Costume design is a hugely important yet often undervalued part of making a successful TV show. Sure, Emmy awards are handed out to the biggest names, but what about the rest of the wardrobe department who make hundreds of decisions that go unnoticed? We're going to delve into some of our favorite costume details that you probably missed the first time around. It turns out they gave away some of the biggest plot twists and we didn't even notice!
The Queen’s Gambit – Beth’s Game-Winning Outfit
How on earth did The Queen’s Gambit turn chess into the most compelling, riveting game ever invented? Well, great source material plus stellar writing, acting, and direction go a long way, but stunning costume design helps, too! For example, did you spot that after Beth won her final match, her outfit is reminiscent of a certain chess piece? That's right, folks, this pawn reached the end of the board and was quite literally transformed into the white queen.
Designer Gabriele Binder confessed to Vogue magazine, “At the end, Beth wears the white coat with the white pants and cap. The idea, of course, is to convey that she is now the queen on the chessboard and the chessboard itself is the world.”
Killing Eve – Villanelle’s Killer Wardrobe
Oksana Anatolyevna Astankova, aka Killing Eve’s Villanelle, 'borrows' clothes like they're going out of fashion. The world's funkiest female assassin uses a plethora of passports, plenty of perfect foreign accents, and an overabundance of outrageous outfits to disguise herself to go about her business of killing. In the first season, actress Jodie Comer wears a flouncy, pink tulle dress to visit her psychiatrist. But did you spot how the same dress briefly reappears the following season?
You'll need the eagle eyes of a spy to spot this one, but if you pay really close attention, you can see the Molly Goddard-designed dress in amongst possessions stolen from Villanelle's apartment by a rival gang.
Game of Thrones – Sansa Stark's Family Tribute
Game of Thrones’ finale fell flatter than Hodor's quips, but one thing the final episode did well was Sansa's costume when she finally became Queen of the North. Her outfit features tributes to the Stark family. Her asymmetric cloak connotes her sister, Arya, while the outfit's weirwood leaves represent Bran. In addition, the costume designers have thrown in some black fur in a nod to Rickon and a crown for Robb Stark.
But the nods to the Stark family don't end there. Look closer, and you'll notice her grey gown signifies Ned Stark, and finally... there's a sewing needle of her own.
Euphoria – Ever Evolving Jules
Rue Bennett might steal every second she's on screen, but Euphoria ain't all about Zendaya! When gender-fluid Jules Vaughn (Hunter Schafer) first moves to town, she dresses femininely in a flower-print shirt, a pink skirt, complete with a fluffy backpack. But as the excellent HBO series progresses and Jules struggles with gender dysphoria, she subtly wears edgier, more androgynous clothes and sports darker, punkier, and more brave hairstyles.
The transition from brightly colored feminine clothing to darker outfits is an expert televisual shortcut of showing Jules growing into her strong new identity.
Bridgerton – The Butterflies And The Bees
Did you know that the families in Bridgerton have their own insect motifs? The show's Head of Hair & Makeup, Marc Pilcher, told Cosmopolitan magazine: "The Bridgertons have a bee which appears on certain parts of their costumes, and for the Featheringtons, it’s butterflies." The article explains that the butterfly symbolizes rebirth and growth, and the Featherington women did struggle to break free from their chrysalis before emerging as beautiful (nouveau riche) butterflies!
Meanwhile, the Bridgerton family’s symbol is a bee. In mythology, the bee represents community, industriousness, and hard work, which relates to the family's social status, but bee-ware... a bee sting also killed Anthony's father.
Breaking Bad – Walter White's Inner Darkness
Breaking Bad is one of the greatest character studies ever seen on television. The six-season series chronicles Walter White's journey from lowly, put-upon science teacher, husband, and father into a ruthless, murderous meth-cooking drug lord. In the infamous scene in which Walter ominously tells his wife Skylar: “I am the one who knocks,” he takes off his dark red shirt to reveal an even darker burgundy T-shirt beneath.
