The secrets of Jessica Chastain’s flamboyant costumes for
The film’s costume designer
For Americans, the figure of Tammy Faye Bakker is usually associated with the signature look she sported for over
fifty years on screen. False eyelashes with a good dose of mascara, all enhanced by a shiny eye shadow, a sauerkraut
with unruly strands, and finally a multi-faceted clothing style, with only one guideline a boundless love for the
flashy. From animal prints to sequins to frills to fur and of course big flashy gold jewelry, Tammy Faye Bakker has
never shied away from anything. View more At 45, Jessica Chastain (finally) wins her first Oscar
Jessica Chastain wins her first statuette at the 2022 Oscars for her outstanding performance for “In the
Eyes of Tammy Faye.”
By Alberto Sisí Sánchez
When it was announced in 2022 that Jessica Chastain would produce and star in the biopic reserved for
the queen of televangelists, speculations were rife. How could one of Hollywood’s most celebrated personalities,
whose natural elegance is praised both on and off the screen, transform herself into this paragon of excess
and garish excess? During the shooting, the star was able to rely on costume designer Mitchell Travers
to fully embody the spirit of Tammy Faye Bakker, and embrace the feelings that inhabited her, for her
hyper-realistic performance, Jessica Chastain is already overwhelmed with praise and awards, but also
her clothing style, which interests us here more particularly.
“It was a fantastic research on the character” – Mitchell Travers
To begin with, the film spans a long period of time, from the early days of Tammy Faye Bakker’s relationship
with her con artist husband Jim (played by Andrew Garfield in a variety of questionable costumes) to the
1990s, when Tammy Faye Bakker’s theatrical mannerisms and her stance in support of the LGBT+ community
made her a most unlikely gay icon. Despite the difficulties of working with different combinations and
eras, it was fantastic character research, as having five decades to work with showed the richness and
thickness of her personality in its entirety,” says Mitchell Travers.
Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures
It was therefore necessary to meticulously re-create the looks of this woman who has spent almost her
entire life in the spotlight. To do so, Mitchell Travers had to compile his own encyclopedia of Tammy
Faye’s style, from the traditional sixties-style gowns of her youth in Minnesota to the Bill Blass and
Donna Karan outfits of her heyday in the 1980s. We studied her wardrobe with a magnifying glass,” says
the costume designer. For Vogue, he talked about working with Jessica Chastain, his trips to the flea
markets of the Deep South and the need to understand Tammy Faye in order to select the right outfits.
Vogue: How well did you know Tammy Faye and her style before you got involved in the film?
Mitchell Travers: I’m a product of my generation, I knew about her when I was a kid. I would see her on
TV sometimes, but it was watching The Surreal Life that I really got to know her. It was then that I realized
that she was an incredible woman with an uncompromising style, and that she was also determined to find
common ground with people who were very different from her. She was terribly authentic. Of course, I love
clothes and I’m fascinated by the way she dressed.
What specifically appealed to you about this project and the approach taken by director Michael Showalter
and Jessica Chastain?
I was sent the script and asked if I wanted to meet Michael and Jessica. That’s the kind of phone call
you dream of getting. So the three of us ended up talking and we realized that we had a lot of ideas in
common about Tammy Faye. We wanted to make a strong connection with this woman, without getting lost in
the tabloid treatment of her. There was a lot of talk about what the film was going to look like and how
we could tell that story through the clothes, and we had a fantastic conversation. It was the kind of
moment where you realize that everyone is on the same page about developing a project together. It was
a big commitment but from the beginning I was very excited.
Courtesy of Mitchell Travers
Courtesy of Mitchell Travers
Courtesy of Mitchell Travers
What was more important to you: recreating Tammy Faye’s outfits in great detail or leaving more room for
interpretation, to evoke the times she lived in?
