Meet the Woman Making ‘The Bear’ One of the Most Stylish Shows on Television

We spoke with 'The Bear' costume designer Courtney Wheeler about all of the streetwear, vintage T-shirts, and Thom Browne we saw in Season 2.

Chuck Hodes / Via FX

In the penultimate episode of The Bear Season 2, restaurant owner Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) gifts his head chef Syd (Ayo Edebiri) a white chef coat by Thom Browne, complete with her initials, “S.A.,” stitched in navy blue and the designer's signature stripes wrapping the sleeves, ahead of opening night. It’s a momentous moment for Syd, a young chef who is being given control of a professional kitchen for the first time, made that much bigger with the inclusion of a respected luxury brand like Thom Browne.

“I do think it's truly such a good moment, not only for the show, but for [The Bear director] Chris [Storer] to have. Chris loves Thom Browne,” the show’s costume designer Courtney Wheeler tells Complex over Zoom, noting how one of Storer’s first big purchases was a suit from the American designer. “Chris got them to make Ayo a chef jacket. It was a great full-circle moment for Chris to have, for the show to have with Syd's character, for Carmy to have.”

But it isn’t just placement from luxury designers in the kitchen of an upstart restaurant in the Windy City that makes The Bear’s wardrobe so great. Each of the rag tag bunch of restaurant workers brings their own style to the table. 

There’s Carmy and his classic menswear looks consisting of denim from the '50s, sweaters from J.Crew, and pricey white T-shirts from Merz b. Schwanen. Marcus (Lionel Boyce) is a passionate pastry chef who shows off his love for streetwear by pairing his signature green beanie with T-shirts from Joe Freshgoods, Off-White, and Aimé Leon Dore. Syd mixes amazing vintage T-shirts nodding to the 1991 Chicago Bulls and 1997’s Million Woman March into her outfits along with crewnecks from Bode and Carhartt overalls. Neil Fak (Matty Matheson) stays in raggedy T-shirts shouting out local Chicago businesses like the Liar’s Club, beat-up vintage trucker hats, and workwear from Rosa Rugosa (Matheson’s brand) that Wheeler says has been “aged within an inch of its life.” And we can’t forget about Richie’s (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) transformation from staff T-shirts covered in roast beef grease to tailored suits à la Al Pacino in Heat. Not only is The Bear bringing captivating stories to our TV screens, but it’s also showcasing excellent style. And we have Wheeler to thank for that.

“You start to become obsessed with restaurant details when you are on a show like this. You'll be eating casually with friends or family, and your head is turned towards the kitchen or front of house staff like, ‘Oh, what are they wearing?’ says Wheeler. “It comes from there. It comes from Chicago. Once you get into the shops, it really all comes together. You start having conversations with the actors. We're all on the same page and it just comes really naturally.”

Here we speak with Wheeler about The Bear Season 2’s excellent wardrobe, where she is sourcing certain pieces from, styling the chaotic Christmas dinner episode, and more. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Some people are calling The Bear the most stylish show on television right now. Did you expect that type of reaction or to gain that reputation when you started the show?
That was pretty unexpected. Usually for contemporary television, especially a show that isn't clothes forward like And Just Like That… or Emily in Paris, we never expect to get any attention. So it's still surprising that people are into it. It's really flattering. 

When it comes to planning the wardrobe for each episode, what is your process for that? Are you scouting around Chicago? Are you going to thrift stores and seeing what you can pull? Are you going to restaurants and seeing how some of these people are dressed?
I think it's pretty much all of the above. [Laughs.] You start to become obsessed with restaurant details when you are on a show like this. You'll be eating casually with friends or family, and your head is turned towards the kitchen or front of house staff like, “Oh, what are they wearing?” It’s down to shoes, socks, jewelry, how they roll their sleeves, what accessories they’re adding. Kitchen culture was a really big part of it, looking at what chefs wear from my own research in kitchens, on Instagram, my friends who are personal chefs. Courtney [Storer], who's our culinary producer, is also a big influence.

It comes from there. It comes from Chicago. Once you get into the shops, it really all comes together. You start having conversations with the actors. We're all on the same page and it just comes really naturally. 

Do you ever have ideas in your head and a chef or someone in that world will be like, “Oh, that doesn’t actually make sense”? Are you keeping it that authentic?
Totally. I definitely talked to Courtney [Storer] and Matty Matheson. The kitchen is down;what are they wearing? Could they just wear their street clothes if they're not working? Would they be in their kitchen shoes? Details like that we definitely ask. It's definitely just important to get it as close to someone's experience as possible. Sometimes it's like, “Oh no, they wouldn't be wearing this,” and I'm like, “Okay, fine. Skip it.” I don't get offended by it. 

How much of your personal style gets blended into what we see on the show?
My personal style and preferences bleed through a bit. Chris [Storer] is also in there. But yeah, I absolutely love a vintage T-shirt. I have a collection of vintage tees. The menswear is a lot of Chris, but it's also a lot of me. You learn to speak the language of the characters, but then you're adding your own. If people know me, they'll laugh like, “Oh yeah, that’s all you.” But also the actors inform it too. 

