About the costumes
In any production, costumes are essential for creating a character, and it was no different for Band of Brothers. As with all other aspects of the production, attention to detail was important - from the buttons on a dress, to the weave of a uniform's fabric, to the machining marks on a weapon. The task fell to costume designer Anna Sheppard, assistant costume designer Joe Hobbs and armourer Simon Atherton.
For Sheppard, the challenge of finding costumes for civilians from all over Europe was a pleasure, as the 1920s - 1940s is her favourite fashion period. She was intent on finding as much original clothing as possible, because "clothes from the period have a distinctive flavour, and it shows - you can't reproduce clothes and have them look and feel the same." She scoured the vintage shops and flea markets of Europe coming up with enough original stock that none of the 1200 civilian costumes used in the production were of modern manufacture.
Not only are today's fabrics, cuts and manufacturing different from those of the 40s, but Sheppard also believes it's very difficult to replicate everyday wear and tear. Vintage clothing "has a history - it's been lived in, mended, washed and cared for" - all things that give clothes personality, and help an actor inhabit a role more completely.
The costume designers face more difficulty in their quest for original military uniforms from the American, British and German armies. Men of the 40's were smaller, on average, than the men of today, and the collector value of uniforms makes it cost-prohibitive to purchase enough. Hobbs, a military buff and expert in the 101st Airborne, had main responsibility for finding what originals he could, and supervising production on the necessary replicas. Of the 2000 uniforms used in the production, only the American dress uniforms were completely original. It's not possible to duplicate that particular wool cloth today, so Hobbs was fortunate to find enough uniforms - in large enough sizes - for all the cast, mostly in France. In real life, the French used American surplus uniforms and later patterned their uniforms after ours, so by changing the buttons and insignia, Hobbs had an authentic American uniform.
For the manufactured uniforms, Hobbs went to great lengths to find or recreate the original fabrics because today's fabrics can't duplicate their weight, weave and fading qualities. Modern helmets were converted to wartime styles, and the Corcoran boot company manufactured 500 new pairs of their famous paratrooper boots, made to the original specifications, for the production. All of the insignia are either originals or exact replicas, down to the identical stitch count on the 'screaming eagle' patch, and 'wings' pins cast from original moulds.
Webbing is an integral part of the combat uniform. It's the combination of bells and bags linked together by straps and worn over fatigues that holds ammunition, weapons, tools, canteens, food and anything else the soldier needs close at hand. American webbing was canvas, while German was leather. All of the webbing had to be manufactured, and it was a particular challenge getting the colour, weight and durability right for the cotton canvas.
All weapons and ammunition going into the webbing and elsewhere were Atherton's responsibility. The production used a combination of real and prop weapons, but any weapon that fired was original, modified to short blanks. On a heavy day of filming, the production used up to 14,000 rounds of ammunition. A tight security system ensured that Atherton knew who was responsible for any weapon at any time.
Before filming began, Atherton and his crew read books, journals, interviews and anything they could find describing the actual soldiers, what weapons and ammunition they had with them on D-Day, and what changed over the course of the campaign. From these historical sources, they created a 'bible' for each man, which was strictly adhered to in the production. While working on Saving Private Ryan, Atherton invented a way to make realistic prop weapons from hard rubber that are indistinguishable from the real thing at a short distance, and he used the same techniques on Band of Brothers. The props had the same weight as the originals and incorporated wood, leather and moving parts. The detail was exact down to the machining marks on a gun barrel. The end result of Atherton, Hobbs and Shepard's combined efforts was clothing and weaponry that were exactly as they were in the 1940s.