When you think of your favorite television shows, is the first thing that comes to mind the hilarious characters? The melodramatic storylines? Or is it the iconic clothes? If you’re like me, it’s those unforgettable designer moments. I mean, Fran Fine’s leopard skirt suit from the first episode of The Nanny was the perfect mix of sexy and sweet and set the tone for her flashy looks to come. And Maddie Perez’s purple two-piece set in Euphoria‘s carnival episode was the epitome of savage, proving she was 100% that b*tch. Or that time when Carrie got robbed in that one episode of Sex and the City, and she lost her favorite strappy Manolos and her sparkly Fendi baguette bag?!
I’m not the only one who’s obsessed either. There are websites dedicated to the style seen on television (see Worn on TV), and Instagram accounts are devoted to the fashion seen on classic shows (I recommend @everyoutfitonsatc and @whatfranwore). We fixate over the highly covetable outfits seen on Grown-ish or Killing Eve and study YouTube videos on how to get the style of our favorite Euphoria characters. It’s incredibly addictive.
What I’m trying to say is costume design is an essential part of any production. It’s a means of enhancing the image of a character through the fashion (or non-fashion) of the times. Costume design aids in storytelling, developing the arc of a character, and conveys how that character wants the world to see him/herself.
A well-styled cast that speaks to the fashion of the day or popularizes a trend for the market does more. It instantly elevates any television show and defines an era. Think about how Gossip Girl redefined menswear for the early aughts with Chuck Bass or how The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air popularized the streetwear brand Cross Colours making bold and colorful streetwear characteristic of the ’90s. Even more than the sudden cliffhangers or will-they-won’t they relationships, what killer fits our favorite characters are rocking is what we want to tune in every week to see.
There’s something about this teen television drama that brings out my inner fashion enthusiast. I definitely can’t afford the cast’s wardrobes, but Jules’ mini-skirts and Cassie’s crop tops are what I wished I could wear in high school if there wasn’t a dress code (or if I had a little more confidence back then tbh). These teens had no rules, especially when it came to the winter formal attire, for which costume designer Heidi Bivens was told to “just go for it.”
The wardrobe perfectly communicated each character’s state of mind and development to the audience. Rue’s style was incredibly tomboy, and she always rocked a pair of Converse. Her signature hoodie became like her security blanket after rehab. By contrast, at the beginning of the season, Jules dressed very girly in candy colors and tennis skirts in such a way to seek validation from men. As the series progressed, she came into her own and switched to pants—her winter formal outfit is the peak of her empowerment. Maddie was as savage as they come. She never shied away from a fashion risk, wearing the sheerest of sheer top and skirt sets to winter formal with massive confidence. Kat underwent a dramatic wardrobe change from the start. She embraced her sexuality and began to favor a total BDSM vibe as a result. Finally, Cassie was all over the place with her style, signifying her struggle with identity. Her winter formal look was very understated, which reflected a change in her after exercising her right to choose.
More than storytelling, the wardrobe spoke to Generation Z on another level. One that inspired countless YouTube videos and fashion articles on “how to get the Euphoria look.”
In the most recent season of Insecure in particular, costume designer Shiona Turini made a point to buy and support Black designers and emphasize the beauty of Black women. She frequently inserted references to Black culture with certain wardrobe choices; for instance, the Halloween episode from season four has the gang dressed up as characters from Black films like B.A.P.S.
The wardrobes of the leading duo reflect their evolutions and increasing buying power as they succeed in their respective careers. For Issa, this means more tailored, professional pieces, and for Molly, it’s all about color as an indicator of her ambition. Molly is also known to dabble with designer labels, a side of Black women mainstream audiences might not get to see too often. Insecure has become a cultural fixture, and the styling is a large part of that popularity, expertly reflecting the contemporary Black experience.
