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 TVfilmnews.com. 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.