Bringing WGN America’s “Salem” to life with thousands of period costumes

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By Heather Warner

In just four days, you can catch WGN America’s new series, “Salem.” It’s a drama loosely based on the infamous witch trials. As one might imagine, bringing 17th century Salem to life in 21st century Louisiana is no small task.  But with the set designers of “Salem,” and the vision of a man like Joseph Porro, it’s a done deal.

“I don’t think there’s a designer in Hollywood that has done the 1600’s for television in many, many years,” says costume designer, Joseph Porro.  It’ unlikely they provided costumes for this period, for the cast this size though. Porro adds, “The challenge was, how do we get these very unique period costumes together for several hundred people? I found out early on that we had to make these…so we made over a thousand costumes. We’ve dressed 80 percent of the extras from head to toe, from shoes to hats, to gloves.”

Porro and his team had just four weeks to create the original wardrobe for the first episode. To give you an idea of the magnitude of the job–it filled 60 clothing racks. So where does Porro get all of the material for that many costumes? “The fabric I bought in London for the cape. The underskirt I bought in Shanghai. The feathers came out of my antique collection…Ebay, Google, all of it,” he says.


“Puritans had to wear black. That was the rule.” But not all of Porro’s costumes had to follow those rules. He had to dress others on set, like the ghouls and other creepy characters.  They’re works of art really, adding to the dark and edgy plot of this newfound Salem. “We have the ominous piece Mercy Lewis wears, and the ghoul who lives among the dead bodies. He’s always scavenging human skin. That’s one of the creepiest things I’ve even made in my career,” says Porro.

Pollo brings a wealth of experience from a long career spread across film and television. Porro attended Parsons School of Design in New York for fashion illustration, life drawing, and textile classes, and studied haute couture at the city’s Traphagen School of Fashion, and later, studied costume design at UCLA. He learned many other of his unique design and construction skills on the job. Early in his career, he worked on parade floats and character costumes at Disneyland and specialty costumes for the Ice Capades. Porro has worked domestically and internationally on films such as “Resident Evil: Extinction,” “Shanghai Noon,” Tombstone,” and “Stargate.” His television credits include “Ghost Whisperer,” “The Cleaner,” and “The Music Man,” which earned Porro a 2003 Emmy nomination for outstanding costumes.

“Salem” premieres on WGN America on April 20, 2014.

Cast on Twitter:
Shane West: @shanewest_1
Seth Gabel: @sethgabel
Ashley Madekwe: @smashleybell
Elise Eberle: @eliseeberle
Tamzin Merchant: @tamzinmerchant