Why Lorraine Bracco’s Dr. Melfi Became a Problem for the ‘Sopranos’ Costume Designer
While TV fans and critics might rank The Sopranos among the best shows of all time, few will argue it was perfect (we hope). If you need an example of a weak episode, the season 4 Columbus Day installment (“Christopher”) ought to tide you over.
Looking back on the series a decade or so later, Sopranos creator David Chase thought “Commendatori” could have come off better. To Chase, the handling of the culture clash on the crew’s trip to Italy left something to be desired. And he thought Sofia Milos was too sexy as mob wife Annalisa.
While plenty of fans enjoyed the change of scenery in “Commendatori”, you can’t help agreeing with Chase’s take on Annalisa. For a show that usually erred on the other side of sexy, her character stood out. And you might say the same about the sexiness of Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) in the earlygoing.
Juliet Polcsa, the Emmy-nominated costume designer of The Sopranos, said producers took issue with the shortness of Melfi’s skirts in the show’s first season. After getting the feedback, Polcsa realized the way they’d handled Bracco’s fittings contributed to the problem.
‘Sopranos’ producers took issue with the length of Dr. Melfi’s skirts
Polcsa, who worked on 82 of 86 Sopranos episodes (and has worked on Law & Order since 2012), visited the Talking Sopranos podcast for the July 6 episode. After reminiscing with co-hosts Steve Schirripa (Bobby Baccala) and Michael Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti), she discussed one of her challenges on the show.
It began with Imperioli asking her about the toughest character to design clothes for. Polcsa approached it by relating a story from the start of her time on the show. “I know in the very beginning I got called into the principal’s office because [Melfi’s] skirts were too short,” Polcsa said on Talking Sopranos.
Polcsa’s approach certainly seemed right on the money. “Melfi … we knew she was very professional-looking,” Polcsa said. “I wanted to keep things very monochromatic. And as the years went on it got more sophisticated-looking.” But she had to deal with skirts she hadn’t planned on being short.
‘Sopranos’ costume designers adjusted by changing up Lorraine Bracco’s fittings
Costume designers barely have time to come up for air on a show like The Sopranos. After they settle one character, a new face arrives on the scene. And the recurring characters always need new looks, depending on where the episodes take them.
In Melfi’s case, Polcsa and her team never intended to give Melfi short skirts. They just moved that way after Bracco’s fittings. “It’s one of those things,” Polcsa explained. “When you’re in a fitting, you’re standing. And the skirt looks fine. [But] as soon as you sit down, it hikes up.”
If you’ve watched the first season more than once, the shortness of Melfi’s skirts might raise your eyebrows. But Polcsa didn’t labor long over a solution. “Whenever Lorraine came in for a fitting, we’d make sure that she sat in a chair first,” she explained. Even if that didn’t stop Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) from lusting after Melfi, it settled things in wardrobe.