The Bold Type is a show about finding yourself when you’re young and suspect you might be talented. Sutton, Jane, and Kat are three best friends who work at a women’s magazine, Scarlet. Their adventures are famously unrealistic — among other things, they solved America’s gun-control problem in one episode — but their fashion is totally believable, in the sense that it is very bad.
Often, TV shows about glamorous young women give them impeccable taste. Say “Hilary Banks” three times in your closet and a Chanel suit will appear. Or just look at Blair Waldorf’s eccentrically prissy wardrobe. The Bold Type, however, hews closer to real life. Watching it, I feel better about every fashion mistake I’ve ever made at work.
The show’s trend-addled Jane is the worst offender, followed by the more-feminine Sutton, leaving the edgy Kat as the best dresser purely by default. Sometimes, they look fine. But more often than not, they arrive at the office wearing outfits that try to do too many things at once and are wildly inappropriate for pretty much any workplace, even a fashion magazine. (Scarlet appears to have pretty normal dress codes, given what the other employees wear — personally, I love evil dot com editor Patrick’s style).
The show reflects the brutal truth that finding your own workplace style inevitably involves some mistakes, especially if you’re employed in a creative field. For one thing, you have to pay for all these clothes, or somehow get them into your closet. Also, you have to decode the unspoken rules about how you’re supposed to look. (Creative people have a reputation for being judgmental about those who don’t get the memo. My editor, Izzy, told me that she had a boss who made fun of a job candidate who came in a suit, because it was proof he wouldn’t fit in.) Even if you do manage to determine what kind of clothing will make you look creative yet put-together, finding what feels right for you takes trial and error. You can’t get it right without first getting it wrong.
When I started interning at the Cut, I was 20 and very nervous. I used Rent the Runway Unlimited to temporarily fill my closet with colorful rompers and giant-sleeved tops. When I look back at photos, I don’t think I look like myself. But it felt right, back then, to experiment with wearing trends — sometimes a lot of them, at the same time. What I hadn’t yet learned was that the fashion world likes trends, but it respects personal style. So when Jane appeared on screen in a blue-button down that also has a smocked bandeau stitched onto it, I thought Oh girl, I know your pain.
Of course, the women on The Bold Type are not choosing their own clothes. They’re dressed by a costume designer, Lisa Frucht. She told the New York Post that the show is “definitely a fashion fantasy” and “the premise has always been that [the characters] work at the magazine and have access to the fashion closet.”
The idea that entry-level employees can take stuff from the fashion closet at will is certainly a fantasy. But it reinforces the idea that these characters are bombarded for the first time with many beautiful things and just want to wear them. They haven’t learned yet that there is, to quote my colleague Molly Fisher, pleasure in sitting out on a trend. Or that, to quote Coco Chanel, who is not my colleague, “Elegance is refusal.” Learning how to say no to some trends — or to some relationships, or thankless work projects — is part of growing up.
It’s not hard to imagine the more sophisticated Jane of the future reminiscing about the time she wore a keyhole cutout to clean out her office desk, and Sutton responding, “Remember when I wore a high-necked Victorian blouse under overalls?” And they’d laugh, secure in the knowledge that they now know how to dress themselves. Because that’s the other great thing about the terrible style on The Bold Type: It’s a phase, and like all phases, someday it will end.