Say what you will about Carrie Bradshaw, but girl's got style.
Sure, it's not an aesthetic that everyone can wear, but at best, it broadened the scope of conventional styling and, at the very least, reaffirmed Manolo Blahnik's spot in luxury shoe history. Love it or hate it, Sarah Jessica Parker's Sex and the City persona challenged and inspired the style game.
In true Carrie fashion, we must pose a few questions: Ten years post-SATC, where are the true television trendsetters today? Where are the style savants who innovate trends rather than regurgitate them? And, ultimately, what does the lack of TV trailblazers say about fashion today?
Past characters like Blake Lively's Serena Van Der Woodsen, Lucille Ball's Lucy Ricardo and even the ladies of Dynasty had some impact in their heyday.
"These shows were like watching a magazine editorial on TV," said celebrity stylist and E! Style Collective member Lindsay Albanese. "There are lots of creative styling, layering, mixing trends, textured and prints, which ultimately get viewers inspired to experiment with their own wardrobe."
Today, however, scripted television seems to fall a bit flat in the realm of fashion-forward thinking. Or perhaps it's not as noticeable in modern shows with serious plotlines and diverse archetypes.
"In the past, the shows that are famously remembered for creative styling and trendsetting have all been shows that were focused on social dynamics or involved with some sort of social status," Albanese noted. "Pushing the sartorial boundaries is an essential part of the show, in addition to the storyline of the series."
Gossip Girl's Serena Van Der Woodsen and Blair Waldorf are New York socialites, while Carrie Bradshaw (despite a few previous financial snags) also leads a pretty aspirational life. However, today, cult-followed shows are period-based (Game of Thrones or Downton Abbey), are deep-rooted in more complex systems (Scandal or House of Cards) or are reality-based (yes, some people really love their camo and bandage dresses).
"That's not to say there isn't strong styling or costume design in many other scripted shows that are currently on TV," Lindsay noted. "Take Scandal, for instance, Olivia Pope is always impeccably dressed in high-end ready-to-wear as the lead in that show. It's really playing to the strength of her character in a more sophisticated, polished style genre."
Kerry Washington recently told The Edit magazine that she and Scandal costume designer Lyn Paolo wanted to redefine the typical Washington aesthetic.
"We wanted to get out of the typical navy-blue, box, ‘woman in a man's suit' definition of power dressing," the star said.
Yet, Olivia Pope does not garner the same stylistic applause that past TV style trailblazers have received. Is it because her style is too niche, befitting of only the professional set? Instead of all things aspirational, perhaps this targeted perspective is the new way to appeal to an audience. Take a look at HBO's Girls, for instance, our resident style expert noted.
"Each character's style perfectly parallels each of their personalities, which also adds to the entire plot making the cast so believable," Lindsay added. "The styling isn't following specific fashion trends, so it kind of has you guessing which era the show is filmed in."
When discussing Carrie's trademark nameplate necklace, Sex and the City stylist Patricia Fields suggested that the success of the protagonist's wardrobe was due to the fact that it encompassed all New York trends—from uptown, downtown to the outer boroughs.
"Whatever she's wearing has to be completely original to last in time," Patricia once said in an interview for the Archive of American Television. It couldn't just be from one couture designer's spring collection. That necklace was already a New York staple, she added. "It had that reason for being."
So it's not about how completely covetable or ostentation a character can dress; it's the perfect way in which their backgrounds, flaws and attributes intercept. For every aspirational show that attempts to push the fashion boundaries, like The Royals (many of its wardrobe selects have already sold out), there is also a show that caters to a specific style perspective. Think: the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and the New Girl, the Gladiators and Scandal, and the witty neurotics and The Mindy Project.
Maybe there isn't just one TV show that breaks style boundaries and gets fashion critics talking and people shopping. Perhaps there are no clear-cut TV style trailblazers anymore because we have a vast array of characters—in different shapes, sizes and colors—to adore. Maybe it's the sum of all parts.