Villanelle is the best dressed psychopathic assassin ever. Not that I don’t love Eve’s muted coats and perpetual business casual-ness, but Villanelle steals the spotlight. She has a flair for the dramatic, and her couture wardrobe perfectly embodies this thanks to costume designers Phoebe De Gaye (season one), Charlotte Mitchell (season two), and Sam Perry (season three). You’d be hard-pressed to find a single piece worn by the murderess that hasn’t sold out. She typically wears British brands, including a blue floral dress from the third season by The Vampire’s Wife (a label loved by British royals and A-listers). This number has been dubbed “The Villanelle Dress” by founder Susie Cave. Not to mention the pink tulle Molly Goddard dress she donned in season one that spawned at least a thousand Pinterest boards and launched the tulle revival of 2018.
Fashionistas Yara Shahidi, Chloe x Halle, and Luka Sabbat star in this show, so it makes sense they would have designer fits that look straight out of Teen Vogue. The show is ever-so stylish, and the main character Zoey Johnson stuns in everything from Ganni to The Attico to Oscar de la Renta. Zoey’s style has grown chicer and more sophisticated as she’s grown, so she would never be caught dead in a pair of sweats unlike some more underdressed college students you might know. Legendary costume designer Michelle Cole features high-low styling, effortlessly mixing high-end fashion from Saks with affordable pieces from Zara, keeping it more aspirational to the young adult audience. I definitely feel inspired to incorporate more of Zoey’s high-fashion glam or Skyler and Jazlyn’s colorful athleisure into my wardrobe.
Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
The Fresh Prince made ‘90s fashion iconic with help from costume designers Violette Jones-Faison and Judy Richman. Will’s go-to style was bold patterns and bright color combos paired with chunky sneakers. We all remember his colorful school uniform blazer that he flipped inside out to hide the drab exterior the rest of his peers would wear, a move which pretty much sums up his whole character. Arguably the freshest of them all, Hilary Banks served us some major looks throughout the series run. Always polished and classy, she loved a matching power suit and hat. Then there’s Ashley, who grew into her signature style that included iconic ’90s must-haves as the series progressed. Her looks were much more aspirational to the average teen and so underrated!
The show is credited with bringing colorful ‘90s street style to the mainstream. Will Smith popularized the Black streetwear brand Cross Colours by wearing their clothing on camera. In this way, the hip-hop style became a permanent part of how we remember his character and the decade.
Our favorite Upper East Siders caused drama just as often as they gave us straight-off-the-runway designer moments (which was just about every episode). Serena’s wardrobe had a bohemian, yet luxe style inspired by Kate Moss. Blair’s style was very preppy and posh inspired by her idol Audrey Hepburn. She made headbands happen, and her baby blue Elie Saab wedding dress was a knockout. But Chuck Bass was the real trailblazer. He always dressed like a gentleman, whether in a pink jacket or with an ascot, and would never dream of wearing jeans. According to costume designer Eric Daman, Bass redefined what was masculine for the menswear world and made it okay to dress in an elevated manner.
Sex and the City
Sex and the City single-handedly made Manolo Blahniks a household name. Carrie was a fashion risk-taker with a penchant for designer fits (that she definitely couldn’t afford on a columnist’s salary), and her weakness was Manolos. Carrie also made the Dior saddlebag a must-have accessory. Another handbag the show popularized was the Fendi baguette bag. Fendi loaned these bags to the series early on, which prompted other fashion houses to follow suit after seeing the immediate influence the show had on consumers. The bag became so synonymous with Carrie that Sarah Jessica Parker went on to design a purse for the brand. The series had a massive effect on the fashion industry in the early aughts thanks to legendary costume designer Patricia Field and is remembered today as one of the most stylish television shows of all time.
The flashy girl from Flushing became a ‘90s fashion icon with the help of costume designer Brenda Cooper, who won an Emmy for her work. Moschino, Todd Oldham, and Hervé Léger helped define Fran’s signature look. The clotheshorse is instantly recognizable a mile away with her distinctive animal print or colorful fun fur. Her influence is unparalleled, especially today, with the wave of ‘90s nostalgia that’s been persisting for years. Take Cardi B’s Instagram post in September 2018 at Milan Fashion Week in full animal print captioned “Fran Drescher in @dolcegabbana.” Also, the Instagram account @whatfranwore is an archive of Fran’s looks and is very popular among young people who weren’t even born when The Nanny aired!
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