Of course, the darker color T-shirt symbolizes Walter shedding his snake-like skin to reveal an even darker, more malevolent version of himself.
Stranger Things – Ghostbusters Halloween Costumes
It's Halloween in Hawkins, Indiana. So, who ya gonna call? That's right, Ghostbusters! In season two of Stranger Things, our fave D&D adventurers––Lucas, Dustin, Mike, and Will––dress up as the Ghostbusters to go trick or treating. But upon further inspection, you'll notice that Will's outfit looks more custom-made than his friend's costumes. But what does it mean? Well, lucky for us, costume designer Kim Wilcox has the answer...
Kim told Fashionista magazine that she and her wardrobe department took into account just how much effort each of the boys’ parents would put into the costumes. Thanks, Mom!
The Crown – Queen Elizabeth Vs Jackie Kennedy
Not much can phase Claire Foye's Queen Elizabeth in The Crown. However, when she meets Jackie Kennedy, she's left feeling upstaged and inferior. The show's designers subtly reflect this by choosing gowns to show off the two women's differences. While the First Lady wore a sleek and minimalist turquoise periwinkle strapless dress, Elizabeth's grey-green-blue A-line tulle dress features many voluminous ruffles and frills.
Costume designer Jane Petrie made Jackie look sleek, elegant, modern, and glamorous, while the Queen was left looking frumpy and old-fashioned. Everything will be alright so long as Jackie doesn't call Her Majesty "a middle-aged woman so incurious, unintelligent, and unremarkable." Ooops, too late!
The Handmaid’s Tale – June’s Red Sweatshirt
Throughout Hulu's excellent adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, the maids famously wear the red uniforms of Gilead. But very occasionally, June is seen sporting a comfy red sweatshirt. So, how come she's allowed to wear it among such strict rules? Well, the sweater is a throwback to her former life because handmaids are allowed to keep one of their old pieces of clothing before entering service. As long as it's red, of course!
The sweater was chosen to exemplify June's casual style. In fact, you'll notice she only ever dons it when she's somewhere she feels safe and comfortable, which is rare in Gilead.
Grey’s Anatomy – Izzie’s Sweater
Grey’s Anatomy has been running so long its first season must have aired before hospitals were even a thing. Everyone's favorite oncologist, Izzie Stevens' love interest (and patient) Denny Duquette, Jr., dies after receiving a heart transplant in season two. She wears a dark sweater as she mourns, but did you know that Izzie knitted the woolly sweater for Denny while he was in Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital? We're not crying; you're crying!
Bonus points if you can remember who played Denny Duquette, Jr. That's right, it was Jeffrey Dean Morgan who went on to play Negan in The Walking Dead.
This Is Us – That Green T-Shirt
Remember how the This Is Us pilot episode pulled the wool over all our eyes? That reveal was one of the biggest WTF moments since Lost's season three finale when Jack told Kate, "We have to go back." And just like Lost, Dan Fogelman's drama treated us to many revealing flashbacks. For example, in S03E01, we see Rebecca and Jack’s cringe-worthy first date, during which Jack sported a distinctive green T-shirt beneath his jacket.
If you recognized that green Florida T-shirt, Jack gave it to Kate on a trip to the pool in season one, back when Jack and Kate first crash-landed on the island. Arrrggghhh! Wrong show. Why are there so many Jacks and Kates on TV?
Outlander – Claire’s Antique Clothes
What would you wear to travel back in time? Watch and learn from Outlander. When Brianna travels back in time, she cleverly takes a whole wardrobe of Claire’s old clothes so she can blend in. The show's costume designer, Terry Dresbach, told Harper’s Bazaar in 2018, “The green plaid dress Claire wears [in season one], Brianna wears, but it’s been remade. And the green coat with the white fur hood, it comes out of a trunk, and Bree wears it.”
We must admit, we've never even considered this idea, so wouldn't have lasted long as time travelers. Our usual office uniform––lycra leotards, odd fluorescent socks, leggings, and permed peroxide hair––would defo have got us burned at the stake back in the 1700s.
