Pivoting to subscription models, having pitches regularly ignored by an editor (not you, Tyler!) and dealing with gatekeeping PR during celebrity interviews: Yup, these scenarios depicted in the dearly departed “Younger,” “The Bold Type” and “Run the World” feel incredibly relatable — and all too real — to New York City media professionals, including myself. (In the latter, a side-eyeing publicist sniffing, “Online outlets go last, after T.V. … and print” to HotTeaDigest.com reporter Ella, played by Andrea Bordeaux, felt especially triggering.)
But maintaining a pristine white Gucci wool coat through daily cross-borough train commutes and numerous on-the-go coffees, wearing a crop top outfit to revisit a former legacy media employer (after being fired for a legally liable tweet) and hosting a birthday party in full Chanel sound like a dream. Because in the tradition of Patricia Field’s game-changing and fantastically fashionable work on “Sex and the City,” “Devil Wears Prada” and “Ugly Betty,” the style conveyed through the costumes on these shows portray a ultra-glamorous, heightened and aspirational version of the industry. (No coincidence: Field is also costume consultant on “Run the World,” for which she designed the pilot, and “Younger” through season five.) A deeper look into all this high fashion, though, actually reveals some day-to-day realism.
“Run the World,” from Leigh Davenport (“Boomerang”) and Yvette Lee Bowser (“Dear White People,” “Lipstick Jungle,” “Living Single”), follows four lifelong friends living their best lives in Harlem while pursuing varying stages of romance and professional successes. In “SATC”-speak, influencer-turned-failed author and now online writer Ella might be the Carrie: She churns out viral celebrity gossip blasts, refers to dreamy Anderson (Nick Sagar) as “my Big” and wears an inventive mix of vintage, high street and luxurious designer pieces. Costume designer Tracy L. Cox — who’s styled Sarah Jessica Parker and ran his own fashion line, Faster Than Paris — distinguishes Ella from her equally-chic but distinct friends through a creatively experimental aesthetic.
“It’s not like these girls are trendy — these girls have style,” says Cox, who refers to Ella’s outfits as “compositions”: “They’re multi-layered and easy. They’re very approachable, not too complicated.” Which also sounds like how busy and style-conscious New York City creatives with unlimited Metro cards like to dress and express their individuality.
Plus, “it’s a different business casual in Manhattan,” says “Younger” costume designer Jacqueline Demeterio. Now-openly 40-something book editor Liza (Sutton Foster) and wunderkind publisher Kelsey (Hilary Duff) regularly wear eyebrow-raising designer fare, like Gucci blouses, Celine culotte suits and Givenchy black-tie dresses. “They should be that polished. They should be finished,” says Demeterio, while emphasizing that buttoned-up CEO Charles (Peter Hermann) brings the “conservative” element to the professional publishing house setting.
For real-life inspiration, Demeterio regularly scoured New York Fashion Week street style and expanded her sartorial references to fashion publishing, like friends who work at Condé Nast. She also referenced a well-known Manhattan fashion doyenne for head of marketing Diana Trout (Miriam Shor, desperately missed in the final season). “I always had [Bergdorf Goodman S.V.P.] Linda Fargo in mind when we were dressing Diana. That’s where the bolder pieces started,” Demeterio, who clearly took Fargo’s necklace accessorizing up a notch for Diana, says.
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To dress the ambitious Scarlet magazine upstarts in “The Bold Type” (set in Manhattan, but filmed in Montreal), Los Angeles-based Mandi Line, joining the Freeform show for the final season, also looked to NYFW street style and media style stars — specifically citing former Cosmopolitan and CR Fashion Book editor-turned-stylist and costume designer Shiona Turini and “The City” adversary-turned-digital entrepreneur Olivia Palermo — as inspirations.
In recent episodes, these character portrayals through costumes also continue the ongoing discussion — and, hopefully, action — within the fashion and publishing industries to support and amplify Black-owned brands.
Line, for instance, consulted with colleague Charlese Antoinette Jones and the Black Designer Database (which the “Judas and the Black Messiah” costume designer launched earlier this year) to feature the work of Black designers on “The Bold Type.” Former Scarlet social media guru Kat (Aisha Dee, who spoke out for more diversity behind-the-camera on the show), for example, wears two pieces from Keresse Dorcely’s Six/20: a statement varsity sweatshirt and a short-sleeved yellow baseball jacket with matching wide-leg pants, which pay homage to the Philadelphia Dolly Vardens, two late 19th century all-women and all-African American baseball teams (above).
For the “Run the World” core group — marketing professional Renee (Bresha Webb, “Sherman’s Showcase”), PhD candidate Sondi (Corbin Reid) and finance exec Whitney (Amber Stevens West) — Cox pulled pieces from Cushnie, Christopher John Rogers, Telfar, Christie Brown, Patience Torlowei and modern luxury bridal brand Amsale, which outfitted an entire wedding party. “We try to use as many [Black designers] as possible,” he says.
In line with Instagram- and industry-friendly fashion trends, corsets make a strong showing in the world of small-screen New York City media, too.
