Getting dressed up with nowhere to go was an unavoidable trend in 2020. Thankfully, for much of the year lockdown life hadn't yet made it to TV, and although certain characters were prepared for sweatpant domination, there was much more on offer than the go-to home garment. Even productions that pivoted to at-home episodes proved the benefits of adding sparkle to your everyday closet. For those noticing an absence of The Crown and The Queen's Gambit on this list, both of these terrific shows have already been given the in-depth costume design celebration treatment, so we've filled the 15 slots below with a cornucopia of other worthy stylish figures. TV's 2020 sartorial champions were not bound by time period or genre -- the one trait these characters share is fabulous and fresh attire, which is inspirational even in a year like this.
Here are our picks for 2020's most memorable moments in costume:
In our one-on-one with Schitt's Creek assistant costume designer Darci Cheyne, she noted that "there wasn't a dry eye in the room" when the final episode's wedding looks were unveiled for the first time. Moira Rose (Catherine O'Hara) has a closet packed with theatrical attire, and her last-minute officiant ensemble is fit for the Met Gala and the Vatican. Papal garb is already audacious, but combining an Alexander McQueen gown with Tom Ford gold boots and gloves is fashion heaven — including the long blonde wig and miter crown courtesy of hairstylist Ana Sorys. It is no surprise Debra Hanson won the Contemporary Costume Emmy for this episode in Schitt's Creek's historic sweep.
Conjuring up images of Beyoncé swinging a baseball bat while wearing yellow Valentino in the "Hold Up" video, Leti's window-smashing is another style home run. Dressed for a housewarming party, Jurnee Smollett's teal fringed frock is perfect for dancing and exhibiting rage directed toward the racists trying to drive her out of the home she just bought. Costume designer Dayna Pink adds a pop of crimson to the lining while the fringe moves with every swing of the bat giving the scene extra oomph. In a series full of stunning costumes playing with the 1950s period — including Jonathan Majors' perfect mustard henley — this one emphasizes her other fiery nickname.
In HBO's breakout hit of the year, Arabella's (Michaela Coel) mix of casual vintage knitwear, millennial pink hair, and a penchant for bold patterns made every episode a sartorial feast. But it was the spookiest night of the year that let costume designer Lynsey Moore flex her most innovative skills with her take on angels and demons. Kwame (Paapa Essiedu) and Terry (Weruche Opia) were a chic pair in white wings and lace in opposition to Bella's leather bodice devilish figure. When Bella descended into social media hell, her wings are raised, creating a most memorable image.
"That's a nice sweater," Dash (Austin Abrams) tells Lily (Midori Francis) during a Christmas Eve meet-cute. Of course, this was far from their first interaction, but this introductory IRL conversation proved they were on the same page. Lily's DIY Christmas Tree sweater dress leaned hard into the festive theme while the other girls at the party were dressed in sequined store-bought frocks. Feeling self-conscious about her light-up garment, Lily got a boost from Dash, who mocked his own recent fancy pants purchase. Cristina Spiridakis infused unique creativity throughout Lily's attire, which made this glue-gun creation the perfect choice for the charming Christmas-loving teenager.
Relaxed clothing was a 2020 must, and sweatpants were the defining item of this year (masks aside). On The Good Place, Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto) had long been prepping for a year of leisurewear, favoring matching Adidas tracksuits in a variety of colors. In the emotional series finale, designer Kriston Mann went all in, opting for a shiny teal number with gold and black stripes. As a nod to Chidi's (William Harper Jackson) comments about the end of all things, Jason wore a wave t-shirt, which was ideal for comfort and inducing tears.
It's been over 15 years since Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) dashed around Paris in a seafoam green tutu and an extravagant Versace gown, but costume designer Patricia Field returned to the City of Lights for one of the most talked-about shows of the year. While Emily (Lily Collins) had some questionable taste and a fondness for "ringarde" and "la plouc" clothing — hey, we've all done the beret thing — she also dialed it up. In a very Carrie Bradshaw-meets-Audrey Hepburn black strapless Alexandre Vauthier frock, she was an elegant vision against the iconic Parisian skyline.
Middle school conjures up many awkward fashion flashbacks, a fact PEN15 designer Melissa Walker indulged in during the first half of the second season. Among the bucket hats and desire to dress in expensive designer labels, the school play unleashed a different side in BFFs Maya (Maya Erskine) and Anna (Anna Konkle). Homemade utility belts for techie Anna were an inspired hack, but Maya's "no clapping during rehearsals" fabric painted sweatshirt was a must-have. If only the performers remembered to keep their shoes on while crossing the nail-littered stage.
