Love Period Films? Meet Arlington’s Hollywood Connection

This vintage costume design studio has a star-studded list of film, television and stage credits. 🎬
015 Arlamg Amalgamated White

The team at Amalgamated Costume and Design in Arlington, Virginia, from left: Peter Tuttle, Shelley White, Thatch Furgerson and Allison White. (Photo by Matt Mendelsohn)

When you think Hollywood, you think glamour—cameras flashing on red carpets, blockbuster movies, Denzel, Margot, Meryl. It’s a galaxy far, far away from Arlington, for the most part. And while no one is likely to confuse Sunset Boulevard with Langston Boulevard, there is a Hollywood connection right on that very street, tucked anonymously beneath a Caribbean chicken joint and a SwimBox, and it’s been providing a vital service to the entertainment business for more than a dozen years.

For Shelley White, owner of Amalgamated Costume and Design Studio, “best dressed” isn’t something you’re named, it’s something you do. Movie and theater designers rely on her to provide authentic vintage clothing—and to know the difference between a 1927 fedora and a 1928 homburg.

“We’re heavy ’20s and ’30s,” White says, reeling off terms like “trousers” and “work wear.” “I just love the styling, the everyday, common man’s clothing. I’d definitely go back to that era if I could.”

Know what a sock garter is? Her team stocks them in spades, each cataloged according to year. So when a mobster in, say, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire (yes, it’s in their lengthy list of project credits) puts down his Tommy gun and starts to get undressed at the foot of a bed, those things holding up his socks are the real deal.

White, 54, says she fell in love with vintage clothing as a kid when she saw one of the great period films of that time, Paper Moon, starring Ryan and Tatum O’Neal. “The Dust Bowl, Depression, the simple farm clothing, the feed sack dresses, the overalls. That’s the vibe I love.”

Her interest in collecting began in earnest when she was a teenager attending H-B Woodlawn in the early ’80s. “My dad worked at Greyhound and my mom was a civil servant,” she says. “There was a big vintage clothing store in D.C. I used to go there with my friends. It was a rag house with bins, and everything was a dollar. We would go there and find the most fantastic ’50s prom dresses.”

After high school, she took one of those “everyday” jobs she now clothes for films.

“I worked in a civil service position at the Pentagon for 25 years, and I wore ’40s-era suits every day,” she recounts. “Nothing that made me look like a time traveler—I’d integrate it into my contemporary wardrobe—but a lot of the older people who worked there would give me compliments.”

By the early 2000s, White was collecting more seriously and formed a business partnership with fellow connoisseur Gene Elm. “We decided on a lark to do a show up in New York at the Pier. We were approached by HBO, and they were like, ‘Do you rent clothing?’ We said yes even though we had never done it before.”

The series in question was a remake of Mildred Pierce, starring Kate Winslet. “We dressed Guy Pearce and a lot of the background actors,” White says. “That was our first TV thing.”


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Since then, Amalgamated’s star-studded list of film and television credits has grown to include White Noise with Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Lovecraft Country, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Dopesick (to name a few), not to mention Babylon, which received a 2023 Oscar nomination for costume design.

On the theater front, the shop has outfitted the casts of Mr. Saturday Night and Of Mice and Men on Broadway.

Now in the offing: HBO’s White House Plumbers, a Watergate drama starring Woody Harrelson, and Rustin, a biopic about the gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin who helped organize the 1963 March on Washington.

When asked if there are lots of other costume studios doing this specialized kind of work, White’s daughter Allison, 25, a product of Wakefield High School, stops folding clothing and jumps in.

“No!!” she says proudly. “Mom’s humble, but we are the biggest dogs in the whole mid-Atlantic. There’s almost no one else from New York to Atlanta who does what we do.”

Which partly explains why the shop’s current team of four (Elm died in 2018) is prone to working seven days a week.

The one dreaded word that makes them all cringe? Halloween. “This is authentic period clothing,” White says. There is no stash of knights’ armor or bunny suits. And with that the team goes back to sorting cotton vests from the 1920s.

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Categories: Arts & Entertainment