We had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with POTUS costume designer Ivania Stack to talk pantsuits, Crocs, and sad cardigans. She walked us through every character’s design, her real-life inspirations, and some of her favorite costume pieces.

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What has been the most fun part of working on POTUS ?

POTUS is a really fun play (partly) because it includes mention of Crocs, which was such an exciting thing for me to learn all about!

What’s there to learn about Crocs?

For instance, I learned when you push the strap to the back of the Croc it’s called “sports mode” so that you can run around—say if you’re acting in a play and you need to be able to run across the stage. I did not know that. I also didn’t know that the things that go in the holes of Crocs are called Jibbitz.

In the show the Crocs are worn by the First Lady. She got a little bit of flack because she showed up at a homeless shelter with stilettos on, so now she’s wearing Crocs to show how “earthy” she is. For anyone else they could be the most ordinary Crocs in the world but, of course, she is always going to be extra. So these Crocs needed to be leopard print. And then when she is going to a gala, she’s got these high heel Crocs. Not earthy at all.

It’s really fun pulling all our research together and then going through it with the director and figuring out what the final vision is for each character.

Were there any real-life inspirations behind your FLOTUS designs?

First Lady Michelle Obama definitely, Vice President Kamala Harris, there’s a little Secretary Hillary Clinton for sure, but also…at least the incident of the stilettos might be specifically referencing the former president’s wife…

I also tried to really look at people who actually work at the White House to gain inspiration.

Could you walk us through your designs for each character?

Here we have FLOTUS. We definitely wanted a really brightly-colored suit for her, because the overall story of the play is heightened and we wanted to reflect that in the costumes. Everybody has distinct and fairly saturated colors (with some exceptions). She also has a really beautiful gala gown that’s a beautiful silk.

Stephanie as the presidential secretary is one of the more toned-down color stories, but she’s doing her best. In the show, they call her a “sad cardigan” of a person! 

For the character of Chris, I looked at a lot of different journalists and people who are in the press. She’s also a new mom so that was a really interesting story to tell. And the actor, Yesenia Iglesias, gave us input on what clothes a woman would wear if she just had twins and is going back to work. That was really helpful.

Harriet is the Chief of Staff. It was important to me that she looked vice presidential or presidential, but also have these really bold, beautiful, bright colors. So she’s still conservative, in a way, but also saturated to fit the tone of the play and the other characters. She also has a gala outfit that’s described in the script as “like if Elton John did Civil War reenactments.” Which is a really fun direction to go in a play!

And then there’s Dusty who comes in as a surprise! I don’t want to give it away, but she’s certainly not like anyone else who works at the White House. She’s so cute in her sundress, because she’s from Iowa.

Bernadette is the President’s sister. She just got out of prison, and she’s kind of a wild card. I think she’s such a fun character. Personally, she was one of my favorites to design. 

Finally, Jean is the press secretary. She’s described as Jackie O meets Carl Sagan. Her black turtleneck is her pivotal piece, sort of her comfort blanket.

Is there anything else you want to add?

Something that was exciting, but also daunting, about this show, is the playwright was so specific in describing the clothes in her stage directions and dialogue. We really wanted the costumes to work well for actors while also bringing in the heightened color scheme. Plus, we also knew that there was blood and other special effects in the show that might affect the costumes. A lot of things needed to be either built or just bought specially because everything needed to be tailored a lot. 

I’m really lucky here because folks at Arena are so talented and game. It’s a dream come true to design a show here.