Season 12 of RuPaul's Drag Race not only had to endure a casting scandal, but it was also impacted by the COVID-19 production shutdown. Pivoting to an at-home format for the grand finale didn't diminish the bold concepts from the avant-garde Crystal Methyd, fashion queen Gigi Goode, and glamorous Jaida Essence Hall, who wore a crown before she had even won. Not only did Jaida slay sartorially during the regular portion of the competition, but she also used her living space to her advantage. Her final bright orange ensemble was pitch-perfect for the Destiny's Child lip-sync, which not only had an Ivy Park leaning cape, but also a crowning glory train.
Connell's (Paul Mescal) chain took on a life of its own (including an Instagram account boasting 179 thousand followers). While this simple silver necklace was the definitive piece of 2020 jewelry, Normal People's effortless garments picked by Lorna Mugan were just as effective. In Italy, Marianne's (Daisy Edgar-Jones) lowkey summer frocks fit her established boho aesthetic, while Connell kept it casual in muted shorts and tee. His well-worn Adidas sneakers add to his relatability while reflecting his economic situation — Connell doesn't have endless cash to splurge and so his costumes are full of repeats. A strong selection of costumes doesn't always have to break the bank.
For some characters, a plain tee will do, but when Luca Guadagnino teams up with Giulia Piersanti, it is a vintage fashion playground — see also A Bigger Splash, Call Me By Your Name, and Suspiria. From the first moment Fraser (Jack Dylan Grazer) appears, he speaks a clothing language based on a love for designers. Fraser's self-expression through bold cheetah-print DUOltd shorts paired with a Raf Simons x Brian Calvin SS13 printed shirt even earns him the nickname "T-shirt" in the opening episode. By the time the rest of his luggage arrives from New York, it is clear this teenager has more up his well-curated sleeve.
As one of this fall's most talked-about shows, the real mystery at the heart of The Undoing centered on Grace Fraser's (Nicole Kidman) seemingly endless collection of robe inspired outerwear. Perhaps as divisive as the final episode, the cozy quality of Grace's therapist wardrobe may have been a bit too much like the indoor attire that dominated this year. Meanwhile, serving up a slice of the before times, Sylvia's (Lily Rabe) lawyer threads were neutral decadence. Wearing belted oatmeal Max Mara cashmere, the hard-to-read Sylvia could save your life or implicate you in a crime, either way, designer Signe Sejlund kept us guessing until the finale.
At the turn of the century, Sherlock Holmes was making a name for himself as a well-dressed fictional detective. Deerstalkers don't make an appearance in The Alienist's second season, but new private detective Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning) is gifted in the style and sleuthing stakes. Rudy Mance has dialed back the leg-of-mutton sleeves while leaning into the masculine-meets-feminine tailoring of the predominantly black and white closet worn by Sara. The suspender-adjacent design reflects her colleague's vests without conforming. Power shoulders are on trend in 2020, which shows just how cyclical the runway is.
High-waisted, double denim, and a dash of acid wash were all 1980s staples, which costume designer Lynn Falconer ensured there were plenty of among the Bly Manor scares. Appealing to vintage lovers everywhere, this is the kind of denim without any stretch, which gave it an authentic ‘80s aesthetic on screen. Dani (Victoria Pedretti) and Jamie's (Amelia Eve) deep connection involves some clothing mirroring, and while their tastes were different it was clear even in this early scene that this bond would be hard to break.
Moira Rose wasn't the only person styling it out in Catholic-leaning garb on TV this year. While Pope John Paul III (John Malkovich) answered our sartorial prayers, it was his pre-Pope attire that was truly attention-grabbing. Aristocratic dandy was ideal for Paolo Sorrentino's opulent take on this world, which saw designers Carlo Poggioli and Luca Canfora turn to Naples luxury tailor Cesare Attolli to create the 50 items in Sir John Brannox's pre-holy closet. We would be remiss if we didn't also mention the eye-catching (and blinding) speedo worn by Jude Law that first appeared in the show's promo. The New Pope certainly knows how to get our attention.
The British royal family weren't the only well-dressed rulers on TV this year. In The Great, menswear was just as audacious as the fancy frocks worn by the women. Sure, Catherine's (Elle Fanning) hot pink gown and fur-lined capes made a statement, but it was Nicholas Hoult as Peter who pulled focus in every scene. Early on, he partied hard in a skirt and had a fondness for leather pants to emphasize his DGAF attitude. In this hedonistic setting for the rich, costume designer Emma Fryer pointed to his animalistic side with a fabulous leopard print jacket that defied the rules of accurate period dramas. Let's raise a glass to this imagined version of history, Huzzah!
Emma Fraser has wanted to write about TV since she first watched My So-Called Life in the mid-90s, finally getting her wish over a decade later. Follow her on Twitter at @frazbelina.
TOPICS: 2020 in Review, The Alienist, Dash & Lily, Emily in Paris, The Good Place, The Great, The Haunting of Bly Manor , I May Destroy You, Lovecraft Country, The New Pope, Normal People, PEN15, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Schitt's Creek, The Undoing, We Are Who We Are