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Critics Pick the Most Emmy-Worthy Costumes on TV (Whether They Were Nominated or Not)

From '50s housewives and sailors to assassins and Vikings, these TV costumes deserve recognition.

Rachel Brosnahan, "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"

Rachel Brosnahan, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”

Amazon Studios/Sarah Shatz


Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Tuesday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best show currently on TV?” can be found at the end of this post.)

This week’s question: Which series should win for best costume design at the Emmys? This includes nominated series or anything you think had been snubbed. Period and/or contemporary apply.

Soraya Nadia McDonald (@SorayaMcDonald), The Undefeated

I really enjoy the costuming of “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” which I frankly think is in a league of it’s own. However, I’d also include “GLOW” in this conversation, both for the wrestling costumes as well as the civilian clothes everyone wears in their free time. “GLOW” captures the sort of grungy, abject tackiness of the ‘80s in a way that’s really well-calibrated. You can look at the way Betty Gilpin and Alison Brie are costumed, and it tells you so much about their relationship to each other and where each woman’s character is in her career, and where she’s trying to go.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” is another obvious choice, along with the episodes of Westworld that venture into Shogun world, which are so meticulously rendered. And lastly, I adore the costuming work on “Anne With An E.” I find myself constantly drooling over Marilla’s clothes, which reflect her personality and the period especially well. She’s practical, no-nonsense, but she has an eye for pieces that will last a long time because Avonlea is so rural. The result is sturdy cotton blouses and skirts that will stand up to distress from a washboard, and high-quality leather boots and belts. The second season hints at Marilla’s desire to be seen as attractive, and so she makes minor, subtle changes to her appearance to reflect that, then quickly reverses when she’s been made to feel like a fool. Again, the costuming in Anne tells you so much about the characters and their lives when it comes to who has the time and resources to be interested in fashion, and who does not.

"Anne With an E"

“Anne With an E”

chris reardon/Netflix

Diane Gordon (@thesurfreport), Freelance

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” was flawless because the costume design was so specific, with designer Donna Zakowska having very clear intentions for each one of Midge Maisel’s looks based on what Midge was going through emotionally. The costume team was also meticulous in the looks they chose for Rose (Midge’s mother,) Abe (Midge’s father), Susie (Midge’s manager/new friend) and Joel (Midge’s estranged husband.) I’m also in love with the period of the show and the focus on comedy mixed with Midge’s personal trials. One of the reasons I’ve re-watched the series so many times is the vivid color palette, which is alternately soothing and exciting. It’s a show that’s stuck with me. I’d love to see Zakowska and her team win their Period Costume category at the Emmys.

For Contemporary Costume, I think “grown-ish” deserves the prize but it wasn’t nominated. Yara Shahidi quickly grew into a style leader in real life and her wardrobe in the show is an eclectic mix of items contemporary and retro. Shahidi can wear everything well but the show’s costume designers are careful not to put her in outfits that look high-fashion — she looks like a college student, an especially cool one. I hope the costume design team is recognized next year.

Joyce Eng (@joyceeng61), GoldDerby

I’m going to stump for non-nominee “The Good Fight” because contemporary costumes don’t get the same kind of attention as extravagant period pieces. I guess the latter seem more effortful, but the best part of the aspirational clothes on “The Good Fight” and its mothership “The Good Wife” is how effortless they look (kudos to designer Daniel Lawson, who styled both). And really, all of our lives would be a little better if we dressed like Christine Baranski.

"The Bold Type"

“The Bold Type”


Clint Worthington (@alcohollywood), Consequence of Sound, Freelance

Freeform’s perennially underrated high-fashion dramedy “The Bold Type” has no shortage of enviable outfits — after all, it’s set at a Cosmopolitan-style women’s magazine, which puts its three terrific leads (Katie Stevens, Aisha Dee and Meghann Fahy) in proximity to some gorgeous haute couture. While the show occasionally falls into the historic TV trap of depicting its leads as starving bohemians trying to make it in the big city with lush multiple-bedroom apartments and packed wardrobes, costume designer Frank Fleming clearly tries to strike a balance between chic and slobby with his three leads. Sure, at work they dress in asymmetrical blouses and expensive hi-top boots, but at home they tend to chill in the stained T-shirt and sweatpants we all sport when we’re spending long hours eating ice cream in front of the TV. (Or contributing to critics’ surveys, if we’re being honest.)

