Sex and the City is often thought of as the go-to for the most iconic style moments in TV history. I mean, the shoes, the dresses, the handbags — it’s really a treasure trove of wonderful outfits and fabulous designer pieces. There's no denying that Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte did the fashion thing well - and each in their own way.
But Sex and the City doesn’t have a monopoly on good TV fashion, and honestly, the more TV you watch the more you realize they weren’t even the first show to bring big-name designers and out-there looks to the small screen. We’ve rounded up the 17 most iconic TV style moments of all time; maybe you’ll get some wardrobe inspiration!
Of course, we have to start with Sex and the City. And of all the amazing looks on the show, the one that stands out the most is Carrie’s tutu look from the series’ finale. The tutu from the show’s credits is iconic as well (they even reference it in the first Sex and the City movie!), but the one at the end is just so much better. Maybe it’s because we really understand and appreciate Carrie and her sense of style by then, or maybe it’s because she wears it in Paris, the glitz and glam capital of the world. Or maybe it’s because while she’s wearing it she finally gets her happy ending with Big. Whatever it is, we’re obsessed, and every time we see it we wish that we could pull of tutus in the real world. So for that reason, this one stands out as hands down, the most iconic TV style moment of all time.
Kelly Kapowski was the most popular girl at Bayside Highschool. The head cheerleader, captain of the softball, volleyball and swim teams, and Zack Morris’s girlfriend — she was everything we wanted to be in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. She also had impeccable style. Her matching sets stand out the most to us. Those colorful printed crop tops and skirts were literally #fashiongoals back then (and, if we’re being honest, are #fashiongoals for us today). They were always flawlessly accessorized, and her shoes were perfectly dyed to match. As often as we cruised the mall to find Kelly-approved outfits, we never could quite copy it.
Of all the shows on TV right now, Friends is probably the one we look to the most for style inspo. It’s so quintessentially ‘90s — the crop tops, the oversized sweatshirts, the scrunchies, the crushed velvet — you name it, they wore it. You could walk into any Urban Outfitters today and find it filled with things the costuming department would have loved. One outfit that we’re particularly green with envy over is this school-girl plaid skirt and cropped cream sweater Rachel wore on season one. It’s to die for. We’ve been trying to re-create it ever since it first landed on the airwaves but we’ve yet to be successful.
When it comes to fashion, Gossip Girl is to the ‘10s as Sex and the City was to the ‘00s. Both shows feature tons of high-end designer fashions, ultra-expensive shoes and handbags, and accessories galore. And while we could point out dozens of Gossip Girl outfits that were amazing (Blair’s plaid Chanel suits, Serena’s caged Georges Chakra dress), there’s one that stands head and shoulders above the rest — the girls’ prep-school uniforms. The skirts were unbelievably short, the Oxford tops always buttoned a few buttons too low, the headbands and tights so bright, and the heels way too high to be feasibly allowable. There’s no way these uniforms would have flown in any real-world prep-school, but they're instantly recognizable in a way few other TV looks are.
This one stands out for all the wrong reasons. In Handmaid's Tale’s Gilead, wardrobe is used as a tool for control and division. Because Offred is a handmaid, she is required to wear the shapeless, red robe and wide-brimmed bonnet. The wardrobe sets her apart from the wives, who dress in blue, and the daughters, who wear white until marriage, both of whom are above her. Her red dress also marks her as a “sinner,” setting her apart from her equals in rank but not spirit (the Aunts, who wear brown, the Marthas who wear green, and the econowives who wear multiple colors). And finally, it sets her above the unwomen and Jezebels who wear whatever they can get their hands on from the past. The Handmaid’s Tale uses fashion in a way that no other TV show ever has, and for that reason alone it’s iconic.
If the Snow Ball episode on season two of Stranger Things didn’t make you cry, then honestly we’re questioning whether or not you have a soul. Probably the second-best scene during the episode is Eleven’s grand entrance to the dance — her hair is done, it’s obvious she has some makeup on, and that dress. The puffy shoulders, the hot pink pleather belt, the ruffled skirt — it’s so ‘80s we just can’t even. It’s perfect. The show works so hard to stay true to its retro roots, and this dress is like the piece de resistance in one of the most absorbing, irresistible shows on TV.
We love, love, love Mad Men’s Peggy. Over the course of the show, we watched her grow from a timid, naïve goody-goody, to a strong, independent badass. Her growth and attitude change are totally evident in her wardrobe choices. During the pilot episode, she arrives at Sterling Cooper in a demure goldenrod sweater and a matching skirt. When she moves into the McCann Erickson building, she wears a much louder yellow, red and blue printed sweater paired with a navy skirt and accessorized with a cigarette hanging out of the corner of her mouth. The look is so iconic because it marks a real change for Peggy, and we’re on the hunt for a similar outfit (and attitude change) for our next big interview.
For working at a fashion magazine, Ugly Betty’s Betty has pretty horrible style. The costume director, Patricia Field, who also outfitted for the Sex and the City women for all six seasons, has referred to Betty’s fashion sense at “kooky couture.” She’ll often wear pretty fashion-forward labels, usually several of them at a time, but they don’t go together at all. This patterned dress, with the big, bold butterfly belt and the yellow socks/blue heels combo is the perfect example. Everything on Betty’s body is designer, but none of it works together. She’s almost anti-style in a world of high-end fashion, which is why we definitely rank this look up there in the most iconic TV style moments of all time. How could you not?
