About the author
Sandy McLendon is a freelance writer whose career includes a real-life
reminder of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. For six years, he was a
cooking teacher like Sue Ann Nivens; he can sling Veal Prince Orloff with
the best of them. Magazines in which his work has appeared include Modernism
and Old House Interiors. He lives in Atlanta.
What makes Mary Tyler Moores Mary Richards character so memorable? Theres the pioneering role of being over 30 and single, but also expert hands in the wardrobe department, as Sandy McLendon relates
or not clothes make the man, they do play a large part in making
a sitcom. The Mary Tyler Moore Show is perhaps the ultimate
example of what costuming can do for a show.
When TMTMS was in the planning stages,
the first focus was on Mary Tyler Moore. It was a given that such
an attractive actress would be fashionably dressed, but Moore's
wardrobe took a lot more doing than that. First, the clothes had
to reflect the character. Mary Richards was 30, midwestern, earning
decent money but by no means affluent, and was working in an office.
This meant that clothing couldn't be too expensive-looking or too
trendy. Second, CBS specifically asked that Mary Richards not look
like Laura Petrie; there was concern that the new show would be
seen as riding the coattails of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Third,
Mary Tyler Moore has some fashion preferences of her own, mostly
ones born of professional experience.
The character question was solved early on by
having EvanPicone, a maker of better ready-to-wear separates,
supply Moore's wardrobe. The EvanPicone look was
exactly right for Mary Richards; the line was affordable, well-made,
and available everywhere. Each year, the Wardrobe Department at
MTM Enterprises met with EvanPicone and made selections from
the upcoming fall season's clothing.
The choices were mostly separates, with a few
dresses thrown in. If you'll watch an entire season's episodes back-to-back,
you'll discover that the separates were mixed and matched to create
different outfits for each episode. Some pieces even carried over
from year to year.
Later, the Judy's chain supplied Mary's clothing,
replacing the EvanPicone connection.
There were some technical considerations to be
worked out. Patterns couldn't be too small, because small ones create
weird herringbone effects on television. Colours had
to be very well matched and coordinated, because TV lighting shows
up the smallest mismatch or clash. And sparkly, glittery stuff was
avoided almost entirelylighting problems again.
Just choosing clothing wasn't enough, either.
Fit is everything on TVa wrinkle or sag that would go unnoticed
in real life looks like a disaster on-camera. The mass-produced
clothing chosen for Moore was taken apart as soon as it arrived
in Wardrobe and fitted to her as precisely as anything in the French
Mary Tyler Moore used one fashion trick on the
show constantly; in fact, she was still using it on 2000's Mary
and Rhoda movie. It's the shoes. Moore has extensive training
as a dancer, and dancers have a horror of having their feet look
large on-camera. The solution is shoes in a light beige colour called
nude. With nude shoes, the feet are the same colour
as the legs, so they look smaller.
CBS's concern with differentiating Mary Richards
and Laura Petrie extended to Mary's hair; they wanted a style very
different from Petrie's chin-length flip. They got it, courtesy
of something Mary Tyler Moore disliked; a long hairpiece called
a 'fall'. The fall was a half-wig, covering the fact that Moore's
hair was still the same length it had been in the DVD days.
Moore's own bangs were used in front, brushed over the fall to conceal
where the hairpiece began. Moore got rid of it as soon as the show
was established as a hit, going back to the pageboy-length she liked
For the rest of it? The talented costumers on
TMTMS had their hands full creating the illusion of a slice
of Minneapolis in the sunshine of Studio City.
There were beautiful things like the evening dresses
Mary wore on her fancier dates. There were silly things like the
cutout dress that Sherry, Mary's hooker cellmate in Mary Richards
Goes to Jail, designed for her.
In any movie or TV studio, working for the wardrobe department is a gruelling task. There's never enough time. There's
never enough money. Sometimes the script asks the impossible. And
there are rips and stains and weight gained, and shoes lost, and
yet the show must go on. Sandy McLendon
The Mary Tyler Moore Show reunion special airs 10 p.m. EDT, Monday, May 13, 2002 on CBS.