Game Of Thrones – Daenerys’ Winter White Coat
Winter was coming for a very long time in Game Of Thrones, which was probably a good job as it gave Daenerys ages to choose her winter wardrobe. So, by the time she rescues Jon Snow in season seven, she's wearing a symbolic white coat. But it wasn’t just to keep her warm; her attire demonstrated her angel-like status and her love for the heir to the Iron Throne.
But don't take our word for it: Designer Michele Clapton told TV Guide, “It’s almost [as if] she sees herself as this savior – this angel. And so when she arrives and descends on this dragon, she is this sort of angel of mercy.”
Broad City – Subway Style
To avoid confusion, Broad City creators Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer named the characters they played Abbi and Ilana. And there you were thinking we were gonna say Jack and Kate! At one point in the sitcom's sophomore season, the pair are seen on a subway train full of commuters. Now, if you saw the episode in question, you may remember that two of the girls' fellow passengers seemed to stand out from the crowd.
These two passengers look familiar because they are wearing the exact same clothes that Abbi and Ilana sported in a scene from the show's freshman season.
Friends – Ross Gellar's Sign Language T-Shirt
Friends may have ended almost 20 years ago, but new things keep popping up. For example, in one episode of the beloved sitcom––season eight's 'The One With the Tea Leaves'––Ross wears a T-shirt featuring a hand on the chest. But this is no random hand. You see, Ross Gellar's tee actually says the word 'friends' in American sign language. But the $64 million dollar question remains unanswered.
That is, was actor David Schwimmer aware of the secret code on his T-shirt, or did the wardrobe department sneak it in without him knowing? We guess we'll never know.
Jane the Virgin – Yellow Dresses
Have you noticed how Jane Villanueva from Jane the Virgin is dressed in yellow every time she makes an important decision regarding her love life? This fabric motif first sprang up in season one when the titular character expressed her love for Michael. And it seemingly stuck because, by season five, Jane once again chose the same color dress when telling Rafael that she wanted to be with him!
Then, in the fifth and final season, Jane wore a similarly sun-colored dress as Rafael professed his feelings for her. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, girl!
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina – Rosemary’s Baby
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina paid homage to many horror movies during its all-too-brief Netflix run. Of course, there was the whole Sabrina the Teenage Witch crossover, plus The Exorcist, Friday the Thirteenth, Night of the Living Dead, and even one of the first-ever horror movies, the Danish silent horror film Hexen from 1922! But one easter egg so subtle you may have missed was to classic 1960's horror movie Rosemary’s Baby.
But since we're concentrating on costumes today, let's talk about Sabrina's red dress with a lace collar. While it's not exactly the same, it was clearly inspired by Mia Farrow's dress.
Schitt’s Creek – Hand-Me-Down Dress
Remember when Twyla wore that little black dress to Patrick and David’s wedding in the series finale of Schitt’s Creek? Well, if her outfit looked familiar, that's because the dress was a hand-me-down. No, she didn't find it in her local thrift store, it was originally Alexis' dress, but she gave it to Twyla when she offered her a bag of her old clothes.
Yes, folks, when she wasn't bickering with David, Alexis filled her closet with a delegation of designer dresses, a menagerie of mini skirts, and a flotilla of faux fur coats.
The Office – Andy’s Personality Mirroring
When The Office salesman Andy Bernard first joined the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin, he was so insecure he had to fawn over his bosses to win them over. He even outlined the unscrupulous methods he plans to stave off the competition and get ahead. He calls one of these methods “personality mirroring” in one episode. And sure enough, a few episodes later, when Dwight becomes temporary manager, Andy mirrors Dwight's personality by wearing short sleeves as well!
But don't knock “personality mirroring” as it seems to work! Andy became manager for two seasons despite being a terrible salesperson!
