Twin Peaks, David Lynch’s iconic TV series, is returning to our screens after it went missing for almost three decades. First broadcast in 1990, the show became a cult classic and is celebrated by fans and TV scholars alike. One of the reasons for this is its extraordinary use of costume. The original series’ strikingly distinctive style anticipated the way we dress now, making its revival especially timely.
The show’s original costume designer was Patricia Norris, who won an Emmy for her work on the pilot episode. Sara Markowitz took over for the series’ two-season run and adapted Norris’s ideas in new directions. Norris and Markowitz combined classic Americana (1950s-style leather jackets, plaid workwear, cheerleader uniforms) with the often tonally jarring looks of the late 1980s (oversized, patterned knits and scrunchies). The look they created was simultaneously timeless, indicating the universality of American small-town life, and highly specific, conveying the distinctiveness of David Lynch’s vision. Twin Peaks’ style is both very recognisable and intensely strange, mapping on to coordinates of what we think we know, yet at the same time upsetting them.
Clues are everywhere
Part of the cult appeal of Twin Peaks is in the way it encourages its viewers to look for clues and to participate in the detective process, which gives rise to endless speculation. It is the original watercooler television. Clothes are no exception to this process. Why does the character of Audrey Horne change from sensible black and white saddle shoes to red kitten heels when she gets to school? The obvious answer is out of adolescent rebellion. However, the repeated close-ups on the shoes throughout the pilot episode draw attention to them and encourage the viewer to speculate on their meaning.
Their black, white and red colour scheme prefigures the zigzag floors and red curtains of the infamous red room sequence, in which detective Dale Cooper dreams that the murdered Laura Palmer tells him the name of her killer. Later in the series, a one-armed shoe salesman plays a significant role, while Bobby and Shelly find a tape of Laura’s therapy sessions hidden in Shelly’s husband Leo’s shoe. In Twin Peaks, material objects take on inflated significance. Everything and nothing is a clue.
The costumes in Twin Peaks have clear roles in American popular culture: the rebel, the cheerleader, the prom queen, the FBI agent or the eccentric hippy. Many of the characters overtly wear uniform, from police and waitress uniforms to school sportswear. But in a sense all the characters wear uniform: they all have a recognisable “look” that helps to define their role within the community. Even the nondescript plaid fishing gear worn by Pete Martell signifies his lack of an identifiable role.
There is often something slightly off about the costumes. Nadine Hurley accessorises her cheerleader uniform with an eye-patch. Recognisable archetypes should reassure us – the biker, the trucker, the waitress – but they ultimately disconcert. And the costumes that have been most influential on contemporary fashion are the more odd, such as the mysterious Log Lady, whose frumpy layered tweeds and oversized glasses are pure Prada.
Since the show’s original broadcast, fans have continued to obsess over the looks of their favourite characters, with Audrey Horne a particular favourite for her stylish sweater-skirt combos. Online magazine The Cut published a slideshow ranking 118 sweaters that appeared in the show, with Audrey inevitably taking the number one spot. Audrey’s style was instantly iconic, with actor Sherilyn Fenn becoming the stand-out star. But where it once seemed classic, it now looks fashionable, embodying the vintage trend of the 2000s.
Other characters whose looks appeared frumpy and even comic at the time, such as girl-next-door Donna or receptionist Lucy, now look spectacularly on trend. The chunky patterned knits worn by Lucy, Sheriff Truman and many other characters on the show anticipate the fad for “hygge”, the Danish term meaning a sense of cosiness and well being. Similarly, Donna’s calf-length skirts and cardigans anticipate the recent revival of the “midi-skirt”.
It is no surprise, then, that designers and advertisers have repeatedly mined Twin Peaks for inspiration. H&M’s 2012 advertising campaign featuring Lana del Rey in a variety of Lynchian scenarios was particularly notable. Elle magazine has twice published Twin Peaks themed fashion shoots, in its August 2012 American edition and September 2013 Swedish edition. Meanwhile the grunge revival of 2013 resulted in some distinctly Twin Peaks-inspired collections, such as Hedi Slimane’s A/W show for St Laurent, which featured plaid shirts, cardigans and black lace cocktail dresses.
We have grown into the world of Twin Peaks, it seems, and its style now suits us. “That gum you like is going to come back in style”, the Man From Another Place tells Agent Cooper in the Red Room – the line that Lynch used on Twitter to announce the show’s return. Sure enough, Twin Peaks has come round again, with a fresh range of costumes to inspire us, although probably leaving us little closer to solving one of television’s most enduring and unsettling mysteries.