Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Costume Design

By Joe Kucharski - December 19, 2013

Joss Whedon’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the non-stop action-adventure series that picks up just after Marvel’s The Avengers film, features both a dynamic core of agents and an incredible range of heroes and villains featured each week. At the helm of creating the wonderful visual clothing language of the show is costume designer Ann Foley. I recently had an opportunity to ask Ann a bit about working on the show, her process and inspiration.


The incredible research/inspiration board in Foley's office.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Costume Designer Ann Foley.

Tyranny of Style: Can you give us a brief background on your education and career in costume design? 


Ann Foley: I'm originally from Savannah Georgia and have a degree in Fashion Merchandising from Georgia Southern University. I was a senior at GSU when a film came to Savannah, my boyfriend at the time was working on it as a production assistant and brought me to set. Julie Weiss was the Costume Designer and I was blown away by the period costumes that she had designed! So I decided to table the fashion degree after graduation in favor of a chance to work in film. With $500 and one phone number, I moved to Los Angeles! Fortunately that one phone number was Aggie Rodgers who had worked with a family friend and as a favor she recommended me to her previous ACD Hope Hanafin who was designing one of her first films. Thank god I didn't know any better! When I look back on that decision I'm amazed at the bravery, but they say ignorance is bliss!


T/S: The costumes for the Pilot of Shield were designed by Betsy Heimann with you serving as Assistant Designer. Can you speak a little to how you got involved in the Pilot and moved up to designer for the remainder of the series? 


AF: I had worked with Betsy a few years ago on The A Team as her ACD and she had called me for crew recommendations when she got the Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D pilot. I knew how big the show was going to be so I offered to assist her on it even though I had just finished designing my 2nd feature. I am a big fan of Joss Whedon and all of the Marvel films so to me it was a once in a lifetime opportunity! Betsy had a few features lined up after the pilot so she wasn't available for the series and she recommended me to the producers. Thankfully they were willing to take a chance on a relatively new designer!

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Costume Designer Ann Foley. 


T/S: How much of the look of the costumes for the show were established by Heimann on the Pilot? And at what point did the designs feel like yours? 


AF: I have never really thought about it in those terms. Betsy and I worked closely with Maurissa Tancharoen who is one of our co-creators/executive producers to create six very strong, different characters and as with any series the characters’ looks evolve along with the show. Maurissa and I continue to work closely together - her voice and support have been invaluable to me!


T/S: The show stands alone with original characters and story lines, but does star Agent Coulson and features cameos by other characters from the Marvel film franchise. Can you tell us a little bit about how you approached the costume design for a character that had been previously seen on the big screen, inspiration for Coulson, and working with Clark Gregg to develop this character?


AF: I watched all of the Marvel films again before I started the pilot with special attention paid to Marvel’s The Avengers since the pilot takes place after the events in New York. In the previous films Coulson has always been a "company man". His suits were in the S.H.I.E.L.D. palate - grey, black and navy with a distinct but subtle pattern. The idea was to blend in and not draw attention. Now that Coulson is back after being "killed" by Loki, we are seeing a subtle change in his wardrobe. I streamlined the suits, custom made the shirts at Anto so they fit beautifully, and his ties are a bit more slick. It's Coulson 2.0! The inspiration I drew from for him was Daniel Craig from the Bond films. One of my favorite images from Skyfall is Bond landing in the train from the roof after an explosion & straightening his cuffs! Whether Coulson is landing on the beach in Malta or escaping from a Siberian stronghold, he's wearing his suit. His suit is his armor!

 Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Costume Designer Ann Foley.


T/S: The character of Melinda May is wonderfully complex, mixing a troubled backstory with an icy exterior and expert fighting skills. Can you speak a little to the inspiration and references for her character, specific elements of her costume both built and sourced, and working with Ming-Na Wen to develop this character? 


AF: May's costume was built at Bill Hargate Costumes by the brilliant Mary Ellen Fields. The design details were inspired from military flight suits. May is the pilot but she is also The Cavalry so she has to be able to fight and kick ass in the costume. We added stretch panels into the pants to help with her fighting. The vest is leather and the shirt is printed eurojersy with the SHIELD emblem printed directly onto the shoulders. The blue is the same blue used for the bridge uniforms (like Maria Hill's) in The Avengers. I wanted there to be some continuity between her uniform & the ones established in the film. The only thing purchased was her boots! Although if I'd had the time I would have made those too! 

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Costume Designer Ann Foley. Illustrated by Phillip Boutte Jr.


T/S: The character of Grant Ward is the stoic, all-American sacrificial hero in the group, and actor Brett Dalton was just named one of People Magazine's Sexiest Men Alive. Can you speak a little to the inspiration and reference for his character, visually capturing his personality, sourcing garments, and working with Dalton to develop this character? 


