Last month, Apple TV+ announced that its new series Shrinking, would return for a second season. The show’s first season, which centers on a recently widowed therapist and his coworkers, received rave reviews for its darkly comedic and honest portrayal of grief, parenthood, and mental health. The show stars Jason Segel, Harrison Ford, and Jessica Williams, but an unseen face is also being celebrated in the reviews: costume designer Allyson Fanger. Her looks for the cast resonated with male viewers more than any show she’s ever worked on before, the designer told SPY.
The relaxed but refined clothing of Jimmy (Segel) and Paul (Ford) is simple. On the one hand it’s the kind of clothing the best dressed guy in your office might wear: soft blazers, classic knits, and five-pocket pants. On the other hand, it communicates the nuances of grief and trauma in subtle but meaningful ways that evolve as the characters do. The combination of aspirational taste and realism attracted a cult following of male viewers, who sought Allyson out personally, requesting information about the clothing worn by any means necessary from emails to DMs. When you look at the current state of menswear, where a gap between hyper trendy luxury wear and dowdy inexpensive basics seems to be widening, it’s clear why. Allyson’s choices for the men on the show serve as a blueprint for the modern man trying to look his best without looking like he’s trying too hard.
Segel himself praised the balance that Allyson was able to achieve—her ability to communicate these deeply nuanced and relatable human emotions, through her clothing. “Allyson really understood how we wanted Jimmy’s clothes to reflect his emotional journey,” he tells SPY. “Beginning with a grieving man rewearing the muted clothes he had been too sad to pick up off the floor, to slowly coming into the light as the season progressed, added subtle brightness, color, even ironing. All these subtle elements helped paint the complete picture of the character’s path through grief.”
SPY spoke with Fanger about dressing her leading men, the power of uniformed dressing, and the importance of good tailoring.
SPY: I did a little googling and research about the clothing on the show and most of what I found were Reddit threads and message boards of men looking for specific pieces from Shrinking; I’ve never seen that before.
Fanger: The first outreach that I got when the show first started airing was about the menswear. Which was so exciting because it’s generally not the men who go so far as to look me up, find my contact, look me up on Instagram, and DM me. I got DMs! I also got requests through my website!
SPY: The way the men dress on the show is just so appealing in this very real, and accessible way.
AF: The first messages I got were about Jason’s look, men saying “I have a professional life but I still want to look cool.” Then, [they asked about] Paul because he looks classic but not stodgy; classic in a way that still feels relevant and attractive. It’s interesting, as much as costuming looks straightforward, it’s really not hard to find pieces like that.
SPY: I do think it’s hard to find that in menswear these days, where things are often so trend-oriented.
AF: He doesn’t look old—he just looks like he’s probably kept those things for a long time; he buys quality pieces and he wears them again. Acquiring a wardrobe for his character was not easy—we used a lot of deadstock items. A lot of Paul Smith, some APC, and some older Steven Alan. The newer Steven Alan cuts are too youthful for Paul: they’re oversized, which I like, but not for him. He also wears a lot of Sid Mashurn, and Brooks Brothers—but only Regent Cut. We got a lot of his stuff sent in from the East Coast.
Harrison is so detailed; he wanted his collars to look kind of messed up—and I love that so much. I appreciate his attention to detail because I usually feel like I’m the one who people think is obsessive about things, but Harrison is even more detail oriented than me, and that’s incredible. He didn’t like anything to look too new and neither did I, so we used a lot of J.Crew from the Warner Brothers costume house because sometimes you can just find that exact right consistency of wear: something that’s got a little bit of pilling; it adds texture and character.
SPY: How did you build the costumes for Jimmy and Paul so that they would contrast and complement each other?
AF: Paul is sort of the dad, the granddad, the patriarch of the office, His presence is very much about steadiness and consistency. We kept him in super classic and in colors like blues and greens and whites. With Jimmy, it was really important that we didn’t make him look like the typical overgrown child or baby man. He’s a grown up guy, he has a good life, he was married, he makes good money. He’s not a little boy lost, he’s someone who’s experienced tragedy, so the important thing with him was to make sure we gathered nice pieces of clothing that were quality and just made sure that they had that element of disarray to them.
