Unlike the Oscars, contemporary costume design regularly wins Emmys. That’s what happens when you have over a hundred categories, including separate costum prizes, depending on the type of story. This specific award has only been around since 2015, and so far no show has won it twice, providing a nice reprieve from the TV Academy’s usual allergy to broadcasting wealth. Indeed, none of this year’s nominees are previous winners, although half of them have already competed.
Usually new programs have an edge, but never overlook the power of a swipe – Schitt’s Creek won his second try as part of his final season’s Emmy dominance. In other words, as with the other categories, The White Lotus is well placed to win gold…
Outstanding Contemporary Costumes
- Michelle R. Cole, Stanley Vance Hudson and Suzanne M. Bantit for BlackishEpisode: “That’s What Friends Are For” (S08E01)
- Description: Bow convinces Dre to attend a fundraising event to make new friends, but Dre is convinced there will only be failed husbands there to befriend; their expectations are exceeded when the guest of the evening is Michelle Obama.
- Heidi Bivens, Devon Patterson and Angelina Vitto for EuphoriaEpisode: “Trying to Get to Heaven Before You Close the Door” (S02E01)
- Description: Rue and Jules meet for the first time since Christmas as East Highland rings in the New Year.
- Kathleen Felix-Hager & Karen Bellamy for hacksEpisode: “The Captain’s Wife” (S02E04)
- Description: As Deb struggles to connect with her audience on a gay cruise, Ava finds herself facing unexpected success.
- Dana Covarrubias, Amanda Bujak and Amy Burt for Only murders in the building, Episode: “Who is Tim Kono?” (S01E02)
- Description: The group begins to search for the victim. Meanwhile, Mabel’s secret past begins to come to light.
- Kameron Lennox, Danielle Baker and Petra Larsen for Pam and TommyEpisode: “Destroyer of Worlds” (S01E07)
- Description: As knockoffs of the Lee and Anderson sex tape begin to dominate the market, Gauthier’s business dries up; an annoyed Peraino bullies Gauthier into paying him the $50,000 he is owed; Tommy confronts Rand in the Dodger Stadium parking lot.
- Alex Bovaird, Brian Sprouse and Eileen Stroup for The White LotusEpisode: “Arrivals” (S01E01)
- Description: Resort manager Armond tries to appease the unreasonable Shane and his new wife Rachel, while spa manager Belinda calms the grieving Tanya. To distract herself from a health problem, Nicole suggests that her husband Mark spend time with their son Quinn, who has been ostracized by his sister Olivia and her friend Paula.
The White Lotus‘ The chosen episode looks like a reasonable selection. However, it’s not ideal nor does it represent the heights of the show’s achievement in sartorial storytelling. The show’s first hour sees its cast of self-contained guests arrive at the resort, each dressed as a tropical-themed editorial. Their wealth is on full display and it feels like everyone is costumed to play a role other than themselves. In other words, these people are intentionally dressed in idealizations of what vacationers should look like.
It’s all loud prints, expensive designer clothes and luxury accessories that signify elite status with violent vehemence. Curiously, the clothes are so in tune with a lofty idea of resort glamor that they almost blend into the surroundings. The set design is saturated with the same kind of motifs that dominate the characters’ rich costumes, swallowing them whole. In contrast, the simpler clothes of the station workers even stand out as it can be seen that they were designed to be invisible. Solid colors and coordinated uniform prints in softer or darker tones are the norm, meant to hide individuality.
And yet, the relationship of costume design to set design forms a paradox where the aide feels more humanized than the percent who act as the protagonists of each other’s story. And yet, none of it feels too forced. Instead, Bovaird’s designs feel precise in an Instagram-ready environment, drawn from a specific reality about self-obsession. Some fascinating details include designer clothes from the Caribbean and South America, following the logic that many vacationers buy entire wardrobes while vacationing abroad, reinventing themselves in false authenticity along the way.
hacks‘submission travels in a similar medium, only more queer and considerably less exclusive. The episode finds our protagonists on a lesbian cruise where Deborah takes on one of her toughest audiences. Jean Smart is a whirlwind of clashing prints, each outfit dripping with silver. Hannah Einbinder, on the other hand, is all about limited resources and streamlined fashion. Together they are a study in contrasts, and the population of the ship is a riot of vacation clothes spread across the futch scale. Honestly, the sartorial fun is watching the action in the background, each extra dressed for maximum comedy and showmanship.
