The only thing Billions takes more seriously than making and closing deals is how flashily — and intentionally — the Axe Capital quants layer for their sleek windowed office. A fleece vest is the de facto uniform for a certain type of Wall Street worker, and it’s their most important wealth signifier. To hear Billions costume designer Eric Daman tell it: “The Scots have different plaids that their families are associated with. The Irish have fisherman sweaters worn according to their clans. The finance guys have their polar fleece vests with their company logo on it. You would think that these billionaires would be like, I’m not wearing this shitty fleece vest. But they have a pride in it.”
It cannot be overstated that I never, at any point, have a clue what is technically going on in the Billions-verse. Money! Trades! The Southern District of New York! But I do know a lot about gossiping and have spent enough time on New York City-area dating apps to know this to be true: There are few things more important to someone who works on Wall Street (ditto Silicon Valley) than the shapeless, muted-color fleece vests these people wear, the ones with their firm’s logo stitched on one side of the chest, the ones that look deeply and importantly unattractive. So: Here’s absolutely everything you (probably did not, frankly) need to know about how the Billions costume designer picks out all of the show’s trademark outerwear for Axe Capital’s traders.
So, I really just want to hear all about the Billions vests.
The vests themselves are part of that whole culture. It’s a very authentic element that we wanted to stay true to. I feel like these guys, especially the up-and-comers really take such pride in wearing them. It’s almost a tribal thing. The Wall Street guys all wear these vests, and have such pride in being part of the firm that they’re with. Especially if you’re in a firm such as Axe Cap that’s so successful, one that’s like the best one on the block, you really want to be able to show that off.
In designing for Billions, were you surprised by how seriously people in that industry take the vests?
It’s really incredible how the interest has taken off. Every time I go out on the streets, I’ve been seeing all these people in these vests. It’s almost started this odd trend. It was maybe happening already with Patagonia and that ‘90s sportswear fleece thing coming back into style. As far as it goes for the investment firms, in the real world they’re more like your average Lands’ End vest. Whereas, at Axe Cap, you up the ante. It’s Billions so everything needs to be up to snuff. We updated these vests to much more streamlined, almost designer quality. I also feel like the champion of these vests on the show is Dollar Bill.
Dollar Bill is my favorite character. How did you pick out his vest?
He is someone who’s quite thrifty. We wanted him to feel like he shops at a Lands’ End outlet. He doesn’t want to spend money on clothes. It’s like a whole thing that he’s kind of cheap, which is why his name is Dollar Bill. Of course he still wears his Axe Cap vest, while some of the other guys wear a little bit fancier vests, like Ralph Lauren. But Dollar Bill, because of his pride and his loyalty to Axe and his thriftiness, stays true to that quintessential Axe Cap vest.
Do you know if it’s actually cold in these offices? I’m wondering if the vests are just an aesthetic choice or do they actually need to stay warm.
I come from Gossip Girl and Sex and the City and women’s high fashion. I had to learn all about the intense men’s finance world. In these offices, they keep the temperature very, very low. The offices are air-conditioned intensely so the guys stay on edge. When you go in, you see all these guys and they’re not just sitting there in T-shirts. Everyone pretty much has a layer on because of the temperature.
Other characters, like Ben Kim and Everett Wright, wear different outerwear than the classic fleece vest. How did you make those selections?
It goes into character differentiation. For Everett, we wanted to have him have a little bit more of an elevated urban look. Bring in the Ralph Lauren and higher designer pieces, but still feel like he’s part of that vest world. He’ll throw on an Axe Cap vest every now and then, but he was hired outside and brought in, so we wanted to have him be a little bit of a different visual element. He wears more of the quilted, higher-end, Barbour-type vest.
And Ben Kim? It seems like he always finishes his outfit with some kind of bomber.
Yes, the bomber jacket. Ben is a little quieter. I didn’t want to keep him in these blacks and greys, and also not quite so Axe Cap-centric. He’s more tech-savvy, maybe a little bit of a nod to a West Coast, Silicon Valley vibe. The bombers make him a little bit more of a standout.
Did you spend time in a real hedge fund to get a feel for how these characters would dress and move?
I did. I went to two different ones. I’m not allowed to say which companies I went to, but I had two friends that worked at different companies and I got to go and hang out for a bit. In the same way that, when I was prepping for Gossip Girl, I would briefly hang around Chapin and watch the girls come out of school to see what clothes they were wearing. The feeling is almost as a stalker, because you’re not part of the world but just an observer. It really informed a lot of my decisions as far as what those worlds are and how we can give it a little bit of a television veneer.
Do you think these vests are ugly, just according to your own personal taste?
When I first came into Billions, I was almost offended by them. The vests were such a broyo part of it all, just not where I was coming from. A kind of frat boy terrible fleece vest? I just had to wrestle with a little bit. Cut to three years later, and my boyfriend has an Axe Cap vest. I think it’s really sexy when he wears it!