“I got it all picked out. I gotta look nice for the baby,” George Jones (Michael Shannon) says as he scrambles to find the right tie to go with his avocado-green striped button-down. Considering his wife, Tammy Wynette (Jessica Chastain), has just gone into labor, it is easy to understand why she doesn’t share George’s panic at this fashion emergency.
Several events showcasing George’s keen eye for sartorial details occur in the third episode of Showtime’s electrifying limited series George & Tammy, which chronicles the roller-coaster love story and decades-long collaboration of the legendary country singers behind hits like “Stand by Your Man” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
It doesn’t matter if it is a newborn who doesn’t care what he is wearing (“my baby will,” he sincerely responds) or fans at a landmark Las Vegas performance he’s trying to impress. Country music superstar George Jones knows clothing has power when crafting an image.
“Why hasn’t this man gotten the credit yet?” George & Tammy costume designer Mitchell Travers tells The Daily Beast’s Obsessed. “Because people are obsessed with Sinatra, Elvis, and all of these other men who had their own signature look at the time. I’m like, ‘Where are the George Jones tribute collections?”
By Sunday night’s episode of the series, George has already lit up the stage in rhinestones, sported bold plaid pants, and worn an eye-catching cornflower blue suit with a matching turtleneck. Whether he’s dipping his toes in the trend of monochromatic styling or getting fitted for an iconic Nudie suit, the show proves that he deserves the same reverence as those celebrated stars. “He cared about clothes. As my job is to get him dressed, I love somebody who cares about clothes,” Travers says.
Travers, creator Abe Sylvia, and Chastain previously collaborated on The Eyes of Tammy Faye (for which Chastain won an Oscar earlier this year), but this is not a case of retreading Tammy ground.
“In a lot of ways, I had to flip my perspective. Where the attention to detail and silhouette difference and all that stuff traditionally gets put towards your leading lady, George had to occupy that space for my brain,” says Travers. “It was a great balance to strike between George and Tammy to understand when is this a George moment and when is this Tammy moment.”
Adapted from Georgette Jones’s memoir, The Three of Us: Growing Up with Tammy and George, George & Tammy charts the rise and fall (and rise again) of the couple both at home and in the spotlight. This journey lasted four decades, propelling Wynette to fame and introducing new fans to the wild man of country music. “There was a lot of love for George and Tammy and a lot of people who wanted to see us get it right,” Travers says about the friends and family who wanted to share previously unheard anecdotes and photographs.
Insights from people who dressed Wynette in the ’90s or worked in Nudie’s when Jones went on a shopping spree gave Travers something tangible to latch onto beyond readily available archival footage. Friends like Peanutt and Charlene Montgomery (played by Walton Goggins and Kate Arrington in the series) are instrumental to understanding George’s impulsiveness. “With George, you never knew what the day would turn into, so they had go bags packed just in case,” Travers says. One bag would have “a warm coat and quilted lined pants,” and the other would include “a bathing suit and a snorkel.”
George’s avoidance is shown in the episode “We’re Gonna Hold On,” when he chooses to get wasted instead of flying to Las Vegas as scheduled. Alcohol is at the heart of a story shared with Travers by a man who interned at Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors in the ’70s.
“He was able to recount a story for me where George came in on a bit of a bender and ordered 30 of the same suit [in different fabric],” says Travers. Who knows what he would’ve purchased if he’d had access to online shopping at the height of his boozing? For Travers, details like this proved invaluable in bringing George to life in this adaptation. “Somebody willing to come in and throw down on 30 of the same exact suit, flipping through a book of fabric saying this one, this one, this one, this one.”
In his research, Travers spotted these suits in “red, turquoise, glen plaid, checker” and incorporated the sterling silver buckle detail into some of George’s garments.
During the Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors scene in Sunday’s episode, George was preoccupied with how the country couple will be received at their forthcoming Vegas show.
“Thank you, Abe Sylvia, for that scene because I feel like clothes are the way we communicate to strangers; they’re the way we communicate to ourselves,” says Travers. “It’s this amazing moment—that I get to see all the time—of someone looking in the mirror and deciding whether or not this is the way we’re going to present ourselves to the world.” Lingering in this moment of literal reflection is “not often something you get to see on camera or from others.”
