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Not Buying It: 10 TV Shows Ranked by Wardrobe Believability

HBO's Veep has been on the air for three weeks now, and though it's sparked some interesting conversations about women in politics, it's sparked some even more interesting conversations (in my circle, anyway) about costuming. Now, this is probably due to the fact that the show is deliberately vague when it comes to political parties and rhetoric, but that doesn't change the fact that I can't get through an episode without exclaiming aloud that a woman in the oval office would never be allowed to wear something form-fitting, low-cut, and sleeveless without the media having a total field day. Look at the whole "Does Michelle Obama have the right to bare arms?" frenzy that occurred when the First Lady ventured out sans cardigan!

At any rate, there are plenty of shows on television right whose characters sport highly realistic wardrobes, and there are just as many that definitely don't. I crowdsourced (read: asked people on Facebook and Twitter) some examples of both recently and have ranked 10 shows based on a completely unscientific wardrobe believability index. My only criteria were that the show in question: A. is currently on the air, and B. takes place in 2012 (sorry Mad Men and Game of Thrones, I love your clothes but I don't know how believable it is for Jon Snow to be wearing a yak fur). Check out the rankings below, and be sure to add your own in the comments!

The Wardrobe Believability Index operates on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most believable. And speaking of believable...

Girls: 10/10

Plenty of virtual ink has been spilled already about HBO's Girls, but love it or hate it, you've got to admit that the clothes are completely conceivable. I recognized Hannah's chartreuse cardigan last week from the J. Crew outlet store! Girls gets a 10 here because the fit (or lack thereof) of the outfits also seems pretty accurate. Hannah's Madewell dresses and Jessa's Urban Outfitters palazzo pants—even Marnie's DVF gallery-opening dress—are clearly off the rack, and are at about the right price point for young women from well-off families who get some financial support, but not enough to have things custom made.

the cast of HBO's Girls sitting on a bench
Yup.

Parks and Recreation: 9/10

Not only does Parks and Recreation boast one of the best ensemble casts on television, its characters dress like they work for a mid-sized city parks department. From Leslie's T.J. Maxx-style pantsuits and printed tops to Tom's off-the-rack (the Brooks Brothers Boys rack, of course) workwear, these getups are super buyable (I've already gone over Donna's killer-yet-credible style in a previous post). Even the details—like Leslie Knope's scented waffle necklace—make sense. The only thing keeping Parks and Rec from a 10 is some of the fits. Sure Leslie's running for city council (KNOPE 2012!), but a woman with her busy schedule and tight budget isn't likely to own so many tailored items—and you know some of Jerry's sweater vests would've stretched out by now.

the cast of Parks and Recreation
Look at Ann's shoes! She'd so buy those.

Eastbound & Down: 8/10

Did you know you can buy a Kenny Powers Halloween costume? Why you'd fork over $29.99 for it is beyond me though, since all you need to be La Flama Blanca is a pair of sunglasses and a t-shirt from your local thrift store (sleeves cut off, natch). Kenny's longish jean shorts and trashy tees (yes, you can buy a blink if you want me shirt), Stevie's short-sleeved button downs and cargo shorts, April's v-neck workwear—the clothes on Eastbound & Down serve to develop the characters without requiring any suspension of disbelief. Well, except for Ashley Schaeffer's Colonel Sanders getups, maybe.

Kenny Powers wearing a tis more blessed to give than to receive tshirt
Not pictured: Jorts.

Portlandia: 7/10

I have mixed feelings about Portlandia, but as a Portlander I can tell you that the costume designer on this show won an Emmy for a reason. Sure some of the characters get a little out-there with their wardrobes, but hey, so do some Portlanders.

Carrie and Fred dressed as feminist bookstore owners on Portlandia
This bookstore is down the street from my apartment and let me assure you: Someone is wearing those sandals there right now.

New Girl: 6/10

New Girl gets a mixed review because, on the one hand, the male characters' wardrobes are on point. Nick, a bartender, would definitely wear those collared shirts when he hits on college girls, and Schmidt, fashion-conscious semidouche that he is, would most certainly drop the coin required for his slim-fit slacks and sweaters. On the other hand, Jess' dresses are harder to swallow. She's an elementary school teacher, so most of her shorty hemlines wouldn't fly at work. She's also working with a limited budget, and though much of her wardrobe is quasi-affordable, she never repeats an outfit. We're supposed to believe that a public school teacher can afford a different $177 Aqua wrap dress for every day of the week? Doubtful.

Jess and her three roommates in a New Girl promo poster
Wear that dress again next week and we'll talk.

