Fall TV fashion: Outfitting ‘Pretty Little Liars’

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(CNN) — For a group of high-schoolers being framed for their friend’s murder, the characters on “Pretty Little Liars” sure put a lot of thought into their outfits.

It’s like costume designer Mandi Line says: Why be conservative about hemlines and heel heights on a show where a teacher is dating a student and a drunk girl can’t remember if she dug up her friend’s dead body?

“We always go down this whole list of things every time (the producers) call me out with, ‘Those heels are a little high,’ ” said Line, who has worked on the ABC Family series since its first season, which premiered in 2010.

Viewers only have to wait until October 23 for the show’s anticipated Halloween special. And Line says fashion lovers are in for a treat when the third season returns.

Emily, the queen of simple tank tops and tees, will really step up her game; Hanna’s skirts are getting a little bit shorter; Aria continues to push the envelope; and a new, top-secret storyline influences Spencer’s wardrobe.

But when you’re dealing with characters who routinely wind up with blood on their hands — that’s literally and figuratively — plucking looks off the runway isn’t always an option.

Just a few episodes ago, Hanna (Ashley Benson) was stabbed in the leg while wearing a pair of neon pink pants. Line said her team had to “do a lot of driving” to find at least four identical pairs for multiple scenes and takes. The blood just wouldn’t have shown up as well against blue jeans, she said.

“I try not to make it inconvenient for (my team),” Line added, though she recently had to track down five of the same $150 shirt. Hanna gets a drink spilled on her while wearing it in an upcoming episode.

Line said dressing main characters Emily, Spencer, Aria and Hanna like typical high school students would be boring, adding, you can’t blame viewers for “wanting to go to some sort of fantasyland.”

“One of the things that’s hilarious is that Mandi, she’ll pick such amazing costumes that they’re, at times, hilariously inappropriate for what we’re doing,” said Troian Bellisario, who plays Spencer on the series. “Our school outfits are outrageous. Sometimes we’re all standing together in the hallways, and we’ll look around at all of our background actors who look like normal high school students. And we kind of make a joke, like, no wonder nobody talks to us in this school because we literally look so out of place.”

Never mind the disconnect between the main characters and the background actors, typically clad in pieces from Forever 21 and Wet Seal, Line said. The costume designer can hardly believe Aria, Hanna, Spencer and Emily are best friends given their distinctive styles: “I always wonder why, fashionwise, they would even talk to each other.”

Bellisario, whose character Spencer dresses the preppiest of the bunch, says, “When you start out on a TV show … the network really wants you to have a strict character style so that at any point in the show, your character is identifiable from the back side. … It’s really important on a show with three brunettes.”

But as the characters evolve, so do their styles.

“(Spencer is) not that girl you were introduced to in the argyle sweater and the pearls in the pilot,” Line said. The one thing that has stuck with Spencer, however, is the skinny watch she always wears an inch or two above her wrist.

“At the beginning of every day, I get to walk in and somebody hands me my watch and that’s how I know it’s Spencer Time,” said Bellisario. It was her idea for Spencer to wear the timepiece in the first place.

And that’s not the only way the actress’ style has influenced her character’s.

“I dislike color in general, especially pastels,” Bellisario said. “I think the way (Line) always compromises with me is, I love knee socks, like thigh high socks, in everyday life. And tights. And so whenever she gives me something that I’m not happy about on top, she’s like, ‘Look, I’ll give you tights and boots.’ ”

Though, she said there is a bit of style envy when it comes to her costars.

“Whenever I walk into the costume fitting room, I’ll see something on a rack or on the floor and I’ll ooh and ahh over it,” she said. “And immediately Mandi will say, ‘No, that’s Aria’s.’ (Actress) Lucy (Hale) definitely, definitely has the most fun in terms of style on the show. She gets the coolest clothes.”

Line said she used to think that Aria, played by Hale, was the most fashionable of the girls, but now she just considers the character to have “schizophrenia fashion.”

“One episode is stripes, there’s an episode where she’s a rockabilly. And then this one she looks like a flapper. Literally, she’s so inconsistent. … The only thing that’s consistent is that she wears, like, 1,000 pounds of jewelry,” Line said.

The character popped up in the summer finale wearing a metallic blue, pleated leather skirt from Topshop that Line modified. “That’s not in. But it’s going to be,” she said. “These kids do become (fashion icons).”

And Jessica Simpson knows it. Shortly after the singer/actress/designer tweeted in June about sending the show “some @JSCollection goodies,” Line said she received a box with “a crap load of stuff.”

The costume designer acknowledges that many teens are likely not wearing Jeffrey Campbell wedges, Rag and Bone jeans or Vince sweaters to school, which is why she makes an effort “to stay within some sort of a realistic price point.”

” ‘Gossip Girl’ put TV fashion on the map. You had ‘Sex and the City’ and then you had ‘Gossip Girl.’ But what’s really good about ‘Pretty Little Liars’ is, 75% of the items are attainable. … You can save up for that Free People top. You can save up for that Rachel Roy dress,” she said.

That’s part of the reason she said she loves featuring Rebecca Minkoff’s designs on the show. And Minkoff told CNN that the brand’s unofficial partnership with the series has certainly been beneficial.

During the show’s second season, Minkoff said one of the characters referenced her red minibag by name. “From there we noticed a definite uptick in sales,” she added.

Minkoff said her fall offerings include “a lot of embossed, faux python” handbags, “great outerwear pieces” and a ton of “rich burgundy and purple” — so don’t be surprised to see such trends show up on “Pretty Little Liars” this fall.

Line said it didn’t take her long to realize what the series was capable of, having heard from viewers who watch each episode twice: First for the plot points, and then again for the fashion.

After all, it’s not surprising that Line says she has “creative freedom” on set. Anyone who can glue craft pom poms on a brown maxiskirt from a rental house, pair it with a pink blouse and make it look fashion-forward deserves at least that much.

By Stephanie Goldberg – CNN

Editor’s note: This week, CNN is introducing you to a few of the most sought-after costume designers in the business. They’ll share the trends, colors and silhouettes viewers can expect to see on TV this season, and offer inside information about the series they clothe.

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