It’s a stylish cast of individuals. How hands-on are they? Are they ever adding their own clothes into it?
That black puffer head scarf Syd wore in Season 2, Episode 3 was Ayo’s. That was her idea. At one point she actually lost it. She had got it from Etsy. We did have to have our wonderful tailor Austin fake one for a scene until we could get it ordered from an Etsy seller in Uzbekistan. Marcus’ green beanie, that was Lionel Boyce’s personal beanie from when he went to Copenhagen to train. He bought that beanie and he bought a pair of “Infrared” Jordans. It made complete sense to me. So we incorporated that. We could not find that beanie anywhere. So that’s his actual beanie. 

I feel like Marcus in particular wears a lot of streetwear throughout the season. He’s tearing apart the restaurant in T-shirts from Drake’s with Aimé Leon Dore and Black Ivy, and Off-White. What's the decision-making process behind some of those T-shirts we see him in?
From Season 1 he wore a lot of graphic T-shirts. A lot of it we tried to buy from local Chicago shops or to shoutout people from Chicago. There's the Off-White for Virgil [Abloh]. We also did a ton of other things from Saint Alfred, Leaders, and Joe Freshgoods. And that was what Marcus’ personal style was inside and outside of The Beef at the time. 

For Season 2 he would slowly mature out of wearing graphic tees outside the restaurant. It's becoming more simple for him as he's starting to hone his focus into the restaurant. In the beginning, while he's tearing it down, he's wearing these T-shirts. He's still in that moment. He's like, “I don't wear this T-shirt anymore, but I'm gonna throw it on to work in it.” Once he gets to Copenhagen, it starts to kind of calm down a bit as he becomes more focused.

In general, for Marcus’ journey we wanted it to still feel like Marcus, but a Marcus who was blocking out the noise. And I think we got there through the clothing by easing back on the graphics and focusing more on the quality. We’re still giving a nod to his love for streetwear with brands like Randy’s, Aimé [Leon Dore], Noah, New Balance, and Nike ACG. 

Syd wears a vintage Chicago Bulls T-shirt and also a vintage Million Woman March T-shirt in Season 2. Can you talk about the reasoning for her wearing each of those and where you sourced them?
They both came from Round Two in Chicago. We actually needed multiples of that Million Woman March T-shirt that we had to get on eBay. We're a show that has food and we're block shooting, so we often need multiples for it. An eBay search is always necessary. The Million Woman March T-shirt, my assistant Lariana and I saw it immediately and were like, “Oh, this is for Syd.” It's something that her mother could have gone to. It's something from her past that she holds onto. She does have this sentimental streak about her family and Chicago. I think that all of her T-shirts show that in a way that Carmy’s do not.

She also wears a few crewnecks that look very DIY with stitching around the collar. Who made those? 
The periwinkle blue short sleeve she wore with the overalls is Bode. The washed black sweatshirt is Rachel Comey, that I had our tailor Austin custom hand stitch. 

I saw people saying how all these characters seem to be struggling financially yet they're all in these very expensive and sometimes rare clothes. Is that decision intentional and meant to signify something, or is that just you suspending reality a bit to have them dressed well in the show?
Well, Sydney's bad with money. That's why she's in the position she's in. [Laughs.] But also in terms of, like, those vintage T-shirts, they're valuable to us now, but a lot of these T-shirts are something that she would've taken from her mother or her father. She did not go out like, “Ooh, I'm gonna go get this T-shirt from Round Two.” It's probably her dad’s from when she was a child. She did not pay the $400 we may have paid for it. [Laughs.] 

Matty’s T-shirts are not expensive at all. Aside from that Million Woman March one, the others aren't that expensive either. It's supposed to come from people having things for a long time. We happen to live in a culture where those T-shirts are cool now. The clothes come from where they come from. You have to find the truth in that character. And it's not necessarily like, “Oh, they must own this jacket,” but it's believable that Syd has spent her money on this jacket. 

In the culinary world, they have great style and they do wear these brands. I find that a lot of chefs do because they're so detail oriented. I think that's really important to show—that they do have this sense of style. We didn't pull it out of nowhere. We know so many people in our lives that are like that. They don't spend it on trips. They don’t spend it on food. They spend their money on the clothes they love.

Toward the end of the season we see Carmy gifts Syd the Thom Browne chef coat. How did that come together?
That was a Chris Storer special. I do think it's truly such a good moment, not only for the show, but for Chris to have that. Chris loves Thom Browne. I think that one of his fancy purchases with his first big writer’s check was a Thom Browne suit. Also his sister Coco wore white Thom Browne shirts in the kitchen. So we brought that to Syd in Season 1. She wears a Thom Browne white button front. In between seasons, Thom Browne created a relationship with Ayo as well as Chris. Chris got them to make Ayo a chef jacket. It was a great full-circle moment for Chris to have, for the show to have with Syd's character, for Carmy to have, because I don't know if you caught that when Carmy was talking about the guy who was creating the pants that he was drawing.

That was Thom Browne, right?

