In this time and era with innumerable teen shows being released on regular basis, one common characteristic is their revolvement around gossips, relationships, and fashion. One show that has been extremely influential, provocative, and fits in with all of those aforementioned characteristics is an American teen show called Gossip Girl directed by Josh Schwartz and written by Stephanie Savage, which aired on the CW Network in the year 2007. It has also had one of the highest viewing rates during its airtime. But before being an eminent TV show it is today, it was initially a book series by Cecily von Ziegesar under the same name and similar plot which revolved around the exquisite and wealthy lifestyle of the powerful families of the Upper East Side social elites.
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And, according to Abi-Khalil (2016), the “major distinctive element of this show was its wardrobe, all created by Eric Daman” as stated by La Ferla (2008). The characters in the show appeared with the most exquisite range of clothing, “making fashion the main topic of interest as every episode featured either a designer’s name or dress on one of the characters” (Abi-Khalil, 2016). As a result, the targeted audience for this TV show are teens, young adults and, adults, more specifically girls/women.
In fact, this show mainly follows the life of lives of two socialite teens, Serena Van Der Woodsen and Blair Waldorf. However instead of focusing on the main protagonists in this paper, this essay aims to focus on another character Jenny Humphrey, played by Taylor Momsen, whose transformation in the series, influenced by both fashion and narrative, became one of the most iconic part of the entire TV show. Hence, this paper aims to analyze the theories of fashion and its representation in television. Furthermore, it aims to discuss how a TV show can shed light on the influence fashion has on its viewer with its values, and ideologies they are trying to impose with the use of the character, Jenny Humphrey. Finally, it will showcase the downside of fashion industry and how it affects people of different social class.
Jenny is initially introduced as a naive and impressionable 14 years old high school student at Constance Billard who tries to fit in with the “it-clique” with Blair Waldorf. She is a stereotypical representation of an innocent and naive 14 year old which is showcased by her appearance and dressing style, she wears little to no makeup and dresses in a humble and casual way (refer to figure 1 in the appendix) which presents her Brooklyn identity despite going to a private school in the Upper East Side in Manhattan where the students have opulent lifestyle, she is seemed wearing jeans and plain T-shirts. Jenny’s narrative showcases her obsession with the upper class’ privilege and wealth that her family in Brooklyn cannot provide as they are not as financially privileged as her father is merely in a rock band while her mother is an aspiring artist. As a result, she often sews knockoffs to impress her friends at Constance Billard who are very brand-conscious.
And this need to be always on trend by buying the latest and the most expensive garments, accessories, and shoes is one that mostly “affects the upper classes” (Goostein, 2002) and according to Barnard (2002), ultimately, “the lower class are left to copy the styles of the upper classes, to adopt the styles and shapes as soon and as best as they can” which was again showcased in Jenny’s narrative when Jenny could not afford to buy a dress at Tory Burch, and has to sew together a replica instead.
Additionally, her desperation to fit in results into her doing whatever it takes to climb the social ladder as she is tired of being the “basket case” among her wealthier peers. She transforms herself by altering the way she looks and behaves. And according to Barnard (2002), there is a correlaton between costume and class as fashion and clothing are important indicators in determining one’s social status and this is how people “make judgements about one’s social worth, on the basis of what people are wearing”. For example, Jenny’s clothing style was relatively distinctive to the other characters in the tv show who were from a wealthier family which were illustrated by her items of clothing. Most of Humphrey’s clothes were toned down in colour, easy on the eyes and something that most girl from a working class to middle class can imagine themselves wearing rather a bold bright colour item and a designer outfits. However, to fit in, Jenny morphed into something she thought were get her noticed. One way she changes was by wearing what Blair Waldorf would wear, she finds ways to impose herself on the elite group by friending with members from the high-class society.
Her first transformation can be seen in the fourth episode (Dare Devil) of the first season when she attends Blair’s sleepover and was peer pressured into undergoing a wardrobe change, from a sweet and innocent girl to one that wears more revealing clothes. Jenny’s transformation is her way of seeking validation from the social circle she is trying intensively hard to be a part of. The high class lifestyle and culture is why Jenny wants to become a part of it, to fit in to its lifestyle and social class which according to O’Sullivan (1994) refers to “a group of people with similar relationship, common social and cultural position within an unequal system of property ownership, power and material rewards” and in case it refers to the Upper East Side elites who Jenny tries to fit in with.
However, despite Jenny’s constant trials to fit in the opulent lifestyle of the Upper East Side, she continually feels like an outsider by the constant reminders and insults of her status by Blair who only uses her when she needs something done and disregards her later like an object with no use or function. But, instead of lashing out, Jenny uses that anger to fuel her love and fashion for fashion and creating outfits which at one point catches the attention of Blair’s inner circle who titles her as the “Queen Bee” for her unique and creative style. However, the power and lifestyle that came with being a socialite was too much for Jenny to handle as she resorts and steeps to the malicious tactics of Blair by stealing a dress to wear on a surprise party. Her bad decisions, as a result of her obsessive need to fit in, created tension between her family and distanced her from her true friends. Hence, the audience develops a conflicting relationship with Jenny in the first season.
Jenny has constant conflict with the inability to decide what she wants and deserves, she gets conflicted on whether she should be a bigger person and let go of the injustice she faces or stoop to the level of other Upper East Siders and this confliction of her also changes the way she dresses. For instance, when she decides to be a bigger person and let things go, she remains her “trueself” by wearing comfort chic style of clothing e.g. ankleboots, jeans, plaid hats resembling normal 14 years old, wearing neutral colors. However, when Jenny decides to get revenge on the Upper East Siders, she decides to personify herself as one from the Upper East Side and starts wearing pointy high-heels, neon leggings, bright pea coats and dresses normally like what Blair, her “idol” would wear. For example, as previously mentioned, when Jenny was crowned as “Queen Bee”, her outfits began immersing the clothing style of Blair’s with her iconic headbands, which throughout the entirety of the beginning of the season was worn only by Blair.
But with Jenny wearing it, it symbolizes the emersion of another elite member, Jenny, who wore it as a crown. Not only that, the appearance also changed, she began wearing darker eye shoadows, rustic shade of lipsticks e.g. bold reds, browns and burgendys and her hair styling changed from regularly being straight and light blond to slighly curled platinum blonde. This metarphorphesis showcases a extensive character development and the influence fashion can have on it, this also showcases her change and as gradually immerses herself deeper into the ins and outs of the fashion industry.