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THE TV PROGRAMS WHERE MENSWEAR IS THE STAR
At the moment, Bridgerton is the Netflix series to watch, partially because everyone loves a solid period drama and partially for the fashion. However, in terms of menswear inspiration, film has vastly surpassed television for decades, partially due to budgetary constraints – the cheapness of American TV, for instance, could be spotted into the 2000s – and also for the fact that style, aside from the classics, has had a relatively effeminate reputation up until the past couple of decades. Combine these factors together, and what you get are some relatively drab menswear offerings up until the past 20 years or so. Especially with the cable drama providing a better-budgeted and stronger-dialogued alternative to broadcast offerings starting somewhere in the late 1990s – and streaming assuming this role in the 2010s – we’re starting to see more attention paid to what the male characters on screen are wearing. We’ve compiled some of the strongest shows where men’s style is a definitive element:
The cable TV drama about the workings of a Madison Avenue ad agency during the 1960s didn’t just provide a nostalgic window into a bygone era’s workplace and social dynamics. Rather, more than any one menswear designer, the show’s suit silhouettes shifted how men dress in the 21st century. Although the modern iteration of the skinny suit is frequently attributed to Thom Browne and Dior Homme, Mad Men’s characters like Don Draper and, to a lesser extent, Pete Campbell and Roger Sterling broadened its appeal and, frankly, made it less of a runway oddity. Instead, with John Hamm’s character serving as a paradoxical icon – he dresses well in the uniform of the day while experiencing imposter syndrome and repeatedly cheating on his wife – viewers could see themselves in an all-over slimmer cut, complete with skinny lapels and a similarly narrow tie. While Mad Men didn’t overhaul office wardrobes – nearly 14 years after its debut, many of us still wear chinos and a button-down to work – it firmly shut the door on the voluminous, pleated fit that dominated men’s suiting for much of the ‘80s and ’90s.
In terms of men’s styles, Peaky Blinders has been a subtle yet pervasive force. On the macro level, the period program juxtaposing British working class and upper-class styles following World War I meaningfully revived the three-piece suit and helped renew interest in the waistcoat. Yet, what’s essentially a crime drama doesn’t gloss over the details. Instead, among tailored silhouettes and overcoats, heritage materials like tweed and herringbone add a degree of authenticity, while aspects like pocket watches, fully-buttoned stiff collar shirts, and flat caps have all intrigued viewers and, in turn, have sporadically emerged among many men’s wardrobes in the present. Outside of the clothing, Peaky Blinders’ influence has directly impacted men’s grooming preferences, with high and tight – plus an undercut with some length on top – offering a new and contrast-heavy interpretation of the gentleman’s cut.
Up until Stranger Things debuted on Netflix a few years ago, the looking-backward perspective on men’s ‘80s fashion took two paths – overly exaggerated, with gigantic shoulder pads and tons of neon, or smarmy country club prep, of light pastels, polo shirts, and sweaters tied over the shoulders. Similarly to the effect Mad Men had on suiting, Stranger Things’ male characters’ sartorial choices translated the exaggerated into more digestible styles. Rather than, say, between the flamboyance of Prince and James Spader in Pretty In Pink, we got subdued Hawaiian shirts, less-offensive double denim, classic Ray-Bans, Members Only windbreakers, and mullet hairstyles that add volume in the right places, rather than appear as a backwoods abomination. A good deal of it feels nostalgic but in an accessible and less-costume-y way.
There’s a reason few actual shows from the ‘80s are on this list: American TV was a distant also-ran to film over that decade. In terms of budget, it showed, and the wardrobes were no exception. Movies received the upper hand in Hollywood, even if they were operating with a B-list budget and no-name cast, but a handful of programs proved to be an exception to this rule: The slickness of Remington Steele, the bright colours of A Different World, and the suiting in Miami Vice. With streaming now reviving certain shows of their era – Friends being one for the ‘90s – Miami Vice is strictly worth revisiting for the styles. From the washed-out pastel hues, high-waist trousers, pleats, and double-breasted blazers to the ease of wearing this formal garment with a tee or open-collar shirt to handle the Florida humidity, you’d easily think you were watching something from the late 2010s.
Three seasons into this Netflix series, and one factor’s clearly apparent about The Crown. Although some facts might be up for debate, this period drama chronicling the Royal Family gets the costume design right, down to the finest details. You’ll see this fastidious approach among the tailoring and military uniforms sported by Prince Philip (Matt Smith earlier in the series, followed by Tobias Menzies). Among the womenswear, the recent season further illustrates why Princess Diana had been a fashion icon (and object of the tabloids) in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace
You know you’ve entered the world of a Ryan Murphy FX or Netflix TV show when you spot glossy, bright saturated hues and rich set pieces. The aesthetic transcends every offering from Pose and Hollywood to American Horror Story, and proves to be the perfect framework for the context of The Assassination of Gianni Versace, the second offering in the American Crime Story anthology series. Murphy’s creative vision brings out why Versace was such a powerhouse back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s and likely had a hand in the now-ubiquity of Versace-style prints across menswear and womenswear.
In law and crime dramas, style plays a distant secondary role to the action and dialog. Suits – a USA Network show that’s gradually gained momentum over its eight seasons – lives up to its title, with leading New York lawyer Harvey Specter, played by Gabriel Macht, spending his time on screen in a precisely tailored Tom Ford two-piece single-breasted suit, frequently accompanied by a wide-collared shirt and Windsor knot tie. It’s meant to command authority and, even in an increasingly smart-casual world, illustrates that dressing for success still has its place.
The late ‘90s and early ‘00s had the Sopranos. The early 2010s had Boardwalk Empire, set in New Jersey’s perennial city of sleaze during the Prohibition Era. Boardwalk Empire captured the period for two seasons with flashy suits and equally ostentatious set pieces. Some consider it the American counterpart to Peaky Blinders, but whatever your perspective, Steve Buscemi’s wardrobe of three-piece suits in pinstripes or plaid, boutonnieres, and bold ties draws attention every time the actor appears on screen and rivals the showy, otherworldly setting of a bygone Atlantic City that’s since been replaced by mostly abandoned casinos.
On its surface, Justified is a serial and occasionally procedural crime drama fused with a modern-day western. Getting past that, its core friendship-turned-rivalry emerges through the classic-yet-flamboyant stylings of Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), frequently decked out in denim and his trusty Stetson and exemplifying Americana – and American lawlessness-within-the-law – to a T. His foil, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) – the white supremacist turned local crime kingpin – veers his sartorial choices away from the predictable redneck path of camo and trucker hats and, instead, toward chain-accented waistcoats, wool blazers, and slim-cut jeans. In between this, Dixie Mafia cockroach Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns) shows up in his RV and no-nonsense two-piece suits to stir up even more trouble and up the body count.
What’s been an animated parody of the James Bond movies has since surpassed the live action 007 with its slickness and detail. While Archer’s own sartorial selections have leaned more toward classic grey two-piece suits for most of the show’s run, the dreamscapes of seasons 8 and 9 – in 1940s Los Angeles and 1930s French Polynesia, respectively – highlight the fact that with animation, anything is possible and offered more retro inspiration.
The Get Down
Style will always be at the heart of any Baz Luhrmann production, and his offering for Netflix, The Get Down, was no exception. As the music shifts from disco to hip hop and their influences intertwine, the fashion evolves from flared suits and wide-spread collars illustrating the hedonistic, party-hard ‘70s to Adidas track jackets, flat caps, and Pumas, foreshadowing streetwear trends for the next couple of decades.