When you see a good historical drama about women’s lives, it makes you wonder what’s so difficult about making them. Cable Girls (2017), aka Las Chicas del Cable, is the first Spanish-language period piece produced by Netflix, and it’s already been renewed for two more seasons. Set in 1928 Madrid, the series follows the lives of four women employed by Spain’s first telephone company.
Like any decent ensemble drama, each of the main characters is a different “type”: Alba (Blanca Suárez) is the lady with a past, so she’s working under the assumed name of Lidia; Marga (Nadia de Santiago) is the modest, nervous, small-town woman alone in the big city; Carlota (Ana Fernández) is a spoiled, upper-class daughter who wants to get out from under daddy’s thumb; and Ángeles (Maggie Civantos) is a married, working mother, who’s also the supervisor of the other women, but her husband disapproves of her job.
They’re all asserting their independence from social strictures, but they have their own unique ways of doing it. Each have complicated backgrounds that come to light over the course of the eight episodes of this first season, and their work lives, love lives, and friendships intersect in ways that are believable and entertaining. This isn’t the most deep and insightful show ever made, but it’s not stupid either — I liked these characters and found them fun to watch, and I was invested in their lives, which is a lot more than I can say for some of the crap out there.
There’s none of the anachronistic feminism we’ve complained about either. Instead, Cable Girls gives a glimpse into the reality of women entering the workforce in the early 20th century. Women were typically used as operators because they would be more polite when transferring calls, plus they could be paid less then men. However, these jobs were still a step up for women in comparison to even worse pay and harder conditions at factory jobs or as domestic help. That’s why a woman like Marga would travel a long distance just to apply.
Costumes in Cable Girls / Las Chicas del Cable
The series takes a few historical liberties, in that the soundtrack is 100% modern, but not in a wild Baz Luhrmann way (or even in a fanciful Sophia Copeland’s Marie-Antoinette way). The costumes and accessories may strike some as not precisely perfect for the 1920s, but they’re as good as Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries — meaning, the lead characters always look good and the extras, not so much. Also, like Miss Fisher, this is just the first season, and maybe it’ll get more money thrown at it for seasons two and three.
The costume designer is Helena Sanchís, who also did the costumes for Spain’s Velvet (2013-2016, about a 1950s-60s haute couture house) and Grand Hotel (2011-2013, a 1900s family-mystery series), so she seems to be the country’s big-name historical costumer. In an interview with Amica (and poorly translated through Google), Sanchís describes the research she used for Cable Girls:
“It took me almost two months, there are original pieces from the 1920s and 1930s that I personally searched between markets and stores. Others are packaged from scratch and others are still a mix of pieces we find in vintage stores with new fabrics.”
She also discusses in Amica how each character’s wardrobe varies:
“We had to define four different personalities and those were difficult years, fashion was changing radically. I hope I have told four different stories in a clear way: Lidia is the most enigmatic and wears colors not too definite because of her mysterious past; Angeles is an apparent happy girl so wears prints, wider cuts; Marga is humble, timid, wearing linen and cotton; and Carlota is determined, more modern than all, has fun with contrasts of color.”
In another interview with Fotogramas, Sanchís talks about the process of mixing the historical with the needs of the production, and I kind of like the poetry that’s created by Google Translate:
“We document ourselves and it is one of the most beautiful phases of the work, but then all this documentation has to be shaped so that the fiction flows. The Madrid of the 1920s was not like that, because it is intended to be aesthetically beautiful work even if it is not so rigorous.”
One thing I was curious about is the uniforms that the main characters wear as telephone operators. Luckily, the Spanish telephone company Telefónica, founded in 1924, is still around and has extensive photographic archives online. The pictures are black and white, making it difficult to tell how close the TV show’s costumes are exactly. One article I found describes the historical uniforms as “a blue gown with a white collar” — not quite the show’s teal and black.
In regards to these telephone operator uniforms, it’s not clear if Sanchís chose the teal color from an extant example. She continues in Fotogramas that she and her wardrobe team went through quite a process in selecting the specific shade:
“We did a lot of color tests and dyeing with the telephone operator’s outfits. It was very difficult to find the exact color because being in every corner of the office was too much. We were looking for a color film that is very recognizable, which is not a pure color but a mixture of blue and green. Also the fabric was very important, had to be satin and with weight, that would not shine but that it was not matte at all. Once chosen, we did not find in the market a fabric in the color that we wanted, so we have had to dye each and every one of them. Prototypes already made will have made three or four until finding the suitable one.”
And in S.Moda, Sanchís says of the uniform’s color: “it is a very special blue. We wanted to reflect how colorful the decade was in contrast to the war that was to come.” If your Spanish is better than Google’s, feel free to click through on any of those links and let me know what you find!
The show isn’t just everyday clothes though — we do get some snazzy evening clothes because these ladies do enjoy the nightlife. There are splashy parties with the company bigwigs, Carlota’s fast set, and other characters that come into their lives. Beaded gowns and head necklaces are obligatory.
Are you watching Cable Girls / Las Chicas del Cable?