How do you dress stars on a tight budget? Beg, borrow, and steal ideas

By EW Staff
Updated May 12, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

So you’re on a strict clothes budget? Well, so is Rachael Stanley, head designer of NBC’s Sisters. True, Stanley’s budget is $13,000 every week. And she’s not at the top of the line, either: Costuming for hour-long dramas can cost up to $20,000, and daily daytime soaps can run as high as $70,000 a month (think All My Children‘s Erica Kane). But TV’s glitziest designers and wardrobers do have something in common with the rest of us these days: They are also feeling pinched.

”The industry standard keeps getting smaller,” says Stanley. ”When I was doing The Colbys 10 years ago, it was $18,000 per episode. I yell and stomp my feet a lot! Most of my creativity goes into trying to do what I do for the amount of money I have.”

And according to Brenda Cooper, the costume designer for Fran Drescher’s clotheshorse character on CBS’ The Nanny, create is the operative word. ”People think you just buy clothes and put them on, but everything has to be shaped, adapted, and changed to make it work for what is required in the scene,” she explains, describing how, for a gag involving Shari Lewis and puppet Lamb Chop, she fashioned what looks like a couture-quality fur coat out of an $83 coat from Nordstrom’s sale rack using two sheepskin car-seat covers for the collar and cuffs.

Outfitting even small casts through the customary six costume changes per primary character on an hour-long show would tax any budget. Luckily, many wardrobe mavens have a form of credit not available to other people: When money runs low, they borrow in return for listing the lender at the end of the show. Cary Fetman, who dresses Tom Snyder on CBS’ The Late Late Show as well as Dennis Miller for HBO’s Dennis Miller Live, buys and borrows. ”For Tom, I buy Donna Karan, Armani, Calvin Klein, Vestimenta, Brooks Brothers,” he says. ”For Dennis, Ron Ross [a Studio City, Calif., store] works out wardrobe arrangements in exchange for screen credit. We never use the same thing twice, and everything is expensive: Armani, Calvin, Donna, Matsuda.”

Despite their alternative profile, MTV VJs go for the crème of couture, too. Senior wardrobe stylist Jimmy Hanrahan borrows for credit from the showrooms of every major designer, from downtown favorite Joe Boxer (for Kennedy’s pajamas) to Jackie Kennedy stalwart Carolina Herrera (for a Daisy Fuentes gown). ”The majority of designers like me to ‘MTV up’ an outfit — take a $2,200 Chanel cashmere twinset and put it with Levi’s — because they realize it’s reaching a different age group.”

The self-styled king of lending for credit is Sherman Oaks, Calif., menswear retailer Rick Pallack, whose clients include CNN’s Showbiz Today and NBC’s The Other Side. ”In the past 12 years, our screen credit has run over 100,000 times,” boasts Pallack, who insists that a photo of his store be shown. Others are less demanding. The Entertainment Tonight credit ”Mary Hart’s wardrobe furnished by Lillie Rubin” is enough for the Rubin chain, which also outfits Good Morning America‘s Joan Lunden and Hard Copy‘s Terry Murphy.