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7 Details Hidden in THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE’s Costumes

If there’s one word to describe The Haunting of Hill House, Netflix‘s 10-episode horror opus from writer/director Mike Flanagan, it’s rich. Rich in theme, in visuals, in textures. The Crains are brought to life not just by the series’ incredible writing and resonate performances, but by every piece of its physical production, not least of all its costumery. In fact, costume designer Lynn Falconer called the show “one of the most challenging jobs I’ve ever been on, where I had to be on top of every single detail.”

Falconer spoke with Nerdist about the monumental task of designing clothes for every inhabitant of Hill House. That includes the ghosts, who pop up in the background in blink-and-you’ll-miss-them appearances, but whom Falconer had to dress as if they were main characters. “It’s not like I’m going to cut corners,” she said.

But the scale of the show and the amount of bodies to dress didn’t stop from Falconer from imbuing its frames with all sorts of symbolism, history, and direct references to Shirley Jackson‘s novel on which the show was based. Here are some impressive details Falconer worked into the costumes of The Haunting of Hill House.

Theo and Nell’s costumes have a Shirley Jackson influence.

The TV series is vastly different from Jackson’s 1959 gothic novel, which revolves around a paranormal study taking place in the house. “I didn’t realize how much of a reimagining it was going to be,” said Falconer, who has worked with Flanagan on all of his previous projects except Gerald’s Game. Once she signed on for Hill House, she set off on a long drive to meet with the studio heads and used the opportunity to listen to Jackson’s book—which she had read in college—on audiotape, to reacquaint herself with the story.

Though there is a major divergence, certain elements, like character names, were carried over for the show. Two of those include Theo and Nell, who are main characters in the book. Falconer noticed while listening that Theo was often associated with the color yellow and Nell with the color red, which she worked into the show characters. Indeed, young Theo (McKenna Grace) often has a little bit of yellow in her wardrobe—socks, hats, gloves—and adult Theo (Kate Siegel) frequently wears yellow-hued shirts. Show Nell (Victoria Pedretti) is also associated with red; she’s buried in a red dress, her bridesmaid dresses are red, and she sees ghostly visions of her mother dressed in a long red robe.

The floral-printed shirt Olivia wears is also a nod to the book.

In the book, Nell drives past a thicket of poisonous oleanders when she drives away from Hill House (and ultimately to her demise). Falconer wanted to work the oleander imagery into the show somehow, and wound up doing it in episode nine, “Screaming Meemies.” Olivia, whose mental health is negatively affected by the house, agrees to leave for a bit to regroup. The blouse she’s wearing when she says goodbye to her family—and that she departs Hill House in, like Nell in the book—reminded Falconer of white oleanders.

Nell’s wedding dress is from Anthropologie

Nell’s ethereal lace wedding dress wasn’t an original design of Falconer’s, but actually came from Anthropologie’s bridal line, BHLDN. The dress was also sort of a happy accident. “That episode came up suddenly in the shooting schedule, so there was no way I could build a wedding dress,” Falconer said. “And quite honestly, think about it. It’s a modern day wedding. There’s no reason for me to kill myself when there are so many great wedding dresses out there! But we did have to come up with something quick.”

To Falconer’s relief, not only did she stumble on the perfect design, but also came in handy for a scene when Nell runs up a staircase. “I didn’t know that that was happening, but it turned out we picked the right dress for it, because that dress is stretchy!” Falconer also said she’s gotten a lot of responses online from people asking where they can find the dress. 

Olivia’s velvet robes were inspired by the runway.

Olivia is frequently dressed in long, beautiful velvet robes, which, according to Falconer, were the result of stumbling on the perfect texture at B&J Fabrics in New York City and combining that with looks she was noticing on the runway. “I’ve done a lot of contemporary things, so I always weave in fashion, but nothing too trendy.” 

The turquoise silk rayon had a “liquidy” quality that Falconer loved, and it started out as just a swatch of fabric that they camera tested for color. Falconer and Gugino decided together that it would work best as loungewear, and so the silky, velvety robe was born. We first see it in turquoise, but later see it in red.

Theo’s gloves are designer.

If you had to pick one iconic fashion staple from Hill House, it would have to be Theo’s gloves, which she wears to protect herself from psychic touch visions. The gloves presented a unique challenge for Falconer, as finding different sizes, lengths, and colors meant they had to be custom-made. To create the look, Falconer used designers Shaneen Huxham and Portolano. She was also careful to not use plain black gloves—”because they would disappear onscreen”—but to find gloves with texture or shine. The lengths were also determined by the rest of the outfit Theo is wearing at the time.

Ghost costumes were inspired by old Sears catalogues.

To dress the litany of ghosts, from speaking parts like Poppy Hill (Katie Parker) to all of those background creeps, Falconer had to do her fair share of research. Flanagan first presented with a detailed history of the house, which gave her a sense of timelines, and from there she studied up on the looks from those different eras.

The first thing I had to do before I picked out any fabrics or anything was to sit in a research library and look at catalogues from different eras, like Sears catalogues,” she said, noting she had to design costumes start from around 1918 up to modern day. And not just the affluent people who lived in the house, but also the ghosts of servants, carpenters, and anyone else who may have died there. She also referred to old photographs from the time.

Falconer wasn’t aware of exactly how the background ghosts would fit into the story, but was happy with the final results. “Those hidden ghosts are so cool!” she said.

Red is involved whenever the Crains are in the Red Room.

The mysterious “Red Room” is one of the show’s cooler revelations; we learn that each of the Crain kids—and Olivia—found personal solace in one of house’s seemingly impenetrable rooms. But it wasn’t really sunshine and rainbows. The Red Room was actually Hill House’s way of feeding on the energy and sanity of the Crains.

“When every character encounters their version of the red room, we built in little essences of red,” Falconer revealed. This is present in physical objects in the flashbacks: the trunk in Nell’s playroom is red, the door to Luke’s playhouse is red, the photo album Shirley sifts through in her family room is red. But it’s also present in the final episode, “Silence Lay Steadily,” when the adult Crains return to the room to confront their personal demons. Steven (Michiel Huisman) and Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser) are wearing red shirts in their visions, Theo’s girlfriend Trish (Levy Tran) wears red undergarments in hers, and Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) sees his mother dressed in her red robes in his. 

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are certainly even more details weaved into the fabric of the story that we didn’t get a chance to talk to Falconer about. But this is a lot to go off of already, and will no doubt enrich repeat viewings.

Did you catch any of these details when you watched The Haunting of Hill House?

Images: Netflix

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