On-Screen Fashion and the Creativity Complex: All Things Considered

The actor and the character—two entities that are almost indistinguishable in our current media world have now become even more intertwined. Thanks to a shifting focus on how characters are dressed and the accessibility of their clothing for the general public, TV shows have increased their attention to attire as a way of conveying the personality of their characters and the brand power of their viewers. Costumes have always been an integral part of television and how viewers can relate to their favorite shows, but with the creation of online platforms such as ShopYourTv.com and Pradux, the at-home viewing audience is even more connected through the opportunity to shop the looks themselves.

Hannah (Lena Dunham) from GIRLS, wearing GAP
Hannah (Lena Dunham) from GIRLS, wearing GAP

Since the recent popularity of fashion-forward TV series including Sex and the City and Gossip Girl, shows including Revenge and GIRLS have become well known for their unique wardrobe choices and have received exceptionally high marks from fashion bloggers, magazines, and fans alike. Writers of many popular television programs have made the clothing an essential part of who their characters are and how they represent themselves amongst the rest of their counterparts. Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling, “The Mindy Project”) is famous for her bright and bold ensembles that show off her bubbly persona and allow her to stand out from the rest of the doctors in her practice. The stunning power suits and figure-flattering silhouettes worn by Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington, “Scandal”) keep her one step ahead of her clients at Pope and Associates while also providing her with a metaphorical suit of armor when her personal life gets the best of her. Both of these shows have successfully integrated wardrobe as an extension of who their characters are, while also attracting the viewer with recognizable brands such as Chanel and Prada. Of course, this can also become problematic if shows look to brand endorsements for the sake of saving money, and begin to give up the creative license with their costumes in the process.  Not many look to TV to watch hour-long commercials for specific fashion labels and brand name clothing. Nevertheless, this only stresses the important role that costume designers play in bringing the on-screen characters to life and the creative decisions they make about a character’s wardrobe.

Looks from the Mad Men by Banana Republic Collection
Featured Looks from the Mad Men by Banana Republic Collection

Other shows extend their connection to fashion directly to the audience and consumer, with in-store collections inspired by the looks worn in the show. For instance, “Mad Men” recently endorsed a collection through Banana Republic and “Pretty Little Liars” currently has an Aeropostale clothing line inspired by individual characters from the hit drama. Both series sought to provide fans with low-cost alternatives to many of the show’s looks, while also expanding their influence to those who don’t watch. Often, this method is more successful overall, as more people can afford lookalike ensembles versus the real thing, but both are equally interactive for the viewer.

Regardless of the format or platform, fashion is becoming more crucial to the world of television, and the public is taking on an even larger part in this transformation. Who and what we see on TV is often a reflection of our world, and when the viewer and the fictional characters are sharing closets that reflection becomes even more valuable.


Gianna Collier-Pitts is the Violet Vision Editor of the Washington Square News. Email her at gcollierpitts@nyunews.com. 


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