‘Pose’ Costume Designer Talks Billy Porter’s ‘Dandy’ Fashion & What It’s Like Bringing the New York Ball Scene to Life

Ryan Murphy’s “Pose” was nominated for five Emmy Awards at the 2020 show, including Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama Series for Billy Porter as Pray Tell. “Pose” received its second nod for Outstanding Period Costumes, too.

It’s this perfect storm of inclusive storytelling, inspiring performances and creative wardrobe that makes “Pose” a force in television. “Pose” features the largest cast of transgender actors in series regular roles, including Mj Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson, Indya Moore, Hailie Sahar and Angelica Ross, who co-star alongside Porter. It also includes the largest recurring cast of LGBTQ actors ever for a scripted series.

POSE -- "In My Heels" -- Season 2, Episode 10 (Airs Tues, August 20, 10:00 p.m. e/p) Pictured (l-r): Hailie Sahar as Lulu, Dominique Jackson as Elektra, Jonovia Chase as Kiki Pendavis. CR: Michael Parmelee/FX
(L-R) Hailie Sahar as Lulu, Dominique Jackson as Elektra, Jonovia Chase as Kiki Pendavis in Season 2, episode 10, “In My Heels.”
CREDIT: Michael Parmelee/FX

Set in New York, Season 2 explored the early-1990s underground ball culture, a movement that first gained notice in the 1980s. Now, the ballroom scene has gone mainstream with help from Madonna, whose song “Vogue” hit No.1 on the Billboard charts. This season also juggled the AIDS crisis and it continued to follow our favorite characters, including Porter’s Pray Tell.

Known for his stylish ensembles off-screen, Porter also comes to life onscreen with help from costume designer Analucia McGorty. She described Pray Tell’s look as a dandy — who, historically, is a man devoted to style.

A dandy has been around since the 1600s in Paris. It’s somebody that really loves style, but not necessarily fashion and somebody that is always a gentleman,” McGorty told FN. “And it’s a mix of masculine and feminine.”

She said she’s been influenced by pop culture for his looks, taking influence from Nat King Cole, Fred Astaire, David Bowie and Rick James. But what really brings the character to life is her collaboration with Porter.

pose sketch
A costume sketch of Billy Porter’s Pray Tell.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Analucia McGorty

“The cast tells me their ideas and their thoughts. And that is a big part of what I do, it’s having that relationship with them,” she explained. “Billy tells me what he has been thinking about his character and in the scenes. and says, ‘I feel like maybe he’s being influenced by when he went to church as a child,’ for example. We then develop the look based on that.”

Pray Tell can be seen in an array of ensembles in Season 2, from colorful textured suits to a glittery gown. He’s almost always in a loafer or Cuban heel. “I can get a plain loafer and completely match it to his outfits,” said McGorty. “I use this phenomenal vintage vendor who has this whole collection of a gentleman’s vintage shoes and they perfectly fit Billy.”

POSE -- "In My Heels" -- Season 2, Episode 10 (Airs Tues, August 20, 10:00 p.m. e/p) Pictured: Billy Porter as Pray Tell. CR: Michael Parmelee/FX
Billy Porter as Pray Tell in Season 2 episode 10, “In My Heels.”
CREDIT: Michael Parmelee/FX

While Porter is a standout, characters Blanca Rodriguez, Elektra Abundance and Angel also have impressive wardrobes.

In New York’s ballroom culture, fashion was a way to express oneself, with many of its attendees performing in outfits copied from the runways or Vogue magazine as they competed in numerous categories for themselves or their “House” — a family, or a group of individuals that compete under the same name.

“These are characters that really know a lot about fashion,” explained McGorty. And they know a lot about what’s going on in that world and the different designers. And they’re very interested in that. So we want to make sure that that’s reflected in their looks. It’s more researching into what the trends were of the season, what was going on in the ball scene, and what new categories were being developed in those years.”

Some 200 to 300 background actors can be used during these ball scenes in the show, taking up to five hours to get everybody ready, said McGorty. Many costumes are custom made while others are vintage and sourced.

For the looks that are made, such as Elektra’s Marie Antionette’s gown in Season 2 Episode 1, it takes a village of engineers, choreographers and designers to put it together.

pose sketch
A sketch from Analucia McGorty of Dominique Jackson as Elektra in “Pose” Season 2.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Analucia McGorty

“We look at the sketches and then you have to figure out how to make it physically work,” McGorty said. “It it’s a lot of trial and error. We have to see how everything functions and we tweak and go. It’s like Santa’s workshop.”

POSE -- "Acting Up" -- Season 2, Episode 1 (Airs Tues, June 11, 10:00 p.m. e/p) Pictured: Dominique Jackson as Elektra. CR: Macall Polay/FX
Dominique Jackson as Elektra in Season 2, episode 1, “Acting Up.”
CREDIT: Macall Polay/FX

She added, “We really tried to stay true, historically, to what people in the ball scene in the ’80s and ’90s were wearing. Many were definitely making a lot of stuff. A lot of people knew how to sew to create designs and ideas based on what was in Vogue. You’d have people who were in exquisite, elegant, very high-end looks next to somebody who was in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. That was true to the moment.”

Ball culture was a safe space for gay and transgender people and through “Pose” their stories are being told. “It really is about inclusion and it’s really about giving a voice to people who haven’t had a chance,” said McGorty. “It’s hopefully changing people’s perceptions. And hopefully, it makes people feel less alone.”

Click through the gallery to see more photos of the costumes from Season 2.

Access exclusive content