You are what you wear. And nearly nothing exemplifies that adage more than with television’s best known characters — whose outerwear telegraphs to viewers what they’re all about. These 16 style icons of the small screen have cemented their place in history with outfits that represent their narratives and, perhaps more importantly, their cultural epochs.
“I Love Lucy,” Polka Dot Dress As one of the first sitcoms on television, “I Love Lucy” became an enduring hallmark of the 1950s. Even though the show, starring Lucille Ball as the eponymous Lucy, was televised in black-and-white, architectural silhouettes and loud patterns, such as her trademark polka dot house dress, still popped out of the small screen.
“That Girl,” The Higher the Hair Despite being unable to hold down a regular job, Ann Marie (Marlo Thomas) manages to keep up her perfectly coiffed hairstyle and impeccable wardrobe, complete with tailored coats and structured dresses evocative of the 1960s mod aesthetic.
“Gidget,” Surfer Chic Sally Field’s spunky 1960s surfer spent a lot of time on the beach, which meant wearing a lot of beachwear. Gidget’s striped and gingham two-pieces made waves across the era’s TV sets and though it only ran for one season, the show epitomized Southern California style of the era.
“The Golden Girls,” Dorothy and Blanche Before “Sex and the City” and “Girls” cemented the idea of a gal squad on television, there was “The Golden Girls.” You could either be a Dorothy (Beatrice Arthur) or a Blanche (Rue McClanahan), polar opposites both in personality and style.
“Baywatch,” That Swimsuit C.J. Parker (Pamela Anderson) made waves with her high-cut, bright red one-piece, a style that has been echoed time and again, especially in recent summers. Celebrities who have sported the cut include Emily Ratajkowski and Kendall Jenner.
“Friends,” Rachel’s Style Any mention of Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston) conjures up images of her eponymous hairstyle, “The Rachel,” as well as ’90s staples, such as slip minidresses, sleek skirts and overalls. In a “Saturday Night Live” parody, Vanessa Bayer dons a denim one-piece overall with a quintessential mock neck top of the era.
“The Cosby Show,” Denise Huxtable Denise (Lisa Bonet) imitated no one and no one could imitate Denise. Although “The Cosby Show” has been rendered unwatchable following droves of sexual misconduct accusations against Bill Cosby, Bonet’s trailblazing bohemian-chic style cannot be erased.
“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” His Majesty Arrives Will Smith livens up the Banks household starting from the very first episode, with a fluorescent lemon-lime ensemble. Perhaps it’s the contrast to the straight-laced Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro), or the delightful manifestation of teenage energy, but the “Fresh Prince” may have been the first male character on TV to take such large fashion risks, which mostly worked but sometimes didn’t.
“Sex and the City,” Carrie Bradshaw As the show’s resident fashion writer, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) rightly takes all the shining style moments. Her poofy tutus, eclectic color combinations and endless shoe closet, overflowing with Jimmy Choos, taught us one very important lesson: Go big or go home.
“Gossip Girl,” The Queen of Manhattan In spite of its unattainable and over-the-top portrayal of Upper East Side living, this show remains a bastion of late-aughties fashion. One such example is Serena van der Woodsen’s (Blake Lively’s) dress, which includes intricate beading, lace and a strange fabric belt, representing the best of the decade’s unconventional combinations.
“Mad Men,” I Am Peggy, Hear Me Roar The whiskey-soaked show managed to replicate the metropolitan style of ’60s, and Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) has gone through many versions of office wear in her climb up the advertising ladder. “Mad Men” fans have seen her butterfly from an unsure secretary to fully realized copy chief. In the series finale, she’s seen strutting down the hallway of her advertising firm with hangover sunglasses, a cigarette dangling from her mouth and an erotic octopus painting in hand.
“Scandal,” The White Hat Despite her red wine habit, Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) donned stark white pieces throughout the hit series’ long run, with quintessential Prada bag in hand. But the most influential piece is her metaphorical “white hat,” a symbol for the good guys, which takes its physical form in the Season 2 premiere.
“Girls,” The Whole Gang The HBO show has produced a litany of memorable fashion moments, from Hannah’s (Lena Dunham’s) club-going mesh ensemble to Jessa’s (Jemima Kirke’s) feathered gown. Near the end of the series, Marnie (Allison Williams) becomes more comfortable with casual-chic getups while Shoshanna moves to Tokyo and adopts an even more flamboyant style, pink hair and all.
“Game of Thrones,” A Queen Reborn After public humiliation and personal degradation at the hands of religious group, the Sparrows, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) savors her revenge in style. Long gone are the intricate, plaited hairstyles and the equally fussy gowns. The new queen channels the Iron Throne with black regalia and strong metal accents. Her new signature look matches her power and unwavering focus.
“Insecure,” Hot Sauce and Red Lobster Issa Rae’s wardrobe on her HBO show is replete with graphic tees emblazoned with musical tributes – from Prince to The Last Poets to Tupac. Her most eye-catching design? “Formation” Beyonce surrounded by floating lobsters and bottles of Tabasco on a bright pink backdrop.
“Big Little Lies,” The Fundraiser The moment the show had been teasing for an entire season – the Elvis Presley and Audrey Hepburn themed fundraiser – does not disappoint in the final episode. In addition to the fabulous incarnations of Holly Golightly, sported by Jane (Shailene Woodley) and Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), the costume party slyly illustrates a common thread running through the series: Beneath their games of dress-up, all the characters have secrets to keep.