In before-times, we’d be glued to our multiple screens right about now, taking in all the award season fashion inspiration. Then we’d imagine ways to wear our own versions of the looks to, say, lively restaurants, crowded bars, or open-space office plans. But with a dearth of IRL celebrity red carpet moments in the last year as a result of the pandemic, it is the shows on the small screen that have been providing us with much-needed style inspo. While we may be confined to a stay-home life, we’ve vicariously toured the City of Lights while teetering around in impossibly high heels with Emily in Paris, experienced light-headedness, thanks to corsets and Regé-Jean Page in Bridgerton’s steamy Regency-era London, and wandered Manhattan’s Upper East Side while bundled in a series of can’t-miss coats in The Undoing.
Of course, this isn’t a new phenomenon. People have long been influenced by TV fashion. Think: Charlie’s Angels in the ‘70s; Dallas and Dynasty in the ‘80s; Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Friends, and Sex and the City in the ‘90s and early ‘00s; and Gossip Girl, Mad Men, and Scandal from late ‘00s to mid-2010s all spurred mini fashion moments of their own. But in the absence of actors living out their glam public lives — photographed at events and movie premieres — viewers have turned to their on-screen characters. In fact, our screen style consumption is now leaving a paper trail — or online footprint, rather — and clearing out inventory.
According to global shopping platform Lyst, the October release of Emily in Paris led to a rush on multiple pieces worn by the titular Chicago transplant (Lily Collins), including the Ronny Kobo green python mini skirt that Emily wears on her first day of work in Paris, as well as the hot pink denim style by Chiara Ferragni (both sold out). Searches for her oft-worn Kangol bucket hats jumped a whopping 342%, Ganni skirt searches increased 289%, and the Marc Jacobs’ Jelly Snapshot Camera Bag spiked 92%. Across the pond in New York City, Nicole Kidman’s outerwear collection from The Undoing inspired interest as well. According to Lyst, searches for green coats rose 35%, month-over-month, while velvet and floral styles jumped 46%.
Grown-ish costume designer Michelle Cole confirms that viewers are currently more invested in wardrobes of fictional characters. Since the mid-season premiere in January, Cole has noticed higher fashion-related fan engagement on her own Instagram and the show’s social channels, compared to years prior. “There are definitely more comments about the wardrobe than ever before,” she says. Data provider Semrush found that searches for “grown-ish outfits” spiked 93% from December 2020 to the show’s return in January 2021, while interest in Zoey’s (Yara Shahidi) outfits jumped 104%, over the same period. Cole points out fans are enjoying seeing fashion we’re decidedly not wearing right now. Fabulous outfits, like Zoey’s head-turning holographic dress worn over a rainbow mesh top by Dolls Kills, keep us conjuring looks we’ll wear in the future — even as we continue to wear soft pants and PPE. “[The show’s] clothes aren't representing what's happening now and those types of clothes are not in the store right now,” says Cole.
Enthusiasm for on-screen style isn’t limited to contemporary fashion, either. The December release of the Shonda Rhimes-executive produced Bridgerton fuelled a #Regencycore frenzy. On Lyst, searches for corsets surged 123%, pearl and feather headbands by 49%, and empire waist dresses 93%, with brands Brock Collection and Erdem leading the pack. “I have friends in England that are running around buying fans,” laughs frequent Shondaland costume designer Lyn Paolo, on a call. Like us, she binged the series and appreciated the period, with a twist, work by colleague Ellen Mirojnick.
Paolo made her onscreen mark when she redefined power dressing on Scandal, while inspiring legions of viewers with Kerry Washington’s aspirational, yet functional Prada work totes and plush designer coats. Thanks to Paolo’s close relationships with fashion houses, including Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, and Christian Siriano, many of D.C. fixer Olivia Pope’s killer pieces were runway samples. So when standout items, like the iconic white Burberry trench, hit the screen, they were available to purchase — and promptly sold out.
Paolo expects the enthusiasm for screen style to continue — and is ready to deliver the inspiration. Her next project for Shondaland is Inventing Anna, the Netflix limited series that chronicles the exploits of faux German heiress Anna Delvey, who scammed her way into New York City’s party scene. “Fashion is a huge element in the show,” hints Paolo.
