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Television tastemakers

Shows, from 'Sex and the City' to 'Dick Van Dyke Show,' influence how we, the viewers, dress.

September 22, 2013|By Whitney Friedlander

When it comes to Hollywood's hold on everyday fashion, movies frequently steal most of the credit -- two-hour immersions where one comes up coveting Alicia Silverstone's knee-highs in "Clueless" or Jennifer Beals' off-the-shoulder sweat shirt in "Flashdance."

Television is much stealthier.

"The whole idea of episodic television is to get you hooked," says Deborah Nadoolman Landis, founding director of UCLA's David C. Copley Center for the Study of Costume Design. "We start to think of that person not as Sarah Jessica Parker [playing the character of Carrie Bradshaw on 'Sex and the City'] anymore … she becomes that character."

With "wildly successful shows," says Landis, "people get involved...." Sometimes, this involvement extends to their closets.

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Carrie Bradshaw -- with her iconic golden nameplate necklace, fancy shoes, flower brooches, and tutus -- is merely one of many TV characters with sartorial impact. In the run-up to Sunday's Emmy Awards, we asked the experts to list some of the iconic TV shows that have impacted our wardrobes.

"The Roy Rogers Show" (1951-57) and "The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show" (1962)

Costume Designer: Nudie Cohn, Ray Aghayan and others

Michelle Webb Fandrich, co-author of "Clothing Through American History," says early television fashion trends weren't geared toward women – but, rather, toward their pocketbooks. Parents who sat their children down to watch Roy Rogers and his wife, Dale Evans, found themselves besieged with requests for fringe-heavy cowboy and cowgirl costumes.

"I Love Lucy" (1951-61)

Costume Designers: Elois Jenssen and Edward Stevenson

"[Lucille Ball] was a celebrity, and the things she wore [on her shows] could start trends," says Kevin Jones, fashion historian and curator of the FIDM Museum Collection. "Some things I think of are the shirtwaist dress buttoned up the front and polka dots."

Women embraced this dress design, which was also being shown in fashion magazines at the time, and it became a uniform of sorts, associated with the mid-century housewife.

"The Dick Van Dyke Show" (1961-66)

Costume Designer: Harald Johnson

Then-scandalous form-fitting capri pants were en vogue when Mary Tyler Moore's Laura Petrie danced hers into families' living rooms, causing a stir from advertisers and CBS brass while making the look socially acceptable for housewives

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"That Girl" (1966-71)

Costume Designer: Phyllis Garr

At the time "That Girl" was on the air, increasing numbers of women were starting to go to college and enter the work force.

FIDM's Jones says that the (relatively) skimpy A-line minis, white boots and flipped mod haircut Marlo Thomas sported on "That Girl" – a show about a young woman leaving her small town to make it in the big city – represented looks that were popular at a "a transitional period for women in society" and helped more conservative viewers get comfortable with what was becoming "appropriate for women to wear in a workplace."

"The Carol Burnett Show" (1967-1979)

Costume Designer: Bob Mackie

It shouldn't be a surprise that Bob Mackie, who designed for Las Vegas burlesque shows, could create some show-stoppers.

"Even though it was a variety show, it was on for [several] years and it was obviously reaching a large [segment] of the population," says Jones. "Every time Burnett came out and introduced the program, she was in an evening gown or an evening pants suit. And it was still a time where people 'dressed' for evening fashions. Her entire show was a red carpet. She was influencing what people would wear for evening appearances."

"The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (1970-77)

Costume Designers: Leslie Hall and Donald MacDonald

Moore's Mary Richards was a little older and perhaps a little more sure-footed than Thomas in "That Girl." Jennifer Armstrong, who wrote "Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted," a book about the show, says that Hall would dress her title character in Evan-Picone or Norman Todd separates that could be mixed and matched throughout the episodes – meaning fans could go to their local retailers and find a specific pantsuit, blazer or skirt that Moore wore on the show. Early product placement aside, this strategy of showing repeated items of clothing acknowledged the realities of a real-life woman and her wardrobe.

"The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour" (1971-77)

Costume Designers: Ret Turner and Bob Mackie

"Cher's collaboration with Bob Mackie created a revolution in hippie chic," says Landis. "You could say it wasn't Sonny and Cher who made the music together, it was Cher and Bob Mackie because … she was a sensation. That's what we wanted to look like."

"Charlie's Angels" (1976-81)

Costume Designer: Nolan Miller

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