The Killing: 5/10

The Killing is the anti-New Girl: These characters never change their clothes! While I get that Holder is a down-and-out sort, he's also AT WORK. Change that hoodie, man! Same goes for you, Linden: that sweater might be keeping you warm, but you're gonna have to take it off to wash it at some point at least.

Linden and Holder on the Killing, wearing dark jackets and sweaters that they never take off
This photo could be from literally any episode of the show.

The Big Bang Theory: 4/10

How many "I'm a nerd!" shirts can one nerd own? If said nerd is on The Big Bang Theory, enough to spawn an online store and then some. While shows like Eastbound & Down use costuming to develop characters, The Big Bang Theory uses costuming to hit us over the head. These guys are geeks! We get it! We don't need to see another wacky, mismatched ensemble or "I Heart Vulcans" shirt from them—real geeks probably wouldn't spend that kind of time and energy on their wardrobes anyway.

three guys from the Big Bang Theory in an apartment, dressed like dweebs
Check the matching jeans and mock turtleneck: HE'S A DORK!

Veep: 3/10

Disclaimer: I don't work in Washington, D.C., and I know that some people have praised Veep for its costuming. However, given the media's tendency to scrutinize the shit out of every female politician's appearance (Hillary Clinton's hair, Sarah Palin's new suits, Nancy Pelosi's lavender pumps, Michelle Obama's triceps, etc.) I can't imagine that a woman would end up in the VP seat without being shamed or cajoled into a jacket. Either that or every other headline would be about Selina Meyer's legs, cleavage, arms, and blingy accessories.

Selina Meyer walking with her staff on Veep
That guy on the left knows what I'm talking about.

Hart of Dixie: 2/10

Is anyone watching Hart of Dixie on the CW? Just me? Well, if you were watching, you would see consistently outlandish outfits, especially on the women. Jaime King's Lemon Breeland—constantly in formal dress, hair, and makeup—is a prime candidate for the take one thing off rule, and Rachel Bilson's Zoe Hart is known for black leather formal shorts. Affordability issues aside (I'm not sure what a small town doctor makes but I doubt it's enough to afford $1,335 shorts), Dr. Hart is in Bluebell, Alabama, where it is presumably 1000 degrees out with 1000% humidity. Who's wearing black leather on a day like that? I don't buy it. (Note: I do buy the colorful, tailored wardrobe of NFL star-turned-mayor Levon Hayes, who is a complete delight and wears the best clothes.)

the cast of Hart of Dixie
Two characters in black leather and another two dressed for the prom! Levon Hayes is the only one who knows what's up here.

GCB: 1/10

WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH THE CLOTHES ON GCB!? I get that these characters are meant to embody rich stereotypes, but does anyone actually have the money to dress like a rodeo princess every day? Whenever something wacky happens on this show (which is every week), the characters have full wardrobes to match. A Gone With the Wind-themed wedding? Break out the hoop skirts. A church musical? Grab that winged angel costume with the real feathers and the wiring! A hunting trip? You know all of these ladies own camo jumpsuits.

three of the women on GCB getting ready for a hunting trip
WHY?

Have any shows you'd like to rank on the Wardrobe Believability Index? Share them in the comments!

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Comments

34 comments have been made. Post a comment.

What about Glee? Those

What about Glee? Those clothes are totally unaffordable for high school students in small town Ohio. Am I really supposed to believe that Kurt can afford all those designer clothes when his Dad used to run a tire shop?

Agreed

I think this list is basically spot on. Other contenders:

Once Upon a Time -- Ginnifer Goodwin's character's Club Monaco and Anthropologie wardrobe probably wouldn't fly coming from a real-life, broke, elementary school teacher.

How I Met Your Mother -- Robin is often spotted in Chloe, Marc by Marc Jacobs are more. Salary for a news anchor in New York starts at $27,360, according to PayScale.com....

Lauren K. above mentioned Glee -- excellent points!

Good ones!

I haven't seen Once Upon a Time, but I completely agree on HIMYM and Glee. I saw a $300 dress on Anthropologie.com that had been "worn by Quinn on Glee!" What small town high schooler is rocking a $300 dress at school? And obviously the costuming for their musical productions would go way beyond a public school's budget.

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

Dunno how religiously you

Dunno how religiously you watch the show, but actually that makes sense for Quinn - she's the "rich girl" of the class and is portrayed as someone who cares a lot about appearances. However the earlier assessment of Kurt makes perfect sense.

The thing that bugs me most? Why oh why do the cheerleaders never take off their damn uniforms? Seriously, do they wash those things? I don't get why they're wearing the uniforms to class and rehearsal and every darn event all day.

