'Saturday Night Live' Costume Designer Tom Broecker Talks the Show's Most Iconic Outfits

When Saturday Night Live airs Saturday night, costume designer Tom Broecker will be sitting at his desk next to Lorne Michaels, just in case any last-minute changes need to be made. “Sometimes I worry the Velcro is going to pop off or we have to glue everything on, and I’m thinking oh my god, just make it stay for five minutes,” Broecker tells me.

Having served up the wardrobe adjustments right up until showtime at 11:30 p.m. for 278 episodes, Broecker knows how deliver on the fly. “My job is to never say no and figure out how to make it happen,” he says.

Broecker took over as the costume designer for SNL in 1994 when he was fresh out of Yale School of Drama, where he admits he wasn’t good enough to make it as a dancer and had to work hard at being a student. So he took assistant design gigs instead, and lately the high-profile projects have steadily rolled in.

Counted among his credits as a costume designer include 30 Rock, House of Cards, Girl Most Likely, Joyful Noise, and Broadway shows Race and Everyday Rapture. He’s currently fixing his gaze on the characters of Amanda Peet’s play The Commons of Pensacola starring Blythe Danner and Sarah Jessica Parker, which opens in late October. Here, he shares secrets about some of the late night behemoth's most iconic costumes ahead of the show's 39th season premiere Saturday night.

by Ashley Hoffman

A new era

The 39th season of SNL premieres with a ripe new set of comedians mostly plucked from Upright Citizens Brigade theaters in New York and Los Angeles. Broecker, who has been the costume designer for more than half the show’s existence, recently took each newcomer’s measurements and is warming up to the idea of new faces on set.

“I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m not going to like these people,’ but I got their vibe fitting them and they’re all super nice,” he says. Parting with his beloved cast members when they graduate from SNL hasn’t been easy. “I get very attached to my girls. There was Molly [Shannon], Cheri [Oteri], Ana [Gasteyer], Tina [Fey], Amy [Poehler], and Maya [Rudolph], which then led to Kristen [Wiig], and she was the last of my love affairs with my comedy girls.”

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Dressing Tina Fey

On 30 Rock, Broecker kept Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon in blazers and jeans. Even though the disheveled writer famously taped her bra together, Broecker still had to make her polished enough for TV. “We’re not doing the documentary of 30 Rock," he says. "She has to have pretty hair and makeup. You can make someone sloppy with a hoodie and jeans and then when she really gets dressed up we have to go for it."

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Working With Kristin Wiig

“Kristen’s an amazing collaborator with such a good sense of a character. I’ve worked with her for so long, we came up with a shorthand," Broecker says. For Kristen Wiig’s freak out-prone surprise lady character, Broecker gave her long sleeves so she could safely crash through the stage glass.

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Listening to Lorne Michaels

On the night Jennifer Lawrence hosted SNL, Michaels vetoed everyday suits and blouses in favor of the futuristic uniforms and big hair from Hunger Games for a press corps sketch. “You have to be able to throw everything out, he says. "It keeps you thinking and moving forward. There are times when I’m running down the hallway with dresses making changes. In those moments, I feel like Holly Hunter in Broadcast News.”

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Making a Superstar

Among the most iconic characters he’s outfitted, there was the hyper, oversharing Mary Catherine Gallagher played by Molly Shannon. “[Shannon] kept saying, 'no, shorter skirt! No, shorter! Shorter! I was like, 'you want to go shorter? Okay.' Then I got really worried about what kind of underwear she would need because of all the falls,” he recalls candidly. “Molly would go to a place where she was out there in front of a live audience and forget to take care of her exposed body.” After watching Shannon hurl herself at walls, Broecker decided she needed protection and added neoprene padding to the outfit to shield her backbone and ribs.

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Dressing Ana Gasteyer

It was a dress from Broecker’s mother’s closet that Ana Gasteyer shimmied in when she sang operatic versions of DMX’s “Party Up” as Marty Mohan-Culp alongside husband Bobbi Culp (Will Ferrell) at high school assemblies. Broecker took the patterned dress into his custody over the holidays in Indiana. “I’m going to take this,” he told his mother. “I think I might be able to use this someday.”

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It's not always easy

When tasked with recreating this rendition of Madonna’s Super Bowl costume in all its gilded glory, he didn’t know how he’d pull it off. “That was pretty scary to recreate. All of that stuff was custom-made for her and most of that was high, high, high Givenchy fashion and we had three days,” he says. “I talked to the person who was one of the assistants for Madonna’s costume and said, ‘You have to tell me what you did.’ She said, ‘We’ve been working on it for six months’ and I said, 'Well, that doesn’t help me.' I have no idea how we pulled that off.”

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Cupcakes and Cherry Pies

The weekly challenge of SNL has given him a sense of confidence. “It allows you to know you always have the ability to create, that it’s not luck,” he says. At this point in his career, he still has artistic flexibility. “I’d like to do more of those sort of shows with the ability to tell a story over a long period of time,” he says. “I might open a cupcake shop and make cherry pies. I also thought about going into academics.”

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