Costume DesignFilm & Television

Exploring Costume Design in The World’s Most Popular TV Show – Friends

Running from 1994 to 2004, Friends is still regarded by many people as the best, funniest TV show of all time. The programme also signified a significant development in the field of costume design, with many of its styles becoming popular in real life. Helen Beaumont explains more below…

Style trendsetters

Friends followed the trials and tribulations of six young New Yorkers – Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Ross, Chandler and Joey. Across ten series, we watched this group of pals transition from young, unattached urbanites, to married adults, who by the end of Friends were forming their own families.

It’s hard to overestimate the impact that Friends had on 90s fashion. The obvious example is ‘the Rachel’ hairdo, worn by Rachel in the show’s early seasons. This shoulder-length, layered, highlighted cut was donned by everyone from Tyra Banks to Christina Aguilera in the ‘90s, showing the reach that one popular TV look can have. However, Aniston has admitted in interviews that the style was impossible to maintain without professional help and looking back, she’s actually not too fond of it.

But Friends contributed far more to 90s fashion than just ‘the Rachel.’ Its over-sized check shirts, cropped tops, high-waisted trousers, slip dresses and leather blazers became style staples in the ‘90s. Also fans rushed to emulate all the best styles from Friends for years, with everything from Rachel’s dresses to Monica’s lipsticks proving highly popular with consumers. These amazing outfits were crafted by costume designer Debra McGuire, who has established a long, distinguished career.

Debra’s methods

Last year, Debra McGuire spoke out on the enduring popularity of the costumes she designed on Friends. Commenting, she was quoted by Marie Claire noting that “To this day, in 2016, I get at least one email a week saying, my wife and I are watching Friends and I loved that dress – where can I find it? I always write back and say that was 20 years ago!” When people are still asking where you got clothes from 20 years after your TV show started, you know that you’ve had a massive impact!

But how did Debra McGuire create such amazing costumes? She never stopped looking for pieces. Explaining further, she said: “When I was in London doing Friends, for the episode when Ross gets married, I went to this boutique called Idol and bought so much stuff for Phoebe and for Rachel. And some of those pieces are the most loved pieces by the fans. There was a strapless yellow dress that Rachel wore that I think I got thousands of emails over the years just about that dress.”

But if you want advice on designing budget costumes, Debra McGuire can’t help. Many of Friends’ costumes were expensive, but made to look cheap. Giving an example, she noted: “I wanted to find a great leather jacket for Joey, something that could be his best friend, and the one I found was Armani, which was a riot because he never could have afforded Armani… We made it look like a poor man’s choice, but really it wasn’t. And that was the case for a lot of things actually, which is very funny.”

Heavy schedule

The enduring popularity of Debra McGuire’s work on Friends is especially remarkable, considering the fact that she had to create a colossal 75 costumes every week. If you learn anything from this piece is that you will take on a considerable workload when serving as a costume designer on TV, even if you have the kind of budget that comes with mega hit shows like Friends. But your work will be displayed in homes across the world every week, so if you manage to find work on a programme like Friends and you put your all into it, like Debra McGuire did, you could leave a style legacy that last for years.

About Helen Beaumont

Helen Beaumont’s career started at Camberwell College of Art, where she studied the History of Art and Design, specialising in costume during her final year. After completing study, Helen became a costume buyer for theatre and opera. She has since become a professional costume designer, with a keen interest in period clothing. Throughout her career, Helen has created authentic costumes for prestigious companies such as the Universal Studios, Disney, BBC, Tiger Aspect and the Young Vic Theatre.

Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *