As a costume designer for television, I have to study the psychology and background of the characters. That way I can tell their story with their costumes.
I always have a lot of questions for the writer. When and where does the story take place? What season is it? Where does each character live? What’s their educational background? Are they married, divorced, single? Children? Pets? Any hobbies or interests? What kind of car do they drive?
The more information I have about each character, the easier it is for me to begin designing the look of the show. Even shows such as Nurse Jackie, with most of the actors in uniforms, can be complicated to design. In that case, you have to emphasize the slightest nuance, using a certain style of clothing or jewelry to tell the audience a little more about a character.
I’ve been avidly watching Nurse Jackie on Showtime. There hasn’t been anything on TV like this edgy nurse’s drama. I was a big fan of Edie Falco from The Sopranos, so I knew I would like Nurse Jackie. Yes, the show’s representation of nurses is controversial – like most good dramas, it’s the exaggerated, complicated personalities of the characters that make the show compelling. And from my perspective as a costume designer, the more complicated the characters, the more fun it is to observe the actors and the clothes they wear.
Each character on Nurse Jackie has his or her own style. Falco, as the lead character, Jackie, is an ER nurse in New York City. She’s a veteran straight-shooter whose experience shows in the authority and ease she has at work. Her scrubs and entire wardrobe are the shorthand to her personality. With one look at her, you take in more information than you may realize!
Jackie wears blue scrubs. She favors an empire-style top. Her scrubs have great subtle details that make her stand out from the other nurses—the mock-wrap top, side slits, front pockets and the side bands with buttons are a hip version of the traditional blue scrub top. The blue is a great color on her; it intensifies her beautiful blue eyes. The simplicity of Jackie’s uniform makes her seem reliable, and the simplicity and severity of her look makes it clear she’s not soft and fuzzy. She not harsh, but it’s clear that she’s intense, articulate, smart and caring in her own way.
Jackie’s accessories are minimal. She wears small silver hoops; occasionally, a small drop earring, but nothing fancy. Again, her jewelry is part of her daily uniform. Jackie’s inexpensive white watch has a big white face that reminds her patients of a time when nurses wore all-white uniforms. The watch is stylish, but not distracting. White always looks clean and fresh. Jackie’s staple is her necklace of—who knows—the Virgin Mary? Another patron saint of nursing? We don’t know yet if Jackie is religious. Does she wear it to comfort her patients? Or is it just a necklace her husband gave her as a gift? It keeps one guessing, which is good costuming and good writing.
The few times we see Jackie out on the street, she wears a feminine, light green version of an army jacket. Her tan satchel worn over her shoulder shows us again that she is practical. The bag she carries can even hold socks that she buys on the street for her husband. Jackie’s shoes, a comfortable running/walking sneaker, are practical, too. On the other hand, her infidelity is completely impractical. The on-again/off-again gold wedding band represents her double life. It’s complicated and pulls us in.
Jackie is the rock of the ER. It will be interesting to see her character evolve as the show continues.
There are other nurses in Jackie’s world. Her new assistant, Zoey, wears loose-fitting scrubs. She wears pink bottoms with either a pink floral print or (my favorite) a bunny print top. As soon as we see Zoey, we know she’s emotional, naïve and young. Her scrubs are a great contrast to Jackie’s look, which is fun.
Jackie’s other friend, male nurse Mo-Mo, has his own look. Even with his traditional green scrubs, he looks intense, like Jackie. His close-cropped hair, beard and pierced diamond studs immediately tell us he’s not afraid to be different. But underneath this hard exterior is a vulnerability I hope to see more of in upcoming shows.
All of these nurses on Nurse Jackie have come to the profession for different reasons. We don’t know yet what these are. We see that they all wear scrubs, but from the eyes of a costume designer, this is only the beginning.
Editor’s note: The original version of this article had a reference to the scrubs worn on HawthoRNe (we’re watching all of ’em!). We removed the reference from the body of the article.