Every “Homecoming” outfit had a specific purpose to designer Catherine Marie Thomas. The Amazon series primarily takes place in an eerie facility for military veterans, where Julia Roberts plays Heidi Bergman, a friendly but stressed counselor who takes a special interest in one of the veterans, Walter Cruz (Stephan James). Thomas wanted to suggest an environment of free will as an illusion with the costuming on Walter and his fellow veterans. “What we wanted to accomplish was this comfortable environment where it seemed like they had a choice of what they wore in a parameter, sort of like a university,” Thomas explains. “You go to a store, you get issued the campus sweatshirt, the shorts, this kind of branding atmosphere.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Thomas below.
In costuming Heidi, it was important for Thomas to show her as “really welcoming to the soldiers because I think that was how they set up the trust and ultimately leads to a lot of the tension later on,” she says. “We looked at using soft fabrics and having her feel like a very warm human that people could relate to.” Thomas ended up collaborating with Roberts herself on figuring out the best look for Heidi. “Julia has lots of opinions. She’s been in the business for a long time. She’s very invested in these characters,” Thomas adds. “She and I had actually had the same vision so it was a very easy collaboration.”
Part of the series includes flashing forward four years to 2022, where Heidi finds herself unable to remember working at the Homecoming facility. Despite that future setting, Thomas was careful to not go too wild with new styles. “We didn’t wanna do anything weird and tricky with the futuristic stuff because we just didn’t need it,” she reveals. “You could feel the time shift without it.” The 2022 costumes did include more blue hues, though, which were completely absent in the 2018 scenes. Those future scenes lead up to Heidi and Walter reuniting unexpectedly. The scene features the two characters wearing brighter colors, which Thomas notes was an intentional choice. “They’re out in the woods, they’re up in the mountains. There’s this liberating freedom that both of them have.”
There is a decided lack of flashiness to the costumes in “Homecoming,” and being a contemporary series sometimes makes the costuming seem unimpressive to that of period or fantasy garb. Thomas is fully aware of the lack of respect given to contemporary costume design and she notes that it is much more difficult than you’d think. “There are misconceptions that putting someone in a T-shirt or sweatpants can be simplistic, but sometimes the more simplistic the harder it is,” she says. “We tested a whole bunch of colors and things and I ended up throwing out a lot of stuff two days before we started shooting. It’s a big commitment and if we don’t get it right, you’re stuck with it.”
“Homecoming” is Thomas’ second collaboration with director/producer Sam Esmail. Thomas continues to serve as the costume designer on Esmail’s other show, “Mr. Robot,” which is just wrapping up its fourth and final season this year. Working with Esmail has been a great experience for Thomas, calling him “a brilliant visionary.” She adds, “He can be very specific but then he also allows us to bring a lot of things to the table, which is an amazing combination of values.” This final season has been “bittersweet” for Thomas, noting that it is really “pedal to the metal” as they conclude this four-season story.
Thomas has been in the business for over 20 years and was primarily known for her film work before “Mr. Robot” and “Homecoming.” She has designed the costumes for such films as “Kill Bill,” “The Brave One,” “27 Dresses,” “The Proposal,” and “The Heat.” She earned an Emmy nomination for her work on the HBO film adaptation of “Grey Gardens,” an experience she describes as “pretty overwhelming.” Recreating the garb of Little Edie Beale was a big challenge in particular. Whenever you take on icons and put them on screen and rework what people’s visions of it are, because they were very specific — Little Edie was such a fashion icon — it was a little scary.”
After a career of fabulous costumes, Thomas still goes back to Uma Thurman‘s yellow tracksuit in “Kill Bill” as an all-time favorite. “It’s so much part of the film and the iconography of that and working with Uma back then, she was an amazing supporter of mine,” Thomas recalls. “I wouldn’t have been there if it hadn’t been for her. That has a very special place in my heart.”