The Cast of Glee in VogueMonday, August 15, 2011
When Glee started, I had no idea who Marc Jacobs was. In no way was I a fashion person!” confesses Chris Colfer, who won a Golden Globe Award in 2011 for his depiction of the out-and-proud high school chorister Kurt. “I did all my shopping at my small-town Target. Maybe if I dressed better I wouldn’t have had such a hard time in school,” he says, laughing a little ruefully. “Now, as Kurt, I get to wear all these amazing things, by people whose names I can’t even pronounce.” Those “amazing things”—the singular looks that the cast sports both on- and, increasingly, offscreen—have led, to the thrilled amazement of Colfer and his costars, to the cast’s current role as spokespeople for this year’s Fashion’s Night Out, the annual fall ritual that celebrates style and shopping, the joys of inventing your own look and having a ball while doing so.
Admirers of the show (Gleeks, in current parlance) know that their beloved characters express themselves not only through music—there is also the matter of their deliciously quirky relationship to fashion, which makes them the perfect collective headliners for FNO. “From the beginning, I asked the costume designer to give each of these kids an archetypal identity,” recalls Ryan Murphy, creator and executive producer. “We didn’t want them to look like generic mall kids. Now their looks are being copied! On the show, they don’t get to wear designer clothes, except for Chris. In fact, people ask me all the time, ‘Where does he get those clothes in Ohio?’ ” (Answer: He orders them online.)
When you talk to Colfer or Lea Michele or the other cast members, you find yourself curiously inhabiting two worlds—one populated by successful young actors who are building their careers with purpose and sophistication, and the other a universe of incredibly compelling fictional characters who attend a surreal high school somewhere in an imaginary Ohio, struggling to find their place and defining themselves through the poetry of popular song, the way so many of us define ourselves, especially while we are growing up. At a sold-out Glee Live Tour performance at the Meadowlands in New Jersey early this summer, the audience was bursting with Gleeks proudly exhibiting the nerd-cool (and frankly, sometimes just nerd) signifiers of the show—thick glasses, suspenders, and T-shirts that say things like "Bad Attitude." Many of these fans seemed—how shall we put it?—far more like struggling New Directions recruits than lithe, blithe Cheerios. (But then again, the two cliques mix and match on the show with abandon, which is part of what makes Glee so delectable.)
Don’t expect to see off-duty cast members looking like their fictional doppelgängers. “I would never wear a sweater with an animal face!” laughs Lea Michele, who plays driven baby-diva Rachel, and who confesses that she has lately developed a serious crush on Oscar de la Renta. But Murphy puts Michele’s current sartorial confidence in clearer perspective. “When I met Lea, she was only sort of interested in clothes—but in the last two years she’s become a red-carpet star. I think what happened is Lea went to an event, and someone said, ‘Oh, you look pretty.’ It was an interesting moment for her.”
Murphy, who admits that for him Fashion’s Night Out is “all about grooviness and fabulousness and excitement!,” says that it is empowering for kids all over the country to see the cast donning gorgeous ensembles and having the time of their lives in the FNO public-service announcement because “aspiration and integration are so important.” Kurt may be the show’s avowed clotheshorse, but Colfer says you won’t find the see-through ankle-length Dolce & Gabbana trench that he flaunts during one broadcast anywhere near his closet. Actually, he says, chuckling, it is Kevin McHale—who plays the wheelchair-bound Artie, a character who favors grandpa sweaters and pleated mom jeans—who is the standout style aficionado off camera. “Whenever Kevin sees me in an outfit, he feels the fabric and looks at the label, then goes and buys it!” Colfer says.
Sometimes those shrieking Gleeks who throng the stage door after a performance, desperate to spy their favorites in the flesh, are taken aback by the difference between art (or in this case, Artie) and life. When McHale became obsessed with what he describes as a Marc by Marc Jacobs “half-kilt thing,” he searched boutiques until he turned one up. “I wore the hell out of it last year, and I had it on after our show at Radio City. When I came out, the crowd went from ‘Ooooh!’ to ‘What are you wearing?’ ”