Costume Chief Patrick Norris Elevates the Look of This Season's Dressed-Up Thirtysomething Yups

updated 09/25/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/25/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

It's going to be a whole new look. Nothing vulgar—no Dallas suede lingerie or Dynasty sequined shoulders. Just casual chic with a dollop of, say, Armani. But thirtysomething polishing its wardrobe.

Ha! You probably didn't even notice the show had a wardrobe. Patrick Norris, thirtysomething's costume supervisor, couldn't get a better compliment. Nominated for this year's Emmy for Best Costuming for a Series for his realistic approach, Norris, 36, has been dressing soul-searching Michael, Gary and Elliot since the 1987 start. But beginning with the season's premiere this week, he'll be outfitting the equally angst-ridden Hope, Ellyn, Melissa and Nancy.

When Norris began working with the women last spring, he already had a foot in the dressing-room door. "They had all complimented me on how good their guys looked," he says. He solidified that faith with a day of shopping with each actress. "Patrick's my sugar daddy," says Polly Draper (Ellyn) with a laugh. "He'd just say, 'The sky's the limit, baby—whatever you want.' " He lied: What Norris wants is more patterns and richer colors, fewer solids and pastels.

A 16-year wardrobe veteran (he got his start washing clothes on David Carradine's Kung Fu series), Norris has no formal training. But there's probably a genetic influence. Norris's father, Richard Bartlett, was a TV director (Riverboat, Wagon Train). His mother, Patricia Norris, won Oscar nominations for her wardrobe work on The Elephant Man (1980), Victor/Victoria (1982) and 2010 (1984).

Though he earned an Emmy nomination for CBS's 1986 miniseries Blood and Orchids, Norris suspects he got his thirtysomething job in part because "I was the first to walk in who wasn't 60 and gay. I was thirtysomething." The producers sent him home with a script. "This is too real and depressing," thought Norris. But then his wife, Jody, 29, mentioned their own grim realities. "We needed the money," says Norris, a thrice-married father of two.

Norris's approach to dressing is decidedly laid-back. "Go into your closet and make sure it's dark," he advises. "Put something on, then come out and look. It's probably going to be pretty cool." Here, a preview of his characters' new clothes, starting from the left:

Ellyn (Polly Draper), the show's city planner, is finally lightening up. "I'm giving her some fun stuff to put underneath her suits," says Norris. She's also getting a new perm, more jewelry and less fabric. "Basically, Patrick gave me a man's outlook," says Draper. "Everything's shorter and tighter." With an occasional break into corduroy.

Gary (Peter Horton) is "the kind of guy who keeps his clothes for 10 years," says Norris. "He's not fashion-conscious, but he can put an outfit together." As a rule, professor Gary wears his pants straight out of the washing machine. Here, a dress-up look: navy cardigan and pleated slacks softened by a turquoise T-shirt and five-day stubble.

Elliot (Timothy Busfield), one-half of the show's ad agency team, sports some Charles Patrick designs-clothes Norris creates with partner Charles Winston. The suit is red-accented brown herringbone, the tie hand-painted—with billiard balls.

Nancy (Patricia Wettig) is dropping her ho-hum duds for more sophisticated looks—a black linen duster over a printed vest or this deep rust ensemble, enlivened by suede lace-up ankle boots. "Nancy's a professional now," says Norris. "She's got a book published and can look classier."

Melissa (Melanie Mayron) will keep her photog funkiness. Norris transformed a $45 thrift-shop silver lamé dress into a vampy sheath to be worn with pink stockings and silver pumps. Mayron will also wear men's pants, which Norris chopped off at the calf or ankle "for a European look."

Hope (Mel Harris) occasionally sheds her mommy jeans and sweats and raids husband Michael's closets for some knit vests. Pulled over her new silk shirts and full skirts, they form the working woman's camouflage that will see her through her new magazine job. Norris tucked a black lace handkerchief in the pocket of this mustard blazer. Stay fine-tuned: "I've put more color in her life," says Norris. "Earth colors with hints of blue."

Michael (Ken Olin) will deep-six the knit ties and don Armani suits (he's wearing one here with a Tommy Hilfiger shirt). Norris calls it the "Wall Street-you-gotta-look-perfect-yuppie look." Still, he cautions, "you'll never see him in full Armani. I don't want to give any one company billing."

—Reported by Leah Feldon in Los Angeles

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