I agree about the

I agree about the cheerleaders. In my high school the only time they were allowed to wear their costumes was on game days. A lot of the clothes on Glee would break many dress codes.

Once Upon A Time

Ginnifer Goodwin's character's Club Monaco and Anthropologie wardrobe probably wouldn't fly coming from a real-life, broke, elementary school teacher.

It's not exactly set in the real world, though... I fully believe that the spell that created the town included full, personality-matching wardrobes for each character, already in their closets. They probably don't even have a mall.

The Killing

To be totally fair about The Killing, the action of the first season (I'm not completely finished yet, so don't quote me) seems to take place over the course of a few of days, the characters are working late, days run into nights and days again, and she is packed for a move she's supposed to be making. Seems like a recipe for wearing the same shit over and over again to me.

There was a time when this

There was a time when this "real geek" did indeed care very much about her wardrobe in a very geeky way..( still do sometimes!) and had a massive collection of geeky tees as has every geek guy I have dated. I have to disagree with the 4/10 for Big Bang Theory. The only unbelievable one is Howard, in my experience anyways. I may or may not still sleep in a rebel alliance x-wing academy tee...and have friends who are members of the alter egos society. Who dress up like superheroes, ones they have created. =) Excuse me while I go work on my cosplay.

Definitely

I think what struck me as unbelievable about Big Bang Theory (which I am not a regular viewer of, I'll admit) is how the clothes seem curated by an outsider. Like, "What might a geek wear?" instead of what an actual geek would wear. Something about it is just too on-the-nose for me. That said, I will take your cosplaying word for it that I might have misjudged these characters :)

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

I can see that perspective!

I can see that perspective! It does have a curated feel. I know they do their homework though, all the math on the whiteboards is real math, they have a staff physicist David Salztberg who makes sure their science and stuff is all accurate..more than you ever wanted to know!

It's also worth noting there is a market for Sheldon's shirts! =) I kid you not, the website is called Sheldon Shirts... http://www.sheldonshirts.com/

Pretty on point

As the wife of an uber geek, with the computer science degree, and programming job to prove it, I have to vouch for the six million geeky t-shirts being spot on. When me and my husband met, he had (and we counted them) 105 nerd t-shirts. He's down to about fifty now, but that's only because some of the holey ones have 'mysteriously' disappeared.

agree

it seems we have the same family and know the same nerds lol! I have see nerds like Howard tho esp when the skinny jeans came out.

I agree

As someone who is also a "real geek" and hangs out with (& is married to) another geek, I have to say the costuming, while over-the-top occasionally, really is fairly accurate. My geek husband has more clothes than I do - most of it T-shirts with geeky sayings or polo shirts. And the trope with each guy wearing the exact same style (switching up the items, but pretty much the same outfit) is spot on.

I second that. At a glance, I

I second that.

At a glance, I am wearing a Hogwarts t-shirt, Justice League pajama pants, and Chewbacca house shoes. I don't own many clothes, but the ones I do have look like Sheldon's.

Spot on

I admit it, I own 3 t-shirts devoted to the number Pi alone. It is completely realistic to own that many "geek" shirts. I believe the show should have a much higher rating. Especially if you consider what the 3 females tend to wear. Spot on.

Geeky Fashion

Verily, an absurd about of my wardrobe involves geek tees, and even when dressed up I always have a little geek touch somewhere. I've one tee for nearly every fandom of mine (Sherlock tee from teefury is the most comfortable shirt in the world incidentally), and Big Bang Theory is pretty consistant on which fandoms are represented with Sheldon at least. I'm impressed with that because they could easy try and peg him with a shirt from every geeky thing ever,* so it looks like at least the costumer is doing the job job halfway right.

With the exception of Howard. I've never known anyone to be as completely lacking fashion sense as him. Actually I've never known anyone like for which I'm grateful.

*They are completely free of this in the dialog though, I find myself really annoyed with how they have characters like Sheldon just name drop shows they have no business liking. Like Sheldon liking the new Battlestar Galactica, I've known people like Sheldon and they would just be ticked off that it's not like the old Battlestar.

Yup, I totally agree with

Yup, I totally agree with you. I'm not half as nerdy as the guys on the show but I know where they got half of their shirts - without having to look it up. Furthermore, as my particle physicist boyfriend can attest, nobody in physics really dresses semi-formally, so having and wearing tons of geeky shirts is spot on. :)

GCB

I live in Dallas and GCB is a pretty accurate depiction of the Highland Park/Preston Hollow women they are mimicking. I've seen women shopping or getting a weekday manicure in an $3000 Prada dress. If you ever wonder "Who in the world would pay that much for pants?" when watching a fashion show, just come to Dallas.

