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How Stranger Things Perfectly Matches Character to Costume

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For its first three seasons, Stranger Things had one setting for its ’80s-based horror nostalgia: Hawkins, Indiana. And while the characters we met and the Hawkins-based locations we saw in those seasons varied greatly (you know: a science lab, a school, a mall, another science lab, et cetera), at the end of the day, it was all still set in Indiana. Stranger Things 4 changes that; some of our characters remain in Hawkins, yes, but others are out west in California, and others venture as far away as Mother Russia.

Accounting for the setting change—and getting deeper into the ’80s, with our story now set in 1986—is Stranger Things costume designer Amy Parris, who also has to make sure that every character in the show looks like they could only exist in that exact moment in time.

So she made sure things fit. Our California crew—Mike, Will, Jonathan, Argyle, and sometimes Eleven—spend the season purposefully dressed in bright, pastel, sunsoaked colors, featuring lots of teal and peach. Our Russia crew—Jim Hopper and his new friend “Enzo“—had to feel dark and scary, with Parris opting for their colors to largely be dark blues, greens, and some red.

stranger things l to r finn wolfhard as mike wheeler, charlie heaton as jonathan byers and noah schnapp as will byers in stranger things cr courtesy of netflix © 2022

Courtesy of Netflix

She also had to account for how some of the characters were changing with the times. “Season 4 maintains the look of the characters’ closets while also showing some of them mature while others remain a little stunted, like Will,” she says. “We see Will looking rather youthful, and his actions reflect that in still wanting to play games and avoid girls.”

Every costuming choice you see on screen in Stranger Things is done deliberately, and Parris—working with creators The Duffer Brothers—can explain just about everything, In an interview with Men’s Health, she broke down everything about the Stranger Things 4 style, with one tip for anyone trying to look like our heroes: “Check your local vintage shop or sign up to Etsy and Ebay and start treasure hunting,” she advises.

Men’s Health: The shirts for The Hellfire Club that Eddie, Mike, Dustin, etc. wear are so cool. How did you come up with that design?

Stranger Things costume designer Amy Parris: Those were based on real D&D club shirts from the ’80s, and the graphic was made by my friend Trevor Girard (@beholder_creative) out of San Clemente. He plays D&D so I knew he would be the perfect person to make something that would be authentic to the game and look like it was made by the club members themselves.

What ‘80s touchstones inspired the costumes and overall stylistic look of Season 4?

Movies like Red Dawn and Freddy Kreuger [in A Nightmare on Elm Street]. The story became way darker this season, so there are less fashion-y mall clothes for the Hawkins gang. I’m also super particular with using real jeans from the ’80s. Obviously Levi’s is forever classic, but through the decades fabric content and weaving techniques change. Denim in the ’80s was really narrow in the hips for men, so it often took some persuading to keep some of our actors in the tighter jeans of the era.

stranger things l to r natalia dyer as nancy wheeler, joe keery as steve harrington, gaten matarazzo as dustin henderson, maya hawke as robin buckley, sadie sink as max mayfield, and caleb mclaughlin as lucas sinclair in stranger things cr tina rowdennetflix © 2022

Tina Rowden/Netflix

Which brands has Stranger Things partnered with for this season? Do you have a favorite tie-in product?

We are very lucky to have brands excited to be a part of such an iconic show. Converse, Crescent Down Works, Quicksilver, Reebok, Gecko Hawaii, Hobie, Wrangler. I think my favorite would be the custom school color basketball shoes made for the Hawkins basketball team by Converse.

How do you pair outfits with each character’s development throughout the season?

It starts with thinking of where they are within the timeline of the script and what emotions they would be going through. I think you can convey a story through clothing with color and shape.

If someone is going through mourning, or wants to hide, they would perhaps choose a darker color or wear something that they can feel protected in, whether that would be baggy like a hoodie or tough like a leather jacket.

Additionally, we have to consider what the actor themself will be put through physically. If a character is running barefoot, or jumping in water, there is so much to consider for their comfort as well. A viewer doesn’t know this, but the costume department is responsible for finding or making nude shoes that look like feet when an actor is barefoot. So we make it look like they aren’t wearing something when in fact they are being protected from the elements.

steve stranger things

Netflix

Steve’s rugged look in the final episode, with the ripped vest on top of his bare chest (and, you know, covered in blood) is so cool. It kind of gave me the vibe of Bruce Springsteen crossed with Ash from the Evil Dead II. How did you get there with him?

Surprisingly, that became a specific note in the script. After the Duffer Brothers saw that Eddie would be wearing a denim vest, they realized Eddie could take that off and hand it to Steve so that they could have a touching moment, but also so Joe Keery wouldn’t have to be shirtless the whole time.

How hard is it to source the clothing of this era? Have you ever wanted to use a piece but been unable to find what you were looking for?

Every year that we get further away from the ’80s, it does become a little harder to source. Luckily we have made some wonderful connections with vendors like @mothfood and @orlandovintage who will source and send us things.

If I can’t find what I’m looking for I often make it! We needed multiple Nancy boots this season, and had some made in Canada with @jitterbug.boy and multiple sweaters for Murray were made by @explorewithknitsy

Which character, in which moment, is your favorite look of Season 4?

Probably Murray in his nearly full custom outfit in Russia. Minus the brown turtleneck, everything was custom made for Brett. Also, all of Eddie during the season. Joe Quinn really brings the role to life, and there were times while filming we would need up to five Eddies. Gathering multiples of that outfit, between the aging on the vest and jacket, to each vintage band patch and enamel pin.. it took a lot of work to have multiples, but we pulled it off.

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