Aidy Bryant sits on a brown leather couch in an overly tchotchke’d apartment in Alphabet City with a voluminous, metallic dress sprawled out around her. Suddenly, eyes wide, she screams — “No!”
She points to the floor, and a small smile spreads across her face: It’s underwear. And lip gloss. Both of which were left by previous occupants of the rental space and had been hiding under furniture, waiting to be discovered as couches and chairs were moved mid-shoot.
Luckily, the actress is known for her good sense of humor. She’s been a castmember and writer on Saturday Night Live since 2012, and masterfully mixes comedy with serious subjects — be it abortion, fat shaming, the cult-like nature of women’s networking events, or crappy romantic relationships — on her Hulu series Shrill, which returned for a second season in January.
As any Shrill fan will tell you, the show is full of enviable outfits, particularly those worn by Bryant’s character, Annie Easton. We continue to daydream about Season 1’s multi-colored, sequined minidress, and practically screamed when she showed up at a ‘70s-themed party in Season 2, wearing a fitted floral design with ruffled yellow sleeves and a tiny green bow. In real life, Byrant’s style isn’t too shabby, either. She’s often spotted in floral, feminine mid-length dresses, and just like Annie, her looks refuse to be ignored. There are always details that beg us to take a closer look — a hint of sparkle, balloon sleeves, pink platform heels, or sometimes, all three.
“I definitely had really strong feelings about the clothes going into it,” she says, speaking about Annie’s Gossip-Girl-meets-New-Girl fashion choices, which we don’t often see on plus-size characters. “I remember lots of conversations, even with the network, about the clothes — what we wanted to say or not say. I had hoped there would be some response, because I still feel like, with as much progress that has been made in the plus-size market, the breadth of choice is really not there.”
In many ways, Annie’s wardrobe is what it is because of Bryant’s personal experience with shopping.
“I could probably name on 10 fingers the big places you can shop, and even then, it's just... it's complicated. You're still having to hunt, in a way, for anything that's different. I go to events all the fucking time — all kinds of red carpets — and the sheer quantity of outfits that I need just to exist as a person in this industry...you can't keep up, you know?”
A quick scan of Bryant’s Instagram shows that she has her go-to brands — she favors Batsheva and Rhode, and wore custom Sandy Liang to the 2019 Emmys — but the star wishes there were more options.
“If I do 30 press appearances for Shrill, I’ve probably burned through all the cool plus-size options there are. That kind of stuff just isn't happening for my slim co-stars. So with the clothes [on the show], I was hoping to just be like, ‘Look what you could do.’”
What, exactly, could the industry do? Um, everything. Annie and her roommate, Fran (played by Lolly Adefope), both have extensive wardrobes. In any given episode, it’s not uncommon to spot the pair wearing collared babydoll dresses, heart-nippled bras, vibrantly-colored jumpsuits, or button-up shirts with quirky cartoon graphics. That’s all due to frequent brainstorms between Bryant and the show’s costume designer, Amanda Needham, who previously worked on Portlandia and FX’s Baskets.
“We're constantly sending each other pictures, and every season, I’ll send her a mood board of ideas because I have a sense of the episodes,” Bryant says. “Like, ‘Oh, here's an idea for the roller rink party.’ Over the two summers we've spent together, we’ll hang out a lot, so I'll go to the bar or whatever and she'll be like, ‘What is this dress?’ And I'll say, ‘Oh, it's something my stylist and I made.’ And she’s like, ‘This is what we have to use.’”
So, if you’ve spent time wondering where Annie — a Portland-based journalist with presumably little expendable income — might be shopping for her disco dresses and puff-sleeved pieces, the truth is that Bryant and her team were dreaming up those designs and making them from scratch. The fact that Annie’s wardrobe isn’t replicable in real life is kind of the point.
“Initially, I felt strongly, like, ‘Ok, I want these to all be things that exist and things that she could afford,’” she admits. “Then, pretty quickly, I was like, you know, this is a real opportunity to have a plus-size lead who is dressed equally as cool and with as much style as every lead, on every TV show, on every channel for years. So that, yes, we could have done something where my character only is wearing Forever 21 Plus and all that stuff. Or, we had an opportunity to make an impression and create someone who could exist if fashion would meet that [need].”
Bryant herself has had a hand in improving the industry’s offerings for women sizes 12 to 28. Last year, she launched her own clothing line, Pauline, the first drop of which consisted of three plaid and striped shirt dresses that are now sold out on the brand’s website, although Annie herself had the change to wear one in an episode of Shrill. However, Bryant says the show didn’t pave the way for her launching the line.
“I truly started working on it two years ago, before Shrill was even a thing,” she says. “My friend who's a stylist, two of my friends who are designers, and my assistant — we kind of just whipped it up. It's taken a while because I've been extremely busy with two very full-time jobs. But I never felt like ‘Okay, I'm trying to start my own Target.’ I was just like, ‘Oh, this would be a fun thing to do. Let's do it.’”
If launching a whole line sounds more like work than fun, it makes sense considering Bryant enjoys mixing the two and often recruits her pals into her many projects. When we visited the set of Shrill, we were pleasantly surprised to spot former SNL cast member Vanessa Bayer playing the leader of a feminist empowerment conference. They were filming episode six, WAHAM, which was directed by Natasha Lyonne.
“It's just such a treat to be the boss and be like, ‘Can we have this friend come and that friend come?’” Bryant says. The same held true when it was time to staff our shoot; Bryant brought in her close friend and stylist, Rebecca Grice, to choose the colorful, poufy outfits she wears in the photos. Even while admittedly tired due to her rigorous schedule (“I'm doing Shrill press before I go to work at SNL, so I'm kind of always double dipping,” she explains) she perked up with each wardrobe change. Perusing a rack of whimsical dresses — from a yellow, polka-dotted Carolina Herrera design to the aforementioned metallic maxi by Christopher John Rodgers — she once again was ready to prove the power of fashion.
“I mean, that's definitely not how I dress day to day,” Bryant says later on. “But, I really do like to have fun with clothes. A lot of the time, it's the thing you're wearing all day or all night, so it might as well make you happy.” And as she's showing with her work on Shrill, and these very photos, the right look doesn't just shift your mood — it can help shift the whole industry.
Photographs by Emily Soto. Hair by Joseph Maine. Makeup by Cassandra Garcia. Styled by Rebecca Grice, assisted by Malcolm Hall. Art direction and production by Kelly Chiello, assisted by Erin Glover.