On 'Girls,' going from a loser to a hunk


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One of the big surprises in season two of "Girls," the HBO show created by Lena Dunham that has its season finale tonight, has been the transformation of Charlie (Christopher Abbott) from lovesick loser to confident Web entrepreneur and possibly even sex symbol -- an evolution that the show's costume designer has helped signal with subtle changes in his wardrobe.

He has come a long way from last year, when Charlie was little more than Marnie's overly doting long-term swain -- "the boyfriend that, when you wake up in the morning, you can deposit your retainer in his hand," said Kaitlin Phillips, a senior at Barnard who writes recaps of "Girls" for the website Vulture. His manner was compared to "buttered-noodle mother-smothers" by a writer on Grantland.com.

He was often dressed in plaid shirts soft in both color and fabric and paired with matching cardigans "to highlight the softness Marnie was seeing in him," said Jenn Rogien, the costume designer for the show, calling the style "vintage collegiate." His face was baby-soft and clean-shaven, and his hair lacked product.

Then, in what might have been an impressive move, he shaved his head in solidarity with a co-worker with cancer. It was the bold thing to do, "but he was still totally emasculated by Marnie," Ms. Phillips said. "He's not attractive in a sexual way to anyone watching. He's the friend-zone guy, and then you try to date his best friend."

Compared with the show's other male characters -- virile Adam (Adam Driver), brainy Ray (Alex Karpovsky), witty Elijah (Andrew Rannells) -- Charlie came across bland and childish. As for style, Ms. Rogien said, "Elijah's more fashion-forward, Adam is completely not engaged in the fashion game, and Ray might be anti-fashion on purpose."

There were hints of a change in the finale of season one, when Charlie wore a slim mid-tone suit to the wedding of Jessa (Jemima Kirke). "It was a conscious effort not to be in a dark suit to the wedding, that he was thinking about what he was wearing," said Ms. Rogien, who used to be a menswear buyer. "It hinted that he'd be a person that owned more than one suit, which is something most younger guys don't have."

But even if Charlie looked polished, his behavior was still passive; he flirted with Marnie but failed to act on his feelings.

Then, in a plot twist late in the second season, Charlie was seen at his new office, surrounded by a dozen employees.

He strode about confidently, joked around and, crucially, was wearing a fashionable take on a casual startup uniform. He wore a blue dress shirt with contrasting pocket and sleeves with a tan belt, skinny jeans and brown leather shoes. His hair looked professionally cut, and he had the stubble he had been cultivating all season long.

On the show, friends' reactions to the new Charlie were mixed. Ray, his bandmate in Questionable Goods, quickly wrote off Charlie's achievements as a betrayal to his own lack of ambition and said, "He's basically become a bougie nightmare."

But at a party celebrating the success of Forbid, a mobile app built by Charlie, Ray's girlfriend, Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), noted Charlie's newfound attractiveness. "You look amazing," she said. "Like seriously, you could have sex with like any girl at this party, like including me."

And it seems Marnie concurred.

"One of the keys was that the audience saw Charlie through Marnie's eyes, and as the season progressed, we've changed how we saw him," Ms. Rogien said. "I'm trying to support that with his wardrobe choices and transition him into things that were still Charlie but leaner. He's more and more becoming a professional. It has completely been an evolution of his character."

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