These days, television is the on-screen catwalk that really matters.
Fashion has moved with the times, and Hollywood glamour is getting left behind. Television is the on-screen catwalk that really matters. The pomp and bombast of silver-screen style – Scarlett O’Hara’s Gone With The Wind ballgown, Ursula Andress’s belted Bond-girl bikini – feel as overblown as a 1990s mobile phone. Saturday nights are spent on the sofa, watching a character wearing the same sweater she wore last week.
The new generation of screen goddesses aren’t goddesses at all, but real women. It is probably significant that almost all the small-screen style icons who matter are in complicated, multi-episode programmes, rather than in one-off dramas.
Their lives have ups and downs and contradictions. They have talents; they have faults. They have love lives in which the narrative loops well beyond “fall in love, negotiate adorable/dramatic mishap, get married, the end” – and their wardrobes reflect this.
The world didn’t fall in love with Sarah Lund’s Faroe Islands jumper in (the hit Danish TV series) The Killing the first time she wore it. Only when it became a recurring theme – a part of the character – did it develop a cult following.
As the actor who plays her, Sofie Grabol, explained, the jumper is “perfect because it tells so many stories. It tells of a person who doesn’t use her sexuality – that’s a big point. Lund’s so sure of herself, she doesn’t have to wear a suit.”
In less than two decades, the fashion industry has been transformed beyond all recognition by new technology. Fifteen years ago, designer catwalk shows were open only to a couple of hundred people, and all images were kept under tight central control.
Now, by contrast, shows are livestreamed with the aim of reaching a global audience immediately. (Burberry, with its Tweetwalk, made it a point of pride that the looks debuted on Twitter a few seconds before they appeared on the catwalk; those watching on their laptops had the news before the front row did.)
The price-tag hierarchy of fashion has also been upended by the phenomenon of the designer-to-high-street collaboration. H&M has taken the mass appetite for fashion and used it to persuade Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney, Martin Margiela and Isabel Marant to dance to its tune. Designers are now expected to serve the new, informed fashion consumer.
Any online retailer finding that, say, “jumpsuit” is becoming a popular search term is now in the habit of telling designers that they need to make more jumpsuits.
Hollywood style has displayed a fatal reluctance to move with the times. It is striking how often “old-school glamour” is referenced in descriptions of red-carpet dressing.
Today, we like our icons a little more real. The style crush on Carrie Mathison in Homeland, played by Claire Danes, or on Stella Gibson in The Fall, played by Gillian Anderson, has quite a bit in common with our running obsession with the wardrobes of Michelle Obama and the Duchess of Cambridge. (Note, for instance, how the duchess “recycling” a dress for a second outing is a news story that gets more hits, these days, than her wearing a new one.)
Small-screen style icons capture our imagination because clothes are part of character. These wardrobes are about a sense of self, not about adhering to trends. Real style is intimate, psychological and complex - just like good TV. – Guardian News & Media
The Guardian writers choose their small-screen crush
Carrie Mathison, Homeland
American Vogue loves to put serene, beautiful actresses on its cover; crotchety-faced, nervous-wreck federal agents, not so much. Interesting, then, that when Annie Leibovitz photographed Claire Danes last summer, it was not the sunshine-blond, movie-star-and-mum version of Danes who gazed out from the newsstands, but Carrie Mathison, her Homeland character.
Her gaberdine and leather Burberry trench was tightly buttoned, the collar turned up incongruously against the August weather; her hands were thrust into the pockets, her gaze cool and level.
In one of the pictures inside, Danes was in a surveillance van, wearing a knee-length Victoria Beckham sheath dress accessorised with bulky headphones and trademark crossed-arm pose.
Claire Danes in Homeland is all about pantsuits and shoulder bags.
Similarly, when Danes starred in a fashion shoot for the New York Times’s T magazine, she was wearing Comme des Garcons and Valentino, but still recognisably Carrie, with that shiny, natural hair, posing against the backdrop of Tel Aviv.
Carrie wears trouser suits, macs, shoulder bags: A commuter-train uniform chosen for its practicality and anonymity. The level of repeat in her wardrobe has a heartening reality. She wears the same pieces again and again and again, as a working woman in her position would. She looks fantastically sexy in black leather jacket and grey cotton marl T-shirt.
She has a grey trouser suit that does nothing for her, and looks as if the real Carrie might have bought it on a distracted shopping spree – a marvellous, ego-less touch from the wardrobe designer. She is not using fashion to armour herself against the world, as many of us do, and there is a lack of artifice that lends her an emotional vulnerability. The dark colours and lack of artistry leave the spotlight on her face, which is marvellous: the suspicious, twitchy eyes, the epic crying, the manic, toothy smiles. – Jess Cartner-Morley
Peggy Olson, Mad Men
At first it almost hurts to look at Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) – and not in the good way it hurt (and still does) to look at Don and Joan. A tight ponytail and tiny, fearful fringe topped off a motley collection of overly fussy blouses tucked unflatteringly into frumpy skirts in pukesome shades of green and beige.
Everything screamed social and sexual immaturity and vulnerability, which, of course, attracted the disgusting Pete Campbell to her as blood attracts sharks. This in turn led to an interlude of secret maternity wear, followed by secret baby and secret adoption.
A girl grows up fast under these conditions, and since then Peggy’s wardrobe has – like the woman herself – become less fussy, more focused, more put-together. Ponytail and separates have gone out, a bob and dresses have come in.
But it is still clearly armour. Necks are high, patterns sober, hemlines sensible, at least for the 1960s. – Lucy Mangan
Jane Tennison, Prime Suspect
What I most love about DCI Jane Tennison’s clothes is that she doesn’t really give a damn about them. Yes, she looks chic and stylish in her simple blouses and plain tailoring (it’s hard to make Helen Mirren look bad, in all honesty), but her image is largely unimportant to her.
Sometimes we see Tennison stir after a late night of heavy drinking and obsessing over evidence, having slept in her crumpled workwear. And even when she’s on top of her game, nothing is overdone; every last detail feels authentic. Her shoes are always sensible courts, never dominatrix heels. She goes for soft tailoring, not power suits with sharp angles and jumbo shoulder pads.
Her shirts look stylish, but generic and robust enough to deal with the odd yolk stain at post-briefing fry-ups with the lads from the station. Nothing is perfect, everything is functional, ticking all the right boxes, while her attention remains firmly on the job at hand. The sheer ordinariness of her wardrobe is exactly what makes DCI Tennison’s such an unforgettable look. – Sali Hughes