Costume designer Kathleen Felix-Hager used classic colors and silhouettes to help tell an evergreen (sorry) holiday love story.
‘Tis the season for holiday rom-coms, which, at the heart, are evergreen (har har) staples of this time of year. In Hulu‘s “Happiest Season” — out just in time for a locked-down, stay-home Thanksgiving — Pittsburgh-based reporter Harper (Mackenzie Davis) spontaneously invites her live-in girlfriend Abby (Kristen Stewart) to her suburban family home for Christmas. But, true to form, there’s a twist: Harper hasn’t yet come out to her high-achieving family, mayoral candidate father Ted (Victor Garber), Insta-mom Tipper (Mary Steenburgen) and her sisters, super-intense Sloane (Alison Brie) and wacky, nerdy Jane (co-writer Mary Holland).
“It’s five days. How bad can it be?” Abby rhetorically asks skeptical BFF John (Dan Levy and his expressive eyebrows), probably jinxing herself.
Cue the time-honored, comforting seasonal movie elements — relatable sibling rivalry, comedic mix-ups, uninvited exes, perhaps a toppled Christmas tree and a joyful resolution by Christmas Day. But this time, the heartfelt story is centered around LBGTQ+ leads in a holiday movie landscape full of heteronormative fare.
For co-writer and director Clea DuVall, who based the movie on her own experiences, and costume designer Kathleen Felix-Hager (“Veep,” “Space Force”), the costumes needed to be just as timeless.
“It was important for Clea and myself to keep it as classic as possible,” says Felix-Hager, on a call. “Holiday movies live forever, so to not date [the costumes] in any sort of time. For all the characters, I erred on the side of classic colors, or a silhouette or a look, that hopefully stands the test of time.”
For self-assured PhD candidate Abby, Felix-Hager kept her costume arc “organic,” beginning with her signature double-breasted peacoat by Theory (above). Originally, it was a full-length coat, but she shortened and tailored it to fit Stewart’s petite frame.
“Abby just is super comfortable in her skin,” says Felix-Hager. “She knows who she is. She has really well-loved, beloved pieces, like that classic peacoat. She invested some money in that peacoat and wears it all the time. She just throws it over everything.”
Like the actor who plays her, Abby has this confident, uncomplicated but singularly cool way of dressing that stands out from everyone around her — especially Harper’s family. Introduced as Harper’s also-straight, “orphan” roommate, she’s brought a tight capsule of elevated basics to cover her bases for any holiday event, including a black Theory suit, worn with a vintage camisole and patent stacked-heel oxfords by Nina Ricci (found on The RealReal) for a stuffy fundraising gala.
“The idea was she brought nice two outfits and she was caught unaware of the style of the family,” says Felix-Hager.
For her sexiest, chicest look, Abby repeats the suit pants and rakish oxfords for the climactic debacle of a Christmas Eve party. Felix-Hager paired the tapered trousers with a vintage Thom Browne silvery-gray blazer worn over a half-buttoned white shirt and a louche, undone tie (above). “We were in the fitting with Kristen and I was like, ‘I feel like it needs something,'” she says. “I had a spool of velvet ribbon in the fitting room. I just cut it off, draped it around and it ended up being the exact perfect thing.”
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Stewart herself is known to wear her own sneakers in movies, so of course her personal worn-in Adidas Stan Smiths make an appearance as Abby hugs John during the start of the denouement, at a gas station. But Abby’s trusty lug sole Blundstone ankle boots came straight from Felix-Hager.
“We were in the fitting and I had them on my feet and [Stewart] was like, ‘What about a pair of those?'” says the costume designer. Perhaps it was a holiday miracle: The two share a shoe size. “They were all beat up and perfect, so she ended up wearing my shoes in the whole movie. I got them back at the end.”
Harper, however, undergoes a backwards wardrobe journey, as she pivots from her carefree Pittsburgh open life to hiding her true self from her family.
“She puts on that little turtleneck and starts to cover up progressively,” says Felix-Hager. “When she’s home, she’s more back into her younger teenage self. The final regression is when we see her at the Christmas party and she’s in that dark green dress that’s in the shape of a Christmas tree. It’s a very youthful, juvenile silhouette. That’s when she’s really hiding herself.”
Eagle-eyed viewers may also notice that Harper and Abby both wear matching gold bar necklaces at the top of the movie. While Abby keeps hers on throughout, Harper removes hers once she arrives at her family’s home. “We see it again at the very very end,” says Felix-Hager. “There are tiny details like that to tell the story of how Harper is regressing back and hiding her true self.”
But Harper is consistent with her plush marigold Sandro coat (above), which also established her mustard, navy and hunter green color palette. Like for Abby, Felix-Hager customized Harper’s staple: “The original coat had long fringe on the back, but that felt dated to a certain time period, so we removed all of that fringe-y off of it, so the coat became much sleeker.”
For more outerwear porn that’s definitely my holiday kink: Bundled up for a quick escape attempt from the ‘burbs, John wears a natty plaid coat, by Scotch & Soda. The gray and black layer also happens to be the signature palette of Levy’s previous beloved character, David Rose.
“He had just finished ‘Schitt’s Creek’ when he came to work with us and it was important for him to feel like a completely different character,” says Felix-Hager. “We had a great fitting and it was just the idea of making him look rugged and handsome. He’s so handsome anyway, there was not that much to do.” She also selected glasses with a lighter, translucent frames than his usual thick, dark ones to avoid any “ew, David” references.
Shooting on-location in Pittsburgh also allowed Felix-Hager to take advantage of the excellent — and budget-friendly — vintage shopping in the city, especially for Abby’s wardrobe.
“Pittsburgh is this treasure trove of amazing vintage stores,” she says. “It was just bananas. Kristen and I actually went shopping together one weekend and she found a lot of stuff for herself, personally, that she loved.” Felix-Hager snapped up sweaters and the black Carhartt bomber jacket (top) for Abby from stores, including Hey Betty and Three Rivers Vintage.
The close-knit production took place from January to March this year and wrapped right before the Covid-19 pandemic began lockdowns across the country. “[The shoot holds] very special memories of being happy and creating this pretty Christmas movie,” says Felix-Hager. “So it’s nice that it’s coming out now and people can see it and enjoy it.”