behind the seams

How The Bear Injected Personality Into the Standard Kitchen Uniform

Photo: FX

Cristina Spiridakis and Courtney Wheeler knew exactly what the Original Beef of Chicagoland uniform needed to look like: white shirt, black pants, and comfortable shoes. “That’s a real thing we saw in kitchens,” Spiridakis said. “It’s not a concept we invented.” For FX on Hulu’s word-of-mouth hit The Bear, which follows the kitchen staff of an Italian beef joint rocked by tragedy, the costume-design duo (Spiridakis designed for the pilot and Wheeler took on episodes two through eight) toured Chicago’s West Loop, popping into the kitchens of trendy restaurants like Proxi, Girl and the Goat, Au Cheval, and Avec to understand what real kitchen employees wear to work. They also spent time at Mr. Beef on Orleans in River North, which served as both inspiration and a filming location for the series.

The Bear employs overlapping dialogue, shaky camerawork, and brisk editing to evoke the intensity of a professional kitchen, and the costume team prioritized function to emphasize that sense of realism. Spiridakis even vetted shoes with a friend who owns a Brooklyn restaurant. “I sent her an option and asked, ‘Would you wear this in the kitchen?’ She said, ‘One hundred percent no,’ and pointed out three reasons why,” Spiridakis remembers. “The practical safety of our actors was a high priority.” Conveying personality was just as important; the costumers injected individual flair into each character’s wardrobe, collaborating with the actors to find details that enhanced their backstories and arcs without distracting from the narrative. “It’s about giving the actor the best embodiment of their character,” said Spiridakis, “so that once they step out of their trailer, they don’t think about their costume again.”

Carmy’s Sex Appeal

Photo: FX/Copyright 2022, FX Networks. All rights reserved.

A young fine-dining-trained chef (Jeremy Allen White) who returns to Chicago to run his family’s sandwich shop after his brother Michael’s (Jon Bernthal) death by suicide, Carmy is rarely seen out of that kitchen-staple white tee. But it couldn’t be just any shirt: “Carmy comes from a place in the fine-dining world where you have to care about how you present yourself. He’s not just wearing a white undershirt,” Wheeler said. The designers set out to find the most structured and well-fitting T-shirt possible, settling on a heavy cotton tee from German company Merz b. Schwanen, which they shortened to fit White’s stature. Production bought all the white shirts they could find from the brand, and as a backup, Wheeler purchased Sugar Cane by Hinoya T-shirts that were “very heavy and have a thickness.” What they didn’t bank on was the costume becoming a star in its own right. “I had no idea that by finding the hottest white T-shirt possible Jeremy would become some kind of sex symbol,” Spiridakis joked. “I get ten DMs a day about this T-shirt.”

Early in the show, Carmy is hell-bent on instituting a kitchen system that borrows heavily from French cooking to bring some organization to the Beef’s disorder, and the staff is most resistant to one item in particular: a blue apron. An established baseline in the restaurant world, the blue apron originated at famed Napa Valley restaurant the French Laundry, though some restaurants opt for a different color. (Fun fact: The meal-prep company Blue Apron is named after this tradition.) Sourcing the aprons was a project in itself, and Spiridakis and Wheeler ended up purchasing a batch of French Laundry aprons that had a supposed defect for the show. “They told us the shade of blue was off and wasn’t good enough to go to the French Laundry,” Spiridakis said, but when the costume team got their hands on them, they couldn’t discern any discrepancies. “They sold us ones that they considered imperfect, but they were beautiful,” she added. (White told Vulture he credits the uniform for his newfound sex appeal: “Chefs are hot.”)

It was also important for the costumers to communicate Carmy’s mental state before and after his brother’s death. In the flashback that begins episode six, Carmy is noticeably not in uniform. “It’s one of the only times we don’t see Carmy in a white T-shirt,” Wheeler said of the scene of Carmy prepping dinner with Michael, his sister Sugar (Abby Elliott), and “cousin”-but-not Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). Wheeler dressed White in a gray long-sleeved henley to signal relaxed, happier times for the family. “We wanted to set the tone of warmth and familiarity,” she said. “Michael is cooking this meal every Sunday, and maybe the Bears game is on. It’s about who these people were at this time and who they are together.”

As for Carmy’s denim obsession from the pilot? That detail was orchestrated by the props and set-dressing departments. “Initially it was sneakers in the early drafts. We were part of the conversation to identify something he would understand coming from his world,” Spiridakis recalled. “It signified that Carmy is cool, that he knows what sells for big money right now.”

Sydney’s Mood

Photo: Frank Ockenfels/FX

Fresh off a failed catering business, eventual sous-chef Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) arrives at the Beef determined to help Carmy turn it into something bigger. The bandana on her head is as much a function of practicality as it is personality. “It was a matter of what she can control in the environment,” Wheeler said. “The choice of picking out a bandana for the day is what makes Sydney feel good because she constantly feels at the mercy of the world.”

