‘Charlie’s Angels’ style secrets

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What they wore, why they wore it and what it cost

By Lori Acken,
ReMIND Magazine

If you were a TV fan in the ’70s, the opening monologue to Charlie’s Angels is an iconic refrain. A sort of sexed-up modernization of his short-lived Honey West, the Aaron Spelling-produced crime drama — which starred Farrah Fawcett-Majors, Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith as the avenging Angels — quickly inspired debate about whether it was just another “Jiggle TV” entry or proof that gorgeous women could be tough-cookie role models, too. But viewers loved it, even after Fawcett-Majors left after just one season.

Designer Nolan Miller, Spelling’s friend and go-to wardrobe designer, was given the job of dressing Aaron’s Angels. What sounded like a fairly mundane task (especially after the showrunners’ original notion of making the ladies whip-and-chain-sporting “Alley Cats” was dumped) soon became a costly dance of strong personalities, personal demands and stretching a then-hefty $20,000-per-episode wardrobe budget to the breaking point.

Allowing each actress input in her character’s costumes, Miller fielded endless wish lists to shape each pretty PI’s sartorial personality and eight-plus wardrobe changes per episode — finally bucking Spelling’s insistence that the actresses could keep the clothes at the end of each season when his budget couldn’t match their demands and he had to start fresh every time.

Farrah Fawcett-Majors as Jill Munroe

Though Fawcett-Majors wanted to be taken seriously as an actress, she was also a rabid fashionista, scouring Rodeo Drive for the latest European arrivals and pushing Miller to dress Jill in them, too. So, when the Paris runways overflowed with sheer blouses worn without bras, Miller had to find a way to make the look work for a lady PI, too. But “braless and slinky” wasn’t Jill’s only wardrobe mantra. Because Fawcett was athletic (coupled with Spelling’s edict that his cops at least sometimes look streetwise), Jill’s sporty side got some play, too, making the Nike Cortez sneakers and classic Tretorn tennis shoes must-haves for trendy girls.

Jaclyn Smith as Kelly Garrett

Miller admits he fell madly in love with the ladylike Texan — the easiest going of his sartorial subjects — and was relieved when her character’s tomboy tendencies were migrated to Jackson’s Sabrina Duncan. Pairing Smith’s own classic taste with his desire to keep her looking pretty and feminine, Miller often dressed Kelly in Rodeo Drive staple Alan Austin’s $550 gabardine suits with matching silk blouses. But he loved a chance to display Smith’s natural elegance in couture gowns and furs. And Smith, who would go on to design her own line of fashions for discount retailer Kmart, didn’t mind showing off her hourglass figure in a tasteful bikini — if it was appropriate for the scene.

Kate Jackson as Sabrina Duncan

Fresh off Spelling’s The Rookies and originally considered the star of the show, the Alabama-born Jackson had no interest in being part of a “bod squad,” no passion for fashion and no patience for the endless costume fittings her costars so enjoyed. Though her tall, slender body was a designer’s dream (and she was fine skipping a bra now and then), Jackson insisted on covered-up and casual à la the equally clothing-indifferent Katharine Hepburn. “We probably bought [Kate] 100 black sweaters in the show,” Miller said in an interview with Archive of American Television. “She would always take them home.” A bit of cleavage? Forget it. Even her onscreen bathing suits and the slinkiest of dresses showed nothing. And skip the heels, too. “She’d tell the cameraman not to shoot her feet,” Miller laughed.

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