For a television show that’s about baring it all, Masters of Sex, the Showtime drama that centers on human sexuality pioneers Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson (played by Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan), gives careful attention to the costumes. The series is set in the 1960s in St. Louis, Missouri, and costume designer Isis Mussenden skillfully captures the era with mid-century staples like high-waisted pencil skirts, sweater-blouses, vintage prints and feminine nightgowns.
For Isabelle Fuhrman, who plays Tessa, Johnson’s sharp-tongued teen daughter, Mussenden chooses to play up her girly-yet-grown-up side with a closet full of retro high-collared sweaters, jumpers, rompers, textured tights. “It’s funny because we have lunch breaks, so we’ll go off the Sony lot and sometimes I won’t get changed because there are so many layers involved so I’ll be dressed up like I’m from the ‘60s,” says Furhman. “There are a lot of interesting colors. I like the way the clothes are tailored. Now, it’s all about seeming effortless and back then they spent more time putting themselves together.”
While she spends much of her on-screen time in a school uniform, Fuhrman can’t help but play favorites. Topping her list of best outfits is the swimsuit she wore in her first episode. “They actually made that for me, which was cool,” she says. “It’s funny because swimsuits in the ’60s had kind of a diaper butt, which was fun. And the top was really cute with yellow-and-pink polka dots.” Her Instagram feed is filled with other top picks, including a sweater, dress and yellow flats as well as a blue-and-brown checkered dress and headband combo. And who could forget her homecoming dress? “That episode had a clear message for Tessa. We wanted a dress that she felt beautiful in, but could still be young since something very adult happens to her,” she says.
Mussenden ensures everything looks and feels realistic, even down to the actor’s skivvies. “They even have underwear and bras for me when I show up on set, like those ‘60s bras that make your boobs look like pinecones. And the underwear is a bit baggy in the back. It’s really head-to-toe,” says Fuhrman. With all kinds of period clothing, playing dress up is just as entertaining as one would expect. “Fittings are always fun because a lot of the stuff they have is authentic vintage they rent from studios. It’s cool because the clothes have so much history to them,” she says.
On Tessa’s fashion today, Fuhrman says, “I think it would probably be a collection of jeans, capris, button-up tops and Oxford shirts. It would still be very buttoned-up, but at the same time, she’ll probably still be wearing some really sexy lingerie underneath because that’s the kind of person that she is.”
For someone whose personal style differs from the character that she plays, the old-school attire really helps get in the proper mindset of the time frame. “Tessa wears things that are a little tighter and my friends always make fun of me because I’ve got such baggy pants. I love wearing men’s dress pants with Oxford shoes and a cute low-cut top and jacket. Tessa’s got more of a middle between tomboy and girly-girl and I pick one or the other when I wake up in the morning,” she says.
Currently in its third season, viewers can expect Tessa’s wardrobe to evolve as she does—namely, as her relationship progresses with Matt. “Tessa is a very guarded character. These layers make a lot of sense for someone like her who boxes herself up,” says Fuhrman. “The clothes hit her confidence and sassiness, but she can waltz around it and be comfortable. I think young people do that enough with clothes today. We all want to play a character when we dress up in the morning.”
Main image by Michael Desmond/SHOWTIME