The Bra-Forward Secrets to Dressing Abbi and Ilana of 'Broad City'

Ahead of Broad City's season three premiere, we talked to the show's costume designer Staci Greenbaum about outfitting TV's most dynamic duo.

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Feb 17 2016, 3:30pm

All screengrabs via Broad City

Girl power has never really dissipated—though it's reaching peak levels that we haven't seen since the days of the Spice Girls, thanks in part to the slew of shows on both television and our favorite streaming services with female friendships at their centers. Broad City, which returns for its third season tonight, is one such series; focusing on the antics of its two blissfully co-dependent female protagonists, Abbi and Ilana, it champions female confidence, independence, and power.

Broad City has been lauded for ushering a new type of female archetype on TV: "A female character who's all imp and id," as Willa Paskin put it at Slate during the show's first season—a woman who doesn't give a fuck, but in a way that's "both easy and fun." The show's costume design reflects this: Ilana tends to dress outlandishly, Abbi relatably. The woman responsible for this is costume designer Staci Greenbaum, whose impressive resume includes creating costumes for films like Noah, Men in Black III, and The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman Part II. We caught up with Greenbaum to chat about how women in New York City dress, how Fran Drescher and Whitney Houston influenced the style this season, and why Ilana loves showing her bra.

Photo courtesy of Staci Greenbaum.

BROADLY: You've worked on so many different kinds of projects in your career, from Spiderman to Mildred Pierce. How did the opportunity to work on Broad City come about?
Staci Greenbaum:
I have been very fortunate in my career to work on a variety of projects. I had incredible mentors in this film industry who taught me everything about working on big scale productions: between period, fantasy, and modern. I attribute my breadth of knowledge to all of those experiences collectively.

Finding my way to Broad City was kind of happenstance. I had just finished working on The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman Part II, and I felt like after going-going-going I needed a change of pace. I knew a few people that were starting the series Broad City and I said, "Whoever you end up hiring, I'd love to assist them and try a different scale of production." I guess it didn't work out with the designer they had in mind, and one of the producers called me to say,"I threw your name in to the ring for design. Can you be ready with a presentation in four days?" Despite the curveball, I always find I am up for a challenge, so I took the opportunity to interview. I met with Abbi, Ilana, and the producers for an interview and the rest, as they say, is history.

Do you think the show reflects how women in New York City truly dress? Is that your aim?
New York City is a melting pot in more ways than one. One of the many gifts of NYC is people watching on the subway or in a park. What makes the Big Apple so special is the uniqueness it attracts.To that end, I do think my aim is to be honest to these characters. I have found many people feel they do relate to both characters in so many ways at their core, so the costume design for the show follows suit.If it's not just how women truly dress, it may be an aspirational way they want to express themselves that I think we are able to capture in Broad City.

Ilana is definitely out there in the fashion department: crop tops, mesh, hair clips, and jerseys. Where do you pull inspiration from for her looks?
Ilana is filter-less, guileless, free-spirited, and exploratory. The girl's got moxie. She loves herself, and she doesn't hold back. That tends to translate in her costumes; we play a lot with proportions, color, different combinations and we try to redefine what is sexy— she truly dresses for herself, which in my option is what is so beautiful about it: that unapologetic confidence. This year some of our inspiration was pulled from 90s icons like Fran Drescher and Whitney Houston. We also still love Rihanna as a source of inspiration and pull some from 90s grunge. Of course I always nod to Brooklynites in general as a point of styling. Ilana is also an extremely collaborative player in this process and the character is loosely based on who she is!

Abbi's is much more low key and in a word: relatable. Which brands do you use to capture that?
Abbi is also very fun-loving, a little bit of a romantic, and very aspirational in the way that she approaches life. I think that overall is what makes her relatable. Her personality is one that resonates with a lot of people, especially young women in New York who are trying to be successful. It takes a lot of gumption to make it in this concrete jungle, but your way to the top is never struggle-free.

She has more rules for herself, as far as who she wants to be when she grows up. She wants to see strides, and so she aspires to be more of a professional and have an end goal. We see that in the level of practicality with the way that she dresses. We see a lot of repetition and a more traditional normcore aesthetic from her—with a little bit of feminine touches scattered about with her cool, urban things.... Madewell, J Crew, Aritzia, H+M, Urban Outfitters, 'Truly, Madly, Deeply," Free People, and Topshop. Brands that are as accessible as her reliability!

Underwear is a big part of the show's dressing. Has that been more challenging than choosing a top or a pair of accessories? Which brands are your go-tos?
Sometimes we choose the top just because we want to feature the bra!It's not always the reverse for us. For Abbi's bras and bralettes we love Free People, "Out From Under", Urban Outfitters, and lululemon.For Ilana's bras this season we brought back the LF strappy bras, American Apparel's classically styled 'Christie Bra,' Wacoal, and a fun For Love and Lemons lacey bra.

Are there any do's and don'ts for carrying the bra look off easily?
I think the trick here is proportion. I like to either showcase a bra via the armhole or with a more plunging neckline, but rarely both. I think the key is also to balance the formality. If the bra is a little bit lacier, I think it looks best with a casual no-frills tank top.

The ladies traipse around the city in sneakers, which are pretty essential in such a walking-centric place. It looks as if Converse and Keds are the main brands included in the show—are there any others?
The main brands for Abbi are Supergas + Nikes (both modern and vintage); while for Ilana they are Converse, Keds, Adidas, H+M, and Reebok.

Sneakers are also a huge trend in fashion right now, thanks in large part to athleisure. Do you believe that they can be worn with everything?
I draw the line at formalwear for me personally. However, I can see Ilana rocking a short dress and hi-tops.So long as you believe it works, it works for you.

Name hoop earrings are kind of a NYC girl staple. What other pieces do you think women in the Big Apple are known for rocking?
I think this is constantly evolving, but a killer handbag (or fanny pack) is something women can both want and need so there's a lot of variety and versatility there.

Abbi and Ilana lounge a lot. Which brands do you love for loungewear?
I love Splendid, Forever 21, Wildfox, Chaser, Uniqlo, and H+M for loungewear. Also any vintage t-shirts or old hoodie that has been through the wash a hundred times is always great.

What are the girls wearing this season? Did you think about approaching the fashion choices any differently for season 3? Can you dish on any brands used?
Lots! This year, I think Abbi is embracing her cooler femininity with more color combinations and artistic flair. She mixes high with low to keep her budget balanced. Some new (select) brands in the mix are Cat Bird Jewelry, DL 1961 Jeans, Sven clogs, Save Khaki, and Bailey 44.

Ilana will continue to play up that fun factor in both her chill ensembles and really vibrant party looks (not that she needs a party to get dressed like this). We play a lot with monochromatic color palettes this season.In addition to some fab vintage pieces showcased this season, Ilana wears a few new brands: Top Man from Topshop, Truly Madly Deeply, Mollypaks, Ace+Jig, BrickBrick, MessQueen NY, and Asos.

What else is on the agenda for you in 2016? Any other exciting projects?
I am just finishing up designing the second season of Difficult People on Hulu. Next up, I will be designing the second season of Odd Mom Out! Then we will have to see what comes my way.