The real showstopper, though, is Melora Hardin as dream-boss Jacqueline Carlyle, standing in for famed former Cosmo editor-in-chief (and executive producer of “The Bold Type”) Joanna Coles. Coles herself was known for her inimitable fashion sense, and Fleming clearly takes inspiration from her in Jacqueline’s wardrobe. Every episode drapes Hardin in designer blazers, pants and dresses that give her clean lines and a strong, powerful silhouette, drawing the eye without making Hardin feel like the clothes are wearing her – exuding tremendous authority even in her most vulnerable moments. Just look at her *chef kiss* perfect ensemble from this season’s “Trippin'” – a slick, double-breasted black blazer with giant yellow-lined bell sleeves that almost reach her hips, her wrists covered in an array of dazzling gold bracelets. That blazer alone should earn “The Bold Type” an Emmy nod or five next year; as it is, the show remains a funny, weird, endearingly earnest look at the world of fashion and journalism, its eye-popping costumes woven into the fabric (sorry) of every character.

Liz Shannon Miller (@lizlet), IndieWire

You know what? There are a lot of interesting choices to mention here, but I really like the new uniforms created for “Star Trek: Discovery.” While not nominated this year, it’s really impressive how they found a way to touch on “Trek” tropes while still creating a modern feel that didn’t ALSO feel out of place in what is technically a series that technically takes place before a show originally produced in the 1960s. Plus, love the cute boots and lapel touches. You want to be comfy when discovering the universe, and “Disco” seemed to promise that.

"Vaulting Ambition" -- Episode 112 -- Pictured: Michelle Yeoh as Philippa Georgiou of the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Photo Cr: Ben Mark Holzberg/CBS © 2017 CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved.

Daniel Fienberg (@TheFienPrint), The Hollywood Reporter

I’m probably not going to over-invest in answering this one. Let’s see… “Pose” isn’t eligible yet. “Handmaid’s Tale” did a marvelous job with its costumes last year and continued that this year, but I’m not sure which of the costumes were “new” this year. “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” had some superior costumes and, of the shows that are actually nominated, I feel like it’s most deserving. Of the shows that weren’t nominated, no show did a better job of combining character and costuming than “Killing Eve.” So… I guess that’s my real answer.

Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall), Rolling Stone

I know nothing about women’s fashion, and even I could tell that “Killing Eve” was doing some next-level stuff, costume-wise. That’s the obvious choice, and I’ll be curious to see how many of us pick it this week.

Kaitlin Thomas (@thekaitling), TVGuide.com

Listen, “Killing Eve” had really, really great costuming this year. The clothing and styling of Jodie Comer’s psychopathic Villanelle was very specific and spoke volumes about the character. It’s not often you find that in a contemporary series. So, that’s my answer: “Killing Eve” should have been nominated and then should have won.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, please let me take a minute to turn the tables and talk about the costuming of another contemporary series that is failing where “Killing Eve” is succeeding: “Younger.” I understand that Sutton Foster’s Liza is attempting to camouflage her true age by wearing clothing she thinks millennials would wear (for the record, I don’t know many millennial women who would wear a lot of the things she wears), but what is the excuse for Hilary Duff’s Kelsey? It feels like Hilary/Kelsey is being punished. Please stop hurting her this way!