Although I love the show

Although I love the show (though I totally recognize that it's problematic when it comes to issues of race), Sofia Vergara's character on Modern Family is ALWAYS dressed up. Like ALWAYS. It's like they're trying really hard to push the "sexy Latina" stereotype. (Which is part of their race problem)

Big Bang theory and GCB

as far as the big bang theory and whether nerds would actually care ab their clothing like they do on the show-yes yes they do. I am engaged to a nerd and my family are a bunch of nerds and yes they do dress like that and care.
GCB and the ridiculous outfits-having lived in texas and new mexico yes they do dress like that and far far worse.

i live on a texas border town and they really do have...

i live in a texas border town and believe it or not they really do have all the styles you could ever want or need in camoflauge at any sporting goods store, even bathing suits and that is for women and men. i am totally serious about this. so come to texas and see for yourself all the camo designer looking clothes a woman could ever want is here... so this one outfit choice for gcb is actually very close to true. the rest are pretty crazy, but the women here really do like to dress up and be more girlie whenever they can so i can sort of see these women as exagerrated texas women.

Camo bathing suits!

Wow. Sounds like the outrageous outfits on GCB are more accurate than I thought!

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Kelsey Wallace, contributor

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Friday Night Lights (although

Friday Night Lights (although it is no longer on the air) was totally believable as well (in my opinion). It's been a little while since I've seen the earlier seasons, but the teenagers look like they shopped at whatever mall was nearest (JCPenny duds probably), the best dressed being Lyla, whose family was wealthy. Off work, Tami is usually in jeans and a plain shirt; at work it was usually a wrap dress and boots. I also noticed some of the students re-wearing winter jackets, etc that is usually not seen on TV.

Unrealistic: Glee, as some others have mentioned. For similar reasons as Jess... could Emma (public school guidance counselor) seriously afford brand new Marc Jacobs and Anthro outfits every day? Nope!!

As much as I love them both,

As much as I love them both, Gilmore Girls and House both are pretty unrealistic. Gilmore Girls was the whole thing though, not just the clothes, but do we really believe Rory and Lorelei could afford what they wear? Richard and Emily were helping pay for Rory's schooling so you know Lorelei shouldn't be able to afford to dress as she does. House, granted they're doctors so they could afford more expensive items and tailoring, but the female doctors are almost always in form-fitting clothes with low-cut tops.

And heels! How could you

And heels! How could you stand all day and, you know, BE A DOCTOR in insane heels like that?

I have to give another shout

I have to give another shout out to the much beloved but totally unrealistic Gilmore Girls. Their clothes were out of control. And Bronwyn mentions that there are other things in the show that are unrealistic: SO MANY! The one that always stands out to me is the crazy over-abundance of food just sitting around artfully in the kitchen at the Inns. And the insane amounts of food these girls eat, like, all the time.

I actually read an article awhile ago about how the abundance of food throughout the series is a key part of the storytelling that it's doing, and attempting to paint a picture that is comfortable for people, and makes them feel welcomed and safe and warm and fuzzy. They're trying to tell this story about a kind of perfect community, and food abundance is part of that.

To be fair to Big Bang

To be fair to Big Bang Theory, my boyfriend is a complete Star Wars/Star Trek/Transformers nut, and he owns more t-shirts than I do clothes. I'd guess he could almost go a whole year wearing a different geeky shirt every day - and he's still buying more. So, you know, maybe that's not so unbelievable :)

Big Bang Theory

this is drive by comment, so I don't know if anyone else made this comment already -

I've always thought of the Big Bang Theory as a comic book/cartoon with real people, so I feel like their clothes match the ridiculous personalities. It is a fairly accurate caricature of a *lot* of academics.

What kills me about BBT (which I adore) is that for some reason, the two Physics researchers (I guess?, they're not profs because they almost never teach, much less interact with students) share an apartment, while the Starving Artist/Waitress lives by herself. Why do Leonard and Sheldon live together, if Sheldon is such a terrible roommate? If *they* can't afford to live separately, why doesn't Penny have a roommate or AT LEAST live in a studio apt?! I don't understand. -.-

If they were grad students I *might* buy it, but ... they're researchers at a research institute doing cutting edge work, which means they're pulling in big money for grants, which means they're valuable to the university, which means they're making enough to at least afford their own damn apartment.

