How To Dress Like An ’80s Spy


Have you seen The Americans? If not, lucky you: you’ve got so much delicious TV to feast on. I watched all of Season One in a binge and am now caught up with the weekly broadcast, which is like slamming five tequila shots and then trying to savor a subtle Chenin Blanc. It disrupts the metabolism, but not in a bad way. Season Two began a few weeks ago and it is even better than the first. (Corroborating evidence here.)

If you’re not watching, here’s all you need to know: two Soviet spies are embedded in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., posing as an American married couple. It takes place in the early 1980s. Keri Russell is one of the spies. Phil Collins songs are used to dramatic effect.

More important for our purposes, the show’s costume design, by Jenny Gering, is excellent—as delightful, in its own way, as the period styling on Mad Men. Keri Russell’s character wears patterned silk blouses, turtlenecks, and Danskin leotards under high-waisted Lee jeans that make her butt look like a sexy pancake. She wears wigs. Her makeup is subtle. Her skin emits light.

And the look is easy to recreate. Have you been to your local Salvation Army or Goodwill recently? It has everything you need. Gering has talked about finding much of Russell’s wardrobe at thrift stores.

For convenience, here’s a list of of rules and observations to reference while you pick through the racks.
Happy shopping, comrade!

Observation: Keri Russell’s outfits are feminine yet pragmatic.
Rule: Never wear anything that could interfere with beating a man to death.

Observation: Keri Russell’s character gravitates toward plush textures like chenille, velvet, suede, and wool.
Rule: Only wear fabrics that a cat would sleep on.

Observation: Keri Russell’s palette is camel, dusty rose, aubergine, navy, pumpkin, and royal blue.
Rule: Color inspiration=motel carpeting.

Observation: Russell loves chevron stripes and geometric prints.
Rule: Loud patterns hide bloodstains.

Observation: Russell pairs snug turtlenecks with tweed blazers and down vests.
Rule: A.B.L.: Always Be Layering.

Observation: Russell keeps blouses neatly tucked into her jeans.
Rule: Your shirt hem is like your Communist ideology: it must always remain hidden.

—Molly Young

Read Molly's other ITG stories here. Also follow her on Twitter.

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  • Katie

    Omg I am obsessed with The Americans! KGB spies, insane chemistry between the leads, crazy wigs, awesome fight scenes, domesticity as cover-up…what else do you need in a show? Thanks so much for this feature! And anyone who isn't watching…go do so now!

  • Bella

    Sounds like a very cool show! Some of those hair days put Felicitygate to shame, though...

  • Kat LA KORB

    this is so close to being political incorrect I LOVE IT

  • lee

    Amazing show. Undercover spies, 80s soundtrack, tight jeans – what's not to love?

  • Clever Girl Reviews

    I love that olive green leather jacket!

  • Adelle Dazeem

  • Roberta Barros

    oh my god. thank you for this. i started watch the show this year, and the first thing that caughT my eye were the clothes! AMAZING!

  • peanut

    Observation: Molly's butt is a sexy pancake!

  • paulina

    Is it just me or does Keri looks so much like Sally Field in these?

    • magicmollys

      Good call—they both have delicate features, pale skin, dark hair.

  • Natalie

    Best show on tv right now!

  • Emma Hager

    Another great piece, Molly. I love your essays so much. And I love the above look! I've only caught glimpses of the show, as other family members watch it, but the costumes alone have me eager to start from the beginning and watch it through.

  • Genevieve

    Just revisited this amazing post because I am shopping for a leather jacket. I love it so---almost as much as the clothes, which satisfy my '80s nostalgia in the way that the current street interpretation of '80s-style cannot. Keri Russell's character is dressed so much the way I remember my beautiful and stylish mom dressing in those years.