How much does clothing matter?

Regardless of the genre, time period, or cultural aspects of a television show, all characters are, obviously, clothed. Some shows focus on the intricacies of fashion and use it as a catalyst for the plot, such as Gossip Girl or Sex and the City. Both shows take place in New York City, one of the most fashion-focused cities in the world, and surround primarily female characters and their glamorous lives. Other shows use characters’ aversion to fashion as a means of characterization, such as Sheldon on Big Bang Theory, whose nerdy archetype is visually influenced by his lack of fashion sense.


Image via Secrets of a New Girl.

Clothing often functions as the aesthetic representation of stereotypes and characters’ personalities: Sex and the City’s Mr. Big is always clean-cut in a business suit, while New Girl’s Nick Miller is always disheveled in a sweatshirt. Big is a successful, decisive, and confident businessman, starkly contrasting Nick’s lazy, unmotivated, bartender persona. Wardrobe choices in television round out characters and help the audience fully believe their portrayal and accept their existence in their fictional world. These choices often reflect real-life dress of similar personalities. Further, disrupting this order would be detrimental to a show’s believability; if Nick wore a suit every day, his behavior would not correspond with his appearance.


Left image via Right: still from Sex and the City Movie.

Contrarily, Blair Waldorf’s appeal stems from her impeccable closet and the elitist qualities it possesses. Her sartorial narrative is attractive and represents an untouchable sector of society, openly identified on the show as “Manhattan’s elite”. Sometimes, episodes even revolve around a specific piece of clothing, such as Ross’s leather pants on Friends. Clothing creates an unspoken narrative and adds another layer of dimension to the story. The importance of fashion in real-life is often undermined, but is arguably even more integral to television; it reflects accepted cultural values and stereotypes and validates their place in society.


Arianna Gershon

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11 Responses to How much does clothing matter?

  1. mediaphiles says:

    This was such an interesting post!!!! I definitely have overlooked the glorification as well as aversion to fashion such an important aspect of television!
    Stephanie Rubin

  2. mediaphiles says:

    I always look at the outfits characters wear and ask “how is this practical?” “how do they afford such a diverse wardrobe?” and “why isn’t anyone wearing sweatpants to lunch?”

  3. mediaphiles says:

    This is super interesting to think about, because I don’t always make the comparison in my head between a character’s actions/personality and their constant appearance. It is definitely another way for directors and creators to add another layer of narrative on a certain character, which in turn affects the show as a whole.
    -Lacey Worsham

  4. mediaphiles says:

    I find this very interesting for many reasons – particularly because I am writing about the rhetoric of Hillary Clinton’s pantsuit for my final paper in another class. Really well-done and often over-looked topic. Very interesting to consider!
    – Corey

  5. mediaphiles says:

    Very interesting post. I personally love the character of Blair and I agree that her clothing brought the whole character together. Even her pajamas were glamorous. Her clothing radiated confidence and Blair wouldn’t be Blair without all her pristine, preppy outfits! -Kelsey Sierra

  6. mediaphiles says:

    I love this post! I never realized how correlated fashion of characters and their personalities are.
    You never see Blair in sweats and a cotton shirt because she has that prestige Manhattan elite. That is what made Blair her and made her so ideal to young viewers
    Laya Mohan

  7. mediaphiles says:

    This is an awesome post! I remember watching Gossip Girl and thinking how Blair always had to find ways to assert her dominance over her peers. This is definitely displayed through her fashion choice. Being a teenage New York socialite, Blair was always in the public eye and made sure to stand out among the masses. This displayed her confidence and willingness to stay on the top of the social spectrum no matter the cost. It is amazing how clothing can display such a powerful message.

    -Shelby Halliman

  8. mediaphiles says:

    I love this post! I definitely think one of the main reasons why I love Gossip Girl and Sex and the City is because of their glamorous lives and incredible closets! I love your point about how fashion is integral to television. -Allie Kleinman

  9. mediaphiles says:

    I think this post is great. I always look at what people wear on tv and sometimes even look it up because I want to have it too. I think that the location of the show as you said also guides what the characters are going to wear. I think it would be fun to see someone trying to change this norm and make someone on wall street wearing sweat pants for example. – Jon Baquero

  10. mediaphiles says:

    What a great post! — as humans, I believe that we are trained to make judgements and stereotypes about people based on their fashion. We are constantly surrounded by fashion through media, television, movies, etc., and we make pre-conceived notions about people based off of what someone is wearing without even knowing it. Shows like “Gossip Girl” and “Sex and the City” focus so highly on this materialistic and consumerist mindset, and yet the typical viewer doesn’t even notice how they make these assumptions and judgements about people based on their clothing. It has become so engrained in our minds to be obsessed with materialistic objects that we become blind to its effects on how we perceive and respect people – Eleanor Raether

  11. mediaphiles says:

    I think about what a hard job it is for the costume department on television shows. How many times can a character wear the same thing? How can we make it fit perfectly? I know on Breaking Bad, the wardrobe was really important because the color pallet of each character changed in a specific way throughout the series. It’s very interesting to think about and a job I do not envy. I can barely dress myself and I only own like five shirts. – Max Dosser

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