Breaking Bad’s Good Wardrobe: 101 Costume Design

It has been years since I have subscribed to TV. I lost interest long ago, when my life as an artist in NYC allotted no time. I did reconsider but the price of TV versus the quality of content and all the faux reality just didn’t match up, not at least until I discovered Breaking Bad.

This show has me strung out and fiending for that next season. Aside from the incredible writing, award-winning acting and artistic frames, the costume design is nothing short of exactly what it is suppose to be.

Kathleen Detoro, the show’s Costume Designer is wonderful, and immediately had me IMDBing her name. Turns out Detoro and I shared the same agent however, Detoro has been working in television for over two decades. (I have only 11 indie features under my belt).

Breaking Bad is just one of those projects that perfectly exemplifies the relationship between costume and script. Detoro utilizes color, shape and texture to perfectly describe each and every mood of both character and dialogue. The costumes move with characterization and aid the arcs and transitions in the scripts. The two are complimentary of each other and a testament to the integral communication of a great production. Too often, the actors, time, first time directors, budget or all the aforementioned, make it impossible for wardrobe to do what it is they are hired to do – work that script.

It’s no wonder why the writers of the show keep getting promoted to producers. It is after all, a crazy story that comes right out of their human heads and those heads are apparently involved in every detail of this show. Kathleen Detoro is worthy of an Emmy if Hollywood crowned more Costume Designers working in a contemporary category.

Walter White: Although the photo above is not from the beginning of the show, it illustrates the characterization. This photo was shot well into Walter White’s progression. How do I know? He is wearing dark shoes.

Walter starts out as a pretty dull guy, who is not particularly handsome, successful nor charming. His character is a struggling, middle class school teacher and begins the show wearing beige head to toe. His shoe style remains the same thoughout (Clark’s Wallabee), but moves from beige to brown and finally into black, a key signifier to the progression of his nihilism.

Skyler White: She is a loving, loyal wife. What color best describes loyalty? The answer is blue. Blue actually calms tensions and is a dependable hue. Skyler starts out wearing blue and slowly transitions.

In this intimate scene, Skyler is barely holding on. She is pregnant, broke, has a handicap son, and a terminally ill husband who is missing. On the other hand, Marie, her younger sister, is well paid, privileged and has no kids of her own.
Skyler, dressed in monocromatic “blah” beige, is as down and out as one can be. Although she is strong she is still vulnerable and sweet, which is sensational through her soft, knit sweater and lace trim.
Everything opposite to Skyler is expressed through Marie’s purple outfit. Historically, purple has been a color worn by royals. It is also considered a mysterious color. This is the same scene in which Skylar confronts Marie about her kleptomania, while Marie denies everything.

Skyler has become increasingly more independent. At this point, she has become so turned off by Walter’s lies that she initiates an affair with her boss. She has turned a new leaf literally, by wearing green and more vibrant hues. Her silver cuffs detail her bold rebellion.

Jesse: Pinkman’s obvious color code is yellow. Whether or not this was assigned by the writers or the Costume Designer, yellow (the color of illumination, Walter’s Illumination), is established somewhere in most of his outfits. For the most part, Jesse starts off happy-go-lucky and is very immature, wearing over-sized hoodies and loud graphics.

As the show advances and Jesse experiences more and more loss, his clothes change in color and in size. Eventually, his wardrobe ends up streamlined and less obvious demonstrating his less than graceful, despondent coming of age.

Breaking Bad was picked up for 16 more episodes before they call it quits. Only time will tell if they run all episodes in one final fifth season or stretch it out for two more. Nevertheless, I am chomping at the bit, waiting to get my fix.