You would think that designing costumes for a show about 1970s New York City sex workers would include as little clothing as possible, but that’s not the case on The Deuce, where every woman’s outfit tells a different story, and the pimps and hustlers who surround them are so sharp they make the Sopranos look like schlubs.
Authenticity was the main goal for Anna Terrazas, the lead costume designer on The Deuce, which premiered on HBO this fall. She spent months researching each character — how much money they would have earned, and what that would have bought them — but also which trends were happening when. For example, a platform heel might have been one height in 1971, but by 1972, it was even higher.
Beyond historical accuracy, Terrazas also wanted to be true to the characters’ lives. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays two characters: On the streets, she’s Candy, but when she’s at home with her son, she’s Eileen. Many characters on the show lead good cop/bad cop double lives — and then there are Vincent and Frankie, twin brothers played by the same actor, James Franco. Rather than overtly differentiating between the two of them, Terrazas decided to play mind games with the audience. She gave Franco one high-heeled pair of boots and one low, however, so that he could get into the gait of each character.
Below, Terrazas spoke with the Cut about the fun of researching pimps and shopping at every Goodwill in New York.
Do you remember specific things that you read or watched that inspired you?
I got really inspired by the film Panic in Needle Park. For me, that was exactly what was happening in that time in New York, and showed the reality. I also, more than anything, read about the pimps. We found this amazing book called Gentlemen of Leisure that describes the life of this pimp: what he was wearing, and how he was making his clothes. So we just got into that and then magazines. Also, if you start just Googling, one thing leads to another … So it was tons of different places that we found all this stuff. But that book was our Bible.
Let’s talk about specific characters. How did you approach dressing the female sex workers?
In doing research for all the girls working in the street, we found that some wore shorts but others wore trousers or coats. So we really tried to match with the actor who was playing that role — trying to find the right colors and clothes that worked with their bodies, what they felt most comfortable in. At the same time, you also want to show their characters’ personalities. Like who’s this girl Laurie coming from outside New York? In the beginning, she’s more shy, and then she becomes more liberated, in a way. With Maggie [Gyllenhaal], we wanted her clothes to match with the wigs. And then what type of coat was she going to wear? Because she also plays two roles: Eileen and Candy. With Thunder Thighs, from the beginning we knew we needed to put her in shorts. I mean, she’s Thunder Thighs.
It seems like you wanted to highlight their bodies and have them look good, but not in a porny or overly sexualized way.
Yeah, we just wanted to be real. At that time, women didn’t wear bras; they had hair everywhere, so we asked them not to shave their armpits or their legs.
And then what about the pimps? I’m sure that those outfits were fun to design, just because they’re so flamboyant.
Yeah, also that was more in the script; the characters were really well-described. When I read the pilot, for example, I knew I needed to find alligator shoes for Larry Brown. I was like, “Oh my god, this character’s so much fun to design.” Sometimes, when you put their looks on the screen it’s like, “That’s super clownish.” But they actually dressed like that, and it’s a true story. They actually paid money to tailor their suits like that.
When you weren’t designing custom looks, were you looking in vintage stores?
We went to a lot of vintage stores in New York. I think we actually hit every Goodwill. And then we also found a lot of stuff on Etsy.
James Franco plays two different characters. How did you think about differentiating them in terms of what they wear?
That’s also a little bit in the script, the way they describe Vincent and Frankie, who are the opposite. Vincent is more family-oriented and a working guy, so we wanted to give Frankie something cool with more attitude. In the end, they dress differently because Vincent is a barman. But we also came up with the idea to make them wear different boots. Vincent is wearing the Beatle boots that don’t have a heel, and Frankie is wearing a Cuban heel. So the way he walks is different. We also tried to taper Frankie’s trousers a little bit more, so they’re tighter. And then we designed two jackets — they’re wearing black and the brown the whole time. It was a funny thing: They’re the same jacket, but they’re not.