Thursday, May 6, 2021

Costume Design in HBO's Succession

Karolina, on the left, and Gerri, on the right, are both high-ranking attorneys working at the large company that is one of the main focuses of the show. 

K and I just finished watching the second season of Succession, and it was incredibly good! I continue to highly recommend the show, the only real weakness is in the pilot episode and in how it takes a few episodes to get situated, understand who all the major characters are, and to better follow along with the story. 

But in recommending Succession, I still need to warn that nearly every single major character is morally awful in some significant way. The entire series is focused on incredibly wealthy people who will never need to worry about money, and so they spend all their time playing corporate power games. It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but dang, the series is incredibly well-acted and well-written. 

I'm always particularly drawn to television shows in which the costume design includes interesting takes on women's workwear, particularly if there's at least one character who looks like they dress in a way I could see myself dressing for work, or in a way that I could see real-life attorneys dressing. (Oftentimes, the characters aren't actually dressed that much like me, or like many real-life attorneys I know. Typically, the brands and items used to dress television characters are significantly more expensive than most of us would actually spend!) Succession actually has tons of recurring characters that dress in such a way, including the two women pictured above: Karolina, an attorney and the head of public relations at a major media company, and Gerri, the General Counsel of the company. 

Somewhat unusually for a television show that heavily features workplace settings - I'd say close to half the screen-time in Succession is focused on events taking place in the offices of Waystar Royco, a large multinational company controlled by the extremely wealthy family at the heart of the show - pretty much all the women's workwear featured in the show looks extremely realistic, like clothing that could be worn in real-life business formal settings. There are no overly trendy or fashionable items that could potentially be considered inappropriate for the office to be seen anywhere in the many scenes taking place at work or work-related events. (Unlike, say, in Suits, or even in Madam Secretary or The Good Wife at times.) 

From the show, it seems clear that Waystar Royco is extremely conservative when it comes to workplace dress code. In particular, those who work in offices near the company's executive team - including administrative assistants - seem to dress almost exclusively in fairly conservative business formal, all in neutral colors. For instance, here's a Twitter thread with some screenshots of Karolina from every episode in which she appears, and it's basically all neutrals except for one coat. In fact, I'd say the employees dress more conservatively and formally than in any real life work setting I'm familiar with, except maybe a courtroom during a jury trial. Most law firm attorneys don't dress that formally in their day-to-day lives at the office.

Siobhan "Shiv" Roy is the only daughter in the immediate family, and she starts dressing and styling herself a lot more formally in season two once she becomes interested in working for - and potentially running - the company. In season one, she works on political campaigns and is often dressed in business casual.

Of course, the show itself mostly isn't focused on Waystar Royco's employees and is instead focused on the family that owns the company, people who are too important to absolutely need to stick to such a conservative and formal dress code! They still dress very appropriately and quite formally when in work-related settings, though it's also clear they have a lot more freedom when it comes to color palette and style than their employees do. 

I really enjoy reading the many articles out there that feature interviews with Succession's costume designer, Michelle Matland. And actually - also somewhat unusually for a television show, at least in my experience - I think the costume design for the men is arguably more important and sends more signals about character development than it does for the women. (Though this is in large part because the main cast is mostly male, the show is about a company that's a bit of a boy's club.) In fact, there are a handful of moments in season two where a male character's fashion choices - those of Tom, a character from a far less wealthy background who marries into the family, and is thus an outsider to the family and their social circles - even become a plot and character development point for him, in that other people actively judge his fashion choices and find them wanting, a visible sign of his outsider status. 

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