Fashion is a major part of the television production and is essential to the visual language of shows.
Good costume design can help with world and character building. How a character dresses throughout a series indicates their personality and state of mind, while changes in their wardrobes throughout a show’s run can represent the character’s development.
The first season of HBO’s Euphoria is a great example of using costume design to show a character’s state of mind.
Heidi Bivens, the costume designer for Euphoria, changed the colour palette of Jules’ wardrobe to represent Jules’ journey in redefining femininity’s meaning to her. Beginning with stereotypically girlish silhouettes and a bright pastel coloured palette, Jules’ wardrobe eventually shifted into bolder blues and oranges as her identity and perception of womanhood shifted.
This creative use of colour tells the story of Jules’ identity as a trans woman better than Sam Levinson ever could. While his writing faltered as Euphoria went on, the strong costume design filled in the blanks of Levinson’s writing as Jules establishes her own definition of what it means to be a woman.
Stellar visuals like these maintained audience interest in the show, which is now looking ahead to its third season.
Though television is increasing focus on fashion and costuming, some shows are veering away from earnest representations of characters through fashion creating superficially stylish characters for aesthetic purposes.
Riverdale is a chief example of great fashion being wasted on poor storytelling. At first, Riverdale seemed to have fascinating outfits for its characters. Each character was assigned a distinct style and colour palette that made thems tand out among the more plainly dressed extras.
In the Archie comics, Jughead Jones wears a paper crown on his head, an accessory carried over from the ‘50s. To fit the modern setting of Riverdale, the paper crown was transformed into a grey beanie with a scalloped trim.
This transformation allowed Riverdale to be visually faithful to the source material, but modern enough to prevent the characters from feeling out of place.
Interesting costume design elevates a show’s visuals, shaping the way a show is received in its entirety. Euphoria has recently been lambasted for its shoddy writing, yet the outfits and makeup have shaped fashion since the show’s release.
Riverdale could’ve had a similar impact. As the adaptation of an iconic and long-lasting comic series, Riverdale had a lot of cultural capital at its disposal.
However, the adaptation of Jughead’s beanie is where the interesting ideas end for Riverdale.
The costume design in Riverdale is trendy, but the clothing doesn’t add to the story, and instead serves as a visual explanation for each character’s archetype. Betty Cooper is the good girl in pink pastel sweater vests, Archie Andrews is the jock with a letterman jacket, Veronica Lodge is a bad girl with a dark past and dresses in dark clothing.
A Pinterest board for these characters could’ve told us as much.
If Riverdale had more inspired costume design, it could be more of a clever homage to the longstanding comic series, and the show wouldn’t have to rely on lines like “I’m a weirdo” to portray Jughead as a misfit.
Other teen dramas struggle to look aesthetically pleasing at all. Their characters are dressed in nothing but dark jeans and plain t-shirts—though occasionally, a bad boy character is going to don a leather jacket.
The Vampire Diaries is chief among popular teen dramas with notoriously bland costume design. Though most of the characters of the show are supernatural beings, the show’s visual design makes it as though characters are brooding Abercrombie and Fitch models.
The lack of inspiration in the costume design of The Vampire Diaries is most prevalent among the male characters. You could take the shirt that was assigned to one male character and give it to another, and the audience would be none the wiser.
Teen dramas are a dime a dozen, and it seems like a new one is being released every other week. To stand out among the crowd, these shows need interesting visuals to hold audiences’ attention.
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