Before picking out a single item of clothing, costume designer Dana Covarrubias likes to get inside the heads of her characters. She starts by searching through the script for clues that will help her understand their psychology. Then she creates a sketch of where they’re at mentally and emotionally. In some ways, her process, which she attributes to a past life as a theater kid, is not unlike how a true-crime podcaster might put together a profile of possible suspects. It’s a fitting analogy for her latest gig on Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building, a comedy starring Selena Gomez, Martin Short, and Steve Martin as true-crime-obsessed neighbors who start a podcast in hopes of solving a recent murder in their building.
The series is a delightful send-up of true-crime obsessives filled with many worthwhile twists and turns. The costumes evoke a classic fall–in–New York aesthetic, modeled by a trio of stylish loners who first find solace, then companionship, in true-crime podcasting. Their shared loneliness is obvious from the jump, but as Covarrubias got further into the series, she found clues as to how isolation found its way into their closets. Former TV star Charles-Haden Savage (Martin) is obsessed with repetition (see his sad-omelet ritual), so he’s “the kind of guy who wants to wear the same thing essentially every day,” she tells Vulture. Aspiring interior decorator Mabel Mora (Gomez) is hiding something big, which is why she “uses her clothing as armor.” And Oliver Putnam (Short), a struggling theater director, has a bit of P.T. Barnum in him: He may not be the greatest showman, but “he knows how to get what he wants and uses his clothing to do it.”
The costumer (who also works on Ramy and Master of None) found inspiration in New York City architecture, Brooklyn street style, and the rich color palette of The Hardy Boys covers featured in early episodes. Alfred Hitchcock movies including Rear Window also influenced the show’s style as well as Technicolor neo-noirs like The Big Lebowski, Clue, and So I Married an Axe Murderer. The stars’ offscreen fashion shaped the looks for their onscreen personas, too. (Mabel’s big hoops are a nod to Gomez’s signature accessory.) And Covarrubias’s own closet became a source of inspiration in the case of Mabel’s incredible pilot ’fit.
Over the course of ten episodes, the clothes in Only Murders in the Building, a mix of high-fashion pieces and thrift-store finds, offer important clues that won’t exactly help you solve its murder mystery — though Covarrubias suggests you keep a close eye on Tie-Dye Guy (or possibly Guys) — but will act as a bellwether for how Mabel, Oliver, and Charles are doing emotionally. “As the season goes on, we have them wearing more vulnerable things,” namely softer knits and streamlined silhouettes, she says. And the trio still has a lot of emotional baggage to unpack, which is why Covarrubias is excited for season two. But first, she shares the stories behind her favorite looks.
Mabel’s Memorable Intro
Mabel is someone who stands out even if she doesn’t quite fit in, which means the first time viewers met her, her outfit “needed to pop on-camera so you really are like, Who is this woman?” Covarrubias says. A Michael Kors marigold faux-fur coat paired with a yellow sweater and pair of plaid pants, both vintage, certainly does the trick.
The look was inspired by something Covarrubias once wore herself. In her first conversation with co-creator John Hoffman, he mentioned a photo he had seen of her on her website: “He was like, ‘I just love that look — it’s so quintessential New York. That’s a look I could see Mabel wearing.’” In the photo, taken while shopping in Soho, she wears an oversize neon-green-lined teddy-bear coat, a black beanie, and a pair of vintage camo-print pants. From there, Covarrubias decided Mabel was “the kind of girl who could walk into a thrift store and find five pieces that are amazing.” (The cozy confetti sweater Mabel wears in the opening of episode two as well as episode three’s paint-splattered coveralls — which the costume team painted in-house to look more worn in — are the costumer’s favorite vintage finds. Gomez liked the latter so much she allegedly took them home with her, Covarrubias remembers.)
The jacket’s sunny color was a nod to Covarrubias and Gomez’s shared heritage; both are half-Mexican from Texas. In Mexican tradition, marigolds are the “flower of the dead,” placed on graves on Día de Muertos (“Day of the Dead”) to help the departed find their way back home. But just like brightly colored snakes that are extremely poisonous, the yellow-orange shade offers an important warning: Watch out. She’s dangerous.
Oliver’s Royal Entrance
“Do you not see this coat?” Oliver yells after nearly getting hit by a taxi while daydreaming in the pilot. In his defense, it’s hard to believe anyone could miss that royal-purple Haider Ackermann coat. “It looks like a color a king would wear,” Covarrubias says of the hue “not every man would wear” but that somehow fits Short just perfectly. After trying on nearly 50 different coats, including “giant faux furs in bright pink,” she felt the Grimace-colored outerwear really let Short shine in his big intro. “I don’t know how Marty’s moving like a child when he’s this age,” she says of the 71-year-old comedian, “but he has so much energy and is so expressive.”