We reused a lot of pieces; we kept all his clothes on the trailer because we just reworked his closet. And we started to combine them in slightly different ways as he pulled himself together. And by the end of the series, even though they’re the same things, they look more polished.
SPY: What kind of brands did you pull from for his character?
AF: A lot of Buck Mason, James Perse, Todd Snyder, Vince, Alex Mill, AG, Golde jeans—he had John Varvatos shoes, the laceless ones. He also wore a lot of shirts from Rails.
SPY: There was one brown corduroy blazer that just burned in my brain.
AF: Oh my gosh, I got so many inquiries about that jacket; one of the producers became so obsessed that she needed to get it for her husband so I found her one on eBay. That jacket is Ralph Lauren Double RL.
SPY: I also think what makes the clothing so desirable on this show is how much respect you give the men wearing it; Harrison is an older guy, Jason is a bigger guy. Too often we see people who don’t fit a certain beauty standard dressed to look dumpy or frumpy.
AF: I don’t ever think about someone’s age when I’m dressing them. Harrison is just cool—he brings a coolness to his character even in how he dressed; some of the belts we used were his belts and he also had a specific cut of Levi’s: 511’s, that he wanted to wear.
SPY: The show makes a really strong case for uniformed dressing.
AF: Over a certain age, you sort of end up in a uniform anyway. I always say, anyone around 40 – you get into your style groove and you know what works for you. So I think it’s very true to reality and something that people can relate to as viewers. That’s how people shop, that’s what people do—they have their brands that they know work for them.
For example, Harrison Ford really likes Sid Mashburn. I went to his house. The first day I met him he wanted to show me his closet. And so we went to his house and he has this big beautiful closet full of blue striped shirts.
SPY: Is that common? For an actor to ask you to come see their closet?
AF: No, I mean, I have done it before but usually not to go through their closets and we didn’t go through his closet to pull from it. But because he wanted to show me the things he really likes and the shapes of the pieces he likes and his reason for liking things. He was like “See the pocket on this shirt, see how it’s curved right there on the bottom of the pocket.”
SPY: What about the process with Jason?
AF: Obviously we talked about brands. A lot of them were California brands, even from Pasadena. I wanted to keep him authentic and tethered to his community and Pasadena was a big part of the show. His neckties were very specific too. Some of them were from my kit because they couldn’t be new ties. They had to have a very specific weathered look to them. So we used a lot of older J. Crew.
When it came to his suiting and his jackets we had to do a lot of alterations. We had to let down a lot of the jackets. And the linen suit he wore to the engagement party was an Italian brand L.B.M. 191, an offshoot of the Italian brand Lubiam. And the tuxedo he wore in the finale was his own.
SPY: And you mentioned tailoring – that really is what makes all the difference when it comes to looking your best, correct?
AF: Getting tailoring right, and knowing how to mix your colors with the right amount of balance. Dealing with a brand like Buck Mason, for example, who has a very cohesive palette, it just becomes a matter of how you put it together and balance your tones.
I think people do not understand how critical it is. I won’t do a show without my tailor all the time; I just won’t. I definitely have had people who don’t understand ask me not to and I just say no. Fit is everything. It’s all about proportions; if you’re super tall and your jacket doesn’t fit right, I don’t care if it’s $5,000, it’s not gonna work.
SPY: I think it’s so easy for guys who are built like Jason, a little bigger or a little taller to buy something off the rack and get discouraged that it doesn’t look the same on them.
AF: And it’s not that expensive, every dry cleaner has a tailor. You can just go there and they know, they can see it. They are trained to see in the sleeve and the jacket and the shirt, [what it should look like.] Even when I have something untucked, I’m always wondering “where is the shirt hitting.” It’s important to know how it looks on the body.
SPY: What advice do you have for a guy going to a tailor for the first time?
AF: Bring a picture! Bring a reference photo and say this is the look I’m going for. Bring a picture of Jason in Shrinking!