"Killing Eve"

“Killing Eve”


Damian Holbrook (@damianholbrook), TV Guide Magazine

First off, the period pieces right now are nailing it. If there was a deathmatch between “Outlander,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “The Crown,” we’d be looking at bloody hoop skirts and cape-coats for days. These shows came to WORK! Then there’s the fantasy stuff, like “Game of Thrones” and “Handmaid’s Tale,” but those costumes can often be more architectural and aspirational. Sometimes they even distract from the story. This is also probably why there are four costuming categories at this year’s Emmys. Aside from “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” the reality nominees don’t interest me, so I am gonna go into the modern sartorial scene and say that i would love to see the costuming on “Empire” get a statue. It takes balls and brilliance to come up with outfits that can be as outlandish and yet believable as Cookie Lyon. You look at Taraji P. Henson’s wardrobe and think “Yes, Cookie would have that in her closet and wear it once just to piss off or turn on Lucious.” And for non-nominated shows, I would hand a Lifetime Achievement statue to “Scandal” simply for refusing to be anything less than fabulous at every turn.

Oh, and next year, it’s “Pose” or GTFOMF.

Allison Keene (@KeeneTV), Collider

I give “Game of Thrones” a lot of grief when it comes to its nominations in other categories (especially writing …), but one place it absolutely deserves to dominate is costume design. There is a lot of gorgeous costume work on television these days, especially when it comes to period pieces, but Michele Clapton’s work stands out not only for combining medieval-inspired designs with a fantasy world visually created from the ground up, but also incorporating callbacks from the narrative into the designs. The costumes of “Game of Thrones” have life, and are so stunningly intricate (something that usually isn’t clear unless you watch the featurettes — with so much happening onscreen, there’s not a lot of time to zoom in on the splendor of particular garments). And yet, even without knowing the specifics of the detail work, it’s something that everyone can notice and appreciate as being special. Every group of people and every realm in “Game of Thrones” is distinct when it comes to costuming, and with as sprawling as the production is, that equals a massive undertaking — and massively under-appreciated art.

April Neale (@aprilmac), Monsters & Critics

Excellence in period costume achievements abounds this year. What is consistently overlooked and deserves a nom in darn near every category is History’s “Vikings.” The costume work of giant genius Joan Bergin (who also did “The Tudors” for Showtime) is off the chain mail. Another huge period costuming nod goes to TNT’s “The Alienist” (Michael Kaplan, Costume Designer) and AMC’s “The Terror” (Annie Symons), both shows that blew me away with their details and embellishments on various costumes. I’m sure when the dust settles Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Donna Zakowska) will claim the lion’s share of these craft awards this year.

Todd VanDerWerff (@tvoti), Vox

I will never tire of complaining about the Emmys snubbing “The Terror,” and this is one of the categories where a nomination should have been a no-brainer. The costumes of “The Terror” slowly fray and fall apart. They collapse into threadbare husks of themselves. And they tell you a little story about brave, bold military men who headed into the heart of nowhere and suddenly discovered that they were not so bold or brave as they imagined themselves to be. I get that “The Terror” wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but the costumes?! [Re-enacts the meme where Will Smith points to things with both arms.]

Adam Nagaitis as Cornelius Hickey - The Terror _ Season 1, Episode 2 - Photo Credit: Aidan Monaghan/AMC

“The Terror”

Aidan Monaghan/AMC

Ben Travers (@BenTTravers), IndieWire

When it comes to the Emmys and “The Americans,” there are many snubs to be upset about, but this one is particularly surprising. Blending ’80s fashions that convey the classic American aesthetic of the time with outfits more appropriate for Russians hiding away in the States (not to mention costumes for actual Russians living in Russia), Katie Irish built a world where hiding in plain sight has to be both indistinguishable to those within it and just noticeable enough for viewers at home. She’s dealing with spies here, so the period details matter as much as the many reinventions of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings. Oh, and none of that even mentions the wigs! Come on! How did this not win Outstanding Period Costumes every year?!

Q: What is the best show currently on TV?*

A: “Better Call Saul” (four votes)

Other contenders: “Sharp Objects” (three votes), “Animal Kingdom,” “Big Brother,” “Great British Baking Show,” “Making It,” “Random Acts of Flyness,” “Succession” (one vote each)

*In the case of streaming services that release full seasons at once, only include shows that have premiered in the last month.

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