The sophomore season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” was a transitional one, with Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) and her family adjusting to new roles in 1959, and Emmy-nominated costume designer Donna Zakowska altering their wardrobes to suit the moment. In the opener (“Simone”), Rose (Marin Hinkle) ran away to Paris to revisit her bohemian past, and definitely looked the part. And, in the fourth episode (“We’re Going to the Catskills!”), Midge went to the annual summer retreat in the Catskills with an array of comfort clothes, unsure about her commitment to stand-up comedy.
“It’s about the indecisiveness of changing course: still wanting to be a child before making a very big adult decision to impact her whole life,” Zakowska said. Sure enough, Midge can’t even decide what to pack so she takes every outfit. “And the colors and the patterns really counter the heaviness of what was on her mind,” she added. “And also, it’s a little bit of a flashback about what made Midge who she is and how she grew up interacting with a particular social [strata].”
In Season 1, Zakowska provided Midge with solid colors, but this relaxed and more adventurous summer getaway required a more playful wardrobe. In particular, a yellow, floral dress that screams joyful non-conformity. “The yellow dress was crucial in striking a sunny mood,” she added. “It’s also the first time we see floral patterns in the clothing, so it really was harkening back to spring and re-awakening her personality. It’s very much about being free-spirited.”
Yet Midge suffers a rude awakening when returning to the Catskills. She quickly becomes a social outcast when everyone learns of her separation from husband Joel (Michael Zegen). This immediately throws her out of her comfort zone and she’s not even allowed to participate in the annual beauty contest that she always wins. “The yellow dress is within a context where it’s not at all free-spirited,” Zakowska said. “Because it’s still about the family unit, it’s still the image of who you are as a wife. And the yellow dress is really important for her moving forward. I wanted color and texture very different from what we had done with solids and black wools.
“It came from period research and I really loved the idea of transparency, which is something we had not done at all. You’re seeing through the flowers and the yellow is coming through, so it’s a slightly sophisticated multi-layering. And then it was finding that period shape and imposing that spirit on it. And the little yellow hat that goes with it. It’s practically like a spring bridal look. Her spirit was that celebratory when she went to the Catskills.”
As far as evening wear, Midge strikes a pretty pose dancing with Joel in a pale blue dress. That was partially inspired by a photograph of Grace Kelly that caught Zakowska’s eye, which was typical of the transparent look she sought. The color came from another bit of inspiration. “I don’t know why, but for some reason, I was thinking about the blue glass perfume bottle from Paris that was so characteristic of the ’50s,” she said. “This idea of being sentimental and romantic with the sky and stars. I always like to go for a romantic or poetic under story.”
When Midge finds herself on a forced date with Benjamin Ettenberg (Zachary Levi), she wears a multi-colored splash of striped absurdity for their unpleasant boat ride. It was her way of signaling defiance. “She’s telling him, ‘This is who I am so you’d better accept me,'” said Zakowska. “But he’s just as confrontational. The funny thing about the relationship is that there is an attraction of opposites. They start dating but it can’t last.”
“It’s about choice, and, in the ’50s, not every choice was possible to them. It isn’t that people didn’t want to do these things, they didn’t know how,” added Zakowska.
Manager Susie (Alex Borstein) even follows Midge to the Catskills and books her at a large hotel where Midge displays her sexually-charged, shocking humor, wearing a variation of her black dress. “It’s a subtle variation of her uniform,” Zakowska said. “It’s a very upscale cocktail dress with a housewife edge to it. Like you could wear that to a cocktail party. She’s transitioning from housewife but taking who she is and using that artistically for her stand-up. It’s upgrading the role of the female. You can still have sophistication even though you’re stuck in that period.”