Those of us who are into fashion today almost all have Lizzie McGuire to thank for our obsession. If it wasn’t for our pre-teen fashion icon, and her to-die-for looks every episode, we probably wouldn’t care half as much about what we put on our bodies today. We can even point to the exact outfit that got us hooked on clothes — this one from the “Best Dressed” episode. It has it all: flutter sleeves, a choker, bedazzled bell bottoms, and crimped hair. In the early ‘00s, you couldn’t get any more perfect than this. It was literally fashion porn for us at 13.
Gilmore Girls is iconic for its pop-culture references, fast-talking protagonists, and the fashion. The coffee-loving Gilmore girls had impeccable style. They had that whole girl-next-door who’s totally on-trend thing down. And, as opposed to Sex and the City, their fashion was accessible. Wearing 4-inch stilettos every day isn’t really an option for most of us, but wearing a screen-printed t-shirt with a pair of really well-fitted jeans and a hoodie? Easy. One look we really, really loved? Lorelai’s pink coat. The bubblegum pink, peacoat is literally perfection. She wears it a lot throughout the shows run, and it even came back for the revival. It pairs with everything, is totally unique, and is perfect for those long walks around town when you smell the first snow coming.
If we’re not stealing our OOTDs from Friends, then you can guarantee that we’ve copied them from The Nanny. Fran Fine had a better wardrobe than Cher, and while it was totally inappropriate for a nanny, it was totally perfect for everything else. We’d give anything for just a handful of the mini skirts, sweater sets, glittery club dresses and stunning evening gowns she dons throughout the show. But the most jaw-dropping thing Fran ever wore was a simple black body-con mini dress with a low-v neckline. If we had it, we’d literally never take it off. We’d wear it on dates, to the grocery store, and even to bed. It’s that perfect.
Watching Felicity as pre-teens made us want to drop everything and move to New York City to chase after an opportunity with the guy we liked. Now that we’ve grown up a little bit (and watched how the show ended), we’ve realized that might not actually be the best plan. But one thing that hasn’t changed is our love for the show’s fashion. Felicity always manages to look perfectly pulled together while still retaining that regular girl vibe. We did eventually grow up and move to NYC (albeit for a little bit better reason than a crush who hardly knows we exist), and the first thing we did was head to the Gap to buy everything we’d need to re-create Felicity’s moving to New York outfit. It’s so understated and simple, and the absolute perfect thing for running around Manhattan on a Saturday.
If we had to use one word to describe the fashion on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, we’d choose bold. The entire family has nothing against a loud color or a strong pattern, and it’s not uncommon to find several of them mixed together in one outfit. Will especially had no problem throwing all the rules out the window when it came to dressing himself. And when we think of classic Fresh Prince looks, we automatically go to this one. A neon green and yellow striped shirt, blue shorts, and a hat (usually worn sideways) that ties it all together. It’s quintessentially Fresh Prince, and we love it.
There’s no denying Sex and the City’s impact on the small screen’s fashion game, but it wasn’t the only show to have an article of clothing become a piece of pop-culture lore. Baywatch’s iconic red swimsuits, and in particular Pamela Anderson’s character, C.J. Parker’s, are instantly recognizable. You can’t look at a red one-piece today and not immediately think of the ‘90s drama. They always fit like a glove, and never seemed to fade, no matter how much time the lifeguards spent in the water and lounging in the sun. And anything that’s this instantly recognizable automatically earns itself a lace on the TV’s most iconic style moments list.
When Meghan Markle married Prince Harry recently, the theories about what dress she’d wear and who the designer would be filled blogs and tabloids for months. When she finally did step out in her stunning gown designed by Clare Waight Keller for Givenchy, pictures of the gown filled Instagram for days and affordable replicas were in stores mere weeks later. The same thing was true for Aunt Becky’s wedding dress on Full House. The season four wedding was one of the most anticipated events on TV in 1991, and her off-the-shoulder, puff-sleeved gown with the fitted waist and the elaborate veil inspired bridal trends for much of the next year. It’s iconic in the same way Princess Diana’s was. We wouldn’t be caught dead in it today, but we can appreciate all that it was at the time.
Dr. Mindy Lahiri is another character whose growth and development could be charted through the character’s outfit choices. Her style progresses throughout the series, but one thing she never lets go of is her delight in bold colors, zany prints, and embellishments. There are so many things Mindy wore that we were envious of, but one of her absolute best looks was this neon ensemble. It made its debut on Instagram before the episode aired, and the Karen Millen skirt sold out in a matter of hours. It flatters Mindy perfectly, and we love how fearless and unapologetic it is. Mindy was never one to be put in a corner, and this iconic outfit proves it.
Olivia Pope has the most impeccable work wardrobe. She’s the definition of a power dresser, and everything she wears screams strong and authoritative. Nothing is more closely associated with the Scandal heroine than her white Tory Burch trench coat. She first wore it when she set out to confront President Grant’s mistress, and after that powerful scene, it quickly became a wardrobe staple for the D.C. fixer. It even inspired us to go out and pick up a white coat of our own (which, tbh, didn’t make it through a single month of NYC winter, but it did make us feel incredibly strong every time we put it on).
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