Motley Staff writer Jessica talks about the HBO’s drama, Euphoria and the integral roles clothing plays in the telling of the character’s stories.
Published as part of Issue #4 in January 2022
Smash hit HBO series Euphoria exploded onto our screens in June 2019, and like glitter tends to do, it left a massive imprint on makeup and fashion trends as well as teenage culture. The series follows Zendaya, a 17 year old high school student battling drug addiction, with her classmates facing their own personal struggles – written and directed by the amazing Sam Levinson. Levinson based Zendaya’s character, ‘Rue,’ on his younger self, who battled with addiction in its ugliness and the destruction it brought to both himself and those around him.
Yet, Euphoria takes on addiction along with a myriad of other sensitive topics and showcases the series’s characters in a glossy, sheer and performative light. Many have interpreted this as a problematic way of glorifying the issues raised, however, Levinson defends its approach. The series is renowned for its flashy clothing and eccentric makeup credited for starting a rhinestone revolution, and this is done to show how teenagers very much feel like they are the stars of their own show. The series constantly reminds us of the reality of addiction and the consequences of the characters’ actions – the exterior demonstrates how the characters protect and express themselves during the most traumatic of times.
For example, acting ingenue Hunter Schafer plays new student Jules, a girl determined to ‘conquer men (in order to conquer) femininity.’ She begins the season in traditionally feminine and girly clothing, with delicate pinks, purples, and cute tennis skirts. As Jules’s journey gets darker, so does her image – her hair begins a platinum white before changing to pink, to purple, to black. Her eyeliner also evolves to more experimental spikes and flashes of neon pink when emotionally distressed.
Due to the pandemic, filming for season two was paused, but two episodes focusing on first Rue, and then Jules following the season one finale were premiered in 2020. Jules’ episode, ‘F*ck Anyone Who’s Not A Sea Blob,’ shows Jules in therapy with no makeup and in muted tones, in which she discusses her journey as a transgender woman and her desire stop taking her hormone blockers. ‘I feel like I’ve framed my entire womanhood around men, when the reality is, I’m no longer interested in men (and what they want.)’
Sure enough, when season two premiered in January 2022, Jules had cut off her long hair and wore blacks and nude colours, with protective and experimental black spiked eyeliner around her inner corners. The way she dresses tells the viewer a lot about where she is both mentally and emotionally. Here we see that she has begun to reclaim her unique style, disregarding the preconceived ideas of what a woman should look like.
On the other hand, Rue remains makeup free as she did for the majority of season one. The only times Rue wears makeup is when she is high – dark black rings surround her eyes, accompanied by a blaring glitter. This style captures the feeling of Euphoria that she constantly seeks. As for clothing, Rue wears her late father’s maroon hoodie, sometimes branching out to waistcoats, suits, or patterned mens’ trousers. In the finale of season one, she sings, ‘Daddy ain’t at home no/Gotta be a man’, perhaps alluding to why she tends to dress more masculine, she feels the need to act as the father figure of her house.
The other characters in the show have their token fashion elements. Fierce and hot headed Maddy wears daring and bold two pieces and sharp eyeliner accompanied by rhinestones. Cassie dresses similarly to Jules as she too values the opinion of men, yet finishes the season with a stripped back, mature look as she swears naively to remain ‘celibate.’ Finally, Kat undergoes a sexual awakening in season one, leading her to dress in sizzling reds, corsets, leather and collars. In season two, she seems to be toning this down, but struggles to understand who she is and how to dress.
The emotional impact of Euphoria would not be as impactful without the visual elements and genius use of fashion in the telling of the character’s stories.
Every detail helps the viewer to connect with the character’s feelings, and it makes the show more memorable. Season two is said to look different to season one’s glittery and bold entrance, with viewers theorising that the series is styled this way to symbolise addiction – beginning with the euphoric high, followed shortly by the hard come down. Whatever way Levinson and the show’s makeup artist Donni Davy decide to depict what comes next, I am sure it will be just as impactful as the first series. It is said to be darker, like falling back to earth, which has viewers excited to see the characters reflecting this through their styles.