ONE cannot deny the fashion impact of Sex and the City — fashion had very much a starring role in the six seasons of the show, and in the movies that came after. Fans of the series rushed to buy the clothes, shoes and handbags that their favourite girls wore, and designers like Manolo Blahnik became a household name in the US because Carrie Bradshaw could not get enough of them.
A similar phenomenon is observed in the current teen series Gossip Girl. When the television series premiered in 2007, it garnered quite a following. The show, which revolves around the social intrigues of a group of fashionably attired Manhattan private school teens, attracted not just teenage viewers but also women in their twenties who tuned in for the plot as much as they did for style tips from the extravagant wardrobes of the stars, put together by costume designer Eric Daman.
Crested blazers, layered polo shirts, kilts and duelling plaids had never looked more chic. Viewers were also taken by the distinctive styles of Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively) and her haute bohemian ensembles, or the fussier look of Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester) and her frilly headband, brooches, pearls, scarves, colourful blazers and patent leather pumps. Let us also not forget the bevy of gorgeous couture gowns that the girls don when the occasion calls for it in the show.
The New York Times reported in 2008 that Gossip Girl is the first show to have been conceived in part as a "fashion marketing vehicle". It quotes Daman as saying, "We tried to launch trends from the get-go."
It certainly succeeded in doing that as the series ignited a resurgence of ritzy, preppy and collegiate looks in the spring/summer 2008 fashion season, with labels including Marc by Marc Jacobs, Henry Holland and Ruffian coming out with punk, schoolgirl styles.
Another show that has brought the schoolgirl look or "geek chic" to the fore is the musical series Glee. In particular are Rachel Berry's outfits, which mix preppy staples like pleated skirts in plaid or stripes with argyle sweater vests, tall socks and sweaters with quirky details, and always with a small sling bag to match. This autumn/winter fashion season, we see once again a revival of schoolgirl styles: varsity jackets, buttoned-up shirts and layered under knits, tartan or plaid, and ankle, knee-high or thigh-high socks under loafers or brogues are seen at Edun, DSquared2, LAMB and Lauren Moffatt.
But before Rachel Berry, there was one who truly epitomised the geek-chic style: Betty Suarez, the titular character of the Ugly Betty series, known for her clashing layers, patterns and combinations that make the fashion-conscious wince. As over-exaggerated as her look may have been — her wardrobe was courtesy of costume designers Patricia Field and Eduardo Castro — it was the muse for Marc Jacobs and Miuccia Prada, who both love clashing, 1970s-style prints and have created similar designs. Mismatched patterns were a huge trend in spring/summer this year, seen at D&G, Diane von Furstenberg, Anna Sui and Erdem, among others. The trend continues this autumn/winter, particularly at Prada, Louis Vuitton, Miu Miu and Just Cavalli.
The reigning television series of fashion inspiration is Mad Men, which is in its sixth season and is one of the most influential shows on television right now. Ever since the first season premiered in 2007, the sleek ensembles of its male characters and the oh-so-feminine and demure frocks of its female leads by costume designer Janie Bryant have led to a resurrection of 1950s and 1960s styles on the runway. Nostalgic fashion dominated the silhouettes of the collections from Louis Vuitton and Prada a few seasons ago, and it seems that designers are not done with referencing looks from this elegant period of fashion history. This year's spring/summer fashion afforded many such retro-inspired looks from the likes of Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler, Valentino, Jil Sander and Rochas, to name but a few, and the autumn/winter collections from Dior and Lanvin also reference Mad Men.
Another nostalgic fashion throwback this past spring/summer season was the flapper style of the 1920s, seen in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, which follows the adventures of corrupt county treasurer Enoch "Nucky" Thompson in Atlantic City in the 1920s. Fashion labels from Gucci, Etro and Ralph Lauren to Jill Stuart and Roberto Cavalli this past spring/summer season carried a variety of looks with drop-waist silhouettes that defined the dresses from this era.
For the current autumn/winter season, a number of collections reference the English sartorial sense of Downton Abbey, a series set in the early 1900s about the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and its servants. Ralph Lauren even presented his English countryside-inspired styles at fashion week to the soundtrack of the television series. His collection had corduroy jackets and jodhpurs, tweedy plus-fours, Fair Isle knits, houndstooth coats and bowler hats.
Over at Louis Vuitton, there are elbow-length gloves, oversized hats and buttoned-up coats, while at Burberry Prorsum, it is Downton Abbey meets downtown chic with peplum jackets, tweedy urchin caps and dainty lace-up ankle boots.
From the looks of it, television shows are likely to remain a powerful influence on culture and fashion.
This story appeared in The Edge on Sept 24, 2012.