I think that, although

I think that, although Leonard acts put off at some of Sheldon's antics, they both enjoying living together. They, as well as Howard and Raj, are pretty much in their apartment together 24/7, whether it's playing games or eating take-out or whatever they do. Even if Sheldon (let's say) moved out and got his own place, Sheldon, Raj, and Howard would inevitably continue to spend all their time together and still hang out in Leonard's now-unshared apartment, the same way they would if Leonard and Sheldon still lived together!

As for your comment about Penny - I TOTALLY agree. There is no way that she could afford anything other than a studio, or have to share that same space with one or two roommates. So unrealistic!

BBT apartments

Why do Leonard and Sheldon live together, if Sheldon is such a terrible roommate?

BBT has had (many) episodes explaining why Leonard and Sheldon are still living together. But to sum up, Sheldon needs a roomate, and Leonard feels obligated to be that roomate. Also they prefer to spend their money on other things than rent. They did not explain why Leonard was looking at shared housing originally, but that was far enough in the past that perhaps he was an adjunct and could therefore not afford his own apartment. How Penny can afford her apartment is a bit more mysterious, but at least she has a one-bedroom apartment so the rent would be a bit less than Sheldon & Leonard's.

I would agree with all the comments that the clothes worn on BBT are fairly accurate. I like the realism that Sheldon's t-shirts are repeated, and the ones he wears the most often (the flash one, especially) look more worn out. I haven't seen any academics that dress like Howard, but I'm in Portland. I don't think there are academics here who would put that much work into a wardrobe. I'm sure it's reasonable for California.

I think perhaps Portlandia deserves a higher score, though. I didn't know they _had_ a costume designer. I would have guessed they just filmed Portlander's wearing whatever they already were wearing, and sometimes stole outfits right off people's backs for Carrie & Fred to wear. ;) And my vote for unrealistic wardrobe goes to Grimm - everybody except Monroe dresses too nicely for Portland. It's nowhere near as bad as Free Agents was, though.

They're likely Post-docs

Which are non-tenure-track, non-teaching research positions. And they are not likely pulling in the big grants themselves (though sometimes there are smaller ones), but rather working on grants that are headed by Profs (usually tenured). Pay can vary wildly and there are frequently no benefits. So it's not inconceivable rent in LA (esp. in a nice place in Pasadena) would be too high to go solo (it is really unrealistic for Penny to afford the place she's in on a waitress salary from Cheesecake Factory). Raj is the only one who does and he has wealthy parents supporting him.

Because I'm watching TV right now...

First: To hop on the Big Bang Theory train, I used to date a real nerdy science guy and he definitely had an endless supply of nerdy t-shirts. And it's all he ever wanted to wear. He had his uniform of nerdy shirts and shorts (or jeans in the winter) and no amount of, "But really, your Darth Vader t-shirt is not a appropriate attire for my friend's very fancy wedding reception to which I am being forced to wear a floor-length bridesmaid dress" could get him to change. (Why yes, you do detect a bit of petty bitterness in my tone.) But yeah, as the slightly nerdier version of Penny (I'll admit I do the D&D, comic books, cartoon thing on a fairly regular basis) I can say that to a certain extent the fashion is believable. However, I also agree that there's something a little off about their look. And I'm not just talking about Howard...

Second: I hate to admit that I watch Victorious on my down time. But, I think for a television show about high schoolers who go to a performing arts school in Hollywood and are all I think represented as being relatively affluent they definitely get the clothes right. The students do look basically like what trendy high school students might wear (and be able to afford if their parents were paying for their clothes).

Third: I super agree about Parks and Rec and must admit that I've got a huge crush on Leslie's wardrobe. I'm going to steal it all. RIGHT NOW. (Or...y'know, I might just try to buy some stuff like the pieces she has next time I go to the mall.)

I have never watched The

I have never watched The Killing but I have to say, I know at least 2 people who wear basically the same thing every day.

One is a singer in a kraut-rock influenced band and his "uniform" is always blue jeans, black t-shirt and black doc martens. if it's cold he adds a long sleeve t-shirt underneath the black one.
The other one is a woman who works in fashion (not sure what her position is but she works for a big chain department store, has an office, etc.) and she never wears any clothes that aren't black, white or blue (and the blue is usually from jeans).

So yeah, I don't think it's totally unrealistic to have people wearing clothes that are (or look) exactly the same day after day.

Actually on Big bAng Theory

Actually on Big bAng Theory they re-wear clothing like people do in real life! Usually characters have a different outfit every episode or scene but BBT they wear the same articles of clothing but change up the combination. Even when they show them doing laundry you see clothing that they've worn previously.