Wheeler would narrow the options down to three or four bandanas before handing the reins to Edebiri, who chose the specific color and pattern based on the episode or scene at hand and how she felt that day. “It’s ultimately to a designer and show’s detriment to not listen to the actor,” Spiridakis said. “If they’re not happy or they don’t think they look good, you’re not going to get a good performance.” While Sydney sports bandanas of many different patterns (including an orange-and-green fish design, a multicolored sun pattern, and an abstract hands-with-eyes design), those details weren’t always the most important. “It’s a matter of mood and color and how the actors internalized their character,” Wheeler added.

Marcus’s Method

Photo: FX

Fan-favorite Marcus (Lionel Boyce) won hearts with his commitment to the craft of baking and his pleasant presence in the kitchen. Boyce went method to embody the amateur pâtissier, journeying to Copenhagen after filming the pilot to train with British baker Richard Hart. “He had already worn a beanie for the pilot, but when he came back, he was super attached to a pair of sneakers and the beanie,” Wheeler remembered. She gave Boyce two options for headwear and found he naturally gravitated toward teal. “It was his favorite color but also was what he wore when he went to study pastry-making,” she said. Though covering one’s head with winter gear in a sweaty kitchen may seem uncomfortable, it wasn’t a factor for Boyce. “That was a conversation for, like, a minute,” Spiridakis said. “But we went into kitchens and saw that they wore beanies and baseball caps everywhere.”

Richie’s Tradition

Photo: FX/Copyright 2022, FX Networks. All rights reserved.

Michael’s loudmouth best friend Richie chafes at every decision Carmy makes and wears the Beef’s logo everywhere. Branded T-shirts, long sleeves, and baseball raglans are all part of his wardrobe, along with a wedding ring that’s a vestige of his broken marriage. Wheeler and Spiridakis wanted to ensure his entire look reflected the state of arrested development we find him in after his best friend’s death. “It was important to ground Richie in the restaurant. He’s a very nostalgic character who is stuck reminiscing about his golden age,” Wheeler says. “The fact that he was there before Carmy, when Michael was there, was the birth of him wearing ‘Beef’ T-shirts,” Spiridakis added. “He’s trying to prove that he is this establishment.”

In the minds of the costume designers, Richie’s look was an evolution. In later episodes of the first season, flashbacks of Michael show his attire is eerily similar to what Richie wears in the present day. While Michael recounts a lively tale of their drunken escapades, Richie sits atop a kitchen counter wearing a “Chicago tracksuit,” as Wheeler describes his gray-and-maroon sweatsuit, noticeably more carefree than he is in the present. After Michael’s death, Richie tries to step into his role, knowingly or not. “He comes from a place of love,” Wheeler said, but he’s also trying to prove a point to Carmy: “This is my house.”

Tina’s Statement

Photo: FX

Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas), the Beef’s long-standing line chef, is a tough woman who initially pretends not to know English as a way to freeze out newcomers like Sydney. Her rebellious streak continues when she refuses to let go of her “Mrs. Always Right” apron after Carmy instates the blue-apron rule. Spiridakis found Tina’s apron on Amazon and included it to represent the hodgepodge business Michael was running. “It’s Tina’s house as much as it’s Richie’s,” Spiridakis said. “‘Mrs. Always Right’ is who she is.”

Ebraheim’s Memories

Photo: FX

Another line cook at the Beef, Ebraheim’s signature brings some flair to the kitchen. “I was looking for these particular short-sleeved shirts with patterns that feel like something he’s had for a while and something that means a lot to him,” Wheeler said. She worked closely with actor Edwin Lee Gibson, who latched onto the idea that the patterned shirts are a relic of his character’s home country and a part of him he’d want to keep alive through his everyday attire. (FX declined to specify Ebraheim’s home country, with a representative telling Vulture, “Producers would like to keep that detail a bit mysterious, as they’re hoping to explore it further next season.”)

Neil’s Local Flavor

Photo: FX

Not quite an employee but still part of the family, handyman Neil, played by The Bear co-producer and real-life chef Matty Matheson, is part of the revolving door of close friends and family who treat the Beef as home base. Spiridakis incorporated Matheson’s newly developed workwear line into the pilot, ordering navy and green sets she had professionally worn down to give them a lived-in look that matched Neil’s rugged, jack-of-all-trades persona. Through the rest of the season, Neil is often wearing graphic tees from Chicago hard-core bands, breweries, and other local touchpoints, which Spiridakis and Wheeler sourced from vintage stores in the area. “It speaks to him being the local friend who loves to pay tribute to the bands and places he loves,” Wheeler said. Spiridakis added, “It sets him apart because he doesn’t work there. He’s just there all the time and is part of the team but not.”

How The Bear Injected Personality Into the Kitchen Uniform