Erica Kane on 'All My Children' was one of the "flashiest dressers" in daytime soap operas. Stella Blum, then curator of the Costume Institute of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art told the 'Chicago Tribune' in 1982, "The fashions shown in soap operas receive more exposure than those shown in any other single medium." As clothes worn by other celebrities "offer nothing that people can identify with, but clothes worn by actors in their serial roles are not beyond the reach of the average viewer. All age groups are included – and not every character is thin or has a perfect figure."
"But the impact is because of the great emotional tie between the audience and the players," costume designer Robert Anton clarified. "It depends on who is wearing it. When they see it on Hope or Vanessa (on 'The Guiding Light'), that is like seeing an outfit on a friend. If that character can wear it and it looks good on her, then why not try it? There is no level of identification with a model like Brooke Shields, but with someone they see every day, it is more intimate. Sometimes we function in spite of fashion. You have to know what is going on, but you don't want that to overwhelm the actors and the scene."
"There's a theatrical reality," Lewis Brown, costume designer on 'Another World' remarked. "When a character first appears on the screen, I have to provide the 20-page biography the viewer doesn't get to read. I have to provide a character that is immediately recognizable in the Tennessee highlands and is a wish fulfillment at the same time. You are working for a lot of people. I spent $1,800 on pistachio suede knickers and a knit top. It was thrown out within 2 minutes by a female producer who thought it too extreme.
"There is no real designing and building of clothing by our departments. The soaps are seasonal, and with so many characters it would be impossible for us to design and sew the clothes needed. I look at fashion magazines. I look at W ('Women's Wear Daily') and people on the street. But the wardrobes on the show are based on what the character would wear. Color variations (in a single outfit) cannot be very subtle. We also must be concerned with the color of what everyone is wearing in a scene and how it blends with the background. You can't have everyone coming across the screen looking green."
The evening gowns Tracy Mills designed for Robin Strasser to wear on 'One Life To Live', production manager Mark Glasgow recalled, "We get a lot of reaction, but we don't sell many gowns. Usually when we say the price (from $800 to $5,000), there is a big pause at the other end of the line." Back in 1983, Aaron Spelling told the 'Los Angeles Times', "People are starving for glamor today. There's a recession going on and they need to escape. On 'Dynasty' it isn't uncommon for a dress to cost $4,800."
On 'Bare Essence', Luis Estevez was given a fashion budget of over $100,000 to design for 12 one-hour episodes. The wedding dress Genie Francis wore costed roughly $6,000. The lingeries, shoes and hosiery bills reportedly came to some $3,000 per episode. Many outfits reportedly came from Luis Estevez's own ready-to-wear collections. "Sometimes we were dressing as many as 50 extras, plus the 14 principals and 5 fashion models, for one scene. And some of those scenes just ended up on the cutting room floor."
However Luis Estevez enthused, "If you could do a high-fashion TV series and follow it up with a merchandising campaign, you'd make a mint." Chuck McLain added, "Women tell us they can't afford to dress in an $800 office outfit, but they loved seeing the clothes." Nolan Miller insisted, "It should be sensous rather than sexy. It doesn't have to mean skintight. But clothes should be soft and show the line of the body. I like clothes that let you see the muscles move in a woman's hips."
Rosemarie Troy was the director of a department store in Los Angeles recalled, "Women shop with an idea of how they should look, and the subliminal suggestion for it comes from the TV series. It's a very finished look, with hats, gloves and hosiery. The store buyers are picking up on it, too. One showed me an outfit with a beautiful silk shirt and nice pants and said, 'This is my Linda Evans look.'"
On 'Dallas', Wiliam Travilla had a wardrobe budget of $15,000 per episode to design 54 garments every 7 days for Linda Gray (size 10), Donna Mills and Priscilla Presley (size 4), Michele Lee and Victoria Principal (size 6), Ava Gardner (size 12) and Donna Reed. Bill Travilla made the observation at the time, "We're well on our way back to such glamor in today's (the 1980s) big television stars.
"Look at the interest in the clothes on 'Dallas', 'Knots Landing' and 'Dynasty'. Three years ago (about 1981), a television studio would have never thought of hiring a designer. They'd just let the girl wear whatever she wanted to. Now (in 1984) we're planning everything with the scene, the hairdos and the whole thing. So we're talking about 50 changes of wardrobe every single week.
"Granted, I do not design all those clothes, I certainly don't. But when I feel I should design something, I do. Otherwise I buy it because it's impossible to create that many things and make them. I'm used to the old picture business when I had 6 weeks of prep before the show would start and 12 weeks of shooting. Television is a different world." Speaking to 'Compulog' in 1986, Bill Travilla made the comment, "When I design for a character, it has to be like the character went out and bought the outfit herself and put it in her own wardrobe.
"When I first started doing these shows ('Dallas' and 'Knots Landing') two years ago (in 1984), all the actresses were taking their things out of the same closet. That's ridiculous! Every character has her own personality. Jenna Wade is an owner of a boutique so I concentrate on beautiful items for her – beautiful sweaters and belts and embroidered items. There are 9 women on each show, and each has an average of 4 changes per show, so that's about 72 outfits every week. And I only get the scripts about a week ahead of time, because the writers are very, very secretive about what's coming up next. So I work fast."
Eileen Davidson of 'The Young and the Restless' recounted, "No one ever tells me anything, they really don't. All writer Bill Bell will tell me is 'You have some great stuff coming up' and I'll say 'What?' and he says, 'I don't know yet.' He writes it and decides from there. So when things happen they're as much of a surprise to me, as they are to everyone else."
Bill Travilla continued, "Clothes for the screen are not clothes for regular life. You have to do things to the top because the majority of the shots are from here (the chest) up. Priscilla Presley has a boutique and so has the choice of boutique items from around the world. She might wear a silk nothing dress with a $600 belt which she got from a little belt man in Milano. My ladies don't go to the city in pants. Sue Ellen dresses well to go to the city. I believe in color helping the dialog. I never put an outfit on the screen just to show a dress. I go shopping with every female star from 'Dallas' and 'Knots Landing' and Donna is the only one who stops traffic on Rodeo Drive. She has the best tush in Hollywood."
In 1985, the 50,000 members of the National Hairdressers and Cosmetologists Association voted Donna Mills female trend setter of the year. Allen Edwards of Beverly Hills created Donna Mills' award-winning hairstyle explained, "Cutting Donna's hair from long to short was very important because she is so admired by so many women. The timing was important because she did it at a time when many women were ready for a change, and in seeing Donna make a major change, they too were able to take the big step. This is what makes Donna a trend setter!"