‘Hacks’: Why Deborah Vance’s Lesbian Cruise Outfit Needed Clearance

“Hacks” season two saw a shift in costumes for both Jean Smart’s Deborah Vance and Hannah Einbinder’s Ava. Costume designer Kathleen Felix-Hager made use of the season’s storyline that saw Deborah Vance on tour.

From a lesbian cruise to a state fair, Felix-Hager worked with Smart and the team to play up the wardrobe. Producer and writer Jen Statsky says, “We knew it was a fun opportunity seeing Deborah as a bit of a fish out of water. It allowed us to have some fun and play with the costumes.”

The designer was able to gather dusters, silk tops and beaded dresses for Deborah’s wardrobe because she had early access to the script. However, there was one outfit that Felix-Hager had her sights set on that almost didn’t make it: the flamboyantly-printed silk top she wears on the lesbian cruise.

Ava wears a lot of clothes that Statsky says she would have worn herself. “With her style, it really allowed us to go on this journey where we tell this story of Deborah and Ava through Ava’s wardrobe.”

Deborah Goes to the State Fair

Lazy loaded image

Deborah put her own spin on outfits as she goes on the road for season two.

Episode 5 sees Deborah Vance performing at the Illinois State Fair.

This is one example where Smart and Felix-Hager discussed Deborah’s outfit and whether the addition of a cowboy hat would tip Vance into cartoon or caricature territory. In the end, she didn’t wear the hat.

Felix-Hager used the environment as inspiration for Vance’s costume choice, which was a green overcoat with a bit of fringe. For her standup routine, Deborah was in an appliqued denim jacket and cowboy boots. Says Felix-Hager, “She knows her audience and dresses for the occasion.”

Deborah and Ava’s Lesbian Cruise

Lazy loaded image

Deborah goes on a cruise ship in episode four. She thinks her audience this time around is going to be a boat full of gay men, except Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins) accidentally books them on a lesbian cruise.

Felix-Hager was fortunate to get scripts very early, so she knew that the cruise episode was coming up. She says, “I saw that blouse and duster very early on and I knew I wanted her to wear that when she first goes on that cruise ship.”

The Casablanca silk outfit from the Art of Racing collection almost didn’t happen due to legal reasons, because the top featured the Casablanca logo along the trim. Felix-Hager explains, “Legal got involved because that was so distinctive. We had to have it cleared.” When the brand didn’t answer emails, Felix-Hager had to find another route because the blue and pink were perfect for Deborah. She says, “I was not going to let this outfit pass. I found the PR person that represented the brand, and I called them. I begged them and they were ok. It got approved two days before we shot that.”

Ava’s outfit complemented the outfit too. Felix-Hager notes that Ava had no idea she would be going on a cruise. She says, “Ava’s outfit was based on what she would realistically have brought with her on the road, and that was something that could translate to cruise. I thought that camp shirt with the jeans was so great. The two of them walking is one of my favorite shots.”

Ava’s Wardrobe Arc, Incorporating Deborah Vance

Lazy loaded image

By the season finale, Ava has started incorporating bits of Deborah, but is it too late?
Photo by Karen Ballard/HBO Max

Felix-Hager loved Ava’s story arc. Earlier in the season, Deborah and Ava go to a department store and she buys her a whole new wardrobe including $800 loafers and a Chanel-esque plaid dress by Alice + that’s much more formal than her usual casual polos and jeans. The loafers were a shift from the character’s Nike sneakers or black and white Vans.

Say Felix-Hager, “It was such a beautiful way to tell that story of when Ava first sees the dress. She puts it on and her body language says, ‘I don’t even understand what’s happening here.’  But Deborah is insisting on buying her everything.  By that last episode, Ava shows up in that dress and loafers, and she’s offering herself up on a platter.”

When Ava is fired, Felix-Hager says that moment became even more heartbreaking. Notably, in the dressing room, Felix-Hager put in Easter eggs. “There are pieces in that dressing room hanging behind her that we incorporated into her wardrobe from episode five onwards and you see how she slowly sort of starts incorporating Deborah’s style into her own.”

optional screen reader