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 Road in 1980.
Worn by Del Boy in Solely Fools and Horses, it was paying homage 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 pink one with black suede pockets – it labored, however we actually didn’t suppose extra on it.”
The coat would turn out 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 possibly can’t predict what,” says De Gaye. “Once you create a personality’s costume on TV, you’re aiming to construct one thing practical. For some cause, the coat did that whereas, I suppose, additionally capturing the zeitgeist.”
If there have been few victors in 2020, TV was absolutely one among them. From the jaw-dropping I May Destroy You to The Crown, Steve McQueen’s Small Axe to ritzy costume dramas reminiscent of The Queen’s Gambit and Mrs America, tv has dominated the yr by default, with different types of leisure poleaxed by the pandemic. These programmes supplied some reduction from a taxing yr, however in addition they supplied a connection to newness, tradition and the surface world, away from the infinite pull of “doomscrolling” and leggings. Large tales had been being instructed on the small display, and recent realities – historic, present and true – depicted. TV costumes have been an important a part of this. If the clothes worn by characters shouldn’t be proper, these worlds will collapse.
“It’s all the time the costume dramas that win issues however, to me, one of the best 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 primarily based on her personal sexual assault 5 years in the past. “[Contemporary costume design] can also be the toughest as a result of the viewer is an skilled on it. It’s important to 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 shortly between identities. One minute she’s in saggy denims and long-sleeved T-shirts. The subsequent, box-fresh Champion sportswear “and Kim Kardashian hair”. However she can also be a detective, and, at occasions, an agent of chaos.
“Folks wished to see themselves mirrored in her, and even simply recognise her as a kind of individuals who seems assured, regardless of terrible issues taking place 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 well-liked tradition, the lady who has been raped is all the time scantily clad, or appears bodily susceptible. However that wasn’t Arabella’s expertise, simply because it wasn’t most girls’s, and we would have liked to point out that,” she says. “The script mentioned pink hair however the remaining 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 swimsuit to commit homicide.
“Clearly, we’re not proof against what’s taking place on the catwalk – it comes from the identical toolbox – however catwalk is fantasy. Villanelle is a magpie, not a vogue follower. But someway Killing Eve turned a procuring present.”
Moore, who’s at the moment engaged on a interval drama about Anne Boleyn slated for 2021, agrees: “I like vogue in my private life, and it’s tempting to let the catwalk inform, however the centre-point is the storytelling.”
The enchantment of lockdown TV has not merely been about watching different folks gown up. It’s about watching folks 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 take care of 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 an alternative going down outdoors in boots and coats, we now have dressed vicariously by these characters.
“The Queen’s Gambit, Netflix’s sleeper hit, made probably the most of meticulous recreation of interval element, as did Cate Blanchett’s Mrs America, particularly across the mid-century trendy outfits, a phenomenon that started with Mad Males and arguably peaked this yr,” says Loxley.
“That mentioned, anybody who thinks actuality needs to be drab ought to rifle by the rails of Marianne’s wardrobe in Regular Folks.”
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 mentioned much more about his class politics than Connell may himself, the success (and objectification) of Marianne’s Tuscan wardrobe turned a surrogate for our personal cancelled holidays.
Tv is commonly seen as one thing akin to a modern-day opium of the lots, and this yr solely intensified that. At occasions, unable to depart the home, the display 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 an increasing number of details about completely different occasions and locations obtainable by way of the web – and an increasing number of 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 very important.
In fact, this doesn’t all the time need to quantity to testing of the actual world. In Mangrove, the primary of the Small Axe sequence, 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 fancy dress drama,” says Bina Daigler, costume designer on Mrs America, who combined 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 folks to have a look at the present and say: ah, that was the Nineteen Seventies. I need folks to have a look at the problems of racism and inequality and see that we’re nonetheless there.”