When the season three finale of Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer’s critically-acclaimed web series-turned-Comedy Central smash “Broad City” aired on April 20, 2016, the world was a very different place (and not just because it was 4/20). We were still six months shy of the 2016 U.S. presidential election then, the fallout from which triggered an uprising in social consciousness that can not be overstated.
From its impetus, “Broad City” has been more “woke” — for lack of a better term — than comparable programs. Rooted in relatable, contemporary comedy, the series has championed strong women, promoted diversity in casting and addressed topics like sexual fluidity as natural byproducts of being written and produced by young people who are in touch with the world around them.
Jacobson and Glazer began writing season four of the show in May of 2016 before taking a break to work on separate projects, resuming the process in late-2016, post-election. “We did more rewriting than ever before,” Glazer told reporters at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. “The election happened and the world changed, or solidified in a way,” she explained. “I think you can see in the industry everybody’s message is becoming clear. It’s not just casual,” she said, “and if you’re going to talk about it, you have to clearly state your beliefs and where you stand ethically or politically. So our message is heightened and crystallized this year after our hiatus.”
In addition to its innate wokeness — or, perhaps, as an extension of it — the show is beloved by fans for its realistic costuming. Clothes are like dreams in that they tend to expose what we’re concerned with, whether we’re conscious of that materialization or not. A major, politically charged rewrite couldn’t be realized without the creative fire of the costume department. Series costume designer Staci Greenbaum talks us through her approach to injecting a heightened political consciousness into the cast’s appearance for season four in advance of the show’s return this Wednesday, September 13.
The season 3 finale aired well before the election, and the girls have spoken about how the political climate led to heavy rewrites on season 4. How did that impact costuming?
It ignited a lot of desire to show our social activism and political statements, and the way we did that — I wouldn’t say it’s subtle. We did it throughout the season and we sprinkled it everywhere (though, obviously, the most blatant of them all is on Ilana). I made a point to reach out to a lot of companies that lend themselves to [political statements], like the Otherwild and Wildfang and The Outrage. Typically we create our own graphics when we make graphic tees [for the show]; we do our own artwork for legal reasons and clearance reasons. I really made a strong effort [this season] to use people’s artwork and graphics that were theirs and made a big point to go that extra mile to make sure it was seen on everyone. We have a really great T-shirt on Bevers at some point which says ‘How Dare You Assume I’m Straight?’
Two of my favorite pieces that were a great cathartic production point are in Ilana’s closet, and they’re both outerwear. It’s winter, so we have a parka and it’s very long (it’s almost to the floor, because that’s kind of the joke for us), and then we just scattered all these patches and pins that are her blatant reaction to everything: Stay nasty, Black Lives Matter, gay rights, just literally anything you can think of we put it on her, and she wears it throughout the season. It’s a mainstay. One of my favorite patches on that jacket is was from The Zig Zag Patch Co. on Etsy, it’s boobs and it says “braless and flawless.” Anything you can think of that’s outlandish or outspoken, we’re saying, “Don’t even read between the lines, it’s right there.”
One of the most wonderful projects we were able to do was [we] designed this [denim] jacket and it was sort of a play on a jacket Don King wears every election. His is a hand-painted jean jacket with an image of himself, Mount Rushmore, a lot of stars and stripes, and it’s very self-centered and a little wacky … a little strange. He’s a little strange. Anyway, based on that, I decided I wanted to design a jacket that was sort of like Ilana’s version of the United States of Women. Ilana and I talked about the people who would be important to Ilana Wexler, her character. It was a thrifted jacket that I worked on with this fantastic local painter. It’s our Mount Rushmore of women, and so it looks like stone, and there’s a painting of Abbi right on the chest with stars all around it and the sleeves are studded and safety pinned. It has Rihanna, it has Beyoncé, just all these really amazing women who’ve done things either for women’s rights or social activism and civil rights, you know. Human rights. One of the sleeves looks like a painted tattoo sleeve but in the middle it has Ruth Bader Ginsberg with a gold puffy-paint crown. It just came together so wonderfully and it’s just, that was like, ‘Okay, all right, I feel a little bit better now.’
As a costume designer, you do have a platform. Given this, do you feel any sort of responsibility to make a statement?
The answer to that is yes, but I think [“Broad City”] also has a unique vantage point and platform because of the nature of the show. There are ways that [statements] can be subtly done, like, for instance, in “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Ane Crabtree is a wonderful costume designer, she was able to do the same [political statement-making], but in subtle ways — you don’t want to detract from the story. On the aunts in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” [she put] a vagina pin right on their chests, but like you wouldn’t catch it if you weren’t looking. It’s not overt.
[With “Broad City,” it’s] like we could not be more blunt. It’s just fortunate that we get to have that sort of release of emotions and platform to say how we feel about this and how outraged we are. I guess not every project can lend itself to that, but this one is very unique in that respect.