A Nudie suit is a statement piece, and everyone from Dolly Parton to Johnny Cash visited Nudie Cohn’s store. Travers describes the tailor as the “absolute icon of the country scene.”
Peanutt jokes that George is wearing “more rhinestones than Liberace,” but Travers points out Nudie “was the first person to add crystal to costume.” Recreating Nudie’s store led to a countrywide hunt for authentic vintage Nudie suits. “The challenge is the signature hero Nudie pieces are behind glass. They’re at the Country Music Hall of Fame; the George Jones Museum, [and] Elvis’s pieces are behind acrylic at his home.”
Instead, the designer resorted to an “underground network of collectors and dealers.” It took a few months to gather enough pieces, and Travers recalls he was “running around like a child on Christmas. This is the most amount of Nudie that’s been in the same place since Nudie.”
Travers was introduced to LA-based Western tailor Jamie Castaneda, who used to be a shirt and pants maker at Nudie’s, which was a full-circle moment. “We’d be sitting at his work table looking at fabrics, buttons, and linings, and he’s also telling me stories about when George used to come through,” says Travers.
Chastain wears a few pieces from Tammy’s closet in the series (“It felt like somehow Tammy was wanting to be in the room—and of course we loved her being there—so we put as much of the real deal on camera as we could”), but Shannon’s taller-than-Jones frame made it impossible for him to do the same. “Anything that’s going to feel like a custom suit is a custom suit. There’s no place you can go for a 6-foot-4 man with a rhinestone suit waiting on the hanger for you,” Travers says. It did mean he could use insight from tailors like Castaneda to “be careful about all the details and put a lot of storytelling into his clothes.”
The designer also had a co-conspirator in the fitting room: “Mike loves to pretend he’s not into fashion, but Jess and I love to try to push him [Shannon] into fashion.” Did it work? “I think it’s very hard not to feel charmed by a custom baby blue and coral rhinestone suit. I got him in the end—it’s very hard for him to deny how good he looks.”
George opts for a white fringe Nudie ultra suede jacket and matching pants embroidered with sequined dice to wear on stage in Las Vegas. This comes after he gets into it with a different tailor in an earlier fitting. “I look like a damn eclair,” he spits about the more traditional ruffled shirt tuxedo. George is also furious that the tailor has mixed natural silk with man-made polyester—something that might not bother many but points to his clothing specificity. Part of this is nerves: “To have a headline act that was just country music on the Strip when it was so Elvis-focused, the Rat Pack—this was outsider energy coming to Vegas.”
In the first fitting, Tammy stands to his left in a stunning red and gold beaded backless dress (this look signifies the start of her fringe obsession that continues through to the finale). “I think it’s this little insight into these characters who are struggling to make it all work, hit the right notes, and be what people expect of them,” Travers says of this scene. George is correct, and it is a silk jacket paired with polyester pants: “We wanted the polyester binding to fight the natural of the silk.” Shannon asked the costume designer about getting the language right, as George knows his tailoring terminology, and asked what would bother him about this combination.
“Once we got into the suede suit, it’s that authenticity: that suede, the fringe, the country, it’s organic, there’s a motion to it, it’s alive,” says the designer about the Nudie store experience. “That’s how George was. He was a live loose cannon. That’s what we wanted from the other suit.”
The episode ends with George in the brown tuxedo (he has trashed his white Nudie while on a bender) and he looks resigned. “When you see him in this much more traditional expected dinner jacket and pants, it does start to feel like you’re starting to play the role of George Jones instead of giving people what they came for,” says Travers.
His fraught mood contrasts the earlier serene visual of George riding his beloved John Deere lawnmower (it’s in the George Jones museum) while cradling his baby daughter (don’t try this!). Here, he wears a well-worn holey T-shirt, jeans, and a quilted jacket, looking quite the homebody. Rather than photos taken by the press coming into their home, Travers made sure to reference private images, “You saw the difference between the presentational George and Tammy and then the real-life showing-up-doing-the work George and Tammy.”
A lightbulb went off that “barefoot and denim and rhinestones and feathers and everything else” had to feature. “We need to understand the two different worlds these people occupy because that’s what makes them ultimately fascinating is this burden of fame and how they both reacted to it over the course of their lives,” he says. Capturing their worries and family life is essential to capture “what made them pour their souls into country music in the way that connected with so many million people.”