The Man in the High Castle: The Challenges of Costuming Drama About a Post-WWII Nazi World

Jim Halterman

For all of the challenges in creating the sci-fi-infused, Philip K. Dick–inspired post-WWII world of The Man in the High Castle for television, imagine what it must be like to costume it. J.R. Hawbaker, who helped dress films like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and high-style series like Mad Men, joined High Castle as costume designer after its successful first season last year.

Costume sketch for Man in the High Castle.

Costume sketch for Man in the High Castle.

To get her bearings on where to begin her work, she looked to the most obvious place—the story. “It just became apparent that in Season 2, our characters and their established world would be obliterated and torn apart,” she says. “My perspective was very similar to the characters embarking on their new paths with worlds unknown. I treated it not as a weakness but actually something to draw from.”

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Location was also key when it came to dressing leading man Luke Kleintank’s Joe Blake, now in Berlin, the heartland of Nazi control. For Joe’s Berlin attire (seen in the sketch to the left and photo above), Hawbaker explains, “I wanted to design a look that, on a visceral level, felt immediately familiar and classic, something that men might catch themselves wishing they could go to a 1962 shop and purchase. The suit is also the summation of several small shifts away from the nostalgia of what we know in our early-1960s sartorial history.”

Hawbaker knows she can often look to the actors themselves as collaborators in dressing their characters. “The fitting room is sort of this sacred, safe place where both actors and designers can look for the characters,” she explains. “We have this fall-down-the-rabbit-hole experience together.”

The Man in the High Castle, Premieres Friday, Dec. 16, Amazon Prime Video