AF: Well, getting to dress one of the sexiest men alive certainly makes my job a bit easier if not more fun, and thankfully Brett looks great in everything! To me Agent Ward is a combination of Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt. His look is based purely in function but is still leading man sexy. He always has to be ready for action. Ward is more serious and his muted color palate is a reflection of that. Style wise I look to Varvatos, James Perse and Under Armour for key closet pieces. 

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Costume Designer Ann Foley.


T/S: Skye has such a great young, casual, renegade vibe; with some serious divided loyalties that we're not fully sure we can trust. Can you speak a little to the inspiration and reference for her character, how you try to visually represent this uncertainty of intention, sourcing her pieces, achieving the very lived-in/realistic feel of her costumes, and working with Chloe Bennet to develop this character?


AF: Skye is our resident computer hacker who had been living in her van before she joined our team so the idea was to keep her relatable. She's tough but there is a softness as well with some fabulous boots thrown in! I love mixing elements like soft v-neck tees or sweaters with skinny jeans & her All Saints leather jacket. I also spend a lot of time scouring the street style blogs on Tumblr for inspiration and Shopbop has become a favorite destination for her closet! 

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Costume Designer Ann Foley. 


T/S: FitzSimmons are easily the runaway sartorial leads of the show- the new, best-dressed nerds for this generation. Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons are the scientific duo, pivotal to solving many of the inexplicable problems that S.H.I.E.L.D. encounters in the field. Tell us a little about your inspiration and reference for these characters, sourcing their garments, and working with Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge to develop these characters. 


AF: I've had a blast with Elizabeth & Iain creating these characters! With these two it's about styling without getting too cliché. Their clothes reflect their personalities! We can be more expressive with them in terms of color & texture. For Simmons we mix the hard with the soft - we combine the feminine elements like peter pan collars, silk blouses and florals with the masculine touches like ties, Marc Jacobs combat boots & menswear inspired blazers from Rag & Bone. With Fitz we try and play up his "heritage style" along with mixing textures & patterns with a pop of color. His closet has everything from a Gant plaid trench coat to Rag & Bone jeans to chunky J Crew sweaters. I also love using classic design details on him like paisley & leather elbow patches and mixing them with different plaids. The key to both of them is keeping it fun and believable without going over the top. Thankfully both Iain and Elizabeth are game for anything!

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Costume Designer Ann Foley. 


T/S: You dress such a wide array of international villains- from the suave Ian Quinn, to the cold and calculating Raina, and an angry group of Norwegian revolutionaries. Can you tell us about some of your favorite looks you have built or put together for these guest stars, your inspiration behind the look, and working with the actors to develop their character? 


AF: Raina is definitely one of my favorite characters! Fortunately the writers gave me a heads up about this character so we had some time to flesh her out with illustrations and time to print the fabric. When we first meet her in episode 5 on the street in Hong Kong we don't know what her intentions are - is she good or bad? So we used a softer silhouette for the first dress & the floral pattern was white with black flowers. Next time we see her, it's becoming clear that she has an agenda so the dress is more streamlined and we flipped the colors - black background white flowers.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Costume Designer Ann Foley. Illustrated by Phillip Boutte Jr.


The final time we see her visiting Po in prison she is in a sleek Balenciaga inspired dress - red background, black flowers. The final touch is a black onyx carved rose at her neck designed by Karen Karch. Ruth and I wanted to show a progression in her dresses that reflects where her character might be going. So by the time you see her again in Ep 10 you know she means business! Her Blue/Black dress with the leather collar & cuffs is easily one of my favorite costumes on the show! Although Mike’s “Suit” from the same episode runs a close second!

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Costume Designer Ann Foley. Illustrated by Phillip Boutte Jr.


T/S: In addition to all of these wonderful characters, you dress a huge array of background talent- from international crowd scenes to entire armies. How do you approach such a range of research, sourcing, and execution of costuming on this scale? 


AF: I loved Skyfall and Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol and wanted our show to have a similar vibe! When we started prep on the series I asked my crew to watch both for inspiration because Jany Temime & Michael Kaplan executed those films flawlessly! I was fortunate to get to work with Michael on Star Trek into Darkness as his ACD and he taught me a lot about creating character and atmosphere. That training was invaluable for a show like this! Bobi Garland from the Western Costume Research Library has also been invaluable in helping me with the vast amount of research we do on each episode and thankfully I am blessed with an amazing team who help me bring that research to life and create this world every week, without them none of this would be possible!

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Costume Designer Ann Foley. Illustrated by Phillip Boutte Jr.


Make sure to check out Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. when it returns on ABC January 7th!