As 2021 just begins, it’s safe to say consumers are still glued to their TVs. HBO and HBO Max now have a combined 41.5 million domestic subscribers, up 20% from the year prior, and Netflix reported its fourth quarter 2020 earnings, announcing that the company has surpassed 200 million paid subscribers.
Television on various platforms has provided refuge amid Covid-19, anxiety-inducing politics, job loss, and more crises. Not only has TV been a way to disconnect, but it’s also been an aspirational tool as it continues to shape and influence fashion lovers stuck at home. With no red carpet in sight or street style stars constantly being photographed on the go, viewers have turned to their favorite characters for style inspiration.
“It used to be that ‘Sex and the City’ was all people talked about it because it really was like a show pony of fashion. There weren’t a lot of other shows like that at that time,” said “The Flight Attendant” costume designer Cat Thomas. “Now, there’s so much good television being made and it’s just growing by leaps and bounds across all the sort of disciplines. But I think clothes can be more subtle and people are talking about it more.”
“The Flight Attendant,” produced by and starring Kaley Cuoco, can be best-described as the HBO Max cat-mouse dramedy. Its lead (Cuoco), however, is also a young woman living in New York and jetsetting around the world as an alcoholic flight attendant. With that, comes a modern day wardrobe that is inevitably influencing its audience who is craving the chance to dress up and step out in heels.
“Cuoco’s character Cassie had this kind of tomboy chic style. She could be really practical, but she also could be really fun and whimsical at the same time, so that was our departure point,” said Thomas. “It was really important for me that people could connect to Cassie in a real way in that she could be a real person who has flaws, but also gets up and puts on her favorite pieces and has a sense of self [in her style.]”
Throughout the series, which has been nominated for SAG and Golden Globe Awards, Cuoco (she nabbed noms for acting, too) can be seen in New York wearing captivating coats from Marni and Stella McCartney, with perfectly tailored Levi jeans and practical, yet stylish boots, whether they were Tamara Mellon or Dr. Martens. She’s later seen in Rome walking on cobble stone streets in a mixed-print ensemble that would give any Instagram influencer a run for her money.
Since the days of Carrie Bradshaw, modern costume design has certainly evolved. Just look at Zendaya as Rue Bennett in HBO’s “Euphoria.” She’s a recovering teenage drug addict, there are no Manolos in sight, yet the show has become a pop culture phenomenon and its costumes are at its center of success. (Zendaya’s new Netflix project “Malcom & Marie” is also generating major fashion buzz, thanks to styling by Law Roach and a costume comprised of an evening gown and heels.)
“The world of ‘Euphoria’ is rooted in reality with a lot of the issues that the teens are experiencing, but the fashion and style, from makeup to the costumes, we really were given permission to sort of go off page and create our own reality that is the world of the show,” explained costume designer Heidi Bivens. “My challenge was to find a balance between pushing the style to hopefully be aspirational and exciting visually while [maintaining] the storytelling and developing characters, but also so that it wasn’t distracting in a way that took you out of the story.”
It worked. After the show premiered in 2019, it became a touchstone for Gen Z style all while influencing red carpet and Fashion Week trends seen in its eccentric makeup, for instance. Meanwhile, each character had their own unique style. Hunter Schafer’s Sailor Moon-like Jules wears platform Buffalo boots with fishnets and bold miniskirts and baby tees, and Barbie Ferreira’s character Kat (who was inspired by Thora Birch’s character in 2001’s “Ghost World”) can be seen in harnesses, latex and mesh.
“I do really look to Hunter for more of a collaboration because there is more crossover with her personal style. Jules, is very experimental like Hunter, whereas Zendaya is experimental with her red carpet style, but Rue is lucky she can get dressed in the morning,” added Bivens.
These looks showcased specific identity in their fashion that the audience has been able to connect to. Plus, the show has proven to be a great example of how modern fashion can be democratized in how it’s marketed on TV.
“We have a bar that was set and now I want to be able to rise above it even,” said Bivens, who is currently working on Season 2. “The potential is so great for what we could do now. I’ve talked to the producers about the idea of doing a shoppable show and merchandising looks or collaborating with designers on pieces, which were directly-inspired by the show that consumers could buy.”
“Betty,” another HBO series is setting the new standard for fashion on TV. The show follows a group of female skateboarders around New York City. Empowerment is the theme and it’s showcased through their effortlessly cool styles that break gender norms. (It debuted in 2020 and has since been picked up for Season 2.)
“There’s Honeybear, for example. She has so much style. Like, she walks into a room wearing nipple covers and you’re not offended. It’s just Honeybear. And it’s so cool as a woman and you can do that. And it may change the way we view the way that women should act,” said costume designer Camille Garmendia on the impact of show’s fashion. “They’re there to inspire girls to just be themselves, because they’re so themselves.”
Their closets are filled with skate sneakers from Adidas, Nike, Reebok and Converse, paired with mix and match patterns on button-up tees, sports bras and baggy pants from Opening Ceremony and Supreme. Garmendia also used the opportunity to highlight a range of up-and-coming designers as well as local brands, including Iggy NYC, Vanna Youngstein, Boys of Summer, CNY.NYC, Noah Clothing, Emersin and Peels.
“When we look at the clothes, we don’t look at it genderized. They wear whatever they want to wear. Even the boys wear girls stuff. The girls wear boy stuff. It’s about what makes them comfortable,” Garmendia said.
It’s a sentiment that rings true today as the fashion industry shifts towards gender-neutral dressing.