But truly, we’ve always had that. The show inherently is about these two friends, we always come back to their friendship, and they are always rooting for people of all races, people of all backgrounds and ethnicities, and women. They cheer powerful women.
There are also moments that we really had an opportunity. There’s like one scene where Ilana’s wearing a pair of underwear — naturally, as she does — and it says on it, ‘mine, not yours.’ It’s just always like harnessing this really positive, powerful, femininity, and that comes in different walks of life. There’s not, like, a standard of beauty that we’re catering to.
Of all the “single girls in NYC” TV shows out there, it wasn’t until “Broad City” that I really felt like my version of that life — young, female, New York transplant — was accurately depicted (and accurately satirized).
Yeah, this is exactly it. And I think a lot of people find that. It’s just super-relatable and really honest and we try to be really honest with the clothes. It is somewhat of a heightened reality and we are very colorful and very playful and it’s not always very real, but there’s so much realness in the show. I do think the season was probably more vibrant than we’ve been before.
When it comes to the process of creating an episode, at what point do costumes come in, between an episode being written and shooting?
I get the scripts and it starts a dialog about [which] costumes need to perform certain actions. There’s an episode this season where the girls go to Florida to clean out Ilana’s previously deceased grandmother’s place in a retirement community, and they just fit in. They start rummaging through Ilana’s grandmother’s closet. Sometimes it’s written for me, you know. Not all the [scenes] are always that specific [with costuming]. We have a prep period of five or six weeks and we start bringing things in as we get [actors] in. Abbi and Ilana and everyone comes in for fittings, fittings start taking shape, and then we start looking at how things look together in a frame for the purpose of TV and we make sure that the costume is either telling the story if that’s what’s being asked of it, or that the costume is falling to the wayside because it doesn’t need to distract from what’s happening.
What is secretly the hardest thing to source?
Sometimes it’s the thing you think that’s easiest to find is the hardest to find, I don’t know if that’s because it’s seasonal or sometimes you’re looking for really unique piece but, like for instance, this is just an example from season 3, Abby had this vision to wear these white Reebok mid or high top sneakers, and finding that was like, I mean, not impossible, just it ended up being very difficult. A lot of the things we use are thrifted or vintage, ’cause I think that makes everything feel a little bit more real, especially with these girls.
How much audience feedback do you get? Do people tweet at you about the show?
They do! I feel like I’m always disappointing [the fans] because the things that they are asking about are the things that we found at like the bottom of a bin in a thrift store.
Has there ever been a garment or a style that you were really surprised by the fan reaction to?
People really like lost their minds about Ilana’s bra. That is from a store called LF. That was a big thing. That and the blue dress —
The blue dress.
That Abbi wears, every season.
Is that coming back this season?
It is, [but] not on Abbi —
But it is indeed back.
How much of the wardrobe from season 4 is coming from past seasons?
We always like to incorporate [previous seasons’ costuming], especially in the tags of the episodes — like at the end or the beginning — when [the girls are] hanging out. I always love to bring back pieces — especially with their lounge wear — that are reminiscent of a previous season, ’cause I think that’s real. And shoes. The shoes that I’m wearing I’ve had for a couple years, I think [shoes] makes sense [to bring back].
Besides Abbi and Ilana, who is your favorite other female character to dress?
I love dressing Susie Essman [who plays Ilana’s mom] because she’s just wonderful as a human being. This season Fran Drescher plays Ilana’s aunt, and she was a joy to dress.
Oh my god, that sounds heavenly.
It’s fabulous. She’s fabulous, she looks fabulous. It’s perfect casting, it’s a really great fit.
What is her character like?
Just like Susie Essman, you know? She and Susie Essman could go back and forth like it’s just, as natural a fit as it was to have Susie Essman be Ilana’s mother. It’s just wonderful having the three of them in a room.
Who’s your favorite male character to dress?
I’ve always really loved dressing Hanni. Hanni has like a festiveness about him. He’s young, he still kind of has that hipster millennial vibe. I just like the sort of like the frilliness of it all. He accessorizes, which is like a very fun thing because not every kind of man or character does. He layers. Layering’s always fun. Dressing Lincoln is fun, too, but I really love dressing Hanni very much.
I will say, I really did love dressing Elliot this season. He has like a very fun episode and a lot of changes in Florida, and they’re all from the grandma’s closet.
I saw Florida in the trailer and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m so excited for that.’ I bet that was really fun to shop for.
Oh yeah, that was wonderful. That was amazing. I’d do it again in a minute.
I’m excited to see how the new season plays out. I think there’s a little bit of a shift for Abbi and Ilana as far as their style has evolved, somewhat. So, I think it’s going to be fun, like Abbi especially, she’s kind of in a new professional sphere, and we kind of see a little bit more of her artistic graphic design side come out and a little bit more maturity on her end, dressing a little bit more, like getting dressed. And Ilana is a little bit more feminine this season, I would say, and trendy, and really outspoken and I’m just excited to see it all come together.