For Hulu’s murder-mystery comedy Only Murders in the Building, costume designer Dana Covarrubias was gifted an arguably impossible task: Make an audience forget Selena Gomez is Selena Gomez. The pop icon—who had not appeared as a series regular on a television show since her time on Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place more than a decade ago—would be playing Mabel, a young, vaguely unknowable woman with a biting wit and a penchant for true crime. She would, of course, be Gomez, but she couldn’t look like Gomez, lest viewers be pulled from the show’s universe.
Most importantly, Mabel would need to mesh well with her troupe of amateur criminologists, rounded out by two older white men: The affable Steve Martin (playing veteran actor Charles Haden-Savage) and kooky Martin Short (playing theater director Oliver Putman). “The main concern when looking at the costumes would be, ‘How do we bring Selena Gomez, this icon, into this world and have her physically standing next to Steve and Marty and not look super weird?’” Covarrubias told ELLE.com prior to season 1.
The solution might have seemed straightforward: Ease back on Gomez’s signature style, perhaps drape her in dull hues or pedestrian basics. Slap her in a baseball cap and a tote bag. But such an approach wouldn’t have been true to Mabel, either. The character shoulders a heavy burden, a sense of secrecy that works as a warning beacon for anyone approaching. That trauma motivates her search for victim Tim Kono’s killer throughout the show’s first season, Bunny’s in the second, and now Ben’s in the third.
“Her whole concept was basically that her costumes were a type of armor,” Covarrubias says. “So she’s using these really bright colors in the same way as an animal with a brightly colored coat: ‘Beware. Danger. Leave me alone. Back off.’” Balancing these two competing motivations—settling Gomez in reality, while elevating Mabel’s own mien—gave the designer an intriguing challenge. She decided Mabel’s style should be immediately eye-catching, enough that it would draw a double-take on the streets of Manhattan, but not so dramatic that it’d invite further inquiry. This way, the character could be both intriguing and safely anonymous.
In season 1, Covarrubias achieved this look with a parade of flashy colors imbued in soft textures: yellow faux fur, paint-splattered denim, rainbow knits, pink feathers, crimson vinyl, and white shearling. In season 2, she returned with a similar color palette but more adventurous looks, drawing upon the The Hardy Boys books that Mabel grew up reading. Bright blues, teals, reds and golds filled Mabel’s wardrobe—many pieces thrifted from Covarrubias’s home borough of Brooklyn. And in season 3, those colors are remixed in often elegant-but-comfortable professional attire suited for the theater setting of the latest murder mystery.
As a result, Gomez’s fashion is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the wacky Hulu series, in seasons 1, 2, and the now-airing season 3. To get a better idea of how the best fits came together—and where one might find decent dupes—ELLE.com asked Covarrubias for a few insights. Ahead, find our recommendations for what and where to shop. As new episodes drop in the coming weeks, we’ll update this post with more inspiration from the designer’s (and, of course, Mabel’s) closet.
Episode 5: The Farm Rio Dress
On a purely “platonic” date with Tobert in season 3, Mabel sports this rich crimson dress from Farm Rio, paired with a simple Zara pearl bag. Covarrubias also made use of a pair of Rellery necklaces that Gomez has worn with multiple looks throughout all three seasons of Only Murders in the Building, as an homage to the Mexican heritage Covarrubias herself shares with Gomez. “The [necklaces] have two little tiny engraved marigolds on them … Marigolds are very important in Mexican iconography and culture,” she explains. “They can represent grief and resurrection, passion and creativity.”
Episode 1: The Art Gallery Look
Although it’s not Mabel’s first look of the second season—that title belongs to the blood-stained sweater of last season’s finale—there’s no question this bright orange number is her most show-stopping look of the season 2 premiere. Slipping into a sheer trench coat, orange shirt-dress and pointed-toe calf-high boots, Mabel looks perfectly at home amongst both the stylish and the eccentric at Alice’s (Cara Delevingne) art gallery.
Episode 2: The Destroyer Look
Right up there with Gomez’s art-gallery look, this season 2 stunner is a triumph of texture and pattern play. Mabel shows up at Alice’s door in a black-and-white collared argyle sweater, looking like a chess piece draped in a shocking yellow overcoat. But it’s the ribbed white lounge pants and mulberry-colored mid-calf crocodile boots that really seal the deal—especially when Gomez has an axe in her hands.
Throughout the series, Mabel often wears such thick sweaters while Martin and Short opt for silk, satin or cotton. “Her character is a knitter,” Covarrubias explains. “So we wanted to find some really wonderful chunky, loose knits that looked like she could have made them.”
Episode 3: The Checkered Lime Cardigan
Most of Mabel’s looks have a hint of timelessness tying them together, but this lime-green checkered cardigan look is all Gen Z. Covarrubias elevated the outfit with simple, unobtrusive black trousers and Mabel’s beloved oversized jewelry, but the eye-catching piece is undoubtedly the sweater from Lisa Says Gah.
Episode 1: Mabel’s First Look
For Gomez’s first appearance in episode 1, Covarrubias wanted to make a quick and powerful impression: “We wanted the first thought to be, Who is she?” The designer, who had previously worked on shows including Ramy and Master of None, dressed Gomez in the yellow faux fur jacket, matching sweater and plaid pants that immediately lured paparazzi while the actress was on set in December 2020.
Covarrubias chose the bold color as the series’ first nod to the marigold motif also imbued in the Rellery necklaces. The symbolism “just fit very perfectly for [Mabel’s] character, because she’s held back by this thing that happened in her past, and she’s also an artist. So we knew we wanted to use those color tones, the reds and the golds and yellows, for her character a lot.” The sweater and pants were both thrifted, while the coat is Michael Kors and the boots Kurt Geiger.
Episode 1: The Red Coverall
For Gomez’s third look in the series premiere, she donned a pair of vibrant coveralls, chunky Chelsea boots, and a shearling coat. The heavy shoes are a recurring staple in Mabel’s wardrobe, Covarrubias says, as a way to accentuate her spiky exterior.
These subtle but important choices helped Gomez get into character every time she tried a new outfit. “In the very first [fitting], after one or two looks she tried on, [Gomez] was already like, ‘Oh yeah, I get it. I get who she is. I feel it,’” Covarrubias says. “It’s not a silhouette that you see her personally wearing all the time. It was able to push her into the character, I feel like.”
Episode 4: The Sies Marjan Teddy Coat
Paparazzi first snapped this photo of Gomez on set in February 2021. In episode 4, it’s the last look she wears as she heads out from the Arconia, pursued by the mysterious Tie Dye Guy.
The luxurious teddy coat Mabel wears is by Sies Marjan, one of Covarrubias’s favorite designers. “The coat originally came with a built-in underlayer lining that was a trench coat fabric,” she says. “And the only issue was, when we tried it on during the fitting, we realized it was super noisy. So we actually removed that lining, did some swatching and customized it to fit our needs. And it just popped on camera so well.”
Episode 10: The Blood-Stained Sweater
Gomez’s last fit of the first season is also the only new look in the finale, in which we learn Charles’s girlfriend, Jan, killed Tim Kono—oh, and also, Mabel is caught huddled in front of Bunny’s corpse. Back in April 2021, photographers near the set of Only Murders caught a few snapshots of Gomez in a blood-stained sweater, leading some to speculate she’d be Tim’s murderer. Her final look, a white turtleneck paired with a plaid miniskirt and combat boots, might not be the coziest ensemble for a stint in jail, but she sure looked good during police interrogations.
Lauren Puckett-Pope is a staff culture writer at ELLE, where she primarily covers film, television and books. She was previously an associate editor at ELLE.