Fashion always repeats itself, but as the cycle of trends has accelerated and blurred, sometimes it seems like everything is back all at once. On social media, and especially among Gen Z, the simplicity of the 1990s and the excesses of the early 2000s transform into 1960s-style hooks and romantic “Regencycore” styles – all filtered through a distinctly 2021 lens. .
It’s not that different from the sensibility of the Netflix teen comedy series Sex education, which debuted in 2019 and has taken turns baffling and delighting viewers with an aesthetic that feels timeless and out of place. Although set in a bucolic town in England – in fact, filmed in Wales – the series has a transatlantic feel, referencing John Hughes films and incorporating elements of American high school life, such as lockers, Letterman jackets and proms.
And if the presence of smartphones indicates that Sex education is rooted in contemporary life, students at the fictional Moordale High School shoot from different decades with gleeful abandon, some wearing 1970s style lapels and others 1980s or 1990s grunge blazers The general appearance, which the costume designer Rosa Dias describes as “timeless and non-specific”, makes the world of Sex education feeling both familiar and strange, which pretty much sums up the experience of being a teenager.
Back for its third season, Sex education follows Otis (Asa Butterfield) and her peers from Moordale – as well as adults in their community, including Otis’ mother, Jean (Gillian Anderson), a sex and relationship therapist with significant boundary issues – as they navigate between friendships and romance. It’s a big-hearted show that emphasizes sexual positivity and self-acceptance.
For the teenage characters in the show, like their real-life counterparts, clothing is an important means of self-expression. For Otis’ best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), style is an important way to show pride in his identity as a young gay man, and it shines in a closet full of colorful, patterned looks, often paired with it. to sparkling eye makeup.
Queen Bee Ruby (Mimi Keene) hides her vulnerability behind a maximalist pop princess look. “Because her life at home is quite rough and difficult, she tries to pretend that she is someone else,” says Dias. Alien life enthusiast and prolific author of alien erotica Lily (Tanya Reynolds) dons pastel turtlenecks, patterned knits, and sometimes a silver bodysuit.
This season, however, the fashion show in the halls of Moordale came to a screeching halt. New principal Hope (Jemima Kirke) has been hired to clean up the school’s reputation and bring order to its supposedly depraved student body. His solution? Gray Dour uniforms.
For Dias, Moordale’s uniforms demanded a delicate balance. They had to be drab but also stylish, as they were going to be spending a lot of screen time. Dias went for an indescribable gray with brown accents and upped the look with a more fashionable fit and 1970s inspired cuffs. “It tucks in slightly at the waist and the cuffs are really beautifully pronounced,” Dias says. “I always wanted to have that slight hint of retro in school uniforms.”
In many teenage TV shows, the uniforms act as a sort of creative restraint, giving the characters a frame to style their hair or against. Consider Blair Waldorf’s preppy headbands and textured tights in the original embodiment of Gossip Girl, or the oversized shirts, bike shorts and tall boots of it-girl Julien Calloway when the show reboots in 2021. Students at Moordale have a lot less room to express themselves – hair dye , colorful eye makeup and nose rings are now verboten – but even in their school uniforms they do not entirely lose their individuality.
For Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling), the former swim team star who spent much of the previous seasons in a Letterman jacket, Dias went for a tighter fit. With Adam Groff (Connor Swindells), a struggling slacker learning to open up, she went for a looser look. On a school trip to France Without Hope, students drop their jackets, loosen their ties and, in Ruby’s case, tie their shirts in. . . Baby One More Time style crop top.
Visually, however, the transition from colorful clothing to gray uniforms is sobering. “Don’t you sound smart?” Hope said at a school assembly, in silence punctuated by a single cough. Tension between the students and the principal builds as Hope tackles statement props and berates Cal (Dua Saleh), a non-binary student, for wearing his uniform in a size larger for a loose fit. Yes Sex education speaks of a group of young people reuniting, Hope’s rules threaten to stifle that growth.
Meanwhile, adults have their own uniforms. Hope’s polar opposite in terms of attitude and style is Otis’ mother Jean, whose wardrobe has been a highlight of the show since season one. Her outfits are all sultry: burnt orange velvet dresses, butter yellow silk pajamas, sophisticated jumpsuits and an enviable range of patterned dressing gowns. Dias sources largely from independent vintage dealers, as well as contemporary vintage-inspired brand Nancy Mac.
“Jean has always been that kind of intellectual and really cool mother,” Dias says, noting that although Jean is very sexually positive and confident in her body, she has a vulnerability towards her. In Dias’ mind, this personality profile translated into flowing and luxurious silks and pancakes. From there, she wondered which eras did these fabrics particularly well and which could express Jean’s “relaxation and confidence”. The end result is both modern and representative of the show’s elusive period: a 1930s look with a 1920s twist, a bit of the ’60s and a few contemporary touches for good measure.
And how do you equip the person who turned the once colorful Moordale into a dull sea of gray? Turns out Hope dresses – and I respectfully say this – like a Brooklyn mom who works in a creative field. When she first dances on stage at a school assembly, wearing high waisted pants and white oxford shoes, the students are stunned; she’s young, she’s chic, and her taste for minimalist and utilitarian button-down shirts seems modern. As we get to know her, that restraint starts to feel more like overwhelming stiffness.
Dias sourced much of Hope’s clothing from Old Town, a British custom-made company, focusing on fabrics with a more durable touch, such as cotton drill and denim. “When she starts to get that harsh kind of person, those tissues get really hard on her body,” Dias says.
“I wanted her to look really cool but also to have this kind of repression behind her,” she adds. “She’s trying to control her life, she is trying to control her emotions, she is trying to control everything.”
But in spaces where Hope has no authority, the individuality and style of the students boils, irrepressible. After a day spent in their dreaded uniforms, Eric and Ruby show up for a double date in a bowling alley wearing a green sequined jacket and a ruffled mini dress in a groovy print, respectively. It’s hard to be a teenager Sex education seems to say, but it’s much better when you can dress on your own terms.
The third series of “Sex Education” releases September 17th on Netflix
Check out our latest stories first – follow @financialtimefashion on Instagram