Styling Teenage Romance With To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You Costume Designer Lorraine Carson
Costume designer Lorraine Carson has helped steer the look of the romantic comedy franchise To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You (based on Jenny Han’s novel series) for the second and third films. As the franchise’s ensemble has grown up, so too has their wardrobe. With the second film currently available on Netflix (with the third film in post-production), we spoke to Carson about realizing character growth through costume, exploring Lara Jean (Lana Condor)’s personal life (she’s now officially dating Peter, played by Noah Centineo, with complications to come thanks to those old love letters she’d written), and how the show honors Laura’s family’s Korean background through traditional garments.
So let me start with a serious question that will sound silly—what do teenagers wear these days?
Well, being that we’re catering to other teenage viewers and that we’re also creating fashion icons with Lara Jean and her friends, we need to not only be aware of the current fashion for teens, but we have to put some edge into it to make it more interesting than what’s out there in the stores.
How did you do that?
In the first movie, Lara Jean really liked vintage, so I ran with that idea to make sure every outfit had some vintage design in it. But for the second two films, we made their looks a little bit more mature than the film before. In cities like New York, and in Vancouver (all three To All The Boys films were shot at least partially in Vancouver), a lot of the kids are going into vintage stores; it’s becoming the new style.
What does “more mature” look like?
Lara’s in love, she’s becoming a young woman, and I think she’s more body-conscious. Rather than wearing loose clothing or tight leggings, she’s into more body-conscious costumes. We tailored everything in to show to the shape she has. These choices are all about becoming more confident in your own body. Quite a lot of teenagers hide in their clothing as they’re changing and growing, wearing oversized hoodies and T-shirts and things like that. So this is how we brought Lara Jean into the second film.
Lara Jean and her sister also wear traditional Korean garments when they’re with their mother. How did you source and compile those looks?
For the traditional Korean garments, which are called hanboks, we followed the books very closely. In the second book, the family goes to a traditional Korean New Year’s at their grandmother’s house. Out of respect to their grandmother, the girls dress in traditional attire. The hanbok is now only used on special occasions, but the word hanbok just means ‘daily clothing,’ and that’s what people in the 1300s would wear. Now it’s saved for ceremonial occasions. I went to the author, Jenny Han, and asked her about them, and she jumped right on board to help. She sourced these dresses from reputable places in Los Angeles. My specialty is knowing what fabrics work on 4HD cameras, and because my team was physically there in LA and I was in Vancouver, we went through the fabrics together via FaceTime.
And then you had the hanboks made?
Yes, we had them made by these two wonderful companies in Los Angeles. They’re also used for weddings, and they did a wonderful job. We just had to be very particular about using traditional fabric—which is silk—for how it would read on camera.
Can you tell me a bit about knowing what fabrics will work on 4HD digital cameras?
In my career, we’ve gone through 35mm, 3HD, and now we’re into 4HD. My wonderful director, Michael Fimognari, who is also a cinematographer, is now shooting in 6HD. Quite often, what happens is although it’s a medium that various people love because it makes everything look more intimate and real, it also creates some challenges, or opportunities, to explore new types of fabric. There are things you cannot use on 4HD because it makes the camera crazy, like a ribbed sweater, for instance. Each of the grooves in the ribbing becomes a dark line. So you have to use a flat surface, like a T-shirt type of fabric. Cotton is good. If you’re using a fabric that has a prominent white thread, that’ll just jump out, too. I’ve had a lot of experience working in this area, so for me, when my team would bring things in, I’d go, ‘I love it, but we can’t use that.’ Or, ‘That’ll work fine, but we’ll have to dye it down.’
Dye it down?
Yup, another issue for this particular method of filming is you cannot use white. It’ll just flare on camera, so everything white we’ll have to tech it down, which means to put a dye over it. When you look at it in front of you, it could be a dirty white, but it’ll look white on camera. We call it ‘camera white.’ As opposed to a full-on dye, you do a watery, diluted version of a dye. You don’t lose the underlying color, so if it’s pink, it’ll stay pink, but while it’ll look dingy to the naked eye, it will look good on camera. This has been one of the most challenging parts of the show, because of 4HD we have to have a very specific color palette.
Outside of the technological advances that shape your profession, how else has your experience as a costume designer changed over the years?
I’m working with more women, for starters. It’s becoming more inclusive, which brings a different sensitivity to projects when you have that female point of view. There are like-minded people working together. It’s not about excluding men, by the way, it’s just a different point of view. I find it really interesting. With the people I’ve worked with, there’s just amazing respect for one another. As for my role, hair, makeup, and wardrobe used to be called the Pretty Department, because that’s what they thought we did. I find that there’s a lot more respect for us now, including costume designers. I think that times are changing, and the costume department, in particular, is garnering a lot more respect, and I think part of it is because more women are in positions are power.
Featured image: Lara Jean (Lana Condor.) Courtesy Netflix.