Kimberley Adams, a Stranger Things’ signature stylist explains the allure of the ‘80s

No longer a revival, our fascination with the 1980s has outlasted the decade itself. To the critics, it’s an era of the worst trends, t-shirts, and tunes of the 20th century. Yet seeing its influence year after year, it’s clear that the ‘80s are truly underrated. Jokes about mullets and Rick Astley aside, the ‘80s are being taken seriously these days, both as a time for important art and as a setting for gripping storytelling. There’s no better crowd-pleaser than Stranger Things, a horror slash sci-fi Netflix series that took the world by storm last summer. Masterminded by The Duffer Brothers, the story follows a kidnapped boy that’s chased after by his mother (Winona Ryder), a police chief (David Harbour), bike riding friends and monsters from another world. The show’s a hit, amassing 14 million US viewers in its first month alone.

The key to that success is in the details. For these nostalgic stories, a quirky one-liner and a synth-pop soundtrack is just as important as the script. Maybe the most important detail though, is an iconic throwback wardrobe. Dressing the past isn’t easy. That’s a challenge for Kimberley Adams, one of the show’s signature stylists.

It’s tough styling characters in a time gone by, but there’s few more prepared than Adams. Her break came in the late ‘80s, assisting on Wes Craven’s comedy-horror Shocker. Since then, she’s done wardrobe work for ‘80s-era productions like Killing Reagan and Boogie Nights, as well as household hits like Barton Fink, Patriot Games and Sleepless In Seattle. She sat down to discuss nerds, Stranger Things and the allure of the ‘80s.

Essential Journal: How would you personally define the ‘80s? What are some standout moments, people and trends that embody the era for you?

KIMBERLEY ADAMS: The early ‘80s had the clicks as we called them. The preps, soc’s, jocks, nerds, loadies. MTV opened up a whole new world of trends to follow before the internet moved into our homes.  Post-recession, consumerism exploded and lots of attractive clothing, and hair, happened by the second half of the 80’s.

Talk us through your process. How do you conceptualise your costumes?

I put together a team and then break down the script or scripts. In this case we had a few. Then I put together detailed moodboards for all the characters and key scenes. Putting together visuals in a collage form is where I work out the various looks amongst characters, before sketches or shopping. It allows for discussion of character looks amongst all involved. Then, with brilliant casting, actors and characters magically come together in a fitting room and characters come to life.

How did the storyline of Stranger Things play into the outfits you designed?

The story is key to concepting out the characters. In Stranger Things it was important that the characters were true to life, not caricatures of what people think they remember of the 80’s, especially early 80’s in Indiana. Each person has their own backstory and quirks, and I like to tap into that with their closets and layer it into how they wear their clothing. Since the season was to take place over just a week or so, I created closets for each character to mix and match clothing. I built a closet of multiples for the characters that would need them since the kids had to be stunt doubled so often, plus they would be growing over the five months of shooting.   

In your opinion, what makes the 80’s aesthetic so magnetic to audiences?  

Maybe it’s the hindsight of a time where life was good and the economy was on the rise and the internet had not taken over our lives! It’s that warm fuzzy kind of feeling in our memory. It was wild how so many people fell in love with Barbara. I think it’s because she was so real and honest in her bad fitting jeans and frilly neck tops with big glasses and her Pee Chee folder.

Describe the process of fitting actors with the costumes you’ve made for them. What’s that relationship like?

Fittings are where the characters really start to come alive. To watch an actor transform into a character in front of your eyes is probably the most rewarding part of my job. I love working with actors to find the truth in their characters through their closets. The psychology of clothing is something I find so fascinating.  

Tell us about that.

Costumes are part of the storytelling process, grounding the characters in the world of the story being told. Clothes enable the actors to step into the mind of the character being played, as well as aid the audience in subliminally understanding that character’s psyche. What each character wears and how they wear it is part of the emotional fabric that forms that character. As a costume designer you are always trying to find the truth in each character so that the story can be told without visually interrupting.  

Stranger Things season two is available on Netflix now

Words by Reuben Tasker