2020 was the year we all became fashion anthropologists. Quarantined at home in loungewear (a.k.a. pajamas) for weeks on end, we studied Netflix’s most beloved series for hours (and hours and hours), remembering what it was like to dress for any occasion. Some looks were covetable, others calamitous, but they all told a story, conveyed a mood, or explained a character without a single word of dialogue.
The Queen’s Gambit
Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) wowed in stripes, plaids, and even a tranquilizer-pill-green pussy bow. But the chess prodigy fulfilled her regal destiny in this all-white coat, hat, and gloves, meant to resemble the queen piece itself. We bow down to anyone who can beat Vasily Borgov and stay warm in the Russian winter.
Yes, yes, we know. The 25-foot-trained wedding gown was meticulously recreated in all its lace-and-bow glory. But nothing compared to seeing Princess Diana (Emma Corrin) in a recreated Bruce Oldfield gown, all turquoise ruffles accented with that superstar of a gold belt. No wonder when Princess Di took this dress for a spin on a Sydney dance floor, the music playing was “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”
Laura Harrier’s Camille may have been the one getting her big break in Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood, but her jaw-dropping 1940s wardrobe was equally ready for its close-up. Whether it was the way her deep-rouge gown perfectly matched the red of her lipstick or how her ruched and rosy ensemble won everything at the 1948 Oscars, Camille sparkled more than the Hollywood sign.
You can move a high-powered cartel attorney from Chicago to the Ozarks, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to leave behind her seemingly endless supply of high-waisted pants and daily-ironing-required silk blouses. Damn that Navarro for not recognizing what Helen (Janet McTeer) brought to the table, both in smarts and in suit-leg silhouettes.
“You don’t just wake up in a Euro size 56 Valentino sweatsuit,” Kenya Barris’s TV alter ego says of his Gucci, Fendi, and Balenciaga logo-filled wardrobe, which he hysterically and historically connects to the legacy of slavery. “This is a hard-fought, never-say-die, leave it all out on the field, constant online shopping nightmare.” As for that closet? Eat your heart out, Carrie Bradshaw.
No judgment if you had to look away when Nurse Ratched (Sarah Paulson) leaned a little too hard into her lobotomy lesson. But hopefully you were back in time to drool over murderous Mildred’s navy and green caped concoction — maybe the most villainous example of emerald-hued hands since a certain someone flew over Oz on a broomstick.
Emily in Paris
Debating whether marketing wunderkind Emily (Lily Collins) was fierce fashion or a walking faux pas was half the fun of watching this soufflé of a season. One thing we can all agree on is that the best way to dump an unworthy academic at the Paris opera house is by wearing an off-the-shoulder Christian Siriano gown, vintage purse, and glittery headband. How do you say “Boy, bye” en français?
Never Have I Ever
Granted, the sari itches like crazy and an annoying white kid in line at Starbucks asked if she was Princess Jasmine, but Devi’s (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) teal and gold look at the Ganesh Puja celebration was perfection. And we’re not just saying so because high school übercrush Paxton did too. We’d compliment everyone else’s saris, but frankly those aunties are way too judgy-judgy to get any fashion love.
The Old Guard
When KiKi Layne’s Nile becomes immortal, she’s wearing her army fatigues — gear specifically designed to disappear. When she upgrades from army green to an emerald satin bomber jacket, she does it without suffering the indignity so many onscreen women warriors have to face: a Badass-to-Beautiful Makeover Montage. Sometimes it’s nice to be transfixed by a character who’s even tougher than what she’s wearing.
My Octopus Teacher
Who would have thought one of the most fashion-forward moments of the year would come from an eight-limbed mollusk trying to outsmart a shark? She may have taught filmmaker Craig Foster about connection, but she taught the rest of us how some shells and stones make the season’s finest couture cape. Don’t forget the accent algae!
You didn’t think real estate scorpion Christine Quinn would settle for a generic white wedding, did you? Amid a million-dollar winter wonderland complete with swans, indoor trees, and, yes, fake snow that nemesis Chrishell may or may not have choked on, the self-described “Gothic Barbie” bride walked down the aisle in an off-the-shoulder, sheer-bustier-topped, shimmering black ball gown, complete with a 22-foot-long veil.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
It’s hard to say which detail makes Viola Davis’s “Mother of the Blues” Ma Rainey so visually arresting. The gold teeth? The smudged makeup? The jewel-toned 1920s wardrobe. Our money is on the instantly-iconic gold brocade dress that musicians might call pitch perfect.