Costuming 'Girlfriends': Stacy L. Beverly on Styling Our Favorite UPN Shows
Ever wondered how Yara Shahidi's character, Zoey, has Teen Vogue worthy style in ABC's Blackish? How Lisa Raye kept our attention in our favorite urban wear in All of Us? Or how Tracee Ellis Ross has crept her way into style icon status? Stacy L. Beverly was one of the most vital components of everyone's favorite childhood network, The CW (neé UPN), bringing life to your favorite shows: Girlfriends, All of Us, and The Game. Beverly served as Costume Director of the first season of hit show Black-ish, but took time out of her busy schedule to walk us down memory lane-- giving an exclusive behind the scenes perspective on Girlfriends as well as advice on breaking into the fashion industry.
TB: Girlfriends was set in Los Angeles, however, yourself and writer Mara Brock Akil are from the Midwest. Do you think this had any influence on the show’s overall style/themes?
SB: It’s very interesting that you ask that. I think both myself and Mara's style are influenced by the Midwest and also played an intricate part in the styling of the show. It was a good blend of the laid back vibe of Los Angeles and the layering aspects of the Midwest. We made sure to pay special attention to seasons, fabric weights and patterns. You'll also notice there’s a variety of textures and lots of accessorizing.
TB: Not only were you the costume designer for Girlfriends, but you were also the vision behind other UPN/CW shows like The Game and All of Us. How did you become such an integral part of their network?
SB: It was definitely my intention [laughs]. If you fast forward to today, I am still trying to one up myself. I appreciate Mara giving me the opportunity and it's also really about building a foundation and honing your craft. I always try to prepare myself, be committed and I'm always willing and ready to jump right in head first. Integrity is also very important in this industry.
TB: Yes, but how did it happen for you? Was it through networking or did you come across a job posting?
SB: I started off on that path. I started at FIDM and that was my introduction to Merchandise Marketing and Costume Design. I quit my job and started working as an assistant in the wardrobe department. I learned very quickly and a costumer showed me the ropes. I landed the job on Girlfriends as a Key Costumer. The designer at the time wasn’t always available because he traveled a lot. He also wasn’t aware of the culture of young black women so I was able to have more visibility. When the show came back for the second season, I interviewed for the Costume Designer position.
TB: The costumes on Girlfriends were cohesive while also reflecting the characters’ individual personalities, similarly to how Tina Knowles styled DC4. How would you describe the style direction behind each character?
SB: It's funny that you mentioned that because it was poignant in the style direction. Mara noticed and asked if I was the one pulling the costumes together. Also, when I did the boards I would include photos of [Destiny’s Child]. Mara and I had definitely discussed the style arc and evolution of where they’d start and where they’d end up on the show.
I would describe Joan’s closet as carefully curated. She collected a lot of high end designers and interesting pieces. She was definitely into more savory/vintage items as well.
Toni was different from Joan because she didn’t come from money and she had something to prove. So she was a little flashier and was drawn to high end labels. Everything she wore had to be name brand.
TB: And what about Maya and Lynn?
SB: Maya was sort of a 'round the way' girl. She could put together an outfit from anywhere— whether it be a department store or the flea market. She had a kid and husband, so she was always piecing together items, but she also had girlfriends, so you might see her in something high end that she borrowed from one of them.
Lynn had more of an eclectic, bohemian style mixed with a little rock and roll. She also wore a lot of black.
TB: It was like a gothic bohemian almost. All black, but with really flowy pieces.
SB: Yes, that’s a good word! Gothic.
TB: To your comment on Maya, I also realized that unlike Sex and the City the cast of Girlfriends would sometimes recycle items. I was obsessed with this top that Joan wore in one of the opening credits and I’m pretty sure I remember also seeing it in a later episode. It was like Good Times, except they had money but far different from the cast of SATC wearing $400 shoes once and never seeing them again.
SB: I’m glad you mentioned that! The giving away and exchanging of items like we do in real life was very intentional. We would take basic items and restyle them—pair them with a jacket the next time or different bottoms. Also, our budget was not very big in comparison to other shows so we had to make the most out of it.
TB: Who was your favorite character to dress on the show? Were there any monumental outfits that you believe embody the show?
SB: I really enjoyed all of them because at some point we all have moments like each of them, because they represent all of us in some way. I’d have to say the opening credits were probably one my favorite style moments because they were always fun. Back to what you were saying about the Destiny’s Child thing, and the concept of being very similar and yet different.
The episode when they went to New York was really fun. Maya was writing a book and we got to do some East Coast-y styling with a bit of an LA flair. They were a little more dressed up than normal.
TB: What about William? Would you say he was hard to dress?
SB: William was so conservative and Republican. Mara wanted to really make sure he stayed in that lane. She always wanted William to be very Republican and square so he was easier to dress because he was always in suits.
TB: What was the most challenging part of your role on the set of Girlfriends? Any funny mishaps?
SB: The most challenging part was learning my job on the fly. I had a feel for it because of school and my previous position but it’s definitely more difficult than people think. It’s not like getting dressed everyday and just pairing sneakers with your outfit. You have to be mindful that certain cameras do different things to different fabrics. You have to know silhouettes that don’t look good on camera. You are also putting mics on clothing and certain fabrics might make noise on set so you can’t use them, and so forth. It was definitely a learning curve but I was fortunate to have a crew that was very experienced. The supervisor who worked with me on the show was like a mentor. She pulled me in first and then she ended up working for me, so my team was exceptional.
[The work] requires a lot of long hours but it's extremely gratifying and fulfilling. Unfortunately, there aren't very many black women in this industry who've been able to design for multiple shows or films, although there are some amazing costume designer that I admire, like Ruth Carter and Sharen Davis.
TB: The show spanned for eight seasons and was one of the highest-rated scripted shows among African American audiences. How were you able to evolve their styles over such a long period of time to sustain relevancy, while staying true to the characters?
SB: Well, again there was always the underlying style arc and evolution that we discussed earlier. Mara had the vision for who these women would become and we built the style direction around that. I tried not to use any clothing that was too trendy unless the script called for it because when you look back on the episodes you'll know it’s not timeless. I tried to use garments that are classic, maybe with a little flair or in an interesting color. I wanted to make sure the pieces were clean and exclusive. It’s sort of like a Mercedes Benz—you look at it over time and it’s always still beautiful mainly because the manufacturer isn't doing anything too crazy with the design.
TB: There isn't as much talk about the style of Girlfriends because there isn't a lot of photo evidence that exists on the Internet. How do you think this would be different in the age of social media?
SB: I think about this all the time! I think it would be extremely different and definitely much bigger. We had the fan base and were definitely ahead of our time in that my team created a website that listed where certain items came from. With a new venture, I'd love to do more work with virtual reality in real time.
TB: You told Rolling Out magazine that you’d initially gotten into fashion after being unhappy in your relationship and career. Do you have any general advice about starting anew or breaking into a career in styling?
SB: If you are interested, don’t wait. Go for it whether it be fashion, styling, or costume designing. Practice your craft and volunteer for fashion shows. Take on internships and style for fashion brands as well as your friends. Start your own blog. Travel to absorb different cultures, architecture, and read lots industry periodicals.