Derry Girls – Rainbow Pins
Now, if you haven't seen Derry Girls, you're missing out. The Channel 4 comedy-drama tells the tale of five teenage girls in Northern Ireland during the 1990s. In one episode, Clare comes out to her friend Erin. Tensions flare, but Erin sees the error of her ways, and she and her gang reunite with their friend. And a great little detail is that the girls quietly sport rainbow pins to show their solidarity with Clare.
There's a famous phrase in scriptwriting–"Show, don't tell." The tiny rainbow pin detail is a great example of visual storytelling. Derry Girls has to rely on visual storytelling because the girls' accents are sometimes impossible to understand!
The Queen’s Gambit – Check It Out Now!
Throughout The Queen’s Gambit, Anya Taylor-Joy's character, Beth, loves chess so much that she is obsessed with checks. In fact, half her wardrobe is checkered, from designer dresses and coats to swimming costumes and tartan tops. In fact, she loves checks so much she's probably even wearing plaid panties! Designer Gabrielle Binder explained to Vogue magazine, “I always try to mirror what is happening inside a character with what they are wearing on the outside."
She continues: "And the checks are something that I thought would be immediately interesting to Anya’s character, as she would intuitively choose to wear pieces that are connected to chess.”
The Big Bang Theory – Penny’s T-Shirt
Can you believe The Big Bang Theory ran for 12 years between 2007 and 2019? Can anyone even remember 2007? Anyway, when we were first introduced to Penny, she was wearing a cute turquoise T-shirt with a pink floral print. Fast forward to the final ever episode, and hey presto, she's wearing that same turquoise T-shirt! That's not much of a character arc, is it now?
However, that's not the first time the T-shirt has made a reappearance. Penny actually wore the same combination during the show's 100th episode. Funnily enough, the episode was called "The Recombination Hypothesis."
Breaking Bad – Plane Crash Ribbons
Remember the chain of events that saw Walter White inadvertently cause a shocking mid-air plane crash in season two of Breaking Bad? Well, for a long time afterward, residents of Albuquerque wore ribbons to remember the victims. And chief among them was unscrupulous criminal lawyer Saul Goodman, who wore his ribbon long after other characters ditched theirs. If you know Saul, you'll know he was probably trying to curry favor with victims so he could represent them in a lawsuit.
And if you don't know Saul, you should definitely check out his spin-off show, Better Call Saul. It's less action-packed than Breaking Bad but just as good. We promise you.
The Office – Michael’s Mittens
In the U.S. version of The Office, Phylis gives Michael a gift on his last day at Dunder Mifflin in season seven. Her leaving gift is a pair of red knitted mittens since he's moving to Colorado. Later in the episode, as Michael can is walking through the airport, you might have noticed some red twine hanging from his coat. Well, three guesses where that red twine is from...
Yup, that red twine is actually from the gloves, which Michael had stashed in his pocket. It's a heartwarming moment but nowhere near as tear-jerking as Tim's gift to Dawn in the original British version.
Killing Eve – Villanelle’s Love Bubble
If you love Killing Eve, you may have noticed that Villanelle never wears the same thing twice. Costume designer Charlotte Mitchell explained that the assassin's pink outfit from season two showed off her current state of mind. The award-winning costumier also told Grazia fashion magazine: “She was in a bubble of love, that was the brief that was given to me. So I wanted to give it a romantic feel...”
Unfortunately, in October 2021 much of Charlotte's kit that she'd collected throughout 20 years working on BBC shows like Doctor Who was dumped into the river when a truck reversed over Bristol's harborside! And no, Villanelle wasn't driving!
The Handmaid’s Tale – The Color Purple
Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale tells of a dystopian world in which women have been stripped of their rights, forcing them to live their lives serving a patriarchal society. In the Republic of Gilead, characters wear color-coded uniforms according to their status in society. Handmaids, of course, wear red robes. For obvious reasons, widows wear black robes while Commanders’ widows wear purple robes. But do you know what the purple robes signify?
The color purple was chosen to embody the Purple Heart. That's the U.S. military honor given to soldiers who are killed (or injured) in action.
