Fashion Dissonance

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This is what the cool kids are into, right?
Usually, your characters need to wear clothes. If your show is set in modern times (and sometimes if it isn't), you'll dress the characters in appropriate clothes for the time. After all, it would look weird if a modern character wore last decade's styles, right?

Unfortunately, fashion is highly context-sensitive. There are only a few fashions that have stood the test of time (like T-shirts and jeansnote , three-piece suits, and the Little Black Dress) and even the particulars of those vague templates can fluctuate with the decades—and odds are, your fashions didn't stick around. If a character from a show that supposedly takes place in the 21st century has '80s Hair, he's going to look weird... almost as if he's from the eighties.note  The legendary film costume designer Edith Head, well aware of this problem, explained on several occasions that she often didn't design according to the current styles in order to avoid having the clothes look dated when the movie actually came out, preferring to go for a more classic style that would look good over the years.

In other words, fashions that don't just tell you what year the show was made, they scream it loudly enough to deafen your eyes.

Since most costumers aren't psychic, this happens a lot when old shows are rerun. It can also cause Fridge Logic if the show is set in the future. "Wait... why do people in the year 2800 wear clothes from the '70s?" Fashion Dissonance isn't completely restricted to shows set in the future, though - in fact, it can also be obvious if they're set in the time they were made, or even if they're set in the past (see Gorgeous Period Dress for one example of this, but a more specific example is the question of why no one in Higurashi: When They Cry has '80s Hair).

Frequently appears in an Unintentional Period Piece.

Compare Outdated Outfit, X Called; They Want Their Y Back, I Was Quite a Fashion Victim, No New Fashions in the Future, Hollywood Costuming. Frequently occurs as a result of an Unnecessary Makeover, since the Ugly Duckling is frequently made over from what is considered a "dull and drab" look to a more "trendy and fashionable" one. However due to the high turnover of fashion trends, in a few years time, the "fashionable" look can quickly become dated and tacky, while the original "dull" look can look more simple and timeless.

For those who are immune to fashion dissonance, see Awesome Anachronistic Apparel.


There are many eras with regrettable fashion trends. Here are a few:

    open/close all folders 

    The 1960s 

The Sixties are justly famous for mini-skirts, go-go boots, and bright Carnaby Street Mod colors. Hair was big and eye-make-up laid on with a trowel. Shows associated with Sixties fashion:

Film - Live Action

Live-Action TV
  • Star Trek — the original series: Justly famous for its mini-skirt and go-go boots uniforms, and William Ware Theiss' famously titillating costumes. And for the ladies, James T. Kirk's tearaway shirts. But even the regulation cut-off slacks and sweaters with rolled collars come off as being rather dated.
  • UFO: This British SF series was set in 1980, broadcast in 1970-71 but the costume design has a distinct flavour of the late sixties with Nehru suits, or the late-sixties vision of the future such as the moonbase uniforms.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Mostly gave the main cast outfits and hair that was distinctly Sixties but also quite attractive and reasonable, and was too low-budget to do anything overly trendy for the aliens, but some of the future humans faced by Troughton are an absolute Raygun Gothic groovemare, baby, with more go-go boots and op-art dresses and beehives than could possibly be imagined. See "The Seeds of Death" and "The War Games" for just two examples. Fortunately the 60s SF aesthetic is something of a cultural meme in itself, making it a bit more bearable.
    • The ridiculous little hat that the First Doctor wears was fashionable for older men in the early 1960s (as evidenced here). Modern viewers, and even some later Doctors, are prone to wondering what it is.
    • "The Aztecs". Mesoamerican Cameca's bouffant deserves a mention.
    • "The Romans". Ancient Roman women from the time of Emperor Nero with bouffants, flicked-out fringes and cat-eye makeup.
    • The companion Vicki, who is supposed to be from the future, tends to wear her hair teased at the crown, dark tights, heels and mod microdresses, though this is justified by the fact that we're shown in "The Romans" and in "The Chase" that Barbara's hobby is to sew dresses for her, and Barbara is from 1963. The outfit we see her in at first is more neutral and futuristic-looking.
    • The companion Dodo dresses in head-to-toe op-art fashion, most iconically a dress with a ring-shaped print that would be extremely gaudy if not for being shot in black and white.
    • The Doctor persuades the Victorian companion Victoria to dress in more modern clothing for the sake of practicality, which she takes to, but she never touches anything to the future or past of 1967. Her outrageous hippie dress in "The Web of Fear" is especially notable for being dated in about five seconds.
    • The op-art turtleneck minidresses and gogo boots in "The Ice Warriors". Especially since people are wearing this in a future where climate change has made the world bitterly freezing.
    • "The War Games" involves various accurately-dressed historical people being tormented by nigh-omnipotent war aliens whose War Room features huge spiral op-art designs on the walls, pop-art prints, space-age shades and geometric decoration. Oppression has never been groovier than this.

