MADE LIKE MAISEL: Admiring The Marvelous Costumes One Stitch at a Time

Congratulations to the cast and crew of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on their 20 Emmy nominations. Since the highly anticipated first episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel in the Spring of 2017, the Amazon Prime Original series has continued to capture the viewers with the artistry of costume designer, Donna Zakowska’s late 1950s and early 1960s designs.

Photo by Morgan Donner

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a witty period comedy-drama following the life of Miriam “Midge” Maisel. “In 1958 New York, Midge Maisel’s life is on track – husband, kids, and elegant Yom Kippur dinners in their Upper West Side apartment. But when her life takes a surprising turn, she has to quickly decide what she’s good at – and going from housewife to stand-up comic is a wild choice to everyone but her.” (Amazon Prime)

Zakowska and her team have successfully continued season after season to immerse the viewers in the bygone era where men were dapper and women wore feminine silhouettes that were modest yet form-fitting, demure but celebrated a woman’s figure.

The show’s costumes send the fans into a nostalgic world of yesteryear where Zakowska’s use of bold colors, draping, prints, patterns and beautifully curated matching hats and accessories have even the most novice sewer wishing to recreate the genius that appears on the screen.

Each stitch of a costume, cosplay, history bounding outfit, or exact replica created by the online sewing community is a virtual fan letter to the show’s costume designer. If Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Donna Zakowska and her costume department have an abundance of online adulation from the fans that only continues to grow.

To write that the show resonates with those who watch would be an understatement, one example is the Facebook group WeSewRetro: Sewing Marvelous Mrs. Maisel that was created specifically for those inspired to sew outfits from the Amazon Prime show. It is a supportive group where members discuss the Maisel outfits they are working on, share resources on patterns/techniques, and offer advice to those in need. The group pays homage to the costumes by sharing their Maisel exact replicated looks or an inspired version with each member posting their pictures with pride and the community providing encouragement, help, and tips along the way.

Diane Presley is a member of that Facebook Group who created a self-imposed Maisel-a-Month challenge on Instagram that was featured in The Vintage Women Magazine.  Her challenge was to create a new Maisel inspired garment per month. Presley stated in the article, “This project also started as a way to be stylish as Midge without breaking the bank. …Not all outfits are meant to be exact copies, but rather an inspired version of the original. I hope to show others that these outfits are totally achievable for anyone!” You can follow her journey @shimmyshimmysewsewbog or participate in the challenge using #maiselamonth

Another Instagram challenge inspired by The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is by Sam Green @Minimaedelcreates. She was inspired while watching the show with her husband. She knew the comments of “Woah look at that dress” and “Look at that coat!” would be better appreciated within the sewing community than with her husband who didn’t quite extend the same level of admiration and excitement over every slightest detail noticed on Zakowska’s designs. This is where the idea of the challenge #madelikemaisel was created, recreating a favorite look from the show. While the second year of the challenge was slightly different than the first, those who participated said that it was just what they needed during the chaos of COVID and quarantine. This year’s winner was Tricia from @creative.costume.academy and second place was Diane Presley (noted above) with the previous winners as judges.

Tricia Camacho  is the owner of Creative Costume Academy where she virtually helps creatives and stitchers learn the easy basic pattern principles so that they can start making their own designs. Tricia, previously lived in Las Vegas Nevada, where she had her own costume build shop, specializing in pattern making and difficult builds for acrobatic performers. She has worked on numerous large productions while also creating several patterns making workshops for those interested in learning, including a class on her Maisel make.

Fans who have created costumes replicating the designs by Donna Zakowska, use a myriad of ways to accurately portray their envisioned pieces by finding similar new or vintage patterns, altering patterns they have on hand, or drafting their own. Similar to an archaeologist at a dig site, those seeking to recreate the Marvelous designs will watch the show frame by frame, screenshot the images and note every seam-line, intricate detail, and angle available to assist them in the process. There are many sources online to help with recreating a Maisel inspired garment. Within the Costuming Youtube Community, also referred to as Costube, there are many videos to watch which include historical costuming, embroidery, millinery, and sewing for all levels interested. If you don’t know where to begin or who to follow on Youtube, you can go to @costubeguide on Instagram to see upcoming video releases. However, there are also specific videos on the making of costumes inspired by The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Morgan Donner is one such Costuber. You can view her four sewing parties “dress diary” videos related to the making of her Maisel Red Evening Gown Dress or read about her journey and the costumes that were contenders before deciding on the recreation of the iconic red dress at  MorganDonner.com.

Even the moderator of the WeSewRetro: Sewing Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Shilyn Joy, has several videos on her Youtube channel chronicling all of her Maisel makes in a series posted on the 15th “middle” aka Midge-le of the month.

The viewers are not the only ones who recognize the excellence of Zakowska’s talent. She was recognized by her peers throughout the shows run, winning the Costume Designer’s Guild Award for period television costume the last two years. She won the 2019 Emmy for Outstanding Period Costume for the episode “We’re Going To The Catskills!”, nominated in 2018 and again in 2020. In December of 2019, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History acquired two of the costumes for their national entertainment collection which include the blue peignoir nightgown with pink housecoat from the pilot episode as well as the black satin cocktail dress with bows on the straps worn during her comedy performance on the season 1 finale.

If these costumes have reignited your creative side, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel should be on your quarantine re-watch list. It is a guarantee that you may have missed many things when you originally binged the season. It is not always apparent the magnitude of the costumes any Wardrobe Department has to design, shop, curate, and dress for not only the principal characters but also the extras.  Executive Producer, Dan Palladino, and Creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino, stated in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, that on one day of shooting last year there were 850 extras in one airport hanger. The link to the article was posted in the Facebook Group Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and a few of the extras that were there on that specific day recalled filming and wearing the costumes fondly, even in the excessive heat.

However, if you haven’t watched the show, what have you been waiting for? Don’t fret, there is a slight twinge of jealousy from those who are already addicted knowing the butterflies you will feel when you get to fall in love with the costumes for the very first time.

Congratulations to Donna Zakowska and her hardworking team on the well deserved Emmy nomination for 2020 Best Outstanding Period Costumes.

Follow Donna Zakowska on Instagram @dzakowska

Follow The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Instagram @Maiseltv


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