Watchmen – Kids Costumes
If you haven't seen Watchmen, stop what you're doing right now and watch it right now. Lost and The Leftovers creator Damon Lindelof borrows the universe and characters from Alan Moore's seminal 1986 graphic novel and weaves it into televisual magic. A brilliant tiny detail sees Angela and her husband, Cal’s kids wearing pirate and owl costumes. But what's so significant about that?
Well, both quirky costumes reference the original Watchmen graphic novel. The owl outfit references hapless 1980s superhero Night Owl, while the pirate is from comic-within-a-comic, Tales of the Black Freighter.
Bridgerton – Colors
Color is used to denote each family in Bridgerton. Designer Ellen Mirojnick explained to Vogue magazine, “The Featheringtons are new money, and Portia needs to marry her daughters off. She sets the tone for them as a family, and their color palette is overly citrus because she wants those girls to be seen. It might be too much, but that’s not on purpose. She thinks they look beautiful."
Period dramas often feature hundreds of costumes but did you know that Bridgerton's costume department were busy little bees... they created a staggering 7,500 pieces for the show!
Grey’s Anatomy – Double Doppelgängers
To celebrate its 300th episode, Grey’s Anatomy brought back three characters who had left the hospital. But showrunners didn't bring back actors Katherine Heigl, Sandra Oh, and T. R. Knight. No siree, Bob! Instead, they brought in a trio of lookalikes for Izzie, Cristina, and George for the easter egg-heavy anniversary episode. And that's not all... the costume department made sure the doppelgängers wore similar clothes to their alter egos.
For instance, the former cop sports a leather jacket, while George’s lookalike can be seen wearing tan-colored fur-lined outerwear. Did you spot it first time around?
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – Indiana Jones Costume
During an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the gang buys an Indiana Jones outfit to break into a house with. But in farcical fashion, the bumbling trio can't decide who gets to wear the outfit, so they come up with a cunning plan. Instead of flipping a coin or playing rock, paper, scissors––they split the costume three ways; Charlie got the jacket, Mac the hat, and Frank the whip.
While it was a fun Indiana Jones homage, we don't remember the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indy distracts the Nazis by pretending to be a Swedish plumber!
Normal People – Marianne’s Style
At the start of Normal People, Marianne is a bit of an outcast among her classmates, and this is reflected in her unique yet brilliant sense of style. But by the time she leaves for university, she wears more mature, flamboyant floaty dresses and vintage scarves. This is emblematic of the growing acceptance of her new identity. I.e., her style changes as her personality shifts from a naive schoolgirl to an independent young woman.
Normal People is a great show, but you need to suspend your disbelief; the characters are meant to be school age for the first few episodes, but the actors look about 30!
Normal People – Connell’s Arrested Development
While Marianne's wardrobe evolves as she matures, Connell’s clothing is stuck and stagnating. Costume designer Lorna Marie Mugan told Refinery 29, “Connell’s style moves much slower because he’s unsure of himself when he goes to Trinity. He was the king in their small town, but in Trinity, he’s not so confident initially. To show that, we chose to keep his style similar to his in school.”
As such, Connell's wears his go-to uniform––Adidas trainers, a henley, an understated khaki jacket, and that silver chain––throughout most of the series.
Stranger Things – Robin’s Chucks
Two strange things on Stranger Things were Robin’s Converse sneakers. There wasn't much to do in the eighties except hide extraterrestrials or ride your BMX to the video game arcade at the local shopping mall or doodle on your Chucks. If you look closely, you'll see that Robin's doodles say, “God likes you of course,” and legend says she drew several pairs of breasts on there for good measure!
But this brazen act of vandalism wasn't down to anyone in the wardrobe department. Instead, actress Maya Hawke was given free rein to get creative... and she chose to graffiti boobies!
Scandal – Olivia Gets Colorful
Scandal told the tale of Washington, D.C., fixer Olivia Pope, expertly played by Kerry Washington for seven seasons. The character became a style icon thanks, in part, to costume designer Lyn Paolo choosing whites, grays, blacks, and neutral shades. But did you know that after Olivia split from Fitz, her wardrobe became a lot more colorful, adding a palette of bolder colors, including reds, oranges, and yellows?
