Lorna Doyle explains why Euphoria emboldened her to make braver fashion choices.
Lauded as Gen Z’s answer to Skins, HBO’s 2019 drama Euphoria lives up to the style of the classic teen drama rooted in the extremes of sex, drugs, depression, and an accompanying sense of impending doom. Euphoria was the first instance of mainstream television where it felt as if the experience of modern adolescence in a culture reliant on social media was truthfully portrayed; the characters feel like fully-formed concepts, and clothes play a vital role in their narrative.
Euphoria was a powerful catalyst towards the upheaval of outdated stereotypes still perpetuated throughout film and television, and instigated a renaissance of understanding of the autonomy of modern teenagers. My reckoning with my own sense of style was of a similar nature to that of the characters on the show. Self expression was synonymous with rebellion, and attempting to challenge the expectations of authority figures that had a say in how I looked and acted. As a student at school, clothes signified institutionalised uniformity and gender stereotypes. Dress codes and rules dictated what it meant to dress appropriately. They ultimately agreed with a culture that perpetuates the idea that you can calculate or define a person’s worth by their sense of style, especially a young woman’s. Fashion can inhibit, but it can just as easily be a direct route to self-empowerment.
The psychological value of dressing is something that I have become more familiar with in the last few years. It is undeniable that feeling good equates to looking good, and the effect that clothes have is a language in itself for how we behave and interact. In this sense, one of the things that resonated with me while watching Euphoria was how the clothes and style of each character reflect and evolve with their changes in attitude or behaviour. Costume designer Heidi Bivens, who is the brain behind other influential fashion driven films such as The Beach Bum, Spring Breakers and Mid90s, described in an interview with Ssense in August 2021, that her research for Euphoria involved collecting inspiration and references from real examples of teenage fashion via the internet and people on the street. The reassurance that comes with seeing everyday fashion made exciting reinforces an independent attitude towards dressing, and fuels an increased awareness that I now have towards how clothes make me feel, regardless of popular opinion. Euphoria is a landmark of my own transition from being self-conscious about what I liked to wear to feeling liberated from the pressures of fast-fashion trends and the expectations of what other people would think of as cool. In turn, I became cooler.
Bivens’ work on Euphoria is fine-tuned to the symbolic value of fashion, yet loyal to the intimacy of dressing and the autonomy of the characters. They are believable and influential in a fresh, modern exploration of self-expression as a young person. Clothes are important because we are taught from such a formative age that they are. The young women in Euphoria display their identities through clothes in a way that is breathtakingly subversive of the expectations often placed on young, school-age women. They are unapologetic about their style, sexuality, and their bold choices. Seeing the resistance of gendered preconceptions about clothes and style reflected in television is crucial given the active presence of the media in fashion. I first watched Euphoria at a point where I was newly released from the weight of gender-based restrictions perpetuated by school, but the insecurities linger. It is a common cultural, and societal trope that young women are made to feel responsible for their hypersexualised identity, and raised to believe that their value should be derived from male validation. Euphoria wholeheartedly rejects this, and consequently encourages their audience to do the same.