Fittings, Sparkle and Broadway: Glee’s Andrea Medina Takes Us Behind The Scenes

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Photo: Andrea Medina / Twitter

An episode of Glee averages 14 main cast members, each of which undergoes five costume changes per episode. That’s roughly 70 different costumes per episode, and that’s not even taking into account guest stars and extras. It’s no wonder that when we spoke to Glee costume assistant Andrea Medina last week that she was looking forward to a well-deserved break. “It is a lot of work having such a large and ever changing cast, but we love the challenge!” she expressed over email.

There is never a dull moment in the life of a costume assistant, especially on a show as grand as Glee. While it may appear glamorous shopping for and being surrounded by McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, Hermes, Top Man, Kate Spade and Jimmy Choo among others day in and day out, the days are long. A lot of time, effort and attention to detail are put into every outfit that makes it to our screens each week. Luckily Medina is exactly where she wants to be and she loves every second of it. Medina starts off her day 8am in the office where she ensures everything is ready for that day’s work. This consists of making sure that the office in order, call sheets are passed out and if there are any fittings scheduled that day, making sure the fitting rooms are all set up and ready to go. Time is money after all. That’s as much formula as she gets, since each day is unique and she never knows where she may end up or what she’ll be called upon to do. This ranges from heading out in the crew’s golf cart to pick up various cast members for costume fittings (watch out for her if you ever do the Paramount Studio Tour!!! Sounds like fun), to going on errands to pick up or return merchandise (shopping in McQueen, yes please), to calling stores to locate items for costumes. However, it’s not all fun and games. Like with every other job, Medina also gets tasked with admin tasks such as closing out memos and bills (there’s no escaping mind-numbing paperwork).

One exciting aspect of the job is the research that Glee’s costume designer, Robert Blackman, tasks Medina with. “[I look] into our archives of cast photos in our continuity books, which hold every outfit, for every character, in every episode,” she explained. ” He will also have me look online or go to a costume research library to pull images. For example, for the Funny Girl costumes I pulled images from the early 1900s.”

Fans of the show know that each character has a unique style and look. However, even casual viewers or people who have never watched an episode think of Glee as soon as they see a particular costume. Costumes from iconic Glee songs like Don’t Stop Believin,’” “Teenage Dream,” “Jesse’s Girl,” and the original “Loser Like Me,” are often associated with the show and the world of McKinley, Lima and Ohio, as are iconic character costumes like the Cheerios uniform, the McKinley Letterman jacket, and from season 2, the Dalton uniform. When the permanent cast (well till the end of season 5) moved out of Lima to the Big Apple following the 100th episode celebrations, viewers watched as each of the graduates’ style evolve and grew as they came into their own and started to find their place in the world.

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Photo: Andrea Medina / Twitter

This transition is best represented by Rachel who has changed the most in terms of wardrobe and has undergone the biggest transformation of the characters. “I think of Rachel’s colorful sweaters and dresses with sweet prints, plaid skirts, and penny loafers as Lima. Rachel’s darker colors, shorter skirts, leather pieces, Helmut Lang sweaters, and knee high boots, for example, give her a more ‘grown up’ and sophisticated New York look,” Medina said.

However, while the characters might be a-changing their wardrobes, there have been little changes for the dynamics of the costume department. “In all honesty, there have not been any major changes. We wanted to make sure the characters were still recognizable, but we did have fun with the Kurt and Blaine ‘semi-coordinating at times’ looks. Our designer does like to have characters within a scene coordinate,” Medina said.

According to Medina, the biggest difference between Lima-Glee and NYC-Glee has been the opportunity to add a few new designers into the mix. For example, since moving to New York, Sam’s brands have become “a little higher end.” We’ve started to see him in Diesel and John Varvatos, which showcases how his style is becoming “more distressed and a bit rigid”. However, you can’t pass up the classics so we still see Blaine in “a lot of Brooks Brothers and Top Man. Kurt has a lot of Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen pieces. And Rachel loves her Maje and Sandro,” Medina said.

Apart from dressing the cast in their day-to-day garb, the Costume Department are also called on to recreate some of the most iconic costumes and looks in music history. Glee has tackled iconic looks of Lady Gaga to Katy Perry, from the Spice Girls to Madonna, not to mention Michael Jackson, Funny Girl, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Grease to name but a few. These costumes are often standout favourites of fans and the Costume Department alike. The most elaborate looks that the Costume Department has taken on to date were probably the ones from season 5 episode “A Katy or A Gaga”. For this episode they were required to make items such as Unique’s cupcake skirt, Tina’s film reel, Blaine’s green scaled jacket with horse tail and Ryder’s foam bone corset.

The turnaround time they have to make these creations varies greatly from episode to episode. Turnaround can range from a couple of days to a week all depending on when they receive the script. While there have been occasions where they received the script the day before shooting began, they generally have about a day or two for Blackman to “design/sketch the more elaborate costumes,” with an additional few days to build the costume.

