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TV's Best Looks: 2021 Edition

From Kendall’s birthday best to Only Murders in the Building's crime-solving chic.
  • Photos: Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, Apple TV+, Netflix,
    Photos: Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, Apple TV+, Netflix,

    Bold colors and eye-catching prints may not be the cure for all that ails us, but TV shows embracing fashion frivolity provided a welcome escape amid an otherwise tough year. In 2021, style icon Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) returned, Ted Lasso showcased the best in sports apparel and athleisure, and a tracksuit became the symbol of a deadly game.

    Here are TV's most notable moments in costume this year:

    Coziest Detectives: Mabel, Charles, and Oliver (Only Murders in the Building)

    The three Only Murders in the Building neighbors don’t have much in common beyond their crushing loneliness and a love of true crime podcasts. Oh, that and the fact that they all sport killer outerwear. When we first meet Mabel (Selena Gomez), Charles (Steve Martin), and Oliver (Martin Short), they're all dressed for winter, and designer Dana Covarrubias quickly establishes the peacocks of this crew. Oliver’s purple hue and Mabel’s marigold faux fur Michael Kors jacket stand out in the elevator while Charles opts for a classic coat. Outerwear has been a detective staple since Sherlock Holmes sported an Inverness cape in early illustrations and this trio continues this tradition with aplomb.

    Sequin Queen: Deborah Vance (Hacks)

    Her days as a resident Las Vegas stand-up may be challenged at the start of Hacks, but one aspect of Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) that remains throughout the show's first season is her penchant for onstage shimmer. Signature sequins bookend Deborah’s performances from her tired old routine in the pilot to her fresher, more vulnerable material in the finale. Designer Kathleen Felix-Hager decked Smart out in head-to-toe gold, a perfect match for the Emmy she picked up for this performance in September. Deborah’s reworked set may not have been a resounding success, but her dazzling ensemble is a winner.

    Stride of Pride Runway Ready: Jessie (Starstruck)

    It was a big year for sequins on TV, and the sparkly rainbow New Year’s Eve frock worn by Jessie (Rose Matafeo) was the ideal outfit for a rom-com worthy meet-cute with movie star Tom Kapoor (Nikesh Patel). But it was another post-hook-up ensemble by costume designer Ros Marshall that solidified the fashion brilliance of Matafeo's comedy. The second episode kicks off three months after Jessie first meets Tom, and spring has sprung in London when Jessie exits the canal boat of a casual fling. This is no walk of shame situation, and her morning-after jubilation is matched by the “Return of the Mack” needle-drop. A bold graphic print tied shirt, jeans, and classic Chuck Taylors are the ideal outfit for a jubilant solo breakfast dance.

    Wellness Goals: Masha (Nine Perfect Strangers)

    Nicole Kidman reunited with Big Little Lies costume designer Alix Friedberg on the Hulu miniseries, shedding Celeste’s buttoned-up closet for an ethereal wellness guru aesthetic. The mysterious Marsha embodies everything Tranquilum House is trying to instill in its unsuspecting guests, and Masha's floaty garb perfectly establishes her Goop-like leanings. Anyone who can wear this much white without spilling a drug-laced smoothie down it is too good to be true.

    Boldest Blue: Stanford Blatch (And Just Like That…)

    Sex and the City’s fashion impact cannot be understated, and the show's revival has served as a welcome reminder. But while Carrie Bradshaw and her friends stole the spotlight in the original series, menswear was also elevated, something that continues in And Just Like That with Molly Rogers and Danny Santiago taking over for Patricia Field and serving strong final looks for the late Willie Garson as fan favorite Stanford Blatch. Never one to shrink into the background, Stanford’s bold accessorizing matches his already scene-stealing Paul Smith royal blue suit.

    Most Likely to Appear in Vogue: Pat Dubek (The Other Two)

    Pat Dubek (Molly Shannon) took America by storm with a hit daytime talk show, a game show hosting gig, and a daily meet-and-greet, but by the time it comes to walking down her teen son’s fashion runway, burnout is about to hit and the voluminous avant-garde creation she's wearing only adds to the confusion. The Other Two's Jill Bream has brought the CHS x LNC streetwear collection to life, which sees ChaseDreams (Case Walker) collaborating with his sister’s loveable ex Lance (Josh Segarra) in the Season 2 finale. "I wouldn't wear them because they're kind of ugly and you might look stupid," is Chase’s official assessment of the line bearing his name.

    Best Birthday Suit: Kendall Roy (Succession)

    Kendall (Jeremy Strong) institutes a "no coats" mandate at his big 40th birthday bash, but Connor (Alan Ruck) chooses to ignore it and to keep his quilted cream jacket draped over his shoulders. This act of defiance contributes to Kendall’s “it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” spiral, but it's worth noting that Kendall himself also ignores the dress code. His green quilted Gucci bomber pairs nicely with his turtleneck and Rashid Johnson “Anxious Man” necklace, and the embroidered sequin UFO emblazoned on his back points to Kendall’s perpetual lack of subtly. Designer Michelle Matland used matching colors to draw lines between characters this season, and it's worth noting that Shiv (Sarah Snook) is decked out in the shade of envy on Kendall's big night.

