There's a lot of bare skin on the new Showtime show Masters of Sex—it is after all about famed sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson—but you should probably pay attention to the underwear. 

"The '57-58 mode was about working fabric over a very strong foundation to support a women’s figure," series costume designer Ane Crabtree says. "A tiny little waist, lean pert hips. So we start with a very, very strong girdle. Like a real one. It whittles your waist within six months into this shape — I mean it really happens — and a long line bra." That, for the uninitiated, is a bra that goes down to meet the girdle. "You’re sort of encased in this form fitting shape that actually accentuates and even makes it a bit more dramatic your own shape." 

Viewers would do well to note to the contrast between the clothed and the naked bodies on the show, which premieres this Sunday. In a way, the clothed bodies, the ones pinched by girdles are the sexier ones, conforming to a big-boobed, tiny-waisted standard of '50s glamour, even in a midwestern university setting. Actresses like Lizzy Caplan and Caitlin FitzGerald had to wear the undergarments even for fittings. When people are naked on the show it's often, well, not very sexy. Even the prettiest people don't look that good under a harsh, hospital light, attached to electrodes, and facing the realities of their sexual performance. 

"Even as a modern woman I think that the clothing was really exciting because everything looks like couture today," Crabtree explained. "If you're looking at a normal fifties housewife's dress on that foundation garment or if you’re looking at a secretary's beautiful twin set sweater and a pencil skirt on that foundation garment, everything looks like it's been made via couture and it fits the body perfect. We're not used to that." On the other hand, the naked people on the show had to have "really, really natural bodies, because plastic surgery did exist perhaps in terms of very early boob jobs, but not really, not for the masses. It was really essential to have folks with real bodies. It's a very important part of the show." 

To divine the costumes for the show, Crabtree looked, in part, to what the characters would be reading. Someone like Caitlin FitzGerald's Libby Masters—William's wife, who is often seen in full-skirted house dresses—would be looking at House BeautifulHouse and GardenBazaar, or the Hollywood publications like "stories of the stars, that sort of thing," for instance. Lizzy Caplan's Virginia Johnson—a former nightclub singer, who wears tight sweaters and pencil skirts—might read an entertainment magazines and fashion magazines "because she was more forward and more independent." 

While Crabtree said she was inspired by uniforms for the men's costumes—much of the show does take place in a hospital, after all—the underwear was equally important for the guys. "On William H. Masters, Michael Sheen, we made everything. I mean even his underwear, because it fits differently," she said. "If he has to take off his clothes or if we ever see him in any state of undress, you’re going to want a vintage pair of boxers there because a modern day one gives it away." Of course, on the men it's not as noticeable underneath the clothing. "A lot of the fabrics were thick wool in terms of the suits and trousers, so you wouldn't maybe notice if they weren't wearing period underwear, but it was really important psychologically for the actors," Crabtree said. 

Crabtree provided us with some costume sketches from the show. See them here: