Meaning beneath the seams of ‘Euphoria’

Wednesday, October 30, 2019 - 2:47pm

Hunter Schafer as Jules in 'Euphoria'

Hunter Schafer as Jules in 'Euphoria' Buy this photo
HBO

HBO’s new teen drama, “Euphoria,” dominated social media in the summer of 2019 and influenced teenagers across the nation to experiment with glittery eyeshadow and rhinestone eyelashes. The show’s Instagram account has amassed over one million followers, with many of the cast members boasting similar follower counts on social media. With a second season airing in 2020, “Euphoria” currently has the ratings for renewal and a stronghold on viewers’ attention, even a few months after its first season’s finale.

Throughout the airing of the first season, the show gained a popular following through Twitter as its explicit and shocking content made for great live-tweeting material. Once “Euphoria” gained traction online, influencers immediately jumped to replicate the street fashion that makes each character pop on an already mesmerizing show. The makeup and costuming departments have appeared in fashion publications like InStyle and Allure to explain how the 2019 show caught the audience’s attention with its unconventional stylistic choices.

Costume designer Heidi Bivens references real-world examples of streetwear and pedestrian yet fashion-forward looks to develop each character’s unique personal style. In an interview with Ssense, Bivens said main characters Jules and Rue were her favorite characters to develop visually, adding “There were no real rules in the approach with them, and when your creativity is boundless in terms of where you can go to in your mind to glean ideas, that’s the most exciting.” While the elaborate costumes maintain an air of fantasy and couture, each outfit seeks to mirror the images teenagers want to project in their own clothing.

The characters of “Euphoria” mix designer pieces with more pedestrian articles to heighten the most fashionable trends in American high schools. Some ready-to-wear pieces come from popular retailers like Target or Nordstrom, while designers like Zana Bayne and Akna provide more show-stopping items for moments of dramatic flair. Entire Instagram accounts and websites are dedicated to documenting every identifiable piece of clothing available to consumers looking to incorporate into their own wardrobes. 

While every episode features now-iconic looks, the clear stand-out is “The Next Episode” which plays on TV’s best trope: the Halloween party. In the context of a holiday celebrating the beauty of absurd costumes, “Euphoria” is at its stylistic height. Characters’ looks range from Marlene Dietrich’s tuxedoed glamor to a flawlessly executed Bob Ross, beard and all. The episode garnered so much media attention that websites like E! Online have published articles on how to reproduce Kat’s take on Thana from “Ms. 45” or Maddy’s modernized version of Jodie Foster in “Taxi Driver.”

“Euphoria” shows how much teen Halloween has changed since the highly memorable commentary in the 2004 comedy “Mean Girls.” In this film, the main character Cady describes the holiday as the opportunity for “the hardcore girls (to) just wear lingerie and some form of animal ears.” Although this may ring true for high school kids in the early 2000s, “Euphoria” demonstrates how Halloween has become about a lot more than wearing the quintessential “sexy” costume. While some characters’ outfits are revealing or sexualized versions of pop culture figures, the artistry and concepts of their ensemble are far more important. 

In one particularly emotional scene of “The Next Episode,” Cassie attends a Halloween party at her boyfriend’s college but is told to change her risqué costume based on Alabama Worley from “True Romance.” Her boyfriend feels the outfit would attract too much sexual attention from other men and offers her his football jersey to wear instead. Cassie sadly responds, “This isn’t even a real costume.” Her disappointment at being told to switch outfits comes not only from the manipulative behavior that guilted her into changing but also from her inability to express herself and show off what she had made. 

For the characters of “Euphoria,” the clothes they wear are not just clothes. The makeup they wear is not just makeup. The goal isn’t to look pretty or desirable or cool. For Rue, Jules, Maddy, Cassie, Kat and everyone else on the show, how you present yourself is the best and only way to show who you are or, in some cases, who you want to be. In the wash of neon lights and glitter-soaked tears, each costume or outfit worn brilliantly reflects the growth and conflict within each character’s arc.

“Euphoria” at its core wants to depict life as it is, or even how it seems to be, in 2019. Issues like revenge porn, opioid addiction and climate change define the lives of the East Highland students the show follows. Even if the content of the series is heightened for dramatic effect, the key elements are grounded in the reality of how it feels to be in high school right now. Every day is a chance to reinvent yourself to your classmates, and the young audience of “Euphoria” is inspired by the creativity of these fan-favorite characters they see themselves in. As Halloween approaches, there’s no doubt social media will be full of “Euphoria”-themed costumes as fans get a chance to go all out and pay tribute to TV’s newest hit.