Nasim Pedrad's Chad Costume Designers Totally Nailed the Awkward Teen Look
New TBS comedy Chad is about the trials and tribulations of a 14-year-old boy who's trying to fit in at school. But when you look closer, you'll quickly realize that something's a little different about the title character. Mainly, he's not a 14-year-old boy at all — he's a 39-year-old woman. Played by SNL veteran Nasim Pedrad, who also conceptualized the show and created its lovable cast of characters, from Chad's idol Reid (Thomas Barbusca) to his single mom Naz (Saba Homayoon), Chad is anything but ordinary.
We'll admit, it's a tiny bit absurd watching Pedrad work her comedy magic to bring an awkward adolescent to life, but that's kind of the whole point of the show. According to costume designers Amanda Needham and Adejoké Taiwo, the idea wasn't to completely fool viewers into thinking Pedrad was an actual young boy, but create that likeness so that the audience could get lost in the story and simultaneously feel like they were in on the joke. "It's an adult bringing the point of view of a teenager after growing up," Needham tells POPSUGAR.
Here, we talked to Needham and Taiwo about what it was like dressing a full-grown woman as teenage boy, the biggest trends of the moment, and how the immigrant experience played a part in the costume design.
POPSUGAR: Dressing a 39-year-old woman as a 14-year-old boy is a pretty Herculean task. What was your biggest challenge?
Amanda Needham: Well, we wanted to obviously compress [Pedrad's] lady parts, but sometimes, you still get a bump, or you get a sports bra line. You want to submerge people in the storyline, but if you see the bra, it takes you out of it. Being a designer, you have a higher sensitivity to it. So it was really about just trying to create comfort and reduce those lines that you'd see.
Adejoké Taiwo: That was a problem when we were shooting — if we saw the [bra] line or if the garments were lighter colors. We really had to be cautious with that.
PS: How did your previous work on other TV shows help prepare you to dress Pedrad?
AN: We created our own special types of undergarments to help flatten her out. I had some experience working on Portlandia with Carrie Brownstein, and she played a lot of male figures. But what happens with a lot of the foundation pieces is that, especially if you're wearing them for long periods of time, you start to lose feeling in your body because everything is so tight and compact and doing what it's meant to do, which is compress the lady parts. This was a challenge, so we created our own and engineered it to offset [Pedrad's] breasts with padding underneath. It was basically an insert for her breasts to help make her more comfortable, but still have the clothing do what it needed to do.
PS: You pretty much nailed the dorky look. How did you go about creating Chad's uniform?
AT: You'll notice that he always wears oversize polo shirts, no-name sneakers, a big watch, a backpack, baggy jeans . . . he's not wearing Supreme, he just wants to blend in. It's not anything super fashionable, but it's not outwardly dorky either. And the bagginess helped hide the fact that the character was played by a woman.
"The bagginess helped hide the fact that the character was played by a woman."
PS: What about the cool kids? How did you figure out what's trendy right now?
AN: We actually went to a local high school and sat there during lunch! Since this is current and temporary work, we really wanted to mimic what kids are doing. We wrote to the principal at Lincoln High School in Portland, OR, where the show is shot, and asked if we could come in and walk around. Seeing that anthropology side of human behavior and understanding what the groups are really helped. We noticed, for example, that so many kids right now are into the late '90s and early 2000s trends. Personally, I feel that is OK, but we also didn't want to date the work that we were doing. So we combined the stereotypes and mixed the jock vibe with what's going on right now.
PS: There's an episode where Chad is obsessed with getting a new pair of Nike LeBron sneakers, and he spends the entire episode trying to get his hands on them. How important do you think fashion was to a geeky character who's desperate to be popular?
AT: Super important — it's a status symbol. [Chad is] wearing what he thinks people should be wearing. He's wearing what he thinks the cool kids would be wearing. We gave him a personality through his clothing and through what he thinks he should have, but then he gets it so wrong, and that's where the comedy comes in.
PS: How did you create opposition between Chad and his younger, cooler sister, Niki? She's clearly the more mature one of the two.
AN: She's way cooler, and so into the trends. You see her wear her cute tank tops, or denim on denim, things like that. She changes up her wardrobe way more than he does, and she wears whatever is in the stores and on-trend. We wanted the contrast to be really strong, so we made everyone around [Chad] really hip and fun, so they're elevated, and then his dorkiness comes out way more.
"He's wearing what he thinks the cool kids would be wearing."
PS: What do you think the show's fashion says about the immigrant experience? Chad is of Persian descent, but he tries to hide his culture. He seems pretty embarrassed by it, in fact.
AT: As a first-generation Canadian with an African background, I related to the script because similar things happened to me growing up. You want to have what all the American kids have — you want to have the cool clothes, you want to have the style. You want to be just like everybody else. That was pretty much our starting point, and we approached it like a uniform. You'll notice that [Pedrad] primarily wears those polo shirts — she doesn't wear anything that gives away her culture at all. It really speaks to her desire to assimilate.
PS: What was your favorite episode to style?
AN: Definitely the K-pop episode, because Chad's group does a full-on performance, and K-pop is just so popular right now. Being able to elevate people around him and make him look a little bit more out there was very fun.
Read on to see some of our favorite stills from Chad. New episodes air Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET on TBS.