Carmy's style is very classic menswear. J.Crew sweaters, Nike Cortez, white tees. What is his style meant to convey about his personality?
Carmy is a creature of habit and detail, as most chefs are. He doesn’t waste time thinking about what he throws on in the morning, but he cares about fit, quality, and timelessness of his clothes. He’s definitely into good design but doesn’t want to appear fussy. He has his uniform and he’s confident in it. 

 Throwback to Season 1, but can you talk about sourcing Carmy's comprehensive denim collection?
That’s a question for our kickass prop master, Laura Roeper. But I can tell you, even though it’s a blink-and-you-miss-it moment, we did have Carmy in a pair of sick broken-in 1950s Levi’s we got from Knee Deep in Chicago during his scene at home with Claire. 

I also wanted to ask you about Richie. He becomes a suit guy by the end of the season, but we're used to him being in the dingy restaurant T-shirts that he's worn for years. That character progressed so much. How were you able to make that feel natural and such a drastic jump? And what inspired the suit look?
Richie went on a journey this season. During prep Ebon [Moss-Bachrach] and I were emailing back and forth, and during one of the emails he's like, “Richie's inspiration would be the suit that Al Pacino wears in Heat.” The all black. And I was like, “That's perfect.” That's completely Richie. That's completely his idea of being put together and his idea of feeling powerful. The suit is Boss. We played with more expensive and less expensive suits, but this one just happened to be the best fit. And we tried not to do a perfect tailoring job, but Ebon wears a suit well.

We don't want Richie to be a joke. We don't want him to come off as dumb. We want him to feel familiar to you. He has to have some sort of dignity and pride in what he wears, even if it's just a Beef T-shirt. That’s him saying, “This is my history; this is my pride. This is what I love.” 

What is the story being the "Berf" T-shirt?
It was scripted. Everyone thought it was hilarious. My department gave Oliver Platt, who plays Cicero, his very own Berf tee as a wrap gift because he dug it so much. It is indeed a collector’s item.

The wardrobe for Matty's character feels very true to how he dresses in real life. Is he very involved in his wardrobe choices?
When Cristina Spiridakis [the costume designer for the pilot episode] and I had our initial conversation with Matty for the pilot, we all agreed he’d be in workwear. His workwear is actually his own brand, Rosa Rugosa, that we age within an inch of its life. He loves vintage tees and beat-up T-shirts. We wanted to bring that personality to Fak because it was so fitting. A very Matty addition, though, are the hats. The tees and absurd hats are some of my favorite things to hunt for. Outside of the band tees, most of it comes from real places in Chicago like Liar’s Club and Reggies, vintage shops around Chicago like Wild Prairie and Trash, and Fine and Dandy Vintage in New York. 

I also wanted to ask you about the Christmas episode. Can you just talk about costuming that one in particular and making sure to nail that moment with all those personalities onscreen at once?
For Carmy we wanted to show him in a different style than we've seen him in. We wanted to lean a little bit more into streetwear. He was living in a new city and came home for the holidays. He’s more cosmopolitan. We tried a couple pieces. We had the Comme des Garçons PLAY sweater with the heart because we're like, “Carmy would've definitely got one of these,” because everyone was doing that. We had this Palace printed rugby that they were like, “No, absolutely not.” [Laughs.] We ended up doing the Polo rugby that you see. 

Michael's a really straightforward guy. He's putting on an Under Armour shirt, jeans, and his sneakers and calling it a day. Sugar, we wanted her to feel younger because that's how people were treating her—that's how her mom was treating her.

For Jamie [Lee Curtis], mama bear, that was so fun. As soon as I had the meeting with Jamie, we were on the same page of who she was. She would have this gold belt. She would wanna feel kind of put together. But over the course of the episode, she just completely starts to come undone. She's a little bit of a mess. 

The Fak brothers, that was hilarious. The fitting was straight chaos because we did a dual fitting and they're just joking with each other the entire time. Ricky [Staffieri] and Matty are in L.L. Bean plaid, the matching sweaters like their mom bought them this and insisted on them wearing it. 

We had so many people. 

Was it more challenging costuming the Christmas episode because of all the unique characters onscreen at once and some of them being one-off cameos you aren’t working with every day on set?
Definitely. The Christmas episode was nonstop fittings and shopping for about three weeks up until our first shoot day including weekends and a 48-hour trip to LA. I cannot thank my team enough for all their hard work helping to make it happen. From my ACD Lariana, our shopper Vanessa, our tailor, ager/dyer, the PAs, it was all hands on deck. A wild time, but so much fun building these very specific characters with our guest stars who were so down and collaborative

Any other Easter eggs or references in the wardrobe that you personally enjoyed from Season 2? 
I can name my favorite little details on the looks, and I probably won’t get them all because there are so many. Marcus’ Black Ivy tee, Syd’s Art Institute of Chicago Degas Ballerina tee. A lot of the looks from the new characters like Chef Nayia, Connor, and Daniela. We used so many great kitchen workwear brands for them like White Bark, Hedley & Bennett, and Everybody.World. Olivia Colman’s look from Blake Chicago with Calzuro clogs. Tiff’s borrowed robe and Taylor Swift moment. The world of The Bear is opening up, and it brings me so much joy to dress these characters.

Latest in Style