Q&A: “The Americans” Costume Designer Jenny Gering on Washington Spy Style

The costumer mines the sometimes questionable fashions of the ’80s to provide stylish alternatives for Keri Russell’s beleaguered heroine.
Q&A: “The Americans” Costume Designer Jenny Gering on Washington Spy Style
Photograph of Gering by Michael Williams.

When it comes to The Americans, the counter-intelligence drama set to premiere its third season on FX in January, costume designer Jenny Gering’s biggest issue is creating memorable looks for a main character whose job is to stay under the radar and blend in. Actress Keri Russell plays Elizabeth Jennings, a spy/wife/mom living in the DC ’burbs in the early 1980s, and while she spends a good deal of time in disguise, she manages to skip the worst of the decade’s fashion. Here, Gering explains the character’s sartorial choices. (Also check out our Q&A with former House of Cards costume designer Tom Broecker.)

How did you research Washington fashion in the ’80s?

It was a decade and an administration that reveled in “society,” and as such, social events were well-documented and gave a view to certain aspects of life in DC. 

What are a few essential items for Kerri Russell’s character? 

Elizabeth [Jennings, Russell’s character] loves a silk blouse, a gold chain, a high-heeled boot, and a pair of tight jeans.

Does her secret life impact her style?

Her goal is to blend in and look as “normal” as possible. She doesn’t need to be a wallflower, but she never wants to appear unusual.

Russell is something of a fashion icon in real life. Does she weigh in on the outfits? 

Keri always has a say in her costumes. Her role is very physically demanding, and she needs to be able to do stunts if necessary. She also knows what she wants to express through her characters; we work together to make that happen.

How should a young, modern Washingtonian incorporate some of the good parts of ’80s fashion into a professional wardrobe? 

Nancy Reagan red is always a winner. It’s a color that has an impact, and it screams confidence. 

Tom Broecker and Jenny Gering will talk more about Washington and fashion with Kate Bennett on September 17 at the Smithsonian’s S. Dillon Ripley Center. For more information and tickets to “Dressing for the Small Screen,” visit the Smithsonian Associates website and use the quick tix code: 1L0-050. Find Kate Bennett on Twitter at @katebennett_dc

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