Most scripted television strives to mirror contemporary life with at least some level of precision. Producers spend months, sometimes years, meticulously surveying target audiences and researching subcultures in order to accurately reflect the humor, taste, attention span, fears, politics, and self-image of a particular demographic or scene. But sometimes, they end up forecasting and setting cultural trends rather than reflecting them.
That’s clearly been the case with the 1920s fashion craze brought on by Martin Scorsese’s Emmy-winning Boardwalk Empire, still young in its second season. The fascination with the Roaring Twenties may have already begun in 2009, when faux speakeasies began popping up in every city across the US, but the show has repackaged the Prohibition image for a wider audience and spoon-fed it to designers, whose catwalks are now crowded with flapper-inspired frocks and feathers.Boardwalk Empire isn’t the first, though, and it won’t be the last. We’ve rounded up the television shows that, for better or for worse, catalyzed the fashion fads of their eras. Which current shows do you hope turn out to be trendsetters?
Boardwalk Empire (2010-present): The Flapper
The 1920s are in the air. Esquire lauds Boardwalk Empire as “the most beautiful show on television” and tips men off on how to wear a suit like Nucky Thompson. Meanwhile, designers have strewn recreations of the drop-waist flapper dresses and T-strap pumps of Prohibition times all over red carpets and runways, and Spring 2012 fashion week shows like Marc Jacobs’ in New York and Gucci’s in Milan looked a whole lot like the 1925 speakeasies of Chicago. The trend looks only to be on its way up, continuing to seep into various aesthetic media, particularly film, with Owen Wilson’s starry-eyed idealization of the ’20s in Midnight in Paris and the forthcoming adaptation of everyone’s favorite twenties tale, The Great Gatsby.
Sex and the City (1998-2004): Manolo Blahniks
It may have been Cinderella who inspired every girl to slip on her first pair of clunky plastic heels, but it was Carrie Bradshaw who convinced them to trade up for Manolos. Having won a name for herself as a fashion-forward label addict and slave to designer shoes, Sex and the City’s glamorous columnist told American women that wearing stilettos with any and every outfit was not only acceptable but encouraged.
If Carrie was a fan of designer shoes, though, she was nothing less than the spokeswoman for the brands she most favored, namely, Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin, and none more so than Manolo Blahnik. While Blahnik, the designer, is notorious for his indifference to trends, Carrie has a history of setting them — including, some say, the cupcake one — and her affinity for the classic kitten heels of the ’50s almost single-handedly skyrocketed them to the top of the fashion food chain. Attributing Blahnik’s success to the show, The New York Times even noted a 2007 survey in which 37 percent of participants admitted that they would bungee-jump off the Golden Gate Bridge to win a lifetime supply of the designer’s shoes.
Gossip Girl (2007-present): Man scarves and headbands
Right as New York-inspired fashion was headed across the L train to Williamsburg, Gossip Girl’s immense buying influence momentarily sent designers straight back up the 6 to the preppy-chic Upper East Side of yesteryear, where plaid overcoats, Peter Pan collars, opaque stockings, and Blair Waldorf’s thick headbands and Chuck Bass’ spring scarves reigned supreme. Girlie magazines that featured the show’s actors on their covers taught consumers how to recreate the prim outfits they wore on screen. Meanwhile, designers created entire runway collections mimicking the bow-heavy, waspy look, and people ate it up: headbands resurfaced as the it accessory; scarves without winter coats became a stock item in every male’s closet; and in 2009, Anna Sui’s Gossip Girl-inspired Target line sold out within 24 hours.
Mad Men (2007-present): Skinny ties, bespoke suits, and retro skirts
Among the best things to happen to men’s fashion in recent years are the resurfacing of skinny ties and the newfound appreciation for the crisp, tight-fitted classic American suit, no question ushered in by everyone’s favorite ultra-masculine early-’60s mad man Don Draper. But the show did not affect men’s fashion trends alone, lifting women’s waistlines significantly and reintroducing full and pencil skirts tailored to hug feminine curves. Mad Men smart made its way into full ready-to-wear and runway collections like Banana Republic’s collaboration with Mad Men costume designer Janie Bryant and Michael Kors’ Fall 2008 collection, and made its presence known in other trends and designs, from subtle accessories like gloves and pearls to the measurable uprise of certain haircuts and even drinks.
[Image via Life]
The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour (1971-1974): Bell-Bottoms
Originally developed as part of naval personnel uniforms, bell-bottom pants seeped into European fashion in the ’60s and began to make their way to the United States soon after. But it was Sonny and Cher who wore the flared pants on their 1970s TV show, thereby mainstreaming a countercultural trend that had previously been relegated solely to bohemian types.
Davy Crockett (1954-1955): Coonskin Cap
In 1954, Disney introduced Davy Crockett, a five-part miniseries aired as part of its Disneyland series, and the show introduced a fad that caught on quickly: the coonskin cap. The faux fur hats, festooned with raccoon tails, were tremendously popular among young boys in both the US and UK, and in 1955, at the height of the hats’ — and Davy’s — popularity, vendors sold 5,000 of them daily.
Friends (1994-2004): The Rachel haircut
The mid-1990s may have seemed like an era completely devoid of a unified style, but if you walked into any hair salon during that era and asked for The Rachel, and you’ll come out with the same flippy, layered, slightly highlighted cut popularized by Rachel Green of Friends. Rachel’s coiffure changed over the ten years that the show aired, but the c. 1995 cut is the one that outlived the others’ prevalence and celebrity, though Jennifer Aniston herself has denounced the haircut as the ugliest one she’s ever worn.
Dynasty (1981-1989): Shoulder pads
The popular ’80s soap opera starring Joan Collins as Alexis Carrington taught women to flaunt everything they’ve got, be it through glitzy, inconspicuous jewelry or, more notably, big shoulders. While shoulder pads were an integral part of women’s fashion in the 1940s, their 1980s renaissance recontextualized them as part of the power dressing movement, an exertion of women’s equity in the workplace. Dynasty, with a cast made up of vocal, powerful women, got off to a slow start in 1981, but by 1985 it had become the number one show on television, as well as a mouthpiece for women in the workforce — and a spotlight for the big-shoulder trend.