On the 30th anniversary of Twin Peak’s release, Maria Henry explores how the show’s costume design added to its cultural legacy.
What is Twin Peaks?
Twin Peaks is a show that is hard to define. Part mystery, part horror, part surrealist artwork, the show brought something fresh and unique to TV when it was first released in 1990. It was created by David Lynch and Mark Frost, two notable presences in the film industry. Lynch had been working in cinema since the 1960s and was known for his signature surrealist and absurdist stylings as seen in films such as Eraserhead and The Elephant Man.
He drew more from early European cinema movements such as German Expressionism and the Italian Neorealism than modern Hollywood conventions, which gave his work a unique edge that was not often seen on the US film circuit.
It was with The Elephant Man that Lynch broke somewhat into the ‘mainstream’, gaining critical acclaim and receiving eight Academy Award nominations for his efforts. He went on to direct two more films, Blue Velvet and Dune, before deciding to make the move into television.
The idea to make Twin Peaks arose from a casual conversation between Frost (who was working as a producer) and Lynch, who were both looking for a new project and had the idea that a story could come from: ‘a corpse washing up on a shore of a lake’. With this conversation, Twin Peaks was born.
The show, which is often looked at today as niche with a cult following, actually had major success when it was first released in April of 1990. Tom Shales, for The Washington Post, wrote that: “Twin Peaks disorients you in ways that small-screen productions seldom attempt. It’s a pleasurable sensation, the floor dropping out and leaving one dangling”.
It was one of the first instances in which ‘art cinema’ made its way onto television and producers found that there was a large audience who were ready and wanting to engage with this sort of media.
The show’s plot primarily focuses on an investigation led by FBI Agent Dale Cooper, after the corpse of homecoming queen Laura Palmer washes up on the shore of a lake. It is based in the fictional town of Twin Peaks in Washington, USA, and became a success not only for its unique plot points and motifs but also for its signature style and colourful cast of characters. Patricia Norris, who was a close friend of Lynch, designed the costumes for the show and created a unique blend of 1950s and 1990s fashion that adds to its unusual aesthetic. On the 30th anniversary of the show, we look now to how the costumes and styles of the characters helped to build the world we have come to know and love over the last three decades.
We could not possibly start to consider the fashion of Twin Peaks without looking at Audrey Horne. Audrey is the daughter of Twin Peaks business tycoon Benjamin Horne. Her character is smart, self-assured and often a little devious. Audrey is no stranger to drama as she frequently finds herself getting involved with the mysterious happenings that surround her town.
Her everyday style celebrates all things 90s, with short plaid skirts and sweaters being a staple. Though this style is also seen on her classmates Donna and Laura, they tend to take a more oversized approach — wearing their skirts longer with thick wool tights and accessorising with cardigans. Audrey chooses to style herself in more fitted jumpers and shorter skirts, separating her from her classmates. She is rarely seen without her signature red lips, perfectly drawn eyeliner and she wears her dark hair in a classic short bob, giving a slightly 1950s twist to her otherwise very 90s aesthetic.
Audrey is a confidant woman and she uses her clothes to show the world not only who she is but how she wants to be perceived. This is no more evident than in the now infamous cherry-stalk scene in which she wears a little off the shoulder black dress as she ties the stalk of a cherry into a knot with her tongue — showing us that she is not just a girl, but a woman confident and assertive of her own sexuality.
Cooper’s signature look is clean and crisp. Usually consisting of a beige trench coat, a white shirt and tie, black trousers and black shoes — his style resembles everything he seems to stand for in the show, he is good, he is (mostly) professional and his neat style reflects his ‘heroic’ agency in the series. He is also more often than not seen with a cup of coffee in his hand, which you could class as an accessory, as is it so frequently associated with his character.
Often seen as embodying the surrealist nature of the show, Log Lady’s style is somewhat reminiscent of the 70s. She is often seen in chunky cardigans, brightly coloured shirts layered over turtlenecks and oversized glasses with a bold red rim which she sometimes matches to her lipstick. She wears long skirts over thick wool tights and of course, always accessorises her outfit with her favourite companion — her log. Log Lady lives and dresses how she wants and does not look for any outsider approval, she is a character who truly knows herself and this is reflected in her eclectic style.
James’ style is perfectly reflective of his character. He wears oversized leather jackets, baggy jeans and sunglasses. Drawing heavily on the conventions of a James Dean type, he is the epitome of a teenage boy who wants people to think he is deeper than he is.
Lucy Moran / Brennan
Lucy works as a receptionist at the sheriff’s department and embodies a cosy yet individual style. She is nearly always seen in big funky, knitted jumpers, with her curly hair tied in a half-up, half-down style. Her fashion sense is always fun and quirky and truly represents her excitable character.
Sheriff Harry Truman
Harry’s style, much like his character, is both practical and charming. He is most often seen in his beige police uniform; however, he layers this with a thick tweed blazer, or oversized coat, giving a stylish touch to the otherwise plain outfit. He also is almost always seen wearing his cowboy-esque sheriff’s hat, which is black with brown leather trim — alluding to westerns of the past in which the sheriff plays the small-town hero.
Shelley has one of the most diverse wardrobes on the show. She is often depicted in her work uniform, which is a classic 1960s-style waitress dress and matching headband. However, when she’s not working her costumes showcase an array of 90s fashion staples such as sheer blouses, chunky belts, velvet blazers and oversized coats. Shelly embodies the 90s cool-girl aesthetic, with both feminine and grungy aspects to her style.
Bobby Briggs is a master of layering. His wardrobe is full of t-shirts layered over long-sleeve shirts, plaid shirts layered over those and leather jackets thrown casually on the top of it all. His style is cool, effortless and – much like girlfriend Shelly – embodies a soft grunge tone reminiscent of 90s icons such as Kurt Cobain and Johnny Depp.
Why is fashion so important to film?
Fashion is vital to film and television to build a realistic world: the personalities of each character who inhabits it must be uniquely defined. Each character’s costume in Twin Peaks helps to build an image of who they are and what they represent as an individual, helping the audience to create a defined image of them in their minds. Fashion on-screen also has an effect off-screen and the legacy of Twin Peaks is no exception to this. Twin Peaks is still sparking light into the imaginations of designers today; for example, the opening coat from Jil Sander’s Spring 2017 menswear collection was a twist on Agent Cooper’s beige trench coat.
Alessandro Michele’s Fall 2016 menswear show also drew inspiration from the show mimicking the infamous “Red Room” with its runway. Designers Carol Lim and Humberto Leon even took this one step further and collaborated with David Lynch directly on the soundtrack and set for the Kenzo Fall 2014 show.
These are only a few examples of how the show managed to break into the fashion industry, without even trying to do so. This powers of film and fashion are more interlinked than they may appear, with both having the goal of making the watcher feel something when they are to look at their product. In this sense, both are extremely powerful forms of art and when they work together, this is elevated even more.
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All images are stills from Twin Peaks, the TV series.