On its hanger, the shearling coat wasn’t a lot to have a look at. It was product of “horrible, low cost offcuts”, and costume designer Phoebe de Gaye remembers shopping for it on sale on the “scuzzy finish” of Oxford Avenue in 1980.
Worn by Del Boy in Solely Fools and Horses, it was harking back to the coats worn by the used automotive salesmen she’d noticed. This, she says, lent verisimilitude to the character. “When he put it on over a Gabicci shirt – a purple one with black suede pockets – it labored, however we actually didn’t assume extra on it.”
The coat would grow to be as iconic as its wearer, a blueprint for TV character clothes that contrasted with the bells and whistles of costume drama. “Some issues simply ring a bell, however you may’t predict what,” says De Gaye. “If you create a personality’s costume on TV, you’re aiming to construct one thing reasonable. For some cause, the coat did that whereas, I suppose, additionally capturing the zeitgeist.”
If there have been few victors in 2020, TV was certainly one in all them. From the jaw-dropping I Might Destroy You to The Crown, Steve McQueen’s Small Axe to ritzy costume dramas similar to The Queen’s Gambit and Mrs America, tv has dominated the 12 months by default, with different types of leisure poleaxed by the pandemic.
These programmes provided some reduction from a taxing 12 months. However with an actual life drama unfolding round us that may show wilder than something proven on TV, in addition they supplied a connection to newness and tradition, away from the limitless pull of “doomscrolling” and leggings. Massive tales had been being instructed on the small display screen, and contemporary realities – historic, present and true – depicted. TV costumes have been a significant a part of this. If the clothes worn by characters is just not proper, these worlds will collapse.
“It’s all the time the costume dramas that win issues however, to me, the perfect costumes are those that don’t even register as a result of they appear so actual,” says Lynsey Moore, costume designer on BBC’s I Might Destroy You, Michaela Coel’s darkish and sharp consent drama based mostly on her personal sexual assault 5 years in the past. “[Contemporary costume design] can be the toughest as a result of the viewer is an knowledgeable on it. You must imagine the garments have been plucked from their wardrobe that morning.”
Coel’s character, Arabella, is a author and a social influencer, and her clothes toggles rapidly between identities. One minute she’s in dishevelled denims and long-sleeved T-shirts. The subsequent, box-fresh Champion sportswear “and Kim Kardashian hair”. However she can be a detective, and, at occasions, an agent of chaos.
“Individuals wished to see themselves mirrored in her, and even simply recognise her as a type of individuals who seems assured, regardless of terrible issues occurring to her,” says Moore, who used her wardrobe to subvert each stereotype, dressing her in an outsized Ikat jacket and high-waisted denims for the assault itself, or a pinafore and clean-shaven head for a self-help assembly.
“In common tradition, the girl who has been raped is all the time scantily clad, or appears bodily weak. However that wasn’t Arabella’s expertise, simply because it wasn’t most ladies’s, and we wanted to point out that,” she says. “The script stated pink hair however the remainder was up for dialogue.”
“You’re utilizing the psychology of garments to create a personality, however primarily you’re utilizing garments as a plot gadget,” says De Gaye, who put Killing Eve’s Villanelle in Molly Goddard tulle for remedy and a Dries Van Noten go well with to commit homicide.
“Clearly, we’re not resistant to what’s occurring on the catwalk – it comes from the identical toolbox – however catwalk is fantasy. Villanelle is a magpie, not a trend follower. But in some way Killing Eve grew to become a purchasing present.”
Moore, who’s at present engaged on a interval drama about Anne Boleyn slated for 2021, agrees: “I like trend in my private life, and it’s tempting to let the catwalk inform, however the centre-point is the storytelling.”
The attraction of lockdown TV has not merely been about watching different individuals costume up. It’s about watching individuals dress. If the costumes in Killing Eve’s three seasons had been diverting and pleasant, an escape from life in lockdown, then Arabella’s pandemic-friendly wardrobe in I Might Destroy You is extra akin to Del Boy’s in its look after one thing that feels actual to the streets of London. For a present as universally lauded as Coel’s, the styling manages to be curiously regular, an absolute tonic in these irregular occasions.
“In fact, actuality requires actual garments – and a extra downbeat look, however we now have been determined to lose ourselves within the glamour of the previous too,” says Tom Loxley, editor of Radio Instances. Within the absence of getting dressed not merely for work, however for another person to see, and the peculiarity of the social occasions that normally require aptitude or sequins as a substitute going down outdoors in boots and coats, we now have dressed vicariously by way of these characters.
“The Queen’s Gambit, Netflix’s sleeper hit, made essentially the most of meticulous recreation of interval element, as did Cate Blanchett’s Mrs America, particularly across the mid-century fashionable outfits, a phenomenon that started with Mad Males and arguably peaked this 12 months,” says Loxley.
“That stated, anybody who thinks actuality needs to be drab ought to rifle by way of the rails of Marianne’s wardrobe in Regular Individuals.”
The TV adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel was an early lockdown hit, partially as a result of it was presciently sentimental concerning the pupil expertise. If Connell’s much-discussed gold chain stated much more about his class politics than Connell might himself, the success (and objectification) of Marianne’s Tuscan wardrobe grew to become a surrogate for our personal cancelled holidays.
Tv is usually seen as one thing akin to a modern-day opium of the plenty, and this 12 months solely intensified that. At occasions, unable to depart the home, the display screen has been our solely escape. Nostalgia thrives in unsure occasions like our personal, and a raft of exhibits have allowed us to flee into different occasions and different locations, their costumes a satisfying a part of the diversion.
However with increasingly more details about totally different occasions and locations out there through the web – and increasingly more competing opinions on what’s and isn’t proper – the position the costume designer performs in creating one thing that appears and feels genuine has by no means been extra important.
In fact, this doesn’t all the time must quantity to trying out of the actual world. In Mangrove, the primary of the Small Axe collection, the racism of the London Met and of British postwar society is conveyed all of the extra successfully due to the pitch-perfect costume design – black hats, tracksuits and what costumier Lisa Duncan describes as “spice-coloured” polyester. That costume design combines with the sights and sounds of Notting Hill’s black neighborhood to create a plausible, lovely and generally devastating image of a time and place.
“I by no means wished it to really feel like a dressing up drama,” says Bina Daigler, costume designer on Mrs America, who blended custom-made blouses and denims with actual Yves Saint Laurent and Diane Von Furstenberg. “There was a sure glamour to Gloria Steinem and even Phyllis Schlafly, however I didn’t need individuals to have a look at the present and say: ah, that was the 1970s. I need individuals to have a look at the problems of racism and inequality and see that we’re nonetheless there.”