The Emmy-winning designer told Entertainment Weekly, “When she walked away from Fitz – with all that lovely Prada luggage they shipped in from Italy for us – she was walking away from the life that she thought she wanted, and she’s reinventing herself.” Way to go, girls!
Riverdale – The Breakfast Club Homage
If you're a fan of The CW's Riverdale, you might remember the season three flashback episode in which regular cast members portrayed their parents. And there are dozens of references to John Hughes' iconic coming-of-age cult classic The Breakfast Club... and all things 1980s and 1990s. The costumes and hairstyles are outrageous, while Alice even wears a pair of fingerless gloves just like Bender, famously played by Judd Nelson.
Titled The Midnight Club, the episode contains too many easter eggs to name. But an older Anthony Michael Hall plays Principal Featherhead while Betty’s mom is played by Madchen Amick from Twin Peaks. Oh, and Jughead’s dad is Skeet Ulrich from Scream.
Stranger Things – That ’70s Show
Stranger Things is famous for its multitude of retro film and TV references. You could even say that the spooky show is an ode to everything '80s. But one eagle-eyed couch potato took to Twitter to let the world know that two Hawkins inhabitants had gone one step further by paying homage to the 1970s! Yup, Max and Lucas wore identical shirts to Eric and Donna from That ’70s Show. How upside-down is that?
You can bet your BMX that by the time a Stranger Things spin-off/reboot comes around in 20 years, Max and Lucas' kids will be wearing clothes from the recently commissioned That 90s Show!
Watchmen – Vigilantes’ Homemade Outfits
If you loved Watchmen, you may have clocked that many vigilantes’ costumes seem to have been made at home. And that's because they were! Or––this being TV––they were meant to look like they were home-made. The show's designer Meghan Kasperlik told Metro newspaper, “Unlike the DC and Marvel universes – which are really high-tech – the characters in the graphic novel are always supposed to have made their own costume.”
Can you imagine being an a$$-kicking street vigilante and having to sew your own costume? Perhaps that's why Red Scare looks so pi$$ed off in the above photo. Our fave costume was definitely Lube Man's!
Criminal Minds – Mismatched Socks
The biggest mystery for the gang of FBI Behavioral Analysis over at Criminal Minds wasn't catching killers; it was why does Spencer Reid wear mismatched socks? For once, this wasn't down to the show’s costume department; it was down to the actor. In short, Matthew Gray Gubler believes that wearing matching socks is bad luck. You can spot some of his odd socks poking through in certain scenes.
It was actually a canny acting choice as highly functioning, socially awkward Spencer Reid has an IQ of 187 and possibly suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, so would definitely fixate on things like socks!
The Handmaid’s Tale – Hand-Made Uniforms
Okay, we can't guarantee that all the apparel in Gilead is hand-made (geddit?) but we can tell you all the maid's gowns were hand-dyed. After a long think, the costumiers decided on Pantone color 202 CP. Natalie Bronfman told The Hollywood Reporter, “It’s going from being lifeblood to being a courage and power that steers the anger. You’ve got love and lust and anger and they’re all passionate emotions, so the red covers it all.”
And because the name Pantone color 202 CP is about as interesting as watching paint dry, Natalie and her costume department gave the highly recognizable shade of red the nickname "Lifeblood."
The Haunting of Hill House – Olivia’s Outfits
Hands up who loved The Haunting of Hill House? There were many reasons to love Mike Flanagan's spooky series, however, this entry on our list is perhaps the best example of what we're investigating today. Olivia starts out wearing 1990s apparel, but as her mental state goes downhill, she starts to wear more and more old-fashioned, frillier clothes and nightgowns... just like Poppy Hill, the ghost haunting her. Woooooooh!
This genius decision sums up just how much costumes can visually, silently––and often subconsciously––tell a story. Costumiers are one of the many unsung heroes of film and TV. And this is our way of saying we salute you!