The Right Clothes for the Job: Costuming Clerks III

When costume designer Allison Pearce signed on for “Clerks III,” everything she needed to know on the research front was there in black and white — literally.

“I knew going in this would be a very research-heavy project,” she recalled. “In ‘Clerks III,’ there’s this portion of the script where there is a movie-within-a-movie. It’s all realizing things that happened in [‘Clerks’], so we recreated it. All of it was based on this research I did and screenshots of a VHS tape we were looking at.”

The final chapter in writer-director Kevin Smith’s trilogy following the low-stakes retail misadventures of Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) and the two well-traveled pot dealers who loiter outside their workplaces (Jason Mewes and Smith as Jay and Silent Bob, respectively) is the first time Pearce and the filmmaker have collaborated. To get a comprehensive grasp on the clothing in Smith’s catalog, she rewatched every single entry in his View Askewniverse and beyond.

“There’s a tuxedo that Jason Mewes wears to a funeral at the end of the movie,” Pearce said. “That was a call back from a ‘Degrassi’ episode he and Kevin were in about 15 years ago, and I had to find it because I’d never seen it.”

Much of the costuming needed to be created from scratch or adapted from existing pieces. It’s a process that Pearce calls “Frankensteining.”

“It’s easier when you’re doing builds to start with something that’s almost there,” she said. “It’s often about having a blank that is the right cut or fit and then finding the right elements and creatively making them into the original we’re trying to replicate.”


Paramount/courtesy Everett Collection

When it came to certain iconic pieces of clothing, Pearce had to go the extra mile and enlist the help of others. One such example was a sweater worn by Dante.

“The original was something like a late ’80s Liz Sport sweater. Brian thought it was his girlfriend’s at the time, so maybe that’s why he wore it,” she said. However, the designer couldn’t find what she was looking for, which led her to German-American knitter Yasmine Esmek, who made Tom Hanks’ sweaters in the Mr. Rogers biopic “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”

“Dante’s sweater was a loose-knit, so it doesn’t look like a hyper-industrialized sweater,” Pearce said. “We decided hand knitting would be the best method to get the look we needed.”

Working off the first “Clerks” presented another dilemma: “I don’t know what color [the sweater] was because all the footage I was looking at was black and white,” Pearce said. “I had to select the colors for the yarn, so the sweater is charcoal, cream, and black. I don’t think even Brian remembers what the original colors were.”

One of the most memorable costuming journeys in ‘Clerks III’ involves Elias (Trevor Fehrman), Randal’s “Transformers”-loving punching bag introduced in ‘Clerks II.’ In the new movie, he shifts from being a born-again Christian to a follower of Satan and what Pearce describes as “this goth edgelord type.”

“I reflected recently on what the script said, and if all it said was ‘Elias wears a metal T-shirt.’ It doesn’t go into any other detail about what that is,” she said. Following a phone call from Smith, who told her to “go for it,” she decided to step it up and give him a range of looks that get more extreme as the film goes on. Working with hairstylist Angie Johnson and makeup artist Fiona Mifsud, Pearce drew from music and films outside of Smith’s usual reference points, riffing on the facepaint of Danish metal icon King Diamond, some eyewear from “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” or a wig inspired by “The Fifth Element.”

“When you think of goths, people think of Hot Topic or JNCOs; it’s very simple. I wanted to balance edgier fabrics, leathers and mixed metals, and things with more of a Victorian avant garde, Rococo gentleman style,” she said.

Trevor Fehrman and Allison Pearce behind the scenes of “Clerks III”

courtesy Lionsgate

Intellectual property rights added another layer of complexity to Pearce’s job on “Clerks III.” Such things which weren’t of much concern to a crew of twentysomethings making a low-budget movie in a New Jersey convenience store in 1993. Not only was Pearce tasked with re-assembling Jason Mewes’ wardrobe from the first film, but she also had to negotiate to put Jay’s replica “Doonesbury” T-shirt and vintage San Jose Sharks cap on screen.

“In ‘Clerks,’ there are graphics and logos everywhere, but now when we make movies, we have to get clearances on those things and make sure we get the agreement from the company or the artist,” she said.

The costume designer is ultimately satisfied with the matches she was able to find and stitch together, some 28 years after “Clerks” wowed Sundance and kicked off Smith’s career in movies. “It’s all very specific, but I think we nailed it,” she said. The passage of time did require some authenticity to be sacrificed, though: Mewes’ ears are no longer pierced, so when Jay and Silent Bob set up shop in front of the Quick Stop this time around, the former is wearing clip-ons.

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