January 20, 2012

TV's top fashion trendsetters

With TV’s midseason programming now under way, I thought it’d be nice to take a look at some of the shows that have been influencing fashion for the better. So, what shows hold the fashion industry in sway?  Or, to put it another way, if you want a good dose of pretty, where should you look?

AMC’s Mad Men (slated to return for its fifth season on March 25) is, of course, at the top of this list. Few shows have influenced what we wear as quickly or have maintained their hold over us for so long. The late ‘50s, early ‘60s fashion depicted in Mad Men have led designers to re-embrace a more feminine silhouette. In the 1950s, fashion was all about an ultra-feminine aesthetic: soft curves and an hourglass figure produced by big skirts, loose tops, and tight belts. It’s an aesthetic opposite to models of today--thin, tall, androgynous stick figures-- yet its influence is evident in the rising waistlines and fuller skirts that have graced fashion magazines for the past few years.

But aside from its considerable influence on the fashion industry (Banana Republic even launched a Mad Men collection in August of this past year), Mad Men’s fastidious attention to detail renders it a visually stunning show. Joan’s exquisite sheath dresses, Betty’s carefully coordinated ensembles, and even Don’s classically masculine suits are a pleasure to behold. In some ways, the show’s sartorial panache makes it so critically acclaimed. Even though the pacing can seem sloth-like, there’s always something beautiful to admire. Check out Tom + Lorenzo, a popular fashion blog, for a Mad Men fashion rundown. Learn how Trudy’s shirtdress ties her to her home or how Betty’s outfit signals her impending rebellion.

Another period piece, PBS’s Downton Abbey, now in its second season, is also rife with stunning costumes. Although it’s set in the early 1900s, the show has affected current trends. Midi-skirts, hats, beading, trench coats, head pieces: all of these trends for 2012 can be seen within the show. The early 1900s was a time of changing fashion. Skirts shortened, art deco began to emerge, and with the advent of World War I, clothing became sparser, more practical, and more militaristic. Trench coats appeared as Burberry was commissioned to make all-weather coats for officers, and a simpler, more reserved style replaced the finery and frippery that marked the turn of the century.

Lady Cora and Mary, in particular, have beautiful garments, from gorgeously intricate black evening gowns to smart, wool suits and light, white summer frocks. The Dowager Countess of Grantham, however, might have the most interesting outfits. Even as styles simplify and Sybil dares to don harem pants, the Countess sticks to more Edwardian outfits with S-shaped silhouettes and ornate hats.

Finally, a more modern show with a more masculine look is Sherlock, BBC’s modern adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Unlike Mad Men and Downton Abbey, which consciously use costumes to create a separate world, Sherlock has a more utilitarian approach to costume design. Pieces are chosen not because they reflect a time period but because they enhance the character. They are meant to add a sense of realism, not a sense of the past. Nevertheless, Belstaff, the company that produces Sherlock’s iconic long wool coat, has been flooded with requests to reinstate the design. Similarly, Watson’s shooting coat from Haversack has had a similar influence on men’s fashion, particularly in Britain.

The show has a stormy, muddy palette—lots of grays, blacks, and navy blues. The clothing appears simpler, but there’s a quality and a detail to it that is always found in the best menswear. There’s a beautiful practicality and a sense of underlying richness that lend it such visual fascination. The show’s characteristic time lapse filmography and scrolling white text add to the atmosphere of visual sparseness and precise intricacy.

If you’re tired of gazing at puffy coats or simply can’t look at another pair of skinny jeans, check out the above shows for entirely different but wholly stunning aesthetics.