We’re talking about a person who really existed and who has been photographed many, many times. It was my
responsibility to be fair. I collected all the photographs I could find in magazines, album covers, shots
from her shows, personal photos, fan photos and organized a huge archive. Then I studied how his style had
evolved over the years and the identification became an obsession. I came to know that she bought this jacket
in 1974 and wore it until 1986. That she had worn this coat a lot for three years of her life. I could really
understand how she put together her outfits. I also took into account her history, I knew the milestones
of her life and I could interpret her way of dressing according to her mental state of the moment, her ups
and downs. View more Top 9 must-see movies starring Jessica Chastain
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After all that meticulous research, did you feel like you were living in Tammy Faye? Did a simple glance at an
outfit allow you to say, No, she would never have worn that during this period of her life?
Absolutely. The film is called In the Eyes of Tammy Faye so sometimes we had to play with the story a little
bit. We wondered: how would Tammy have wanted to present herself in this situation? It’s like when you remember
the good times in your life, you probably think back to the clothes you wore that you felt amazing in. We wanted
Tammy to feel that way too, in the good times when she was fulfilled and optimistic, and in the bad times when
the press tried to intimidate and overwhelm her. The idea was also to tell the story through her eyes and through
her memory, and that was only possible if you really understood her relationship to the clothes.
Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures
What was the process of making the costumes? I assume you designed her wardrobe yourself, but did you also
dig into the archives to make those silhouettes, colors and textures as authentic as possible?
What’s great about Tammy is that it always goes to the extremes. I went looking for vintage pieces in the
South because Tammy loved to say she bought her clothes at flea markets, so I thought I should do the same.
On the weekends I would go to yard sales, snooping around for little nuggets like Tammy loved to do. When
she was at the top of her career, she would buy Bill Blass or Donna Karan, so I was also looking at vintage
luxury. I really wanted to see what the shopping sessions were like back then at the mall, which was a
little paradise for her. She said shopping was her sport and I wanted to recreate that feeling of spending
lavishly on designer clothes, and feel the weight of all that shopping on her shoulders. We really wanted
to show moments of happiness. Her daughter, Tammy Sue, told us a great story when we were in Kansas. While
filming the cooking segment, Jim thought the top Tammy was wearing was too low cut for television. He grabbed
a oven mitt and stuffed it into her cleavage to cover it up! Even though I felt responsible for the realism
of her portrayal, I was able to keep a lot of freedom. Because in the end, Tammy Faye was a genius costume
designer for herself. She was aware of the power of images. Which means that the best choice for a costume
designer who wants to tell her story is to sublimate and honor her creativity. http://b3.zcubes.com/v.aspx?mid=8059806 Photo: Daniel McFadden
Costumes are a major narrative device throughout the film as they help delineate the different chapters
of her life. Was creating this chronological narrative through the outfits a different experience compared
to other films you’ve worked on?
Usually when you dress the female lead, you normally have outfits on hand that fit her at any point in
the film. But not on this film, since it takes place over five decades during which Tammy’s body has changed
a lot. And so when it came to changes that occurred in the space of three or five years, Jessica had to
wear the same model of jumpsuit https://www.indiegogo.com/individuals/29332975/, but in slightly different sizes, which drastically changed the fall of the fabric, the distribution of
her weight on the body. And that gave me the opportunity to play with these constraints to tell a story.
For example at the end of the film, when she comes back to play at Oral Roberts University, the place where
she was once a huge star. We opted for a beautiful white dress from the 80’s, column cut and set with sequins, but I didn’t want it to fit her perfectly. I wanted
to show that this dress that fit her like a glove a few years ago was now a little tight. These are details
that serve the narrative. As the story unfolds, as the scandal explodes and the pressure mounts, I wanted the
viewer to feel the full weight of her clip-on earrings, or that the volume of her shoulder pads gradually becomes
a burden on her shoulders. I wanted the audience to understand the pressure of being Tammy Faye, and that it
was high maintenance. It was a great opportunity to be able to tell a lot of the story and the inner world
of the character through the image, through her wardrobe.
- Translation by Sarah Mandois.
- Article originally published on Vogue US.
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