    The 1970s 

The Seventies were polyester heavy. Hair was worn thick and often frizzy; men wore bushy mustaches and beards. Trousers were flared, lapels were wide, and there was too much corduroy. Sixties features like beads were still hanging on. And eyeshadow was bright blue, regardless of the wearer's skin tone. Here are some of the examples of shows associated with Seventies fashion:

Anime and Manga
  • Pick up any anime or manga from The Seventies, especially if it's Shoujo, and you'll see bell-bottom pants everywhere.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam stands out in this regard, largely for its dated hairstyle for the main cast members and of course the bell bottoms for civilian wear.

Comic Books
  • Legion of Super-Heroes had a number of different eras, but Phantom Girl's bell bottoms and Tyroc's afro stand out.
  • Luke Cage will never live down his original costume, which featured an open yellow shirt and a tiara. He still gets mocked for it by other heroes from time to time today (while he insists that it was a headband). One can only guess that his current Bald Black Leader Guy look will become similarly dissonant by the 2030s.

Film
  • Many of the very chic fashions in Annie Hall look dated and silly by today's standards, notably, Tony Roberts's perm and white leisure suit. Ironically, Hollywood Nerd Alvie's rather dowdy wardrobe seems inoffensive by comparison.
  • Intentionally avoided in Airplane!, where the Zuckers and Abrams had the foresight to not include any "dreadful" 70's fashions, and instead opted for a more traditional, or "timeless" (in their words), 50's aesthetic. Though they admit, on the DVD commentary, that "a couple of 70's collars still managed to sneak in there...".
  • Star Trek: The Motion Picture, though obviously not based in the 70's itself did have a tell to the decade it was made in through the bellbottomed uniforms worn by Starfleet personnel and Bones' infamous civilian outfit.
  • The Golden Voyage of Sinbad uses this interestingly to contrast the good and bad characters. The Big Bad dresses in a reasonable style for a rich medieval prince in an Arabian Nights-Qurac fantasy setting, but the pretty young Ragtag Band of Misfits all look like they're on their way to the disco, complete with open shirts, flares, feathered hair and medallions. Particularly glaring is Haroun, who looks like a lost member of a low-rent Philly Soul act who's somehow stumbled into a film about stop-motion magic statues.
  • The first Star Wars film A New Hope was lucky in that its gumbo of different Earth time periods almost entirely avoided 70s clothes or technological aesthetics. Hair, on the other hand, was not so lucky: Luke Skywalker sports the androgynous feathered hair which was the style of the late 70s, while Han Solo and many Imperial officers have thick sideburns. Princess Leia's iconic "cinnamon bun" hairdo was an attempt to downplay this trope for future audiences. (By the time prequel film Revenge of the Sith came around, George Lucas specifically mandated that Anakin and Obi-Wan both be given 70s rocker mullets to match up with A New Hope.)

Live-Action TV
  • Period BritComs like Butterflies and The Good Life are like time capsules for then-current fashions. Some of Penelope Keith's trendy outfits in The Good Life have to be seen to be believed.
  • Starsky & Hutch.
  • Charlie's Angels.
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show
  • The Brady Bunch
  • CHiPs
  • Most of the 70's Sci-Fi shows, including the original Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, but most notably Space: 1999.
  • Later seasons of Adam-12.
  • The Bob Newhart Show — exceptionally funny writing and delivery, and the fashions just add to the funny.
  • Gemini Man — all six episodes of it.
  • This is also an example where the ideals of the time of filming leaked into a historical setting: those ancient Romans in I, Claudius do look a bit... seventies.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Most of the Doctors in Doctor Who avert hideously specific historical settings by virtue of the character deliberately dressing in a blatantly anachronistic way but with a heavy influence of whatever is currently on trend, so they average out to timeless... but this was not managed by anything the Third Doctor ever wore, who combined Edwardian fashion with Seventies fashion, which was already heavily influenced by Edwardian fashion. The result is that he looks like a No Budget Jimi Hendrix, in shiny velvet and big sideburns. It was intended to be a sillified version of stylish fashion, but most of the stylish connotations are gone nowadays, leading to the Expanded Universe dedicating a lot of time to mocking him.
    • The Fourth Doctor's first outfit was inspired by what artistic young men were wearing at that time - a long fluffy and layered haircut with big sideburns, earth-tone knitwear, argyle, checks, corduroy, a square silk scarf being used in place of a tie and a floppy felt hat. The official aim was to project what Tom Baker called "stylish carelessness", though so much of it went out of style so sharply since 1974 that his outfit comes across to modern eyes as bizarre and anachronistic. (Which suits the Doctor's character perfectly.) As his tenure progressed he began incorporating more Victorian and Regency-inspired elements into his outfit to give him a 'Byronic' appearance until he was pretty much just dressed for 1860, although his high-waisted, tight around the bum and bell-bottomed trousers, his hairstyle and the overall colour palette continue to point pretty squarely at the mid-to-late 1970s.
    • Harrison Chase's clothes in "The Seeds of Doom", which at the time were being worn by an actor known for his excellent and trendsetting fashion sense and indicated to viewers that Chase was Wicked Cultured and the height of chic. Nowadays the costume's good for little else other than being mocked relentlessly in the DVD commentaries by Tom Baker ("his tie is as big as the whole of the rest of his suit!"). (To be fair, it is pretty good-looking other than the flares and the tie.)
    • Sarah Jane's iconic "Andy Pandy" dungarees in "The Hand of Fear" - a style of dress adopted by women in Summer 1976 as a result of a freak heatwave and an invasion of vicious, biting ladybirds, requiring breezy but full-body coverage (really. In particular, note the drawstrings around Sarah's ankles, keeping the trouser legs sealed from insects that would have been able to get up bell-bottoms). The heat, the ladybirds and the fashion trend were all swept away by a sudden downpour of rain that swamped Britain just as the first episode of "The Masque of Mandragora", the story immediately preceding "The Hand of Fear", was being broadcast on television.
    • Skagra's outfit in "Shada" - a belted white tunic, a sparkly fedora, a glittery silver cape, a v-neck and shiny white high-waisted trousers tucked into silver platform boots - shrieks disco. In particular, it appears to be a pastiche of the outfit worn by the disco star Sir Monti Rock III (of Disco Tek and the Sex-Olettes "fame"). It is supposed to look ridiculous in-universe, and it might have been intended as a case of Skagra trying to pick an outfit that would blend in on Earth 1979 and getting it hilariously wrong, especially since he coordinates it with a carpet bag... but the story makes a point of having him dress like that when he's in space, too.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, similarly to the Fourth Doctor above, dresses Ford in tacky abstractions of Seventies fashion.
  • 1970's Dom Com Butterflies managed to be fashion dissonant even on its first showing. Whilst parents Wendy Craig and Geoffrey Palmer reflected 1970's fashion and styling - Wendy excessively so - they had two teenage sons who were both stuck in a 1960's timewarp whilst being played as incredibly trendy and with-it. In both clothing and teen argot, the sons were stuck in around 1967 in a show set around 1975. In 2010's re-runs, be startled by Wendy Craig's flamboyant 1970's outfitting and hairstyles.

Western Animation

    The 1980s 

The Eighties were about neon, powerdressing and Fashionable Asymmetry. The female silhouette had huge, baggy oversized batwing shirts you could smuggle a baby under combined with tight-fitting spandex leggings or frilly skirts; men wore white jeans, tshirts with huge slogans and black leather jackets, maybe sleeveless, with silk scarves tied into the findings and fingerless gloves. Leotards and sweatbands were day clothes, makeup was dark and loud, earrings were bigger than the ear they were attached to, and everyone had an enormous perm held aloft with ozone-destroying amounts of chemicals.

Here are some series strongly associated with Eighties Fashion:

Anime and Manga
  • Ah! My Goddess is a particularly weird example. Since the series has been ongoing for more than 20 years but only a few years have passed in the story itself, it seems like fashion progresses from its 80s starting point to the present at a tremendous pace. There's also been a couple of art shifts and Keiichi gave up smoking without it ever being mentioned, possibly showing the changing attitudes about smoking over the past couple of decades.
  • YuYu Hakusho. Just look at what the girls are wearing. It's so frighteningly eighties.
  • While Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam shows its age through fashion here and there, its much more obvious in its sequel series, Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ. '80s Hair is copious and many high ranking members of the villainous Neo-Zeon have custom uniforms that wouldn't be out of place in an 80s music video.

Live-Action TV
  • Knight Rider, particularly David Hasselhoff's '80s Hair.
  • Miami Vice is perhaps the most iconic example of 80's fashion in all of media. What with its improbably flashy cops and gangsters dressed almost exclusively in pastel tonesnote , Armani suits, Rayban sunglasses, and no socks. most of which were considered over-the-top even by the standards of the decade.
  • Dynasty, particularly the Shoulders of Doom on the Nolan Miller-designed outfits worn by Joan Collins, Linda Evans and the other actresses.
  • The early seasons of Highlander: The Series were very eighties.
  • The A-Team.
  • Moonlighting with Maddie Hayes' 80s-tastic shoulderpads.
  • Saved by the Bell, though it ran from 1989-1993. (The early parts of a decade often have fashion holdovers.)
  • The Cosby Show: Particularly jarring when you see Denise or Vanessa fussing over shiny, loud, beaded, or otherwise eye-searingly hideous outfits when trying to look their "best". Even Claire was not immune.
  • Degrassi Junior High/ Degrassi High.
  • Similarly to Saved by the Bell, the earlier episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (which aired from 1990-1996) had a lot of fashion holdovers from the 80's, especially with Vivian and Ashley.
  • Doctor Who has quite a lot from this period, as John Nathan-Turner had the idea that the Doctor should be dressing in contemporary fashion but as seen through the eyes of an alien, and as there was constant Executive Meddling to make the show Younger and Hipper:
    • Even though the Sixth Doctor's outfit is intentionally ugly, it is something of a caricature of what was then contemporary fashion - there was a trend for brightly coloured patchwork jackets, and poodle-perms were omnipresent on men, and kitschy buttons and brooches were popular with young women because of their DIY-able nature. The Sixth Doctor just took all of that and exaggerated it in bright primary colours - a big patchwork coat, a massive blond perm, teddy-bear buttons on his waistcoat, a cat brooch - with the main concession to historical clothing being a distinctly Victorian cut to his clothes.
    • Ace's badge-spangled leather jacket was a real, but very brief trend in the late 80s.
    • The silk scarf worn by the Seventh Doctor is, again, a caricature of a real 80s trend - the silk scarf tied into the jacket findings. In his case, he's doing it with a suit jacket instead of a leather or casual jacket, making it look deliberately silly.
  • The Golden Girls. While Blanche and Rose got most of the more flashy (and therefore dated) outfits, Dorothy's wardrobe is particularly confusing as sometimes it isn't even clear what she's wearing - some of her outfits look more like throw blankets or body bags than dresses.

Music
  • A deliberate aversion was done by New Wave band The Human League, with the cover for their breakout 1981 album Dare!. The cover was intended to resemble that of Vogue magazine, and featured photos of the band members' faces - with their hair styles cropped from the picture. In the words of backing vocalist Susan Ann Sulley, "we wanted people to still be able to buy the album in five years, we thought that hair styles would be the first thing to date. We had no idea people would still be buying it 25 years later."

Western Animation

    The 1990s 

Nineties Fashion:

The 90s colour palette is also bright, but rich and saturated rather than pastel and neon. The early half of the decade is made of squiggles, scribbles and triangles, or Mediterranean/African patterns, and if you were extremely cool you'd be wearing a thick sweater with that kind of print knitted into the fabric. Hip-hop and grunge influences became mainstream and got immediately garbled. The teen heartthrob uniform was a distinctive floppy center-parted haircut ("curtains"), an oversized checked shirt worn as a jacket, and a skateboard, with a backwards-turned baseball cap if he was really cool. Girls wore bright crop tops, scrunchies (around a high ponytail), butterfly hair clips, a choker (maybe styled to look like a tattoo), brown lipstick, and gelled their bangs so that it fell in exactly seven identical spikes. The later half of the decade saw cartoonish 70s influences like tie-dye tshirts, flares, sky-high platform boots and blobby flower designs, as well as the appearance of the ubiquitous Friends-derived Rachel haircut.

Film

Live Action TV
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. In fact, the first seasons even had some 80s fashions still hanging around.
  • The Larry Sanders Show is especially egregious, since it features a myriad of celebrities awkwardly attaching themselves to the latest trends, most of which never amounted to anything.
  • The Nanny
  • Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, especially in the case of Tommy Oliver going from a mullet to a ponytail look in the course of the show's run. When a photo of him with the latter look is mocked by the Rangers in Power Rangers Dino Thunder, airing 11 years later, Tommy retorts that it was the style at the time.
  • Seinfeld: The infamous "puffy shirt" isn't much puffier than what Jerry usually wears.
  • Twin Peaks, particularly Ben and Jerry Horne's swing-tastic suits. Particularly noticeable since they're the only people who don't dress like it's the '50s.

    The Turn of the Millennium 

The beginning of the New Millennium was futurist and optimistic, with bad CGI, bubble imagery, organically-shaped tech with clear cases, and lots of holographic textures and silver. The War on Terror killed this pretty quickly, replacing it with kitschy Americana like flags, cowboy imagery, camo and double-denim. Men wore black flame-print shirts and bleached the tips of their hair or gelled it into a fauxhawk; women wore their hair zigzag-parted and ironed flat, an ultra-short crop top, and ultra-low-rise bootcut jeans to show off their thong straps and tribal tramp stamp. The brighter skater and more gothic emo looks defined teens towards the middle of the decade; both genders got their ears stretched, or wished their parents would let them. By the end of the decade, with the recession looming, jeans got extremely skinny, shoes degenerated to ballet flats, and women began dressing in smelly old clothing from vintage shops while carrying ukeleles while their boyfriends began growing moustaches and dressing like lumberjack grandfathers in red-framed shades - the emergence of the Hipster trend.

00s Fashion:

Anime and Manga

Comic Books

Fanfiction
  • It's common in current fandom for people making parodies of terrible Original Character designs to put them in huge-legged JNCO jeans, a Love It or Hate It skater fashion trend from the early 00s that most of the kids making their own Sonic the Hedgehog characters in 2001 would have thought were the height of cool.

Live-Action TV
  • Girl Boss gets a lot of sight gags out of Sophia's bubble-style, transparent iBook (which would have been coming to the end of its lifespan at the time the show is set).

