You can identify the principal Hawaii Five-0 actors from key wardrobe items: vintage aloha shirts, bikinis, cargo pants, neckties. Countless hours, manpower, money and clothes – racks upon racks … in fact, trailer loads of ’em – go into creating the characters’ iconic looks that have stores struggling to restock their inventory of Superdry cargo pants (McGarrett’s staple) and a certain blue-and-yellow Hurley bikini (made famous by Kono in the show’s opening montage).

MidWeek recently caught up with Hawaii Five-0‘s wardrobe director Kathryn Morrison Pahoa to get the inside scoop on just what it takes to manage the wardrobe and style of one of the nation’s highest-rated TV shows.

Back to that bikini. “We have received a lot of bikinis,” says Pahoa.

We’re talking hundreds from all over the world, including from the land of bikinis, Brazil.

“I have received so much interest – everybody (designers) wants to participate and be a part of this show, and that usually does-n’t happen on a first-season show.”

But you’re not going to see Kono in a G-string anytime soon because of CBS’s dress code, which says no to labels and logos as well.

“I try to get as much local stuff as I can,” says Pahoa, who was also the costume designer on the film Princess Kaiulani. “It’s boring to just have plain T-shirts. Artwork is a lot easier to clear (network standards) if the name isn’t written on it and there’s no copyright. I really embrace local artists.”

Pahoa first approaches fashion choices on a show by reading the script and meeting with the director and creators to get a collaborative feel for the look of the pilot episode.

Then she gets out her stacks of magazines and catalogs, pencils and scissors, and creates the poster boards that adorn her office. The collages of sketches, tear sheets and photos offer the show’s executives her vision of the lead characters’ styles.

“For McGarrett, I made a lot more boards because we’re trying to figure out who this character is,” says Pahoa, who had already worked with Alex O’Loughlin on a previous set, and with Daniel Dae Kim on the pilot episode of LOST. “Chin Ho was pretty specific because he’s the local. We have a lot of fun finding the perfect aloha shirts for him that have a vintage feel to them for someone who has been here a long time. Then we have Danno, with his ties and his East Coast holding on and not embracing the Islands yet.

Pahoa with Danno's ties, the famous four in their iconic wardrobe (photo courtesy of Mario Perez/CBS Broadcasting Inc.) and in the Dec. 13 Christmas episode with Taylor Wily as Kamekona and Teilor Grubbs as Grace Williams (photo courtesy of Neil Jacobs/CBS Broadcasting Inc.)

“Kono may be the most fun,” she says. “I love when she goes undercover because I know I’m going to get to do something really fun. What comes to mind is episode two, when she’s in the red kimono. I had to find the perfect fabric and the right color, and design a little kimono for that.”

Pahoa makes it clear that when she says “I,” she means “we.” There’s paperwork to be done, the tagging of each clothing item for character (including the supporting cast) and episode, and the fluctuating between office and set with endless bundled racks of clothing for the day’s shoot. Her team includes a wardrobe supervisor, an assistant, seamstresses and shoppers.

“With a contemporary show like this, the majority of it is shopped,” notes Pahoa, adding that the wardrobe doesn’t reflect the original show at all. “If it did, it would be a completely different show; it would be very campy. This is the 2010 version of Hawaii Five-0.”

As for the task of shopping, Pahoa says it’s no breezy day at the mall. “Shopping is still creating,” says the former model who started sewing when she was 10, and sewed her own clothes through high school. “It’s understanding the psychology of the character you are creating, whether it’s our principals or the bad guy or any character. You think about every aspect of the character’s life to put together the choices they would make in the clothes that they buy and wear.

“And it’s not just off-the-rack. People will look at an aloha shirt and go, ‘Oh, that’s cool,’ but that shirt has been made to fit Chin Ho perfectly. The sleeves are altered, the body may come in, the shoulders may come up. A lot of work has gone into it. You can take something that isn’t the most expensive and make it look fantastic through alterations and through tailoring.”

Pahoa says her actors run the gamut of “dress me, here I am,” to method actors who can find special meaning even in the particular stitch of a garment. “I like to meet in the middle and talk about the character and get the actor’s input because it feeds my creative understanding of the character,” she explains.

When asked how similar the actors are to their Five-0 persona, Pahoa says that Grace Park has “a really cute, funky little style,” completely unlike her serious cop role as Kono.

“Wardrobe helps the actor embody the character,” says Pahoa. “With Scott (Caan) as Danno, for example, he does it so well, but that’s not him at all. We help them so that when they put their clothes on, they can feel that character.”

Part of making the character real is making the wardrobe feel real, and we’re talking washing items over and over so they have that worn look, fraying T-shirt collars with sandpaper to replicate what men’s chin bristle might do over time and literally tumbling clothes with rocks in a cement mixer to age them. Keeping with her philosophy that “aging is art,” Pahoa adds a drop of dye to the washing machine with white clothes to get rid of their out-of-the-package brightness, and sometimes even a few stains are added. And Pahoa prefers that the actors spend some time in their costume to give it wrinkle and body shape. “Unless it’s like Danno’s wife, when she was wearing Dolce and Gabbana, or the governor,” she says of the elegant and fastidiously groomed characters.

Pahoa confided that she keeps three or four of each clothing item in stock and six or seven of everything when it comes to the principal actors, especially because they do most of their own fighting scenes. A sleeve might be scored so that when it’s yanked during the scene it tears easily, and the next scene, since they’re shot out of sequence, might demand that the shirt be whole again. Pahoa admits that finding enough stock on the island can be challenging. Considering that the lead characters alone can wear anything from two to six changes of clothes per episode, we’re talking a lot of shopping, a lot of cashola and a lot of laundry.

Regarding budget, “I actually have two separate budgets – one per episode and one for principals that I can spend in the beginning, like $10,000 per character to start their closet,” says Pahoa. “I have a set amount that I come in on with each episode, then I let them know if it’s going to be more or a little bit less. Less doesn’t happen too often.”

Pahoa works closely with other departments such as set design and props. “We don’t want a green wall and then put McGarrett in a green shirt,” she points out, adding that she generally handles jewelry and purses, and shares sunglasses with props, the department that also handles the vests, badges and guns.

While on the topic of tricks of the trade, Pahoa says Chin Ho’s long-sleeved shirts not only help distinguish his wardrobe from McGarrett’s, but they also give him the opportunity to wear stunt pads on his elbows during fight scenes.

The wardrobe may soon encounter subtle changes, at least with McGarrett. “McGarrett’s color theme is dark, and that started from the pilot because he was darker on the inside,” says Pahoa, referring to his angst over his father’s death. But recently she’s been advised to put him in some blues.

“It will never be a lot of color,” she admits. “McGarrett is going to have a classic look because a military man has a very specific look. But it’s going to be quite the day when Danny really lets the tie go, if he ever does.”

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