If you scroll through the depths of my Pinterest account, you’ll find the traces of my dream teenage wardrobe. Fresh off the Polyvore train, I was ready to curate a look that would be a unique representation of me. Keep in mind this was circa 2014/2015, when peplum tops and Peter Pan collars were all the rage. Heavily inspired by Taylor Swift’s 1989 era Ray Bans and skater skirts, I was excited and ready to become the cool girl of my dreams. Then, I discovered Carrie Bradshaw.
While I wouldn’t watch Sex and the City until I was older, image after image of Carrie’s outfits filled up the Pinterest board aptly titled ‘my style.’ I tried The Carrie Diaries, but it wasn’t the same. In discovering the world of Patricia Field’s costuming, I opened the door to a timeless character. It was the tulle skirt, that iconic baby pink tutu she wears in the intro to the original show, that captured my heart. My old laptop has a bookmarked website of a company who sold tulle skirts of varying length and colour, and I would obsess over the idea of owning one. I would look like a ballerina, but chic. Unfortunately, I was a teenager with zero income, so that dream was left to flounder.
Then it was Lou Clark from Me Before You. The yearning I had for those black and yellow striped tights almost matched the tutu energy. Her clothes, both in the book and worn by Emilia Clarke in the film, are loud, muddled and confident. She wore funky shoes, ones that sent me on another internet hunt, and most importantly, did not care how she was perceived by others in her small town. She was simply herself, and I wanted nothing more than to look like her. But again, I was a minor without an income, so the bedazzled shoes sat in my imagination.
At the cusp of graduating high school and starting my undergraduate degree, I dove into my eighties phase. I watched season one of Stranger Things in a day, obsessed over season two, watched Heathers, The Breakfast Club and Sing Street. While set in the 1960s, all I wanted were those high-waisted denim shorts Baby wears on the pier in Dirty Dancing. I bought ribbed socks, scrunchies, and graphic tees, determined that this was the style I wanted to present to my new university peers. I had started to learn that my hair was wavy, not just frizzy, so wore it proudly as though I sported a four hundred dollar perm.
In the time between my first year of university and now, I would say that I settled on my own style. I transitioned my wardrobe from Dotti hauls to solely second-hand, and discovered that you could actually wear clothes from the eras I fell in love with. I bought shirts with actual shoulder pads and an array of 1970s prairie dresses, and learnt how to identify tags and fabrics. I don’t buy for trends, I buy for longevity and adaptability.
However, I still haven’t fully shaken the grip a good costume design has on me. I am the very proud owner of a near-perfect version of that orange skirt from Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again. The joy of finding that skirt in Crushes on Karangahape Road made me want to immediately run to an orchard and attempt a cartwheel. Was that colourful shirt I bought from a vintage shop inspired by Eleven from Strangers Things, or Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet? My first lockdown binge-watch of choice was Downton Abbey, and I had a brief moment of wanting to adapt Edwardian silhouettes into my outfits. Then there was Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, and my hunt for a waistcoat and flowing white blouse to rival Saoirse Ronan’s Jo March.
I think we all take inspiration from the silver screen. Costume designers are curating the wardrobes of characters we look up to, loathe, or long to be. Their work is criminally underappreciated in the mainstream, yet arguably one of the most important takeaways in the art of cinema. We can only take a glimpse at social media to prove this point. I’m sure we all remember the plethora of Harley Quinn Halloween costumes post-Suicide Squad, or the wave of Euphoria-inspired looks that dominated TikTok during 2020. A good costume designer not only creates timeless characters, but inspires generations to want to embody their iconic looks.
For me, I think costume design proved the art of expressing yourself through clothing. As an anxious teenager, seeing Lou Clark wear a mismatched ensemble of stripes and florals reminded me that worrying about falling out of trend was a waste of time. Fictional characters were my crutch as I learned who I was, and who I wanted to be. To frame it as such, dress like a protagonist that gets remembered for being themselves.
So, thank you, Carrie Bradshaw. Your vastly unrealistic, unaffordable life made me who I am today.