Jean Smart and Hannah Eindbinder start in ‘Hacks’ Season 2 for HBO Max.  Photos by Karen Ballard

How ‘Hacks’ Costumes Turned Its Heroines Into Heartbreakers

Costume designer Kathleen Felix-Hager explains how clothes brought Deborah and Ava together in Season 2.

All great road trips are about discovering the unknown. Costume designer Kathleen Felix-Hager entered season 2 of “Hacks” with the fashion of cross-generational comedy counterparts Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) and Ava (Hannah Einbinder) more or less set. But taking his new, more personal act on tour and leaving behind control (and the countless closets) of his Vegas mansion, Felix-Hager got the chance to explore who Deborah was and how she presented herself when she could no longer tastefully hold glittery court on her Vegas peak, but had to climb the proverbial mountain instead.

The show has plenty of fun building environments and the characters’ corresponding looks at space and the variety of the continental United States – its tracks are found everywhere from sultry dive bars inside a dumpster – but one of the real joys of “Hacks” is seeing how Deborah and Ava feed each other impressive comedy chops, even if they can drive each other crazy. Felix-Hager also reflects this push-pull in his clothes. If you look closely, the scenes where Deborah takes something from Ava, or vice versa, stand out for the clothing choices that subtly bring these women together.

They begin, it must be said, quite well apart. Felix-Hager describes Deborah’s aesthetic as, above all, that of a collector. “She was a collector of little tchotchkes and little salt shakers [in Season 1], but also clothes. She has extensive closets of every piece she’s ever worn on stage,” Felix-Hager said. “I think she has beloved pieces from different decades and she continues to release pieces that she loves… Deborah Vance walks her own way when it comes to fashion, but she also knows what looks good on her. And I feel like that gave him a kind of sense of authority and confidence on stage.



Felix-Hager also tracks particular items that Deborah likes, such as the fur coat she wears multiple times throughout the series. It’s both shaggy armor for imposing status everywhere, from funerals to the Grand Canyon, and also a beloved comfort item that Deborah will slip on over pajamas, according to Felix-Hager. “I have certainly [a backstory for Deborah’s fashion choices]said Felix-Hager. “We see bits that she repeats in her personal life that comfort her.”

With Ava, the challenge is not a big one, but a small one. Felix-Hager described Ava’s style as “a Los Feliz vibe”, all consciously relaxed jeans and too cool t-shirts and tops. “Even though it’s a comedy, there’s so much heart and emotion in the show that it’s really important to keep the costumes grounded in reality. I really want to be able to believe that the bits that Ava has [are ones that] she can afford to buy and they make sense for her to be in her closet. Or, in the case of a long stretch in Season 2, his backpack.

Ava packed her bags for Vegas not knowing how long she would actually be there, but her wardrobe is even more limited in Season 2. Felix-Hager had to make sure the pieces she selected deliberately communicated will from Ava to be cool and how to get in. which changes subtly over the course of the season as she tries to escape Deborah’s legal grip on her career to try to put her own career on hold in order to be there for Deborah. “I remember a lot of our showrunners, [Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, and Jen Statsky], their personal style. They’re sort of really cool, hip writers from LA and Ava is that,” Felix-Hager said. “There’s a little short navy jacket that [Ava] gate. It’s actually a Prada jacket that I found in a vintage store. So it makes sense to me that she has that jacket because she probably splurged on it.

Two women dressed for a tropical cruise, one carrying a handbag and the other holding a cocktail;  more "hacks."



The spectacle moving between spaces where one or the other or neither of its two protagonists is comfortable is one of the pleasures of the “Hacks” leaving Los Vegas. Episode 4, “The Captain’s Wife,” stands out as a highlight, as Deborah and Ava find themselves putting on a show on a lesbian cruise, Deborah’s kryptonite demographic. It’s not hard to see why, as Felix-Hager only had one camp shirt and bikini top for Ava, but they make her look a lot more at home than Deborah’s prepared cruise wear. . Still, this is one of the opportunities of the season to let Deborah shift into a different gear than fabulous.

“I mean, Deborah Vance and cruise wear are delicious candy. It gave me the opportunity to put all these fabulous hats on him,” Felix-Hager said. “We paid special attention to all of these women on this cruise ship to give them their own vibe and make them collectively look like real people.”

In the very next episode, “Retired,” Felix-Hager takes the look of real people in a new direction, dressing the crowds at a state fair and also Deborah’s old rival/friend, Susan (Harriet Sansom Harris). Here, the difference between Deborah’s slightly puffy denim and Susan’s sensible jacket tells a story about what comedy has given and taken from them both, in addition to reinforcing Deborah’s guilt. But it is also the episode where the showrunners and Felix-Hager launch an important chrono which bears fruit in the finale.

Jean Smart and Hannah Eindbinder start in season 2 of


Karen Ballard/HBO Max

Deborah buys Ava clothes in Episode 5 that are much closer to her own sense of style and presentation. As Ava finds doing comedy with and for Deborah increasingly alluring, these pieces begin to appear in her wardrobe. She wears a green silk blouse to talk to lawyer Jill (Jessica Chaffin) and her comedy-curious son Bobby (Charlie Korman). When Ava surprises Deborah by showing up at the taping of her special, she does so in a dress and the loafers Deborah bought her. “To me, it was like Ava offering herself on a platter to Deborah saying, ‘Here I’m going to give you the most ideal version of who I think you want me to be,'” Felix said. -Hager. “So it’s even more heartbreaking that she’s in that little dress and Deborah is saying, ‘I love you, but you have to go. “”

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