Costumes for The Pacific
From the buttons on a dress, to the color of an article of
clothing, to the weave of a uniforms fabric, appropriate costuming
played an especially important role in the successful execution of
the epic HBO miniseries The Pacific.
The critical responsibility of maintaining authenticity fell to costume designer Penny Rose, who came to the project with a resume that included work on the Pirates of the Caribbean films and such striking period dramas as Carrington and King Arthur.
Authentic costuming was essential for The Pacific, explains Rose, because it sets the tone and the flavor. It's very important, particularly in a war project, that the civilian day wear of the period is absolutely on the button, because then you know exactly where you are. She believes "the wardrobe should add to not distract from the production, noting, If it's done subtly, you don't notice it. No fuss should be made, but it's got to be 100% authentic, and then I think everything else comes together."
In dressing lead actors and extras as civilians, Rose was able to draw on extensive photographic and film records of the era, and relied on a combination of manufactured costumes and vintage clothing to bring the characters to life.
She recalls that, for the scenes set in Melbourne, she resisted the temptation to rent more from Los Angeles, "because I wanted to have a very Australian flavour. The textiles and patterns and colors for LA were different than they were for Australia, since the Australian look was still rather English." Believing that sticking to the period was a priority, Rose adds, "We definitely tried to give the colors of everything a toned-down flavour."
The costume designers faced greater hurdles in their quest for original military uniforms. To create 3000 manufactured uniforms, Rose and her team used the equivalent of 100 tennis courts roughly 20,000 square metres of herringbone twill, specially woven in India on old-fashioned looms to replicate the 1940s weave.
"One of the biggest challenges was showing the right amount of deterioration at different points of the story. Since we were shooting the episodes out of sequence", explains Rose, "we couldn't age the uniforms gradually as we went along. We had to have all six degrees of deterioration ready so we could jump at will, meaning that multiple versions of the same uniform were needed for each major character."
Webbing, an integral part of the combat uniform, is the combination of belts and bags linked together by straps and worn over fatigues that holds ammunition, weapons, tools, canteens, food and anything else the Marine needs close at hand.
"I think the only liberty we took was with the Marine backpacks", says Rose. She explains that the rolls actors wore in The Pacific were lighter weight, while the real ones were quite heavy. Although Rose had never worked in television before, she wanted to be part of The Pacific after reading the scripts, so she began reviewing films, photographs and newspaper archives for inspiration.
On major locations in Port Douglas and at the Hillview Quarry in the You Yangs district outside of Melbourne a 300-foot-long tent housed costume, hair, makeup, webbing and armory. Modern-day actors would enter at one end and emerge as World War II-era Marines and civilians at the other, exactly as they would have appeared more than six decades ago.