TV's passion for fashion is really standing out in 2019.
Solid costuming has always been an essential element of on-screen entertainment, but the number of shows letting their characters' garb do some talking seemed to be on a glorious upswing. Television is currently rich with thoughtful, evocative, and effective styling choices, and stand-out fashion moments have been particularly bountiful this year.
Consider the Fleabag jumpsuit, for example. Phoebe Waller-Bridge's little Amazon show-that-could had caught the attention of some critics for its daring storytelling in Season 1, but Season 2 really got people talking. It wasn't just Hot Priest's (Andrew Scott) duly-earned internet boyfriend status that took the watching world by storm; the new season kicked off with its title (anti)heroine ditching her usual cafe-casual look for this bold, body-hugging one-piece that was such a hit with audiences that it sold out in a day.
For costume designer Ray Holman, it was chosen for Fleabag to impress her naysaying family. He told A Cup of Jo of the selection, "It was making a statement, because at that point in our story, she hadn't seen her family for a year. So, she did make an effort." Yet, the attire also offered some visual duality to echo Fleabag's decision to dial down all the booty-calling behavior that defined her first season arc. Even as she worked on recovering from her sex addiction, her sexuality still emanated from within, and this outfit offered a meaningful preview of the steamy struggle ahead.
Jaws also dropped at the sight of Renata Klein (Laura Dern) feeling herself so very much in that shimmering red wrap dress during Big Little Lies' Season 2 premiere. Here was a character audiences loved to hate in the show's initial run but who became somewhat sympathetic by the end. She unabashedly basked in her own glory with her take-notice wardrobing, reminding us all of the fact that she'd never, ever be humble — even if her husband did go on to squander their fortune.
"It was a Wonder Woman moment for her," Alix Friedberg said, describing the dress in an interview with Fashionista. "This is a woman that has power. It's almost like a superhero costume." With that one high-slit surprise, she reestablished everything we needed to know about her (also: shout-out to her gold lamé disco digs from later in the season).
Meanwhile, a consistently vivid display of risk meeting reward on the fashion front comes by way of Billy Porter's presence, whether on-screen as Pray Tell in Pose or on any given red carpet in real life. This is someone who refuses to be beholden to convention and yet still manages to honor a few traditional elements like tight tailoring and structured layers. His wardrobing choices feel wild yet wise, forward but somehow familiar. For Porter, it seems every moment is a chance to expand upon what's possible for fashion, and he's up to that challenge.
As he told InStyle, "Rules that are made by whom? And why? And based on what? Why do we continue to follow this without question? It's stupid. ... I have an aesthetic, and my aesthetic is class. My aesthetic is luxury."
Only Moira Rose (Catherine O'Hara) and David (Dan Levy) from Schitt's Creek can dare hold a candle to Porter's commitment to elegant zaniness on-screen, but they don't have to stand out from so many fellow style giants the way Porter does on Pose.
Those who came into 2019 having already established some signature ferocity in the frock department have also done well to maintain those reputations throughout the year.
Desna's (Niecy Nash) pattern palette and flattering fits were still on-point in Claws. Killing Eve's Villanelle (Jodie Comer) came through another must-have look in Season 2 — this time, a comic book-style pajama set, of all things. Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) continued to show off terrifyingly impeccable taste in blazers on The Good Fight. Michael's (Ted Danson) suits were still stunningly crisp on The Good Place. And Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson) didn't let her family's financial setbacks interfere with her steeze on the latest round of Empire, either — we can't decide if it's her sequin surprise, that neon optical illusion-style dress, her snakeskin suit, or her winged gold gown at the "MVP Awards" that crushed the hardest.
Some of the year's best newcomers have leaned on fashion choices to help establish their characters, too, with great success. Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) oozed with coolness and self-possession on Russian Doll, thanks in no small part to her bulky blazers and chunky metallic accessories. The sturdiness of her look elevated her status as a sailor-mouthed room commander.
"Nadia is not a fashion-based character — she's more about her life, her job, all these other things. But she is a New York woman, and New Yorkers are very visual in what we wear," costume designer Jenn Rogien told Elle. "One of the things that we wanted to quickly convey with Nadia is that she has, over the years, honed her look to a very simple take on a uniform." Before her world began to fold in on itself again and again, at least, Nadia meant business, and her clothing paralleled that point very nicely.
Meanwhile, Jules (Hunter Schafer) put on an electric fashion show built for the dELiA*s catalog crowd with every appearance on Euphoria. Her look was meant to radiate an anime vibe — creator Sam Levinson even turned to Sailor Moon for inspiration — but throughout the season, her style moments also carefully reflected her growth.
"In the beginning, it's pretty obvious that Jules is trying to be sexy to men," costume designer Heidi Bivens told Teen Vogue of her earliest looks on the show. But by the end of the first season, she ditched her short skirts and is "pushing it with her style [as] kind of like an 'F you' to the world."
Costumes have also done some seriously heavy lifting at times throughout the year.
Most notably, Game of Thrones suffered tremendously in its final season when it came to its plotting, dialogue, and, well, craft services clean-up, but you couldn't fault the costume department for any quality decline. The show's decadent threads filled in some big blanks when it came to Daenerys Targaryen's (Emilia Clarke) "Mad Queen" evolution and gave Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) more depth, beyond all the sneers and mean-girling. Whereas some moments of Thrones' final stretch felt rushed and unearned, the characters' looks were lush and stood apart from some of the season's sloppier elements.
Quality vintage designs have been a hallmark of the year as well. A sampling of the current period shows that present gorgeous visions of the threads of their eras: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Crown, Outlander, Gentleman Jack, Harlots, GLOW, Stranger Things, and Poldark. Each of these shows do more than just the meticulous work of transporting audiences to their respective timelines with their authentic, and often imaginative threads; they also seem invested in widening our understanding of what was possible for the clothing of those eras and making them feel more approachable and, frankly, desirable to wear.
As Outlander costume designer Terry Dresbach once said, "Hollywood has historically assumed that a modern audience finds history boring. ... But I don't believe in dumbing things down to meet the lowest expectation. History is fascinating, historical costume is fascinating, and the audience is smarter than Hollywood gives them credit for, given a chance."
As the bar is constantly being raised, bent, and then re-shaped altogether on the TV costuming front, the thread themes are increasingly varied. And yet, there's a unifying factor in how the year's best shows have been giving fans major closet envy all year long.
TV shows across the board, in every genre, seem to be investing an exceptional amount of energy into styling their characters to not only bolster their characters' attitudes and arcs, but to put an extra emphasis on the imitability factor of what's being worn. We've been full of want after watching characters suit up so many times this year that it simply can't be a fluke.