Babylon 5 isn’t well-remembered today, but dedicated sci-fi fans may be interested to know that the series’ costume designs hid a ton of secrets.
Running for five seasons, the space opera Babylon 5 is a classic throwback to the 1990s. The series mostly deals with the drama around human military officials and alien diplomats aboard the spaceship known as Babylon 5. Apart from its themes of authoritarianism versus free will and order versus chaos, visual effects, and prosthetics, the show was also reputed for its costume design at the time.
With Ann Bruce Aling serving as the costume designer, there are a few hidden details and facts that viewers might have forgotten about the costumes in Babylon 5. Here, we count down 10 such details about Babylon 5’s costumes.
Ostrich Leather & Materials From The 40s
Aling’s choice of costumes for the show was varied. Even though it was set in a futuristic setting, she tried making use of natural materials for the costumes whenever she can. For instance, in the body armor of the Narn race, the breastplate was made out of padded ostrich leather over a black cotton jumpsuit.
Apart from natural materials, Aling was also influenced by vintage clothing sometimes. She has combined the costumes with even silk or rayon brocades from the 1930s and 1940s. This helps in giving the costumes a look that has developed from various cultures. The Centauri outfits were also influenced by pre-Napoleonic costumes.
A Helmet Worth Three Grand
The costumes that the B5 Starfury fighter pilots don in the series were heavy, both physically and in terms of the show’s budget. This was because this costume was a liquid-cooled space suit.
These suits had to be cooled down to reduce their weight, as they were terribly heavy. The suits are usually used by astronauts in harsh conditions. The one used in Babylon 5 is so intricate that even their helmets cost to about three thousand dollars. The show clearly kept a big chunk of its budget for the costume department.
Changing Londo’s Colors
Ambassador Londo Mollari was a supporting character in the show who has been subjected to a significant change of character by the writers with each new season. Earlier in the series, he was just a stock character for comic relief, but, later on, he became a man of honor and a patriot for the Centauri.
To show this change, even his clothes started acquiring a more serious tone. Initially, the character used to sport a purple coat which later became dark blue to express a darker tone for the character. Even his waistcoats became simple later on, rather than the usual bright patterned ones.
Ruined Costumes For Destitute Characters
The cast members or the extras who played destitute characters from the Down Below wore costumes that were ruined on purpose to give them a ragged an unkempt look. Various methods were used to achieve the look.
These include bleaching, sanding, and dipping in dye baths. Some even had stage blood applied to them. Surely, Babylon 5 paid acute attention to detail to even the unprivileged extras.
The Costume Department Made Occasional Cameos
There were onscreen cameos in the series, often by its own crew members including the costume designers. For instance, the season four episode “Atonement” featured a cameo by the costume supervisors as Minbari women fitting Zack Allan for his new uniform when he gets promoted to head of security. Additionally, there was also an inside joke in this scene.
Allan complains about the fitting of the suit. Pissed off by his complaints, costume supervisor Kim Holly even stabs him with a needle. This was a reference to the old security costumes used in the show, which were tough to work with because of their combination of leather and wool.
Customized Clothes For Human Civilians
Like the destitute characters, actors and extras playing human civilians often wore normal clothes that were then customized. The garments were purchase from usual retail stores and then altered accordingly. As Aling puts it herself, “we shop everywhere. We shop at fabric stores where the general public shops.”
To still give the look of new-wave or future fashion suiting the show’s timeline, lapels were removed from jackets and shirts, and their closures were also rearranged. A more fashionable “couture” look was adapted for the female characters. A significant example of this is the suits worn by the character Talia Winters. Aling said that these were designed within an inch of their life!
In a podcast, Aling revealed that there were ceremonial dresses prepared for the alien species, the relevance of which might have been missed by viewers at times. “You see ceremonial dress already. Minbari celebrations, particularly religious Centauri celebrations, have included opulent orgiastic looks,” she said.
Such religious dresses were also featured heavily amongst the Narn race, including G’Kar’s prayer robe and talus when he practices the faith of G’Quan. “G’Kar, Delenn, and Londo have always had special looks only worn for council meetings and ceremonies.” Aling added.
Ann Bruce Aling has jokingly stated in interviews that she has had costume emergencies almost every half hour while working for the show. By the second season, there were three versions of costumes for the lead characters. One was the final costume, one was for stunt doubles, and another one was an emergency back-up in case of any “coffee spills.”
In some episodes, the actors were allergic to a particular material. For instance, in the Babylon 5 film A Call To Arms, an actor had a wool allergy, so his woolen cape had to be replaced.
Mutual Relationship Between Costumes And Sets
Often, the production design was changed according to the needs of the costumes. As Aling had a passion for costume history, she intensely studied the histories and cultures of all civilizations and alien races that showrunner J. Michael Straczynski conceptualized.
The costumes would be designed according to the peaceful or warring nature of these races too. For this reason, production designer John Iacovelli worked closely with Aling and they consulted each other for the visuals. The biggest example can be that of the Minbari. As most of the Minbari were dressed in shades of blue and purple, their places of importance also acquired a blue tone.
The Continuing Legacy In Silicon Valley
The show might still not be that remembered among mainstream sci-fi audiences, as the market is currently saturated with all sorts of sci-fi, but a few shows have offered tributes to Babylon 5’s costumes. It started with the 2009 comedy series Flight Of The Conchords. In a particular episode, the cast members perform a song wearing costumes of the Earthforce military uniform.
In Mike Judge’s Silicon Valley, too, the spiritual trainer Denpok usually sports an intricately designed, striped, multi-colored tunic. On closer observation, one can easily figure out that it’s the very same long coat that the Centauri noble Vir Cotto wears. Hence, at least in costumes, the legacy of this classic space opera lives on.
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