Bolstering her grift, Delvey ensured that her expensive, questionably procured wardrobe featured all the mid-2010s mainstays, like Gucci sandals and Céline glasses, plus pieces that alluded to Alaïa or Balenciaga. But, based on Paolo’s past work, we’re guessing Julia Garner’s version of the society grifter will be an elevated and stylistically heightened portrayal. For proof, look at the paparazzi pics of the actor on-set, clad in a houndstooth sleeveless cape and carrying a red Dior Lady Bag, that have been making rounds.
Delvey’s deception was exposed in a 2018 New York Magazine story by journalist Jessica Pressler. However, Paolo reveals that she sourced pieces from current collections rather than archives. That said, with filming uncertainty during the pandemic and no release date yet, timing a look’s on-screen debut with availability may prove different from before-times. (But, hey, that’s what resale sites are for, right?)
The upcoming Gossip Girl reboot will also provide much-needed fashion inspo. Already, photos of the new, way too cool cast lounging on the steps of the Met last November sent everyone on the internet scrambling to identify and buy the few looks shown. “That was blowing up all over because people were at home and that was the first taste of it,” says Gossip Girl costume designer Eric Daman about the response over the phone.
He started his career as an assistant to Emily in Paris costume designer Patricia Field on the HBO series Sex and the City, which changed the way an entire generation dressed — and, incidentally, has also received the green light a revival from the platform. (While it hasn’t been announced whether Field will helm the SATC reboot’s costumes, she is confirmed to return to Season 2 of Emily in Paris.) Daman then made his own cultural impact costume designing The CW’s Gossip Girl during a seachange period of fashion and television crossover. Actors, regularly snapped by tabloid photographers in a pre-Instagram era and on red carpets, suddenly became style stars that fashion houses wanted to dress both on- and off-screen. Daman was also on the forefront of borrowing runway and sample pieces from established designers, from Chanel to Valentino, and then-up-and-coming labels, like Proenza Schouler and 3.1 Phillip Lim.
“We turned it into a living editorial. You would tune in to be inspired and to get that frenzy of what a fashion magazine at one point would supply,” he says. Coming full circle, over the years, the Gossip Girl aesthetic influenced the runways from which Daman pulled. Most recently, the alice + olivia by Stacey Bendet Fall 2021 collection, which Daman helped style, featured prep school plaids and Blair Waldorf-esque puff sleeves. Also inspired by comfort viewing: In lieu of a NYFW runway, Coach presented “Coach TV,” a series of shorts paying homage to pop culture classics, including Friends and Shaft.
Nearly a decade after the original Gossip Girl ended, Daman continues to create unexpected looks we want to copy and cop. It also helps that he’s sprinkling in accessible and affordable pieces, a formula that has proven successful in the past on shows, like the aforementioned SATC and Emily in Paris. See: Jordan Alexander’s white croc-embossed Schutz Abbey boots — styled with a very SATC red Fendi baguette bag — and Savannah Smith’s platform loafers by Sam Edelman that saw interest from viewers following the release of the GG photos. (Even Amazon’s algorithm is on board; my recent search for the Schutz boots, now only available in black, suggested I also look at the SE loafer — xoxo Gossip Girl.)
But true to Daman’s M.O., jaw-dropping high-end designer and couture looks will also make the cut — or as evidenced via the pap pics, anyway. In November, Alexander wore a sculptural Christopher John Rogers gown from the Spring 2021 collection, backed by Zion Moreno in a fluttery floral Giambattista Valli dress, while filming — thus indulging our red carpet deficiency, but in a more relatable way. Similarly, the Givenchy metallic pleated gown on The Undoing could rival any of Kidman’s real-life red carpet gowns, and was worn by Emma Stone at the 2018 premiere of Maniac.
With virtual red carpets continuing to replace in-person step-and-repeats, we’re no longer sartorially satisfied by a celeb posing in a stunning gown — so far removed it is from our coach-all-day-every-day lives. Instead, we’re looking forward to days when we can go on vacation, attend an event with all our friends, or indulge in some in-person office drama. Thanks to the small-screen fashion moments from the last year — and many more ahead — we’ll have plenty of inspiration for when the time finally comes.