So which shows had the most memorable threads? And can a series really influence peoples’ shopping habits? You bet it can. Just ask jewellers that sell silver chains.
10. Cate Blanchett’s pussy-bow blouses in Mrs America
Is there a fashion item as politically charged as a blouse with a necktie? Powerful women from Margaret Thatcher (see below for more on The Crown) to Melania Trump have used the play on the men’s shirt to convey strength and a no-nonsense approach to dressing for decades. Cate Blanchett’s portrayal as conservative crusader Phyllis Schlafly had us all rethinking our Zoom-dressing outfits, part of the “new prim” trend (power dressing, hold the shoulder pads) that sprung from the pandemic.
9. Connell’s silver chain in Normal People
No piece of jewellery was more coveted and parodied in 2020 than the silver necklace worn by Connell (Paul Mescal) in the coming-of-age series based on the best-selling novel by Sally Rooney. It even scored its own Instagram account (@connellschain). But as Benjamen Judd wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in May, our obsession with the chain shows just how basic we are when it comes to men’s style. “You could say that #chaingate is history repeating itself,” Judd wrote. “James Dean’s signature T-shirt and denim uniform became such a distinct statement that even today we reference it as ‘iconic men’s style’. It’s. A. T-shirt. And. Jeans.” Nonetheless, fashion search platform Lyst reported a 43 per cent jump in searches for similar pieces.
8. Nicole Kidman’s coats in The Undoing
Streaming on Foxtel Go, this psychological thriller series was released in October and, like a creeping ivy, is on many people’s Christmas break watch-lists. Without spoiling the plot, Nicole Kidman, playing therapist Grace Fraser, wears some pretty incredible coats. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly magazine about them, the Australian actress says the coats were a “through-line of the whole series. It protects me but it’s also my identity. It’s got so many layers to it. It’s my barrier and my shield from the world, but it also envelops me.”
7. Label mania in Emily in Paris
Ah, the series that taught millions of us the French expression “ringarde” (slang for “basic”). From a style point of view, tough-love boss Sylvie scores top points for her Parisian chic wardrobe of effortless looks by Rick Owens, Roland Mouret and Yohji Yamamoto. But it’s the megawatt cheesiness of wearing top-to-toe Dior or an Eiffel Tower-print silk shirt (an absolute sartorial sin in Paris!) that puts Emily’s star, Lily Collins, on this list.
6. Michael Jordan’s suits in The Last Dance
Long before activewear became appropriate brunch attire and working from home meant staying in your pyjama bottoms all day, professional athletes, particularly basketballers, wore suits and ties before and after every match. The smash-hit series about Jordan’s time at the Chicago Bulls also gave viewers a fascinating insight into Black men’s fashion in the 1990s. The series also spawned renewed interest in vintage Nikes from the era, including the original Air Jordans.
5. Killer outfits in Dirty John 2: The Betty Broderick Story
Who in their right mind commits murder in a shell pink pant suit? While so many things about the dramatisation of one of America’s most televised crimes (before O.J. Simpson) don’t make sense, the fashions were nothing short of phenomenal. From prolific appearances by power labels such as Ferragamo and Ralph Lauren, to the patterned jumpers and dazzling taffeta evening dresses, the show had us all wanting to be invited to an ’80s-themed costume party.
4. Monochrome magic in The Queen’s Gambit
Could there be any sweeter metaphor for a costume designer to play with than the black-and-white squares of a chess board? Contrast with Beth Harmon’s (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) auburn hair and it pops like only a series set in the swinging sixties can. With many of the tea dresses and full skirts inspired by Pierre Cardin and other icons of the era, the details in each outfit, which only increase as Beth builds her wealth and wardrobe, are exquisite.
3. Margaret Thatcher’s power suits in The Crown
It’s so hard to separate all the majesty of the fashions in The Crown when we get to the pointy end of the year in television. But Gillian Anderson’s portrayal of The Iron Lady is not only a triumph for her pitch-perfect voice but also the conservative PM’s wardrobe, which was very much rooted in the “dress like a man” era of shoulder pads, pussy-bow blouses and, of course, power suits. Contrast Thatcher’s straight, knee-length skirts with the more A-line or pleated styles favoured by the Queen (Olivia Colman), and it speaks volumes about power you inherit and that you have to fight for.
2. Moira Rose’s gowns in Schitt’s Creek
If the crows really had eyes, they’d have been blinded by the Pamella Roland frock Moira (Catherine O’Hara) wore to the belated premiere of her D-grade movie. But everyone’s favourite TV mum in 2020 only managed to outdo herself in the series (and show) finale, when she managed to look more papal than Rihanna at the 2018 Met Gala for the wedding scene.
1. Princess Diana’s off-duty style in The Crown
It’s hard to outrank the task that costume designer Amy Roberts must have had to design the looks for the most photographed woman of the 20th century. While there were plenty of references available from Diana’s real-life red carpet and royal tour appearances, Roberts’ talent shines in the costumes she created for Diana (Emma Corrin) when the cameras weren’t on the Princess of Wales. Still, the job of re-creating one of the century’s most iconic wedding dresses, with the help of the designers of the original, gives this series top style billing of 2020.
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Melissa Singer is National Fashion Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.