Behind the Scenes
Elizabeth Deane, Executive Producer & WriterPeter Jones, DirectorJill Reurs, Script SupervisorSimon Russell Beale, ActorWigsCostumesResearch & Props

The costume designer recreated clothing the Adamses wore throughout their lives using period portraits and written accounts.

'We cover all the changes in fashion from the American Revolution into the beginnings of our country. -- Virginia Johnson, Costume Designer
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Video Interview (2:17) QuickTime Video

Virginia Johnson, Costume Designer:

We relied a lot on the portraits of the period. I mean, it's easier with someone like John Adams and Abigail Adams because they were of a class where people wanted to paint to paint them. I mean, he was Vice President and President of our country. So there are portraits of him and of her. Very few portraits of their children when they were young. More of John Quincy Adams and Abigail's daughter, Nabby. Also, Abigail Smith Adams. When they're older and more prominent figures in society, but that was very rare because the people that got their paintings done were people that had money and we know that the Adamses were kind of struggling in the early part of their marriage, trying to keep up a home and John was always traveling. He was always on the law circuit. And they were trying to keep their farm going. So they didn't have their children painted. So that was hard because we could just rely on the portraits of other children and actually written documentation and have to translate what the written word says about what children were wearing.

What also is hard is people are not of the upper classes -- the working class. Very few artists painted the working class because they have to make their own living. Who's paying to paint farm hands? So that's always a little bit of a struggle, too, and once again, you have to rely on the written word and what's been documented on what those people were wearing. And something that was strange, I think, to other members of this team was the fact that people actually wore pants. Everybody thinks of this period as all about britches, but working class people were actually wearing pants out on the -- in the fields and on the farms because it protected their legs, but it's very much a working class thing. And what I was talking about earlier about the change in fashion, what -- you'll look at John Adams. We have him shift into pants because during the Napoleonic wars it became the in thing to do -- to wear pants -- because it associated you with the working classes and no longer with the rich and elite. So that was an interesting thing that we played with.

Behind the Scenes John & Abigail Adams American Experience PBS