Whether you were a fashion enthusiast or not, I refuse to believe that you didn't attempt to emulate your favourite on-screen character by dressing like them on at least one occasion in your life.
Fashion has had a hold on how we perceive what's on our screens for over a century. From the first indication of time periods to a character's intended economic status, the scene is mostly set through the clothes. Whether that be Holly Golightly strolling up to a Tiffany store in custom Givenchy, Julia Roberts walking down Rodeo Drive to deliver her iconic dialogue ("You work on commission right? Big mistake. Huge!"), or Miranda and Andy's “coat-bag” sequence – some sartorial moments on screen have definitely stuck with us.
Before we delve into the shows and films that brought as some epic fashion moments in the last few years, the question must be answered – what is a costume designer? From my research and own experience (having lived with a costume designer for 25 years now), there are two kinds of costume designers. The first being someone who will actually design clothes for theatre, film or television from scratch; the second is one who curates a collection of apparel and accessories to better portray a character on screen and brings them and the script to life.
The most recent show to catch my eye for its costumes is The Queen's Gambit. Berlin-based costume designer Gabriele Binder told Vogue's Julia Hobbs about how she began by reading the script and then delved into the world of chess "to find out what [traits] are unique to chess players and what makes them interesting people." Binder's main aim, like her contemporaries, was to use the clothes and accessories to link Ann Taylor-Joy's Beth Harmon even more to the scripts. One cannot miss the presence of checks, the 1950s and 1960s style and cultural influences, and details from her own past Harmon's wardrobe carries throughout the series as a seasoned chess-player making her way from tournament to tournament.
Costumes also happen to be a very unique way for shows and films to connect with their audiences and enhance the narrative – fans find parallels between Harry Potter's battle cardigan and his father's wartime outfits, Killing Eve's Villanelle and Eve wearing complementary colours in the finales, but the most attention to detail comes from the Game of Thrones fanbase.
Costume designer Michele Clapton has been very vocal about using clothes, accessories, and in this case, sometimes armour to convey each character's state of mind to the audience. It's not always obvious, but eagle-eyed fans take notice of details like how character's like Sansa Stark's clothes focus more on wolves as she progresses through the seasons and starts to gain power, return to Winterfell and have her own identity. These details aren't limited to clothes – Sophie Turner told Refinery29 in 2017 about how Sansa's hair and how she dresses is a constant reflection of the people she's learning from or is inspired by at the time. Even though these weren't designer clothes, the depth they added to a character and the direction of the story really made fans across the globe stop and take notice of these details, furthermore creating a chain reaction for other fanbases to also read more into the fashion in film and television.
Phoebe de Gaye, costume designer for the first season of Killing Eve and the brains behind the now-iconic Molly Goddard dress, puts it quite simply – "you're using the clothes as a plot device". As most of us who've seen the show can confirm, Villanelle isn't your run-of-the-mill assassin. She isn't always wearing combat boots and an all-black outfit to camouflage herself into the crowd. Instead, she kicks ass, literally and figuratively in couture. Villanelle wears Molly Goddard to therapy, a Comme des Garçons tailcoat to her wedding and a satin Halpern suit to fight another assassin at a tube station. Jodie Comer’s portrayal of this worldly, slightly unstable assassin is commendable, but for me, her clothes are the elements that really communicate how she’s feeling. Her outfits become a direct representation of the kind of person she is; she likes expensive things, isn't one to wear white on her wedding, and for someone who would normally blend into the background, wears some of the most attention-grabbing outfits. One of the key moments for me in the whole series is when she goes back to her family in Russia. The high-fashion looks get pared back and she opts for something a little more toned down. It's an effort to blend in and belong to the town she was raised in – but there's still something about the way she dresses that sets her apart. The final scene in the episode where she [SPOILER] essentially kills most of her family and leaves, she's wearing her mother's denim jumpsuit, it's almost as if she's accepted her past, accepted what she's just done and is ready to move onto the next chapter of her life. While to a passerby this may make little to no impact, for many viewers who read more into details and take in all the visual elements of what they're watching, these costumes do help tell the story.
In terms of business, it's a great way for brands to reach audiences that don't necessarily follow fashion. Several accounts on Instagram now spend time trying to identify clothes worn by celebrities on screens, red carpets and in paparazzi shots – and this allows for so many new, niche brands to be discovered on social media. Season 3 of Killing Eve did exactly that for brands like The Vampire's Wife, La DoubleJ, Dice Kayek to name a few and also inspired Max Mara's Spring 2020 collection.
Costumer designer Lynsey Moore (for BBC's I May Destroy You) recently said to The Guardian "To me, the best costumes [in dramas] are the ones that don’t even register because they look so real." As an audience we've reached a point where we no longer have to invest in fabric to recreate an outfit we see on screen from scratch; instead, we do a little digging online, find out exactly which piece the actor's wearing, add to cart and it's in our hands in 2-5 business days. Designers have also started to take this into account when creating their collections. Fashion is becoming more relatable and more importantly, more wearable. A great example of how film and television inspired fashion is Ralph Lauren's Friends collection. For the show's 25th anniversary, Ralph Lauren created a capsule collection in collaboration with Warner Bros as an homage to Rachel Green's five fictional years at the brand on screen. The Wear to Work collection featured several of Green's looks through the seasons, including high polo-necks, mini skirts, faux leopard fur and preppy prints, proving that you too can dress like your favourite 2000s iconic.
Which are some of your favourite character outfits on screen? What shows or movies do you watch for their costumes? And be honest – how many times have you dressed up as Cher from Clueless for Halloween? Tell us on Instagram.
All images have been sourced from Pinterest.