Salem costumes are an haute couture work, result of the careful artistry of Joseph A. Porro, WGN Salem official costume designer. Over 600 costumes and 300 shoes help bring Salem to life. Costume designer Joseph Porro reveals how he dressed Salem Village with both history and fantasy.
Creative Process[edit | edit source]
Joseph A. Porro, the show's costume designer, who initially sought the job because he's a serious aficionado of Salem's witch hunt period, was given carte blanche to spice up the show with deliciously macabre, skin-crawling (literally), perverse costumes that include accessories such as teeth, bones, human hair and creepy-crawly insects.
"I told my agent, 'Oh please get me in there for an interview.' But they hired me not based on my ability to be historically accurate but because of my high-fashion background," Porro tells Pret-a-Reporter. "They wanted me to bring an edgy look to the show." Their edict? No Pilgrim hats or white collars.
Salem's enchantingly evil witch Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery) dons a giant maroon plumed hat and sexy low-cut dress with sterling silver bugs and a spider's web sewn on it. "She wears tons of silver jewelry, vintage pieces from the '30s and '40s," says the costume designer, who was Emmy-nominated for The Music Man in 2003. "She's dripping with jewelry. Not even Game of Thrones has this level of jewelry." In past episodes, Sibley has also been draped in in semiprecious stones ("She had on about a thousand carats of amethysts," says Porro) and smothered with long Victorian silver chains.
Porro says he can get away with the crazy accessories and modern reflective fabrics such as black patent leather and vinyl — as long as he keeps the period silhouette: full skirts, nipped high waists and puffy shoulders. But he went all-classic action hero for John Alden's look.
"The actor (Shane West) wears leather that looks naturally aged. The coat has hand stitching all through it. There's a great leather guy out of L.A. who does primitive-looking skin. It's aged and goes through dying that takes days just to get it to look like it's really beat up and has been worn for two years," he notes. "It's a labor-intensive [read: expensive] process." We bet.
Another nameless character wears a bird's head mask and lurks in the woods covered in moss to blend in. "They created these strange bird masks at that time. I just took that and incorporated the mask into the moss, twigs and netting so he disappears into the forest. I think I bought every piece of moss in Los Angeles," says Porro.
Among Porro's upcoming oddities are a crocodile cape and a human-hair dress, which he says of the latter: "I have a friend who does amazing necklaces out of human hair and I've been collecting Victorian mourning jewelry, all made out of human hair. We're going to do a bonnet out of it. And I have the jewelry all set. We're actually knitting the whole dress of hair and black pearls. It'll look very gothic and very creepy."
He's even got a dung beetle dress coming up too. He sourced the shiny turquoise beetle wings from Thailand, where they're used as a protein source. So far, Porro's piece de resistance is a coat worn by a character who scavenges skin and bones from a nearby outcast paupers' cemetery.
"There's a ghoul character who comes in and skins them all and wears a coat made out of human skin, with ears and human teeth all stitched together. It's really disgusting. It's the creepiest thing I've ever made in my life. It's just like creepy, creepy, and creepy. But it's fun."
Despite the show's extravagant production values, Salem's costume department budget is not in the red. Porro is actually doing it all on a shoestring.
Historicity[edit | edit source]
Women’s fashion in Salem at the time of the trials was very conservative. The church dictated the dress code, and women were to wear large dark outfits that hid their form and most of their skin. In fact, convicted witch Sarah Bishop was in part accused thanks to her “flamboyant dress.” 
Porro said the inspiration for many of the costumes came from paintings and photographs from that period, the late 1600’s. “Then our producers wanted us to have a little fun with the stuff, make it a little sexier, a little more fashionable for modern audiences,” he said, adding that “They may not be the most comfortable outfits, but they are helping the actors get into character.”
Main Characters[edit | edit source]
- Main article: Mary Sibley/Wardrobe
- Main article: John Alden/Wardrobe
- Main article: Cotton Mather/Wardrobe
- Main article: Anne Hale/Wardrobe
- Main article: Tituba/Wardrobe
- Main article: Mercy Lewis/Wardrobe
- Main article: Isaac Walton/Wardrobe
- Main article: Sebastian Von Marburg/Wardrobe
- Main article: The Devil/Wardrobe
Note: More detailed information on the appearance and clothing of the various characters is expected to be found at the attached links.
Recurring characters[edit | edit source]
- Main article: Countess Von Marburg/Wardrobe
- Main article: John Hale/Wardrobe
Petrus' clothing is downright bizarre, consisting of tanned leather and embellished with details nothing short unusual. For example, a necklace made up of the paw of a rate, bone buttons and finishing with great references to the natural world, similar to some extent to Native Americans rather than settlers.
Main Article: Samuel Wainwright/Wardrobe
Gallery[edit | edit source]
Multimedia[edit | edit source]
Departments[edit | edit source]
Costume and Wardrobe Department
Trivia[edit | edit source]
- According to Ashley Madekwe (“Tituba"): “Our corsets are real. There are no zips, no buttons. They’re incredibly restrictive and I don't feel that elegant in it, because there are so many layers.”
- Janet Montgomery ("Mary Sibley") also said: “It is difficult, because I'm in like three skirts and two corsets, and then I have to act on top of that,” and “Joseph has done such an incredible job with the costumes, and he's so period accurate. As much as I might complain about it when I don't want to put it on at like 6 in the morning, it actually does help my character. I'm a sloucher. I have no choice but to stand up properly,”
- One of the interior set that's part of a soundstage in downtown Shreveport, LA. which appear like a forest had been transformed into a wardrobe, displaying some unique and downright disturbing outfits.
- Some of Joseph Porro's statements about the costumes are as follows:
- “I have a ghoul over here who's a reoccurring character, made out of human skin. He has everything from ears to real human teeth as buttons,” Porro said. “I wanted faces and hands, backs and highs, and they've all been hand sewn together. So that was one of the craziest things I've ever made in my career.”
- “This is one of Mary Sibley's dresses. The dress is half silk and half patent leather. And this is Petrus, our alchemist who lives in the forest and blends in. It's almost like a forest camouflage he wears.”
- “Then our producers wanted us to have a little fun with the stuff, make it a little sexier, a little more fashionable for modern audiences,”
References[edit | edit source]
- Elizabeth Snead, 'Salem' Costume Designer Gets Creepy With Bizarre Bugs, Human Hair-Knitted Dress, Hollywood Reporter, 6/24/2014
- Salem Experience - Season One
- Full Credits Costume and Wardrobe Departments on IMDb
See Also[edit | edit source]