    Branding Awareness Award: Squid Game Organizers (Squid Game)

    Halloween tends to be dominated by one movie or TV show every year, and the Squid Game guards and contestants were the overwhelming favorites in 2021. The numbered teal tracksuit and raglan shirt designed by Jo Sang-Gyeong are easily identifiable — even to people who haven’t watched the hit Korean series. It may be hard to remove blood stains from white slip-on Vans, but the nefarious figures behind this game have little regard for human life let alone footwear.

    Strongest ‘70s: Monica Rambeau (WandaVision)

    WandaVision was one of the most notable early shows of 2021, launching Disney+'s Marvel slate with a love letter to American family sitcoms. Each episode taps into the style of the era, whether Lucy Ricardo’s housewife frock or the legwarmer leanings of the 1980s set Full House — all the while delivering clues about Wanda’s (Elizabeth Olsen) new home. Tackling the 1970s allowed costume designer Mayes C. Rubeo to dial into The Brady Bunch visuals, and Monica’s (Teyonah Parris) fish print pants elevate the already farcical situation Wanda is trying to control.

    Project Runway Unconventional Materials Challenge Winners: Tracy and Gordo Stevens (For All Mankind)

    Having to construct a spacesuit that can withstand the severe atmospheric conditions on the surface of the moon is no easy task, and Gordo (Michael Dorman) and Tracy (Sarah Jones) have few supplies to aid this time-sensitive mission in For All Mankind. What they do have is plenty of duct tape, which they have to wrap around every millimeter of their bodies. Designer Jill M. Ohanneson used the same household material to construct the different suits, further adding to the DIY look of the tense sequence. “Are you kidding? I make this suit sing,” Tracy tells her ex-husband before they venture out into the unknown (Jones ad-libbed this bittersweet teasing line). Duct tape will never look the same again.

    Most Audacious Baby Shower: Peter III (The Great)

    Peter III (Nicholas Hoult) shouldn’t even be alive after the successful coup that placed Catherine (Elle Fanning) as the leader of Imperial Russia, but thankfullyThe Great doesn't hew too close to historical accuracy. The same could also be said of a baby shower being thrown long before the tradition began. Peter is the only repeat character on this list from last year, with designer Sharon Long taking his 70s rock-star appeal to new heights with this ultra-feminine pastel floral and leopard print frock.

    Vacation MVP: Tanya McQuoid (The White Lotus)

    Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge) seems like a woman who was born wearing resort attire, so it only makes sense that costume designer Alex Bovaird would pack her suitcases with enough pool and beach-ready outfits for multiple vacations. The combination of emotional instability and endless cash leads her to look off-kilter most of the time, even if her lush fabrics are ideal for this rich environment, tapping directly into the comedy and heartbreak of this character.

    Best Dressed Beatle: Ringo Starr (The Beatles: Get Back)

    The "best Beatle" debate has been raging for 60 years now, and Peter Jackson’s eight-hour documentary poured yet more gasoline on that fire. Intimate and unfiltered sums up the three-part series that revealed new insights into the breakup of the world’s biggest band, leading some viewers to come away with a new favorite. John, Paul, George, and Ringo each have their own style and you can make a case for all four, but it's Ringo embracing ‘60s trends that triumphs. Flower power shirts, colorful ruffles, a lime green pinstripe suit, a pre-Don’t Look Now red raincoat, and playful polka dots all ensure he earns the epic doc's best-dressed crown.

    Chicest Crisis Couture: Lisa Barlow (The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City)

    Bravo teased Jen Shah's big RHOSLC arrest at the start of its second season but nothing could prepare viewers for the way events unfolded. When Lisa Barlow, Jennie Nguyen, Whitney Rose, and Heather Gay arrived at the Beauty Lab parking lot, they had no idea Jen was about to get arrested. Lisa does know a good coat helps pull focus no matter the scenario and the Almost Famous-adjacent faux fur-trimmed Kenzo jacket — combined with the mirrored oversized shades — does just that. Alas, with six lawyers to call (and even more news alerts to check) there's no time here for a healing “Tiny Dancer” sing-along.

    Most Covid Compliant Halloween: Camille and Honeybear (Betty)

    Shows continued to struggle with how to address the IRL pandemic in 2021, but HBO's Betty proved to be one of TV's more successful entries. Before their Halloween party spirals out of control, the skaters embrace all areas of pop culture, with Honeybear (Moonbear) pulling off an excellent Leeloo from The Fifth Element, while Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) found the perfect mask to match her banana costume. Designer Cristina Spiridakis delivers authentic Halloween costumes that don’t feel like a creative stretch for these characters, sending the gone-too-soon series off in skateboarding style.

    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: 2021 In Review, And Just Like That, The Beatles: Get Back, Betty, For All Mankind, The Great, Hacks, Nine Perfect Strangers, Only Murders In The Building , The Other Two, The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, Squid Game, Starstruck, Succession, WandaVision, The White Lotus