The Netflix Original lineup has had it’s fair share of gems since the premiere of their first nearly seven years ago, but for the most part they live up to their stereotype — angst-riddled, campy teen movie or “dark”, misanthropic ten-episode-per-season show. Sparkling with over-dramatization, the only thing more nail-bitingly cringeworthy than the dialogue is perhaps the costume design. This is not exclusive to Netflix’s original lineup as it can be seen in array of different cheap teen shows and movies of the past decade, regardless of genre. Pretty much all of them make teenagers dress like H&M ads (often worse) and it is a bit sickening.
In their defense, there is an understanding in any piece of fiction that the character’s traits need to be exaggerated, to more noticeably reflect the type of person the storyteller wants you to see them as. Their speech, their gait and all the histrionics needed to make you hate or love or cringe at the main character are just cinematic utensils. Despite this, there are limits and the costumes that are chosen for “teenagers” is one of them.
A good example of this is 13 Reasons Why’s character Jessica Something. Depicted as an empowered, free-spirited future leader, her teenage wardrobe seems to be in no shortage of everything from jackets no one in high school can afford, to boots no one in high school can afford, so that she can put together eclectic ensembles that no one in high school would ever wear (likely because they can’t afford them(but also because who wears heels and blazers to high school?)).
And she is just one of so many. They all have many of the same problems. Like expensive, outlandish designer pieces worn in every other scene, by supposedly middle-class teenagers. Or a surprising amount of skin showing, not that their would be anything wrong with it in a moral sense, but there is a finger-ly countable number of girls who wore fishnets to HS. When it’s not those two it is just way too eccentric and deviating to expect from a random teenager. Almost all the costume design choices would make more sense on someone in college.
Do they help tell that characters story? Yes. But it can be done more easily and realistically? Absolutely yes too. All the finer details of a person’s personality can be expressed on screen in clothing a highschooler would wear. It’s not as if writers haven’t gone to highschool themselves.
Part of this is easily blamed on another gripe many have with teenage entertainment — the casting of adults. It’s much easier to make sense of all of these theatrical wardrobes on the bodies of an adult than any adolescent. Another easy argument is that teens want to to dress to appear older. But it’s just not feasible for a lot of these kids. Even the most stylish kids in real high school are probably just wearing thrifted mom jeans.
Tik-tok is right there, all the tools a budding costume designer would need to understand how to style a conceited teenager is within reach. So stop dressing these kids like college sophomores at a little Ivy and give them a chance to breath. It won’t hurt your revenue Netflix — you do enough of that with your scripts.