4 min

Folk stylings

How I dress the characters of TV's gayest show

LOTS OF LOOKS. Queer As Folk characters show the panorama of gay style. Credit: Xtra files

Crew arrives at the Toronto set at a ridiculously early hour, four hours of sleep after a ridiculously late night. Stephen, the make-up artist, applies make-up – often over the entire body. Michael the hair stylist does hair, including a clipped chest and butt. Marie, the wardrobe key, sets out the day’s clothes, which might include a genital wrap or two, depending on the scene.

The US press always compares Queer As Folk to Will And Grace. Yeah – so far, the similarities must be glaringly obvious.

Then I too begin my day as the show’s costume designer, couturier to disco trash, harbinger of style to non-receptive lesbians. It’s given me an inside view of the production of the US remake of the groundbreaking British show. And it’s certainly been a different experience from my first costume-designing gig on a children’s show called Animorphs (four spunky kids save the planet from alien invasion with a cuddly blue half man/half horse).

For example, at pre-production meetings for Queer As Folk, we confer over scripyed lines like, “Get on your knees, pussyboy” – does it really captures Emmett’s pique at Bill for lying to him? – and character names like usemyhole27.

The character Ted, an accountant who’s not quite at home in the gay world, gets picked up by a muscle stud at the 24-hour convenience store and they do it in the parking lot. The transportation department is told to get a van with a big enough sunroof to see Ted’s face when his knees are behind his ears.

Set design also has special concerns. In a role reversal, Brian, the sexually aggressive character (based on the character Stuart from the British series), is seduced in his ultra chic executive office by an employee. “We’ll need to replace Brian’s glass desktop with plexi so it can stand the weight of them fucking on it,” the set designer points out. Which takes us to the dilemma of casting: Does the fellow playing the employee have a butt we’re gonna want to see through plexi?

All this is distracting enough, but my responsibility is the clothes. I’m often asked if it’s harder to dress gay characters as opposed to straight ones. Well, only because it takes longer for gay men to decide what to wear.

At the New York premiere I was interviewed by actor Harvey Fierstein. “You’ve dressed New York, you’ve dressed LA. How do you dress Pittsburgh?” he asked me, referring to the setting of the show. Well, the truth is, most gay men I know dress like they’re ready to hop a Concorde to New York or LA, regardless of the city they live in.

Though it’s true gay men are usually the only ones who have the nerve to wear what’s walking the catwalk at the moment, it’s not like every gay man on the show should be a GQ model. And not all lesbians wear lumberjack shirts.

In real life there are gay men with no taste, and lesbians who dress fabulously. It’s no easier to be an authority on gay style than it is to be an authority on straight style. There’s a spectrum of looks and the critics sitting at home watching the series can be unforgiving with fashion mistakes.

Lucky for me, most of the principal actors are basically the same size as I am. I can try things on before bringing them to actors for a fitting. A little bigger for Brian the well-built sexual predator, a little shorter for Michael, the adorable best friend, and a little tighter for Justin, the hot little twink.

In the last six months I’ve dressed myself up as every style of go-go boy, leather stud, and backroom tramp. My Polaroid collection is extensive.

Although it’s a gay show, I will succeed only if I make the actors look contemporary and realistic, not just gay. So I get my influence from all over, on the street, in gay magazines. Of course, the more flamboyant characters are the most fun.

Take Emmett, for example. Based on the queeny Alexander from the British show, he’s obviously the most splashy character – the out and proud friend we have or wish we were. His style is a complete rip-off of my best friend Ron, from my party days in the late ’80s. The look says fashion at any price, even if it means wearing much too little waiting in line to get into a club in February. Ron came from Vancouver for the crew screening of the first episode. He hated to admit it but he saw a bit of himself there.

My best opportunity to imitate reality is in the scenes that require background players: parties, bars and street scenes. Every television show or movie depiction of gay life I’ve seen so far always overdoes it by showing one of each – a sampling of gay society that has bears, drag queens, leather daddies, lipstick lesbians and bull dykes mingling together lovingly. Does Hollywood do it so no one feels left out, or is it because the mix is so rich they get greedy and try to stuff it all into one scene? Sure, crowds mix, but even in a minority group, friendship is based on more than a common sexuality. The argument I’ve always made is that if we were to shoot a scene at the Catholic women’s league, should we put in a women bleeding from her palms just to cover all the bases?

But back to the fun stuff. I’ve never received an award, but I can’t imagine too many Emmy Award-winning costume designers have had to fit an actor with an assortment of cockrings or tried to attach a 12-inch dildo onto a completely naked body. My only press claim to fame thus far suggests that I do have the required experience: a National Enquirer article crediting me as the boy who had to wrap Christian Bale’s privates in a sock every day for a week for the chainsaw scene in American Psycho. I’m flattered that the actor who plays Michael, Queer As Folk’s homeless romantic, has taken to calling his own privacy sock “Mr Bale.”

We’re trying to make real TV. But the only thing we can try to keep straight are our faces. And that’s hard when a work day starts with 33 dildoes for a fight sequence. If you have half as much fun watching it as we do making it, we’ve done our job.