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Jeremy Irons, atop a horse, crushes a vegetable in his hand.
Jeremy Irons in HBO’s Watchmen.
Colin Hutton/HBO

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How the Watchmen costume designer picked up the threads of Dave Gibbons’ comic art

And a close look at the big reveal in episode 3

The linchpin of any crusading hero — beyond archenemies and any potential superpowers — is a costume. In a show like HBO’s Watchmen, in which every detail could spawn hours’ worth of discussion, they’re even more vital, especially as once-forgotten heroes return to the fore.

Costume designer Meghan Kasperlik tells Polygon that the hero outfits in the HBO series committed to the comic’s logic, in which the heroes were supposed to have made their own costumes. “In a lot of the DC and Marvel movies, [the superheroes] have costumes that are super high-tech and have a lot of gadgets to them,” she explains. “That’s just not what Watchmen is, and that’s not what the graphic novel is, so it was very important that all of these costumes could be made, but then also that they don’t look like a Halloween costume when they’re on the actor. It’s finding that right balance.”

Similarly, characters with a presence in the original material were given costumes that hewed as closely as possible to their established images. Others, like Pirate Jenny, were just names, or entirely new characters. Below, we dig into all of the above, including episode 3’s big reveal.

[Ed. note: Mild spoilers follow for Watchmen season 1, episode 3, “She Was Killed by Space Junk.”]

Sister Night (King), a hero dressed almost entirely in black.
Sister Night (Regina King) in costume.
Mark Hill/HBO

Sister Night leather look

The pivotal thing with every superhero’s costume was trying to find a “simple design line” to fall in line with artist Dave Gibbons original designs. “In creating the superhero costumes, it just has a stronger effect when it’s simplified,” Kasperlik says. “It’s funny to say because it almost makes it more difficult. Anytime you do a ‘simple costume’ there are so many factors in it, and you have to get the fabric right and the color right and you change the color many times.”

That principle turned out to be particularly true when it came to Sister Night, whose costume is almost entirely black and composed of strong lines. The hood of her coat had to be adjusted with action gussets, and Kasperlik also worked to change the weight of the leather so that the shape of it would always look striking rather than airless. “I put a neoprene lining in the hood so it maintained its shape,” she adds. “As the head gets warmer, it heats up the leather and it can sag, so we just needed to have that sculpted barrier in order to keep the shape consistent.”

veidt tries on his original ozymandias purple and gold costume and looks in a mirror HBO
close up on veidt wearing his purple mask and looking way too old to be in costume Image: HBO

Ozymandias’ comic book costume

The million-dollar moment in the episode 3 is costume-forward: the presumed-dead Adrian Veidt dons his old costume, bringing his former superhero alias Ozymandias back to life. The costume is an exact match for Ozymandias’ costume in the Watchmen graphic novel, and is both striking and almost comical upon the older Veidt.

“When it came down to the original heroes, it’s just a nod to the original characters, and so he is very closely taken from the graphic novel,” Kasperlik explains. As for literally what Veidt is wearing, the costume is partly made of molded plastic which is painted, sprayed, shaded, and then painted again, as wearing metal isn’t comfortable nor practical for the actors. If it’s hard to tell the difference, it should be — Veidt’s armor is made by the same people who made Wonder Woman’s protective plates. The fabric underneath is linen and cotton, helping to keep the ensemble lightweight while still maintaining a little “regal stature.”

Veidt’s everyday wear, meanwhile, was all inspired by, as Kasperlik puts it, “what a proper Englishman would wear in this castle.” “He’s living in kind of this alternative world, an alternate universe,” she says. “It was more of a play on what Veidt would wear.”

Tim Blake Nelson as Looking Glass, clad in a reflective mask.
Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson) at work.
HBO

Looking Glass and the impossible mask

Looking Glass has simultaneously the plainest and more compelling costume of the new heroes, donning dull civilian wear — and then a very, very shiny and very reflective mask. For more on Looking Glass’ looking-glass-mask, check out our deep dive into his costume.

Pirate Jenny (Camacho), a hero with a headscarf and mesh over her mouth, wields a gun.
Pirate Jenny (Jenny Camacho) with a suspect.
HBO

Pirate Jenny does pirate chic

When it came to designing the superheroes with no visible presence in the graphic novel, Kasperlik’s imagination was allowed to run wild. “I wanted to have a mix between a Keith Richards rock star, and what someone today would be, like, ‘Oh, if I was a pirate in 2019,’” she says. “I made sure that she had the headscarf and a cool jacket, and we cinched up a pair of pocketed cargo pants — but they’re, you know, fashionable cargo pants — and made sure to add little touches of color.”

In an appropriately rock star vein, the distinctive mask that Pirate Jenny wears is actually made of fishnet stockings, with a scrapbook sticker pasted across the mouth. “It just gave an extra element of depth and dimension ... and is clearly obtainable at any scrapbook store.”

Red Scare (Howard), a hero dressed entirely in red, stands among a circle of cops.
Red Scare (Andrew Howard) stands behind Sister Night (King).
Mark Hill/HBO

Red Scare, no frills

Pirate Jenny’s partner, Red Scare, also had to be drawn up from scratch — and also has a look that’s pretty easily attainable. “He has the Watchmen yellow across his chest, but also it was important that he just took a tracksuit that might’ve been at his house and put on this red ski mask,” Kasperlik says of his colorful attire. “That was his costume, and it totally obscures his face, but definitely is interesting and draws the attention and draws the eye of the audience.”

A bunch of policemen, all wearing yellow masks and carrying zip ties, stand in a row.
A line of policemen.
Photo: Mark Hill/HBO

The thin yellow line for Watchmen’s Policemen

The “Watchmen yellow” figures prominently into all police uniforms as well, as all of the cops and all of the detectives wear masks in that particular shade. “The Watchmen yellow was just a way to get that yellow into the show,” Kasperlik explains. “It’s just really your basic cop uniform, and showcasing it with that Watchmen yellow to hide and mask their face. That was a pretty cool idea from Damon.”