Before the near hit-and-run, she imagined that Oliver had come from a meeting with someone he wanted to impress and the high-end coat was the nicest thing he owned. Later, when looking for a loan from his son, he sells his pauper status in an Old Navy sweater. She loved the idea that Oliver was someone who dressed for every occasion, cycling through three or four outfits per episode. Soon, he became her favorite character to dress, in no small part because Short, who “dresses really cool in his personal life,” was so much fun to collaborate with.
During one of their early fittings together, the two decided Oliver was obsessed with Timothée Chalamet and wanted to dress like him. “We would hold up a piece of clothing and say, ‘Would Timothée wear this?’” she says. The most Timmy look they found was a colorful dove-patterned shirt from Loewe, a brand Chalamet had worn before. She went full hypebeast, pairing it with a burgundy-and-gray gingham-checked Suitsupply suit and brown-and-white spectator oxfords. The pièce de résistance was the choice to leave the shirt’s pussy bow untied: “When he put that on, I was like, This is very Chalamet.”
The Brazzos Style Edit
Charles found stardom as Brazzos, a cynical ’90s TV detective who wore long brown leather coats and wide ties. Three decades later, Charles dresses like the modern interpretation of his character, who isn’t Kojak but isn’t exactly a style icon either. “His clothes are his security blanket,” Covarrubias says, which is why she decided Charles sticks to a formula when he gets dressed. He has six button-ups, most of which are in varying shades of blue. He has six sweaters that are “all crewneck from either J.Crew, Theory, or Paul Smith.” He has five pairs of shoes, “all Cole Haan,” and often tops off his look with a hat, all of which are stingy-brim fedoras.
Choosing the right hat took time. She knew it couldn’t be a porkpie hat: “Too Walt from Breaking Bad.” Luckily, Martin suggested some brands he likes (Broner, Goorin Bros.). She admits that Martin’s own clothes differ very little from what Charles wears. “They’re probably a little more uniform than what Steve wears,” she says, but really just a little bit.
The trio’s initial suspect is a man Charles sees darting up the stairs in a tie-dyed hoodie as the Arconia’s residents flee for an unscheduled fire drill in the pilot. (It’s during that mass exodus that Tim Kono is killed.) The trendy piece was written in in the original script, but finding the right sweatshirt took a little sleuthing. “I don’t want to give too much away, but we knew that in the future, we were going to need a lot of them,” she says. This ruled out dyeing them herself since re-creating the same DIY tie-dyed pattern in bulk would be nearly impossible. Once she started looking for a hoodie, she found “maybe 20 different options” but ultimately chose one from Ragstock that was “bright enough to stand out in the stairwell,” she says. There were other factors that led to picking that particular sweatshirt, “but I can’t give too many details about that,” she teases.
What we do know is that OG Hardy Boy Oscar Torres (Aaron Dominguez) is revealed to be Tie-Dye Guy in episode five. We also know that tie-dyed look pops up again in the show’s bloody opening scene set two months in the future. Still, the fledgling Trap Yoga instructor’s new drip was tailored for the midseason reveal: Covarrubias’s team chopped off the existing hood and built its own that was wider and extended down further in order to conceal Oscar’s face. An effective fashion hack, indeed.
The Slogan Sweater
The first-chair bassoonist, played by Amy Ryan, is sexy and she knows it. But a shirt emblazoned with a mildly dirty joke — “The only thing sexier than a bassoon … is me with a bassoon” — lets the rest of the world know it. The visual gag was already in the script, so Covarrubias custom-made Jan’s top for the show. “We had the idea to put it on that black cashmere sweater with ruffled shoulders,” she says, because it “fit her quirky-sophistication vibe better than a T-shirt.” Pairing it with knee-high suede White House Black Market boots, an oversize tan-and-black plaid wool coat from Hobbs, and a white CeCe blouse with a ruffled mandarin collar really is the epitome of horny class.
Everyone on Only Murders in the Building seems to have a closetful of statement coats, but one of Covarrubias’s favorites is the Sies Marjan teddy-bear coat Mabel wears throughout episode five. (Other contenders include Mabel’s oxblood faux-leather trench from ASOS in episode four and Oliver’s red tweed Alessandro Dell’Acqua coat from episode five.)
The umber-colored fleece is “priceless,” according to Oscar, and Covarrubias considered the overcoat a signature piece for Mabel. It was tempting to “go full Billie Eilish” with the big, big fit, but Covarrubias knew something too loud would “look a little too strange standing next to Steve and Marty.” In the end, she chose a coat that was both classic and cool, just like Mabel.
Lest we forget, she is a born and raised Long Islander, so as a cheeky homage to her hometown of Bayport, Covarrubias replaced the original lining of the coat, which was a too-noisy fabric, with a “nice little cat print.” Certainly better than getting saggy-bottom balls in Sag Harbor.