore in the first episode. It was merely a garment that fit him well. He wore an average sweater in another episode, although it was well-fitting. We chose simple clothing with no flamboyance since we believed the priest’s flamboyance occurred when he was wearing his vestments.