What does a lesbian wedding look like? Probably like nothing in particular, but I’m trying to plan mine and I keep coming back to the hats that Carol and Susan wore to theirs in Friends. My only cultural reference to two women getting married is adorned with a (frankly hideous) gold net number and a crushed velvet handbag that's been upturned and squashed onto Susan's head. There is something so obviously bad about their style choices – particularly these ones – but I'm still stuck on them, 15 years after I first watched the show, enchanted by the fact that two women were allowed to love each other on screen.
The fashion of Friends has been talked to death, but in our constant search for the cheap thrill of nostalgia, we’ve overlooked the sartorial prowess of Carol and Susan. They only appeared together in 12 episodes but their waistcoats and sensible jackets felt ubiquitous, and had a big impact on me as a young girl who doth protest too much to herself about her sexuality.
In a 2016 interview with The Telegraph, the show’s costume designer Debra McGuire said she worked with the production designer and set decorator "to co-ordinate an ensemble look that was unique and visually enticing on a two-dimensional surface, considering color, line, and texture". If the six central characters fit together, Carol and Susan sit on the edge. Secondary characters both within the show and in society at large, they are feminine and conventionally attractive enough not to 'intimidate' the male gaze, all the while rebuffing it with the disdain for men that oozes out of their clothes. The result is terrible, and genius.
There’s something to be said about the lesphobia that permeated the show both on and off screen. Aside from all the fun, hilarious jokes Ross makes, Jessica Hecht has said she was cast as Carol’s life partner because she "didn’t look like a lesbian". What that actually means is that butch or, as Hannah Gadsby says, "gender not-normal" women who don’t pander to a heteronormative male gaze don’t warrant screen time. This is still largely the case – how often do you see non-feminine women on TV, regardless of sexuality? – and a major problem.
I say all this with reflection though. When I first saw them all I thought about was how cool they were, and how much I wanted to be like them. Carol with her polite, blonde exasperation and Susan with her disdain so heavy you could practically taste it – they were the perfect foil to an otherwise rigidly heteronormative, often homophobic show. This is not to say there is anything inherently 'lesbian' about their outfits. Besides the fact that ascribing characteristics to a sexuality is dicey at best – though all queer people of course reserve the right to call anything queer as seen through their eyes – much of what they wore was just the fashion of the era, and the show in general. But they did it so well, and deserve credit. They gave me a window into what would in some way become my reality (minus the ex-husband and long hair and baby) and I’ve subconsciously been trying to dress like them ever since. I'm currently searching for a similar crushed velvet masterpiece to force my girlfriend to wear on our special day. (If you’re reading this babe, I’m kidding. Mostly.)