The ‘Bros’ Costume Designer Gives Us a Lesson in Timeless Style
IT MAY COME as a surprise to some that Bros will be the first-of-its kind, big-budget gay romantic comedy, with Billy Eichner as the first openly gay man to co-write and star in a major studio production. For a movie like Bros, which features a LGBTQ+ principal cast including of-the-moment Luke Macfarlane, making its way to the big screen is a brilliant moment to be celebrated not only for its representation, but also its hilarious and heartwarming storytelling by excellent actors in excellent clothes.
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TV shows and films have the rare ability to visually capture moments in history. Movie stills and their subsequent seen-on-screen style have the potential to be immortalized as references for future generations. The scale of Universal Pictures bringing a film like Bros to light is a big deal when you consider the idea of a cinematic moodboard, Eichner’s character Bobby Leiber alongside the studio’s other leading men, including Daniel Craig as James Bond in last year’s No Time to Die.
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Emmy-winning costume designer and producer Tom Broecker has been at the center of the zeitgeist for decades, having worked with seemingly every celebrity and on some of the most iconic characters you’ve seen on screen from 30 Rock to Saturday Night Live. It makes sense that Broecker was tasked with outfitting the world of Bros, and in doing so, positioning it as a timeless, stylish cast of characters and film. In an interview with Men’s Health, Broecker discusses dressing authentically and getting the classic leading man look in Bros.
Men’s Health: Can you tell us how you approached costume design for ‘Bros’?
Tom Broecker: After having a long conversation with Billy, the thing that’s interesting about this film is the inclusion of gender scope across the gamut. If you really start breaking down clothes, we as a society have assigned clothing a gender. We tend to say, “Men wear pants, women wear dresses.” Part of our approach was very much about clothes coming from a neutral place. It was very much about making people look stylish. They’re not caricatures of things. There have been movies and television shows in the past where the gay person tended to be a little more flamboyantly dressed or became sort of a more comical, visual element. And Bros was very much about saying, No. These people are real, and this is how they are dressing.
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An overarching theme in Bros is the appropriation of straight culture in gay culture, particularly gym culture and the language of straight. How gay guys have appropriated that on dating websites with things like backwards baseball caps, which were originally identifiers as straight. But I think as we move further into the 2020s, it becomes less that and more, “How do I feel today?” Particularly because Bros takes place in New York, there’s much more openness to, “We dress however we dress. We dress to identify ourselves – not to identify sexuality.”
It really did feel like watching friends in New York on the screen. Billy had the perfect version of key wardrobe pieces: the great white oxfords, knit polos, really handsome coats and outerwear. There was something relatable and aspirational about it.
Exactly. And that’s what Billy initially said. “I want this to be a modern day gay The Way We Were.” It’s a big romantic comedy and romantic comedies look great. They’re about stylish people, and interesting people who have interesting jobs. And it’s about New York City and should be reflective of all of its splendor. That’s what we tried to put forth.
For decades, you’ve been at the center of so many culturally significant moments on screen: SNL, 30 Rock.
I’ve had some really amazing opportunities in terms of cultural touchstones and what they mean. It’s such a team effort, this business. Of course, when we started the projects, we didn’t really understand what they were going to be in terms of the relevance to the landscape.
On that note, people are calling this film a history-making romcom. You had mentioned that going into other projects before you weren’t really sure that the response would be what it was. I’d imagine it was a different story going into ‘Bros’ with that cast and that vision.
You have to tell yourself that this is very special. You’ve got to be present. Be in the moment. You can’t think about the future. Let people react to it as they want to react to it later. But I knew that this was special for me, and I knew that this was special for everybody working on it. That kind of excitement permeated the whole experience. I can’t say enough about the actors. It was like magic watching them and the warmth that was on the set. Luke is a dream boat. He’s such a lovely, beautiful actor. Billy’s just a dreamboat. Every person was special and unique and interesting that it just was a joy to say, okay, let’s highlight who you are.
Can you tell us about how your team was being mindful of the LGBTQ+ community throughout the process of filming?
We did have a list of LGBTQ+ supportive companies with good relationships with the community. We were conscious of certain things going into shooting, like speaking with each of the actors about how they identified and how that identification manifested itself in clothing. Were there brands that spoke to them in terms of representation? We had those kinds of conversations a lot and the actors would introduce me to designers that I hadn’t necessarily heard about or explored.
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Most actors know their body inside and out, right? They stare at it and feel it every day. Sometimes they would say, “Wait, let’s add this thing to this outfit. I think that will be great.” I love that sort of interaction with actors and asking how they feel. One of my great pleasures of this business is working with the actor and creating a more fully realized character, to represent where they are in their own journey and where we are in this moment.
Were any Easter eggs in the costuming? For example, Billy’s glasses change throughout his journey: he wears the blue glasses and then at the end of the film he’s wearing a tortoise pair. Were there any messages in those stylistic choices?
We played a little bit with Billy’s character in terms of coloring and season, with his emotional journey, stripping him of some of his color while he was losing his way and then finding his way back again. He and Luke started swapping colors as couples do – both straight and gay. Suddenly you’re wearing your partner’s clothes, and you think, “Oh wait, that’s mine. Why are you wearing my color? No, yellow is my color.” We started to play with that without getting too heavy handed. Every character has a journey. It was more so about, What is their journey? How do we reflect that emotional journey in terms of clothes?
You’ve mentioned a subset of gays embracing gym culture and the baseball caps. One of the pieces that stands out throughout the film is Luke’s Rhone hat.
lululemon came on the scene. Rhone was a slightly more gay version. Rhone is attached – not by attaching itself – but I was starting to see it more on gay guys than on straight guys. Also that hat fit Luke beautifully. We went through so many and that was the winner.
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Are there any other brands you’d like to shout out to?
Here’s a short list of some of the designers we used, all of whom were super supportive to the film: Charlie Underwear, Gucci, Levi’s, NHL, Otherwild, Parke & Ronen, Paul Smith, Todd Snyder, Tom Ford, and Wildfang.
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We need to talk about Billy’s suits. Anyone watching ‘Bros’ would agree that he looked sharp throughout the film but the suits were incredible, aspirational wardrobe moments.
These are the moments you want the classic leading man look. That very grand moment of Billy walking out on stage and the audience is saying, “Oh my God, that is a leading man.” There’s no reference about sexuality. There’s none of that. They want to see him and go, “That is what a romantic lead looks like.” His suits were spectacular. I have the most brilliant tailor in the world, Lonnie, who would spend hours and hours and hours altering those suits. She’s the same tailor I had on House of Cards.
There’s an element of timelessness when people watch stylish movies – we look back and reference those for years. In ‘Bros’, you have most of the characters in classic wardrobe items: the great fitting t-shirts and knits with beautiful outerwear. Do you have any advice for how people walk away and want to dress from this film?
To me, there’s a big difference between having style and fashion. Fashion is now, and style is timeless. And sometimes you want to do both. It looks cool now, but in 15 years, what is that going to look like? What will we think?
Timelessness should always win.
Sara Klausing is a contributing style editor with over ten years of experience. Following roles at Vogue and Google, Klausing specializes in future-facing coverage at the intersection of fashion, culture, and technology.