Sheryl Lee Ralph And Lisa Ann Walter On Abbott Elementary's A+ Wardrobe, And The Compliments They Get From Real Teachers

Sheryl Lee Ralph And Lisa Ann Walter in Abbott Elementary
(Image credit: ABC)

School is back in session, and with that so is Abbott Elementary, which recently returned to the 2022 TV schedule for its second season, hot off its big night at the Emmys. And in the hit sitcom about a Philadelphia public school, all the teachers, on screen and off screen, apparently pay a lot of attention to the wardrobe of the series. 

When CinemaBlend’s Nick Venable and a few other outlets spoke to Sheryl Lee Ralph and Lisa Ann Walter, who respectively play Barbara Howard and Melissa Schemmenti on Abbott Elementary, the pair spoke to their A+ wardrobe on the show. Check out what they had to say: 

Sheryl Lee Ralph: Believe it or not, our costume designer Sue has been absolutely amazing and intentional about shopping our wardrobe, shopping our look in the stores that the characters themselves would shop in. So you might see me in these lovely sweaters, but they've been purchased in Ross, they've been purchased on the sale rack at Macy's, they have been purchased at Marshalls. That's how they go about building the look of the character. Now, we know that Barbara Howard, she's a church lady. She's a very buttoned-up lady, so you see those twin sets, those sweater sets; you see the pearls. Who knew that one woman had so many pearls? My goodness. 

Lisa Ann Walter: Barbara Howard brought the pearls back.

Sheryl Lee Ralph: And her hair, it's that iconic-now wig, where so many people on social media are like, 'Oh my God, we all know the teacher with that wig.

Lisa Ann Walter: That 27-piece wig. They're very specific. They know the wig.

Sheryl Lee Ralph:  And I love the fact that teachers actually look at our clothing - and my shoes, my shoes are comfortable - they revel in the idea that we're not making fun of them. We're just showing what it is they do. And I'm so happy that Quinta chose Sue, who was so able to make that vision come alive, that teachers actually react to it with love, and they appreciate also being seen. So, that's another thing we're working on is: the Barbara Howard line of clothing. I can see that.

While the Abbott Elementary teachers are styling, the costume designer on the show actually pays close attention to not have them wear runway fashion. As Ralph noted, Susan Michalek shops for the teachers by going to common places public school teachers may go to, like Ross and Marshalls. Not only that, but real teachers have noticed that the series pays attention to those details and depicts the teachers with some realism. The pair of Abbott Elementary stars also said this: 

Lisa Ann Walter: It's funny, because in Season 1, they were really trying to get us to wear something different every episode, which networks love to do. They're like, 'Well, how will they know it's a different episode if you're in the same clothes?' But they mixed, and they are starting to trade pieces off. But all of my stuff is the same stuff I had last year with a couple of new jackets. I wear five or six pairs of pants, and I wear the same shoes every day. My shoes are high-heeled Doc Martens, and I have one other pair of Jessica Simpson platform thong sandals that I wore exactly twice. That's it, two pairs of shoes. And we have people specifically write us and say thank you, thanks for representing what you would do. Because I mean, in my head, Melissa's got clothes she might go out and disco dance in, but she's not wearing those to school. She's wearing school clothes.

Sheryl Lee Ralph: Not Ava. Ava will wear anything. Ava loves all kinds of cleavage, and she doesn't mind showing it. Ava will change her hair every hour if you let her, and spend school money on it too.

As Ralph pointed out, the character of Principal Ava, fabulously played by Janelle James, is an exception here. She’s into all the fashion and doesn’t mind flaunting it. But that’s part of her character, whereas Barbara Howard has given her own money to make sure her students are getting the right education. Ralph once wanted to play Ava first before creator and star Quinta Brunson convinced her otherwise. However, as Walter pointed out, even Ava’s clothes are not crazy expensive. For example, she often wears clothes from Zara. 

CinemaBlend also spoke to Tyler James Williams about Gregory Eddie always breaking acting rules to look straight into the camera, and Quinta Brunson about one component of the series that especially reminds her of classic sitcoms. Catching up with the Abbott Elementary cast comes as the new season continues to roll out. We’ve barely scratched the surface on Season 2, but now that it’s caught a wave and has become more popular, perhaps more exciting guest stars will pop up too. 

New episodes of Abbott Elementary premiere on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.   

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.