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DVD TV: The Staten Island Look of “Working Girl”

WorkinggirlLooking back at Working Girl (1988), the makeup, hair, and wardrobe of Staten Island’s commuting secretaries can seem over-the-top. Yet assistant costume designer Gary Jones maintained that working with costume designer Ann Roth and director Mike Nichols was "a big exercise in reality."

"A great deal of research was done on the Staten Island Ferry, which is full of women who look just like Tess and her friend Cyn," said Gary Jones. "In fact, when we started filming, we were in all sorts of downtown Manhattan office buildings, and you couldn’t tell our people from the real people." Jones added that secretaries then "were very much into their eye makeup, their hairdos. That’s their persona."

Joan Cusack (who played Cyn) did her own study of New York’s "boat people."

"I did the ferry thing for several mornings," Cusack recalled. "I brought my makeup and applied it on the boat–all the secretaries do–and I made my hair very big. I made it stand straight up, aerodynamically correct, and then shoot straight backward and down. And I carried plenty of hairspray with me–that’s very ferry."

Screenwriter Kevin Wade felt that the extravagant fashion of Manhattan’s working girls was a kind of uniform. "The corporate battle atmosphere is a lot like the military, and you can tell someone’s more powerful just by looking at the uniform," he explained. Yet not everyone in an army aspires to be a general. Wade noted, "Most of the secretaries I talked to made no attempt to look like the boss. And why would they? They look great. One girl prided herself on the days when she would wear yellow leather. She got tons of attention from the men in her office."

A DVD TV enhanced version of Working Girl will screen tomorrow, January 4 at 8 p.m. EST | 7C.

Rose-Marie Turk, "Real Workers Spark Working Girl Wardrobe," Chicago Sun-Times, 1/25/89
Alison Kalfus, "Funny Girl," Elle, 12/88

See also "How NYC Commuters Inspired the Working Girl Screenwriter."

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