Creating the costumes for these big numbers is a real collaborative process between the various departments. During pre-production, Blackman “presents his vision for the characters on a presentation board.” Big costume numbers tend to vary between a collaboration between Blackman and the producer/director and Blackman and the writer.“ For the most part, there will be some note in the script or mentioned in a production meeting about what the producers want for big costume numbers.” Occasionally the script will outline certain things, such as in season 4’s “Guilty Pleasures,” where the script “dictated which girl was which Spice Girl persona,” Medina shared.

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Photo: Jennifer Clasen / FOX

With the number of wild and wacky costumes the cast have had to dress up in over the past five years, one can assume that there must have been a number of hilarious moments when an actor has seen their costume for the first time. “I have to say, it was pretty funny when the guys, Blake [Jenner, Ryder], Kevin [McHale, Artie], Darren [Criss, Blaine], and Chord [Overstreet, Sam], saw each other in their “Applause” costumes for the first time during our dress rehearsal the night before we shot that scene,” she said.

Medina has been a part of the Glee family since day one starting as an intern and encourages any aspiring costume designer to take advantage of similar opportunities while studying. Before Glee, she first interned on NBC’s short-lived US adaptation of the Australian comedy, Kath and Kim. Following that experience she continued interning throughout college,with Glee, one of her final internships , then landed the position of Costume Assistant following graduation and it’s “been amazing every step of the way.” She fondly remembers her very first day on set when she was taken by Lou Eyrich (the Costume Designer at the time) to do a fitting with Jane Lynch. “She was the first cast member I met, and was as lovely as can be then as she is now!” However, it’s another moment from the first season that is a standout for Medina. “The most vivid memory from Season 1 that I have is the day I took a picture with the entire original cast in the choir room. That photo is one of my most cherished memories on Glee,” she said.

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Photo: Andrea Medina / Twitter

Since that day there have been a number of cast changes, but as Medina says, “there are always changes happening for us in the costume department… changes include new cast members, eccentric and theatrical musical numbers, and themed episodes… [all this is what] makes this job so much fun!” And what does she find is the best part of her job? “Being involved in all the behind the scenes hustle & bustle. It is the best when I watch the episode knowing all that was put into the costumes. It is a team effort, and I work with such talented people.”

It’s a team effort that is certainly appreciated by the many fans of both the show and Medina herself. Like many of the Glee crew, Medina has developed a fan following of her own with almost 4900 followers on Twitter and over 2300 on Instagram. Medina makes use of social media to reach out to fellow Gleeks, sharing behind the scenes pics and videos of daily life in the costume department and it’s a relationship that she cherishes.

“That’s such a bizarre thing for me to say, ‘my fans,’ ” she said. “I like to think of them as fellow Gleeks who appreciate the work I/we do! I LOVE hearing everyone’s feedback on our costumes. The best thing about my Twitter followers is their passion!!” If you ever wondered whether the Costume Department pay attention to what the fans discuss on Twitter, rest assured they are watching. “I do truly take to heart their comments,” Medina said.  “I often pass on their notes to my co-workers, and we keep your thoughts in mind!” This certainly explains the repeat appearance of certain pants worn by Kurt and Blaine.

For those interested in following in Medina’s footsteps aspiring to be a costume designer, Medina shares some of the best advice that she was given on entering the business. “Learn about all aspects of my craft! For understanding fashion and costume design, that includes knowing about garment construction, fit, textiles, costume history, etc. Knowledge of these topics allows for Costume Designers to properly communicate with vendors, tailors, actors, and his/her crew.”

Now that Glee has wrapped, Medina is looking forward to relaxing and enjoying her time off. While the timing hasn’t worked out for her to work in the wardrobe department on The Voice like last summer hiatus, her summer is no less busy. With a family trip to Hawaii booked and plans to design/build some garments for herself (possibly inspired by her style icons Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and Kate Middleton), she will hardly be idle. However, with yesterday’s announcement that Glee wouldn’t return to our screens for season 6 until January 2015, Medina might have some spare time to fill as when we were speaking the break looked to be only for 1-2 months.

4YE FAST QUESTIONS

  1. Which character is the most fun to dress? Brittany/Kurt
  2. Best costume you’ve work on? All the Katy/Gaga costumes
  3. The costume that you’re most proud of? Katy/Gaga costumes (“I really do love them and all the work our team put into those looks!”)
  4. Whose wardrobe is most like yours and whose do you envy? It’s a mixture between Quinn & Marley. I most envy all of Rachel’s Helmut Lang sweaters!!
  5. The worst wardrobe malfunction on set? There have been a couple rips here and there. I won’t call out anyone though, haha. Occasionally we’ve had some of the cast spill water or a Jamba Juice on their costume though prior to filming or between takes, haha.
  6. Which costume(s) do fans most comment on? The proposal suits of Kurt and Blaine for sure!! Fans seem to love the two colors together! Also, fans seemed to really love the “Roar” costumes as well!
  7. After almost five years, which character has the biggest wardrobe? Without a doubt, KURT! He has the largest number and variety of accessories, shoes, and garments.

Glee’s season 5 finale “The Untitled Rachel Berry Project” airs tonight 8/7c on FOX. You can follow Andrea Medina on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr for all the latest behind the scenes costume news. Join in on the conversation about tonight’s costumes using the hashtag #GleeCostumes. Check out some of Medina’s behind-the-scenes photos below!

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Clare Sidoti
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