“I was trying to think of a way to kind of have these girls come across as strong women,” says Cox, who flipped the script with “more elaborate” takes on the traditionally oppressive foundation garment. When Ella challenges the snobby PR hierarchy (“what outlet are you with?”) to interview a film star, she armors up in an exaggerated-collar, off-the-shoulder, suit-inspired corset top by Vivienne Westwood. Over on “The Bold Type,” a grey plaid blazer and corset-layered shirt-set by Veronica Beard offer “The Failed Feminist” editor and digital pioneer Jane (Katie Stevens) a sartorial shield to confront a critical staff review. (Respond to Addison’s pitches, Jane!)
With input from Bowser and Davenport, Cox also used luxurious layers to illustrate how a busy N.Y.C. media type navigates a day of professional and personal commitments, as well as an arduous commute in dependably inclement weather. He masterfully styled a plush shearling shrug by Marni, twisted asymmetrically over Ella’s corset top to account for a the spring chill (below). Later, for her K-town karaoke (noreabang in Korean) birthday party, she wears the shrug again, but this time over her a pink sequin floral Chanel top, paired with hotpants.
Cox also points to another intentional style detail that demonstrates how city-smart professionals anticipate for the unpredictable weather and readjust for hoofing it to the train (or resigning to a rideshare): He originally planned for Ella to wear blue glitter Schutz stilettos for a post-interview outside scene, but then rain started pouring — so he changed her into sturdier boots from the brand, while still giving the sparkle heel its moment, having them peek out of Ella’s MCM bag (above).
“We like to keep it real that way — like, ‘this is how New Yorkers go to work. They prepare for the whole day,'” says Cox. “They don’t want to have to come back home to change… They never know what to expect and they’re always ready.”
Speaking of local climate, when winter can run from October through April, an ongoing rotation of a statement coats is key, especially for media professionals running around for multiple meetings from day to late night. As Line jokes: “We called it, ‘The Cold Type’ because [the characters] were always coming from outside. We had to look like we were in New York.”
For the final season of “Younger,” Demeterio leaned into sublime capes, like Kelsey’s point-shouldered black Saint Laurent piece. “I felt that was super strong business, but super chic. It’s still the fashionable New York, but it was professional,” she says. “Your coat needs to look just as good as what looks good underneath. I focus a lot on the coats.”
Also reflecting real life (and like Ella’s Marni, which definitely needed more than one showing), Demeterio makes sure her characters repeat their designer outerwear, like Liza’s aforementioned white double-breasted Gucci wool coat (second from top) and her Prince of Wales-checked gray Givenchy and Kelsey’s cropped Givenchy moto-jacket (above): “That’s realistic.”
These fictional professionals rewear hero wardrobe pieces, which Line emphasizes on “The Bold Type” — but with a caveat. “Yes, Jane wears that Isabel Marant belt. Yes, it’s $700, but she does wear it six times,” she says. Although, editor-in-chief Jacqueline (Melora Hardin) never wears anything twice. (“Jacqueline is untouchable.”)
But, the elephant in the room remains: How do these characters afford such expensive clothes on such notoriously modest media salaries?
“I hear that and I get so aggravated. I’m like, it’s not real,” says Demeterio. “It’s television and it’s aspirational. It’s for people to look at and fall in love with. There’s always a way to recreate those things in a less expensive way.”
Costume designers do, however, actively consider true-to-life logic and backstories, which track, too.
Line surmises that Jane and recently-promoted stylist Sutton (Meghann Fahy) — and, thereby, roommate Kat — enjoy the perks of designer PR gifting and borrowed pieces from the Scarlet fashion closet (when they’re not in there discussing personal matters during office hours). “I always envisioned Sutton getting free clothes from designers,” she says. “Her and [boss] Oliver opening up boxes … “
Plus, Line infused Sutton’s signature aesthetic (established by previous costume designers Danielle Launzel, Lisa R. Frucht and Jill M. Ohanneson) with vintage elements, which speak to the character’s own budget constraints and a stylist’s sense of originality: “She’s on the way to a show or show room and she stops at this vintage store and she’s like, ‘I need this belt, I need this vest. I can pair it with Etro pants that are $700.'”
Since her “Pretty Little Liars” days, Line designs for the fans — especially younger ones — who regularly slide into her DMs asking for where to shop, too, incorporating affordable pieces into the character’s wardrobes and demonstrating high-low dressing of real editorial staffers. “I didn’t feel bad for spending the money on a Balmain pant, but I made sure to balance it out,” she says.
Cox, who also uses a high-low mix for his show, points to how in-the-know fashion and media types, like Renee and Ella, would enjoy access to secret sample sales and other insider-y ways to find designer deals. “There are so many clothes at consignment shops and online that these girls go to to look really high fashion and it’s not as expensive as it looks,” he says. (Whitney’s banking salary and tony background probably affords her the Chanel romper she wears for daytime drinking.)
There’s one major thread amongst all three shows that intentionally ignores reality, though: Current season plot lines forgo portraying the worldwide pandemic and associated mask-wearing and social distancing protocols — which would preclude any black-tie work functions or raucous club scenes, and associated fabulous costumes. “We just wanted to keep the fantasy alive,” says Cox.