Fashion Dissonance

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Compare Outdated Outfit, X Called; They Want Their Y Back, I Was Quite a Fashion Victim, No New Fashions in the Future, Hollywood Costuming.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:

  • 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 Shojo, 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.

Live-Action TV
  • 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 somewhat forced fashion trend that lasted for about ten minutes in 1977.
  • 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.

  • 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 having the reinstated Bones show up at the Enterprise wearing this.
  • 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.

Western Animation

    The 1980s 

The Eighties were almost as silly as the Seventies, but are looked back at with marginally more fondness (mainly because many of the looks from the era fetishized the Cool aesthetic). Note, in particular, '80s Hair.

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.
  • 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.

  • 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:


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.

    And finally, peculiar examples... 

  • 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 Twenty 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.

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.