Meanwhile, back on earth, the comedian’s loyal manager is collapsing after a breakup, taking refuge in the hedonism of gay nightlife – harnesses and tank tops as far as the eye can see. So you get two visions of modern homosexuality in the same episode, from the sweaty recesses of Las Vegas clubs to the upper echelons of lesbian boating entertainment.
Of the three returning candidates, hacks feels like the one with the best chance of winning, even if it’s not to be counted Euphoria. This is the third nomination for Sam Levinson’s HBO teen drama, perhaps the current show that most reflects and influences changing fashions. That edgy look doesn’t stop designer Heidi Bivens from crafting neat character portrayals through the clothes, formulating the show’s heady vibe, and aiding its maximalist narrative with plenty of style. Euphoria wouldn’t be the same without the memorable costumes, and it’s about time the TV Academy recognized it.
Although the final episodes of the second season centered around Lexi’s play seem like the best sartorial showcase, it’s easy to see why Bivens chose this first hour. It all opens with an extended flashback to Fez’s childhood, where the boy’s drug-dealing grandmother takes center stage in an outdated 1970s costume. The outfits were all made on tailored for actress Kathrine Narducci who parades in tone-on-tone embroidery and made-to-measure leather. Later, a New Year’s Eve party provides an opportunity to reunite with the main characters in festive finery, their style journeys helping to establish where they are at in their lives.
Blackish is the last returning nominee and the one with the most negligible odds of winning. Of course, this is the show’s final season, so we’d expect some fanfare. But, sadly, the ABC comedy was largely ignored by the TV Academy, receiving only two nods – for costumes and hairstyling. That being said, the Season 8 premiere is a great showcase for Michelle Cole’s gifts for using fashion as a comedic mechanism, pitting levels of formality against high hilarity. The episode’s big stylistic showcase occurs as various family members crash Dre and Bow’s date with Michelle Obama, parading in ridiculously ostentatious fits. Jennifer Lewis looks particularly attractive in this must-have Valentino pink and bling galore.
Only murders in the buildingg is another comedy that uses costume design as an essential part of its wacky gambits, dressing a memorial service in an array of not-so-dark attire that highlights the heartfelt grief of everyone involved. Again, I question the episode selection but I can see why it was chosen. There’s this great scene with all the tenants and owners of the building, as well as colorful flashbacks to the first episode and detours into Mabel’s past. Evoking fashions from a decade ago, Dana Covarrubias underscores the generational dynamics at play in the thriller narrative while appealing to a sense of youthful nostalgia.
The latest nominee takes us even further into the past. Specifically, in the mid-1990s, when Pamela Anderson Barbed wire The press tour was sabotaged by the growing controversy over the sex tapes. Kameron Lennox carefully recreates real-life outfits and plays with story in the name of dramaturgical efficiency and character building. Note how the movie premiere at the episode’s climax features costumes taken from other points of Pam and Tommypublic life to better dramatize the moment. The tight latex makes Anderson more vulnerable than ever, while Lee’s explosion of red and fishnets signals the stark differences in how each spouse experiences the scandal at hand.
It’s great period work, but I wonder where it belongs here. Angelyne submitted an episode set mostly in 1988 and 2017 and was classified as period costume so why is this Pam and Tommy allowed to compete as a contemporary story?
Will win: The White Lotus
Should Win: Euphoria
See here for a list of all Emmy nominees this year.
Who do you think will win the contemporary costume design race? Who are you rooting for?