The wardrobe seen on The Middle seems typically middle-American, but a lot of thought goes into dressing The Heck family. In honor of the ABC comedy’s 100th episode (tonight at 8 p.m. EST on ABC), EW asked the show’s costume designer to share her style inspirations, go-to clothing stores, and Sue’s fashion dos and don’ts.
“The two writers, DeAnn [Heline] and Eileen [Heisler], are from the midwest… they had a lot to do with the direction we went in [in the first season],” designer Julia Caston said. “I would hate to have [viewers] in the middle of the country saying, ‘We don’t dress like that!’ I want people to see themselves in [the characters].”
It’s Frankie (Patricia Heaton) who acts as the sartorial barometer. “If you’re a mother of three, you don’t really spend money on your clothes, you spend it on your children’s clothes, especially if you’re working hard to keep a budget. I always want her to appeal to all of the mothers out there,” explained Caston, who stocks the Heck matriarch’s closet with pieces from Target, Gap, and JC Penney. “I try to keep [her look] clean, nothing too fussy.” And though Caston is sometimes tempted to work a designer label, Heaton is vigilant. ”Patty keeps me in check. Any time I bring her something a little more high-end, she’ll say, ‘Come on, you can get that at Target!’”
Each character has a signature style, but it’s the always-optimistic Sue Heck (Eden Sher) whose wardrobe often stands out. “In the very beginning [she was] a wallflower, so we were asked to pick color tones that were [practically] invisible, palettes that were really youthful and innocent,” explained Caston. She’s still not one of the cool kids, but Sue has started to wear fashion-forward brands like Isabel Marant and Band of Outsiders. “We’ve kept the color, but she’s still got her own, wacky style.”
Read on for Caston’s rundown of Sue’s dos and don’ts.
“I try to do something DIY every single episode,” said Caston, who added a crochet rainbow to Sue’s pink A.P.C. sweater — which she paired with purple pants from Madewell — in the season three episode “The Paper Route.” “I’ve gone online and looked up ‘Awkward Family Photos’ and seen some fantastic sweaters that I’ll have [my team] recreate. As often as I can, I like to create things for [Sue] because she’s super-fun to dress.”