Video Games
  • Final Fantasy fell hard into this in this decade. Previous eras had used more fantasy-inflected imagery or borrowed images from other popular fiction genres; in the 00s, due to increasing influence from the trend-aware Tetsuya Nomura on the series's visuals, elements of real-world trends began to appear in the characters's over-the-top fantasy outfits.
    • Final Fantasy X draws its aesthetic from the surfer/pop-Polynesian imagery that was in fashion at the time of the Turn of the Millennium. The graphic styles of the various Blitzball teams draw from the bubbly futurist Y2K aesthetic and the omnipresent tribal tattoo style; the suspended CGI water globules throughout the visuals were omnipresent in the advertising of the time; there's also clothes which are fantasyised versions of genuine trends (some extremely abstracted). Particularly, Tidus and Jecht share a similar fondness for leather cargo clothing with flamelike colour schemes and tribal imagery.
    • Final Fantasy X-2 is brimming with (admittedly, fondly remembered) fashion trends from the early 00s. Yuna's outfit, in particular, is a blender of the main fashion trends of the time - a boho frilly croptop, with a black tribal insignia design, and a sportswear-style hood, and a pair of hip-hop booty shorts. Rikku's cornrow braids, cargo miniskirt and whaletail thong also firmly date the design to 2002. Lenne's straightened hair and frilled shirt with its open navel was also bang-on trend.
    • Final Fantasy XII gives Ashe, a princess in a gothic fantasy setting, a hot pink leather miniskirt with a studded belt that wouldn't be out of place in a 2000s contemporary R&B video.
    • Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children:
      • Cloud's design incorporates trends from contemporary Emo-Punk-Visual Kei fashion that was exclusive to catwalks and rockstars when first drawn, and at the height of its mainstream appeal at the time the film came out. The dark and geometric elements of the look have hung around in a few branches of the high fashion world, but it may give current viewers traumatic flashbacks to their Emo Teen phases (particularly the new haircut and the baggy cargo pants).
      • Tifa's bare midriff was shifted southward to emphasise her back dimples, which was highly desirable in the sagging-happy, low-rise 00s. Ten years on, now that the midriff line has shifted way up to the bottom rib, it looks a little strange.
      • Barret's cornrows, tribally-redesigned tattoo, metallic puffer jacket and string vest.
    • Final Fantasy XV's main cast were designed ten years of Development Hell before the game came out, and as a fashion brand collaboration, too - meaning the outfits could not be altered heavily. This meant that when the game came eventually out in 2016, the main cast was all still dressed for the fashion trends of Japan, 2006 (apart from the updating of their hairstyles). The Other Marty Stella, in particular, wore frilly, hip-hoppy gyaru fashion that wouldn't have looked like a costume in the Tokyo of 2006, but would look embarrassingly dated nowadays; she is gone from the eventual game.
  • Space Channel 5 epitomises the space-age revival aesthetic of the very beginning of the decade, with playful, rounded, bubbly Space Clothes and graphics, 70s revival elements still hanging around (like platform boots and disco), the colour palette being neon, blue, and silver, rounded screens and transparent tech, CGI water, baggy tracksuit bottoms on NP Cs, Ulala's midriff extending from the top of her crotch to right under her breasts, her alternate outfits including camo print patterns and cowboy hats...
  • The opening movie for Dance Dance Revolution 3rd Mix is made of visible midriffs, flares, cargo pants and Comic Sans.
  • In 2004, Mario got a tattoo. (Since "retconned" by us seeing his upper arm in Super Mario Odyssey, where it is absent.)

    And finally, peculiar examples... 

Literature
  • A plot point of The Witches relies on gloves still being commonly worn by women and pointed shoes being the most commonly acceptable shoe for them as well. This is because witches hide their claws and square toe-less feet with them, the latter causing them great pain. These don't raise any suspicion around humans who have never heard of witches, but nowadays flats are more acceptable for women and wearing gloves outside of winter is seen as eccentric.

Live-Action TV
  • Al's fashions in Quantum Leap were truly bizarre, even for the Eighties, and even if he was from 20 Minutes into the Future. A surprisingly knowledgeable homeless lady once warned him that his chances of getting into heaven were poor, as they had a Dress Code. (This serves a purpose from a narrative perspective, though: Al's bizarre fashion sense makes him stand out, no matter what decade the episode takes place in. It even makes sense in-universe, making Al stand out to Sam - so he doesn't have to be obvious about looking around in a crowd to pick Al out of the background. He stands out to Sam big-time.)
  • Doctor Who contains a lot of this, so when Clara journeys back through the Doctor's timeline in "The Name of the Doctor", each incarnation of her has hair and makeup in styles appropriate to the era she's in, even if her incarnation is not actually human. For instance, the Gallifreyan Clara who advises the First Doctor to take the broken TARDIS wears distinctly early-60s makeup.
  • Inverted in Haven when Duke accidentally goes back in time to 1955, everyone calls him Tonto because of his ponytail, which, while fashionable in 2012, stands out like a sore thumb in 1955.

Web Comics

  • In Penny and Aggie, the former of the titular characters is normally fashionable-to-a-fault. So when Penny shows up at the airport to greet her friend wearing a top that looks like the shape of a "Y", fans raised eyebrows. The writer, T. Campbell, assured them that there was a reason for it. It turned out to be Foreshadowing: She was intentionally dressing a bit more like Aggie in order to signal her interest.


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