‘Betty’ Costume Designer on Tackling ‘Inherent Gender Bias’ in Skating Looks in Season 2
When costume designer Cristina Spiridakis was building the wardrobe for “Betty” cast member Rachelle Vinberg, she had one guiding question for her: “What is your worst nightmare?”
The second season of the HBO skate culture comedy finds its five protagonists — Camille (Vinberg), Kirt (Nina Moran), Janay (Dede Lovelace), Honeybear (Moonbear) and Indigo (Ajani Russell) — stepping into womanhood and tackling all the challenges that brings. For Camille, that means coming to head, yet again, with sexism in skating. But this time it’s through a sponsorship deal.
“Especially designing a show like this, it becomes so clear how different the women’s lines are,” Spiridakis tells Variety, referencing the haul of free, but not functional clothes Camille receives in exchange for branded social media posts. “I think a lot of brands tend to not think that women have to move in the same way as men to skate. The pants are all incredibly tight, and it’s tons of crop tops.”
The “Betty” skate crew was initially corralled for the 2018 film “Skate Kitchen” because they are real-life skaters and then brought together again for the series, which first premiered in 2020. (Crystal Moselle directed the film and writes, executive produces and directs the series, as well.) When it comes to the show’s costume design, the actors’ own styles inform what their characters wear. For Vinberg, and therefore Camille by extension, comfort is key to ensure she can easily skate. Early on, the character is particularly horrified by tight, low-rise white pants with cutouts on the hips.
“There’s tons of girls that skate in clothes like that,” Spiridakis explains, “but it was really getting to the crux of the inherent gender bias in skating because it’s still there like any other industry. And what I love about this show is that it’s just constantly flattering that these women are incredible athletes.”
“Betty” Season 2 began production in October 2020 and wrapped just before the holidays. Spiridakis was new to the show for its sophomore outing, but joining the team gave her the opportunity to put her personal knowledge of skate style to use. Growing up in the New York-New Jersey area, she describes skate style as prevalent during her high school days in the ‘90s. And while certain elements of fashion have changed, she knows iconic brands like Vans and Dickies will remain scene staples forever.
In addition to the inherent challenges of shooting during the COVID-19 pandemic, Spiridakis and her team had to dress the skateboarders to adhere to colder weather conditions. It was a tough balance to exude personal style, remain nimble and stay warm.
“You have to think about every single player and also their agility for skating and how — making sure they still look good on camera — they don’t look bulky, the outfit’s still cool and you’ve still got these character details, even on the days we didn’t anticipate we’re going to be cold,” Spiridakis says. “The individuality of skate culture lends itself to a lot of different prints and patterns and graphics with the t-shirts.”
One of Spiridakis’ top priorities across her work is to use smaller designers and local artisans. Especially in light of the rippling pandemic effects, an overall focus of the show became to include small business, BIPOC designers. This commitment is reflected in the storyline of the new season, which brings up the government’s abandonment of Black and brown communities throughout the pandemic. The Black Lives Matter movement and the death of Breonna Taylor trickle into the show without becoming soapbox moments.
In their makeshift skate spot, the crew hangs posters with calls-to-action, including “Protect Black Women” and “Say Her Name.” It’s all thanks to their de facto leader Janay, who finds support from (and a budding romance with) Sylvester (Andrew Darnell) after the group is kicked out of their usual meet-up spot. Her wardrobe highlights include custom-painted Breonna Taylor earrings and a cropped sweater from Create the Culture’s Krystle Collins. The top features an embroidery of a woman with braids that mirror Lovelace’s own hair in the show.
“Her storyline this season is strong and she becomes like a leader and a force with the girls, so we wanted to bring in some stronger pieces for her,” Spiridakis says.
Moselle’s “natural ability to tell a real story makes a show like this successful,” she adds. “I think it inspires the creative department heads to bring it in in the same natural way, and we tried very hard to do that. But I think that starts with Crystal wanting to tell stories and really highlight what’s happening right now in skate culture — in youth culture — because what’s happening in the world right now, socially, especially within that age group — they’ve been such a massive force in the world for social change.”
“Betty” Season 2 premieres June 11 at 11 p.m. on HBO.
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