George Costanza’s Glasses in the ‘Seinfeld’ Pilot Came from Spike Lee’s ‘Malcolm X’

The costume designer for both projects explains an unexpected accessory overlap
George Costanza’s Glasses in the ‘Seinfeld’ Pilot Came from Spike Lee’s ‘Malcolm X’

Maybe Angela Bassett likes short, stocky bald men, too.

It goes without saying that Seinfeld changed the course of fashion history in the same way it made its mark on the American sitcom. From pimp coats to puffy shirts, every piece of fabric featured in the seminal comedy imbued the series with a specific sense of style that’s still unmatched in the TV medium. Each core cast member was a style icon in their own right, with their wardrobes each reflecting their unique personalities, but if there’s a single character in sitcom history whose look is unmistakably his own, it has to be George Costanza, whose bald head, large rimmed glasses and distinct wardrobe full of Goretex and sweater vests reflected the character’s inspiration, an absolute titan of entertainment who’s still slaying today: Denzel Washington.

While George’s mannerisms, hair style (or lack thereof) and curious career decisions are all based on Seinfeld co-creator Larry David, those unimportant aspects of his character and appearance pale in comparison to the impact Washington unintentionally had on George’s characterization. According to Oscar-winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter, who worked on both Seinfeld and Malcolm X, the first pair of glasses that Jason Alexander ever wore in character came from Washington’s wardrobe in the Spike Lee biopic. 

Though Malcolm X wouldn’t be released until 1992, when Carter first started work on the Seinfeld pilot episode “The Seinfeld Chronicles” in 1989, she was fresh off of filming the biographical drama that would eventually earn Carter her first Oscar nomination. During her appearance on the most recent episode of Nessa OFF Air Podcast, Carter said that, when she first started crafting George Costanza’s iconic style, Alexander had some notes.

When Alexander suggested that George would wear glasses, Carter had only one option. “The only glasses that I have are those wired-rimmed ones that I brought in that came from Malcolm X,” she said. “(Alexander) put them on and was like, ‘Yeah, I like this shape.’ I was like, ‘Bingo, done!’ We got him fit for glasses, and that’s where it started.” Carter clarified that these glasses only appeared in specific scenes during Malcolm X, saying, “He has a scene in prison where he puts these wired-rimmed glasses on, and those were the ones I had.”

As such, Malcolm X’s prison glasses became the “prototype” for the most iconic facial accessory in Seinfeld history. I wonder which civil-rights biopic provided George’s goggles.


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