Exclusive: Interview With the Costume Designer of ‘The Americans’

The Americans Keri Russell Matthew Rhys
Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys in "The Americans"
Courtesy of FX.

New year, new TV season. “The Americans” returns on Jan. 28, and the FX series, set in 1982, is ready to follow actors Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys playing Soviet KGB agents who lead double lives as suburban parents — with double footwear wardrobes to match. Here, Spy caught up with costume designer Jenny Gering for the scoop on the spy-centered show’s retro style.

The Americans Keri Russell Keri Russell in “The Americans” courtesy of FX

What is your method for handling period footwear?
JG: It’s very important to me that things are accurate. Starting at the low end, we use Candie’s and basics like Sperry Top-Sider; Ferragamo and Brooks Brothers for men’s shoes; and Charles Jourdan, Joan & David or really elegant, high-end fashion brands like Coach. We also have a great relationship with vintage stores and will keep backup modern shoes on the side.

How does the show’s active plot play a role?
JG: We’ve discussed this at length. [The characters] don’t have to constantly be in sneakers and ready to roll. Elizabeth [played by Russell] can fight off an army in 5-inch heels. Keri and Matthew’s costumes differ very much when they are parents or [in disguise] as different characters. If I know they are going to be in a stunt and doing a ton of running, I won’t put Keri in heels. That would just be mean.

Any set secrets to share?
JG: A lot of times Keri will try on a costume, and the shoes come in and make or break [the outfit]. It seems like the last touch, but it’s such an integral touch. She’ll try on shoes and do a little dance before the mirror and say, “I love these, I would wear these now.” What a shoe can do and how you carry yourself, it’s timeless.