8 Secrets Behind The “Masters Of Sex” Costumes

Costume designer Ane Crabtree spends a lot of time thinking about sex, and specifically, about how people studying it in the 1950s would dress. It’s a fun job, needless to say.

1. This is Ane Crabtree, the costume designer on Showtime’s new series, Masters of Sex.

Michael Desmond

The series centers on pioneering human sexuality researchers Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) and Crabtree has the pleasure of dressing the actors for a living. The costume designer, who’s previously worked on shows like Justified, Luck, and Pan Am, took the time to speak with BuzzFeed about everything that goes into her job, including her toughest challenges on set, like having to custom-make historically accurate underwear from the ’50s.

2. What makes the costumes for this show so special:

“In 1958, in St. Louis, Missouri, I’m thinking, How are folks there, at a university, gonna speak on sex? I was really drawn to that,” Crabtree explains. “I’m from the south Midwest, and things tend to have religious undertones in terms of what’s right and wrong, even in present day. So I was curious about the tone of it… And I was really in love with the idea that Michelle Ashford was the creator. So there were all these strong women involved creatively, behind the scenes. Then I found out who the cast was, and I said, ‘Sign me up.’”

4. The story behind the bow ties:

Ane Crabtree

“For Michael Sheen, he’s very much an actor who prepares, and who is very much tied to reality,” Crabtree says. “He did a heck of a lot of research before I even came onto the pilot. So the bow tie became a sort of through line. Also, William H. Masters’ mother made all of her son’s bow ties from the time he was little up into the ’80s. Isn’t that crazy? There’s a zillion beautiful vintage bow ties one can collect, and I got very excited by — but they’re pre-tied. I mean, that was a fashion thing that was OK to do. I presented those to Michael and he said, ‘You know what? I really would like you to make all of them.’ So that helped me to refine what should be on his body. We made a ’50s bow tie, but we made it sort of fitter in increments, so it was more flesh at his throat. Everything became about precision for Masters, the bow tie started that — it was like a line you don’t cross… Sometimes, in the essence of time, for a fitting, we might grab another top, but it wasn’t period or built for Michael, and it would just throw him off.”

6. The details behind Virginia Johnson’s sexy ’50s style:

Ane Crabtree

“Virginia Johnson is a different sort of woman from the typical housewife in 1957 or ‘58 in Missouri. In real life, she was a singer in nightclubs, which is thrilling,” Crabtree says, almost giddy. “She just is someone who really wanted an education, and she was so modern and so free with that. That idea lent itself toward the clothing. So, in many ways, she’s going to dress very differently than Libby Masters, because their take on life is so different, and their approach to their world is so different.

What I did was lend an air of liberation to her clothing. I figured a woman who was a nightclub singer would be fantasizing about what women would be wearing in New York, or Chicago at that time. I applied that to Virginia Johnson, and I had to be realistic, because she was a single mom and didn’t have a lot of money.”

8. The costumes were historically accurate, all the way down to the underwear.

Ane Crabtree

“They had to wear all of the foundation garments in order for the clothing to look right on camera. Every female and male, we built their underwear as well,” Crabtree says. “It’s a visual thing for the camera, and for the audience, and for me — for everything to look absolutely correct. So the certain foundation bras and girdles had to be worn, because people even walk differently in them. The girdles are quite thick — the stretch on them — and so it’s different than today’s Spanx that are more forgiving and giving. If you have a normal girdle on, your body is going to do this beautiful tiny wiggle, which you can see with Lizzy, and with Caitlin [Fitzgerald, who plays Libby Masters], and the others. Lizzy would come in her bra and her girdle to be fit, because she wanted it to look right and fit right.”

10. Crabtree doesn’t play favorites when it comes to the actors.


“Truthfully, it was one of the hardest jobs I’ve done, and the most fantastic,” she gushes. “I have great memories and feelings for all of the actors, because they were so open, and excited for the process. And I knew all of them would gain something from my work, which is what you want, you know? You want it to be valid and helpful and supportive to the actors, beyond the story that you want to tell as a creative person on the screen,” she explains. “Working with each one of them was so different. It’s really the truth; I felt really lucky and delighted every single day to work with all of them. And I loved watching them in the clothes.”

11. The secret to capturing Libby’s classic style is more than skin-deep.

Ane Crabtree

“Libby Masters is a woman who’s well-heeled. She and her sister were adopted by a neighbor, a very wealthy neighbor, in real life. So she lost her parents, and that’s in the clothing as well,” Crabtree says. “Within that, she’s someone who’s gone to a proper school, and who has made all the right moves in her life, socially. And she is striving to be this perfect, university scholar’s wife, in a world and a society that expects you to have perfect manors, dress, and social moors. What’s hilarious is what her husband is doing for a living. So it throws in this whole other complication to the puzzle.

Libby’s clothing is more über-feminine, soft, pretty, accessible, and yet, there’s a pathos behind it, because of psychologically what she’s going through. That’s the difference between Libby and Virginia.”

13. How the lab coats and nurse uniforms came to be:


“They are incredibly historically accurate,” she says. “For the nurses, they’re so sexy — let’s be real. Those are absolutely costume, period perfect. The shoes, the tights, and the little nurses hat all had to be period perfect.

When it came to the lab coats, that’s another extension of Masters that was really, really important. First of all, I should say, everybody wore lab coats, including all of the medical students back in the day. When you look at full-on groups of photos of the graduating class of ‘57 or ‘58, and they’re all in these beautiful white starched lab coats, it’s like a badge of honor, really.

In real life, Masters had three lab coats that he kept crisp and clean every day, because he never wanted to be rumpled or dirty. So he always had a clean one on his coat rack in his office and you’ll always see that there on the show — really important that we had that for Michael. We built all of the lab coats for any principal, and the rest we purchased and altered, because there’s so many in the show.”

14. The toughest part of being a costume designer:

Ane Crabtree

“I think that folks don’t know about the hours that a costume designer works. I always work Monday through Saturday. Always,” says Crabtree. “And I try to have Sundays off, and often it’s not true that I get that off. And our hours are 18 hours a day, on average, or you can go over that. So you have to be in love with everything about the job or you’re going to be really angry at the end of the day.”

When I asked if Crabtree loved her job on Masters of Sex, she enthusiastically replied, “I loved it! I’m so proud of it!”

16. Masters of Sex airs on Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.

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