230316ind Amanda Downing Carney

Wakefield resident Amanda Downing Carney served as the costume designer for Trinity Rep’s upcoming production of “The Inferior Sex” which opens tonight in Providence.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Do you remember what you were wearing in 1972? Wakefield resident Amanda Downing Carney does, and she wasn’t even born.

Carney is the costume designer for “The Inferior Sex,” a new play by Jacqueline E. Lawton opening in previews tonight (Thursday, March 16) at Trinity Repertory Company.

With a backdrop of the turbulent early ’70s, when the war in Vietnam was escalating and the Watergate scandal was breaking, a group of women are starting a magazine “for feminists who love fashion.”

While politics and social issues inevitably enter the story, this dramedy still calls for lots of costumes for the all-female cast and for display racks in their office.

Carney has spent months researching the styles of the 1970s, looking at fashion magazines and at photos of “real people,” she says, including a photo of her grandmother in a stylish-for-the-era leisure suit.

“The show is in the smaller theater (downstairs at Trinity Rep), and audiences can see all the details. I felt it was easier to shop and buy,” authentic vintage clothes than to try to re-create them, she explains.

Moreover, “There was a lot of polyester, and it lasts.” Wool and cotton fabrics from the 1950s wouldn’t have fared as well with the passage of time, nor would they stand up to laundering after every performance. But even 50-year-old polyester clothes “are in good shape,” she says.

She found what she was looking for online, on sites like Rusty Zipper, Ebay and especially Etsy. “Those sellers take good care of their items,” she said of the latter. Locally, Savers was a gold mine not only for clothes but also accessories and jewelry.

Then she had to match styles with personalities and professions of the eight women at the magazine — and for Shirley Chisholm, whose ground-breaking bid to run for president figures into the story.

Since it was impossible to purchase Chisholm’s actual outfits, “Three of Shirley’s looks are re-created,” Carney says, based on photos taken at Chisholm’s campaign announcement, at her speech at the Democratic National Convention, and at her concession speech. Carney went so far as to create the fabric designs via an online program, tinkering with details like the width of lines and shapes of patterns.

 “Three more are styles Shirley would have approved of,” Carney feels confident.

As for the other characters, Carney points out that “Some are more fashion forward, others are more simple.” For Sandra, who runs the magazine, Carney chose business attire like skirt suits, while Penny, a working mom, wears comfortable and uncomplicated leisure suits. Madeleine, the food editor, wears “all dresses, with lots of pink. She looks like a cupcake,” Carney laughs.

Connie, a cleaning woman, generally wears a uniform, but outside of work, “She is the chic-est,” Carney says. “Clean lines, perfectly accessorized. I love Connie’s look.”

In addition to her costume work for this production, Carney is the full-time director of Trinity’s costume shop, a job the South Kingstown High School and 2003 University of Rhode Island graduate secured after her own career as a wardrobe supervisor and costume coordinator for touring productions.

“I jumped on the tour bus right out of college,” she says, and has been in every state except Alaska. She met her husband, an actor at the time, while on tour, and when they settled down, they chose Wakefield.

“I cold sent a resume to Trinity Rep, and I was hired as a costume tech in 2006,” Carney continues. “I left and came back a few times, had a couple babies, and in 2015 I was promoted to costume shop director.”  She also has designed for The Gamm Theatre and Wilbury Theater Group in Rhode Island, and her alma mater, URI.

As for styles in “The Inferior Sex,” Carney has trouble choosing a favorite. She describes her own style as “dressy sweatshirts,” but adds, “Everybody has something on the rack I’d wear.”

“The Inferior Sex” runs March 16-April 16 at Trinity Rep, 201 Washington St., in the Dowling Theater. Tickets start at $27 and are available online at trinityrep.com/inferiorsex or by contacting the ticket office at (401) 351-4242.

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