Portlandia’s Costume Designer Takes Us Around Her City
A lot of Amanda Needham’s job involves running around town. She’ll shop for polar fleeces, cowboy hats and clown props. She schleps armloads of clothes to the dry cleaners. She visits shoot locations. She meets with clients for coffee.
And then she runs home to take care of her baby girl, Nova.
Costume designer Amanda Needham outside the store Frances May on Portland’s SW Washington Street.
The busy two-time Emmy-winning costume designer has to know her city well, and how to dress comfortably to get along in it. She works on IFC’s Portlandia, a sketch comedy show with Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein about Portland and its eccentric citizens. She lives there for most of the year. The other forty percent of the time, Needham is in LA working on Baskets, Zach Galifianakis’s show about a Paris-trained clown trying to make it in Bakersfield, California, where he works as a rodeo clown. It’s a black comedy about dreams half met–or trampled.
We met Amanda in Portland, where she took us around to her favorite spots–to shop, to eat, to get things done–and showed us how she dresses for her hectic days. Needham has an ability to mix fun and function in her outfits–perhaps it’s a result of the intention that must inform her clothing selections for comedy characters. The key to her look is fashionable, durable and element-proof shoes by (Portland’s own) SOREL–just watch how she styles them.
Read on to hear about Portland’s hotspots, the evolving PNW style that Amanda cultivates in life and art, and pursuing your dreams in an ideal outfit.
Amanda is wearing the SOREL Joan tall wedge rain boot.
What clothing and accessories do you think most capture PNW style?
The Pacific Northwest has changed so much over the last five years! I would have easily called out a fleece as a staple–not my staple but a go-to for so many Pacific Northwesterners. Now, I see a real melting pot of style here. There are so many people on the streets in Portland with such incredible style. It’s really inspiring to me.
But if I had to, here are the top five items I think capture the Pacific Northwest style:
- A moto jacket.
- The low bootie.
- An umbrella—if you’re not from the PNW.
- A backpack—something fashionable but functional, like a Filson.
- High-waist skinnies.
What are your favorite things about living in Portland?
Portland has me by the heart–I always feel so rich living here. The city is like a choose-your-own-adventure book. You can jump in your car and be in the mountains, desert or beach within an hour’s drive, or have a full day going to your favorite shops, museums and bookstores while eating at all the most amazing restaurants.
Where in Portland can we find you on a rainy afternoon?
On a dark, rainy day you can find me lounging and reading a good book, or hiding out at my favorite spa, Löyly, for a good steam.
Where is your favorite place to bask in the sun?
My favorite place to hang out in the sun is Palm Springs–something about it always feels so Old Hollywood, and it’s fun to dress the part.
How do you dress for the alternating rain and shine of the Pacific Northwest?
I think Portlanders have a sense of pride when it comes to the rain, so when we see people with umbrellas it’s a dead giveaway that you’re not native. Layering is the best way to stay current in fashion and beat the unpredictable PNW climate.
If Portland were a piece of clothing, what would it be?
A statement piece, like a bold jacket or a chunky accessory; something that has people talking.
Amanda is wearing the SOREL Joan wedge rain boot.
How do SOREL’s boots and sandals suit the PNW lifestyle?
SOREL’s approach to boots is the backbone of PNW style: they are functional and keep your feet dry while on the run. And there is no reason to wear ugly footwear for weather. With some of the SOREL boot styles it doesn’t really look like you are wearing a rain boot, so you can style it with your favorite looks.
Any tips for styling rain boots? How do you like to wear them?
It really depends on the boot. I usually try to dress up my rain boots by mixing leather or an animal print to sass it up a bit.
Which Portlandia character do you particularly love dressing?
Really all of them are so much fun to dress. I have a wide range of characters, so it’s really fun for me to go from cat lady to feminist bookstore owner to high-fashion Bryce and Lisa. Details are so important to me, so analyzing what separates individuals is what makes me the happiest.
Amanda is wearing the SOREL Joanie wedge sandal.
How do you usually go about designing a character’s costume?
People on the streets inspire me, but lately it’s been Instagram. I’ll follow people who have interesting styles or lives, and take notes on what makes them intriguing to me. I’ll read new scripts and put together images of new characters based on the writers’ notes. Sometimes I feel like an anthropologist.
When Portlandia comes around, I have a bank of people I’ve collected for inspiration.
Running errands in the SOREL Joanie cage sandal at Cox’s Dry Cleaners on SW 12th Avenue.
Where do the real Portland “characters” hang out in the city?
For fancy cocktails and a girls’ catch-up sesh, go to DAME.
The most impressive brunch is at Beast.
And my favorite place to people watch is Powell’s Books.
What is a must-see Portland location?
There are so many new things happening in Portland, but I am a sucker for old-school Portland. To name a few in no particular order: sneaking in for a late-afternoon matinee at Cinema 21 for a good movie and a glass of wine, driving across the Fremont bridge at twilight and sitting at the bluffs watching the sunset.
Special thanks to SOREL, Ace Hotel, Wildfang, Blue Star Donuts, Powell’s Books, Alder & Co., Hilary Horvath Flowers and Cox’s Dry Cleaners.