In order to complete the look, the filmmakers hired prolific, Academy Award®-winning costume designer Ann Roth for Mamma Mia! Much like the production designer, Roth was faced with the challenge of creating a look for the characters that was not only fanciful, but also realistic. Though she had seen the stage production, the filmmakers requested she not simply just use costume designer Mark Thompson’s lauded designs as the basis for her work. While wanting to keep the essence of the musical, Roth took a realistic approach to creating the clothing.
The designer sketched ideas for costumes and sent them to Phyllida Lloyd, who quite loved them. Much of Roth’s prep work was done in New York, and some of the costumes were created from clothing she bought in obscure places. “There’s a suit in this movie that I bought on 138th Street in the Dominican Republic. I love to feel that I can go to odd and unconventional places to buy clothes. I don’t order stuff over the phone, but I am the girl who has to go and dig it up.”
Roth delved into and imagined each character’s background (from what their apartments would look like to their salaries) and came up with their costumes, down to the tiniest details. For example, she imagined the three possible fathers receiving a last-minute invitation to fly to Greece, and depending on their lifestyle, pictured them throwing clothes into a beat-up old suitcase and jet-setting across the world. “It comes second nature to be realistic,” Roth says. “I would say these clothes are real. You have some rotten suitcase or a backpack, and rolled up inside is an old linen suit or a new linen suit, but it’s rolled up because that’s the life you lead.”
For Meryl Streep’s character, who takes a hands-on approach to running her villa, Roth imagined that clothes weren’t her first priority. Explains the designer: “I think that Donna says to a friend who lives in Athens: ‘My daughter is getting married next month; I need a dress, and I would like it not to look like an old lady’s dress.’ The woman arrives on the boat with two dresses in a box and she chooses one.”
There are moments when the costumes take on a more flamboyant look, as with Donna and the Dynamos’ “Super Trouper” sequence. Roth imagined that when the singing group originally got together, they were asked to perform on a carnival cruise and ended up with wild costumes. “They’re performance costumes,” she explains. “I did the most incredible research with ’70s groups, including ABBA. Those are costumes. They don’t wear those to the supermarket.”
Says Lloyd of Roth’s creative approach to her work: “I found her to have a ferocious, open and brilliantly creative spirit. She seemed to embody everything I’ve been told movie costumes would not be about, which was getting it all cut and dried months ahead and producing photographs of costumes, and having it all in the bag. She worked quite spiritually and felt that the character was somewhere there, waiting to emerge in its clothes.”