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EW's Best of 2015: How Quantico turned Henley shirts into a phenomenon

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Phillippe Bosse/ABC

When ABC’s hit drama Quantico debuted earlier this year, no one expected its fashion choices to turn heads. FBI agents? Not the most stylish of folks. But as the first season progressed, fans began to really notice those training uniforms. How the hell does everyone look so … sexy? As part of our year-end coverage, costume designer Sami Rattner explains how she turned a blue Henley shirt into a statement piece.

Click here for more Best of 2015 coverage.

ABC’s Quantico premiered to rave reviews earlier this year after being dubbed one of the buzziest new dramas of the season. FBI training camp! Completed Homeland-style terrorist plots! Gorgeous people kicking ass! Starring Priyanka Chopra, Quantico was also praised as one of the most diverse shows on network television, and quickly gained devoted viewers. But as the show’s plot contorted week after week, fans began to take notice of something else besides the foreboding Grand Central bombing storyline: the wardrobe. More specifically, those blue Henley shirts.

As recruits at the FBI’s prestige training camp, Chopra and her castmates all have to wear the same uniform for half the time they’re on screen. After three weeks of research into what actual FBI recruits wear (polo shirts and cargo pants), Sami Rattner, the show’s costume designer, settled on a look fit for network television — a light blue, long-sleeve top from Aether Apparel and cargo pants from denim brands Levi’s and Citizens of Humanity.

“My immediate thought was, ‘How am I going to make these uniforms look good because they wear them for so much of the show?'” Rattner tells EW. “The real FBI uniforms aren’t that attractive and our cast is so hot and you want them to look great. We had to ask ourselves, ‘What are the tasks they’ll have to do in these clothes and does it make sense for the training?'”

Considering the Bureau newbies run, jump, shoot, sweat, and, yes, sometimes sleep with each other in the outfits, Rattner wanted an element of reality and mobility that looks good on everyone. She decided to find Henley shirts, long-sleeve long john-like shirts with only a few buttons, early on in production after rejecting boxy polo shirts and boring crew necks. “We wanted a utilitarian feel, but a bit more edge,” she says. “The Henleys give the cast the ability to have a little variety in the way they wear their uniforms. You can have a few buttons open, or you can push up the sleeves. You can accessorize more.”

Religious Nimah (Yasmine Al Massri) wears her shirt buttoned all the way up, while gutsy Alex leaves a few buttons open and her sleeves mostly rolled up. Caleb (Graham Rogers) keeps his shirt half-tucked in, as if mirroring his uncertain standing in their training class. With minute details, Rattner and her team can help convey who these characters actually are.

Rattner says she tried out dozens of tops but selected Aether men’s and women’s Henleys, and bought every one they had before filming. “They had to make more for us,” she says. “A lot of Henleys we ordered were meant to be worn as layering pieces, but these are meant to have an element of fashion towards them.” Aether’s are 100 percent cotton and their texture “has a little extra waffle,” Rattner says. “The heathered waffle gives it more dimension on-screen.” She ended up purchasing five or six for each cast member, and because of the shirts’ cut she didn’t need to make alterations for any single character, a rare occurrence in the TV wardrobe world.

Even though the other half of the show features the characters out of uniform, the signature Henleys match the show’s vibe: sexy, serious, and rebellious. “Our show is about strong woman looking fierce all the time,” Rattner says. “That’s the whole point.”

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