There is nothing subliminal about the aesthetic messaging of the HBO show “Insecure.” The fashion takes a stance: T-shirts bear pointed political messages, the likenesses of black heroes adorn many outfits, and much of the wardrobe is sourced from black designers.
It is no coincidence that Shiona Turini, the fashion stylist and consultant behind many music videos, including Beyoncé’s “Formation” and Solange’s “Cranes,” was behind some of this season’s looks.
This was her first time working as a costume designer on a television show, and she joined midway through Season 3 (Ayanna James was the costume designer on previous episodes and seasons), but Turini said: “I never want to turn down an opportunity just because I don’t have all of the experience in it.” The characters of “Insecure” already had established styles, but Turini pushed their sensibilities, and their statement-making fashion, even further.
“It meant looking at the shows that were happening or coming up and trying to make sure to weave that in — to make it relevant stylistically and culturally,” she said.
It also meant looking backward.
Turini pulled inspiration from black television’s golden era — the early 1990s, when characters on shows like “A Different World,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “The Sinbad Show,” “Martin” and “Living Single” dressed in Afrocentric colors, jewelry and prints.
Will Smith’s red, green, yellow and black Cross Colours look on “Fresh Prince” is a classic example. The tagline of the black-owned clothing line, created by Carl Jones and TJ Walker, was, and still is, “clothing without prejudice.” The bold colors they used were meant to invoke “romanticized spaces of mythical unity and nationalistic desire,” according to Kristal Brent Zook, whose book “Color by Fox: The Fox Network and the Revolution in Black Television” is an analysis of the ways networks catered specifically to young, black people in the ’90s.
Turini sees her appreciation and penchant for channeling ’90s-era TV aesthetics as a direct response to what those “lifestyle and fashion choices on TV meant for culture, especially black community and black culture.”
In 2018, Turini clothes the characters of “Insecure” in outfits that enhance their multidimensional narratives, and as a result, the broader black narrative. In Season 3, Molly has defected to a black-owned law firm but still has trouble garnering the respect she deserves. Tiffany becomes pregnant with her first child but struggles with the distance she feels between her and her friends. And Issa, the protagonist (played by the show’s creator and star Issa Rae), leaves a job she can’t stand, only to confront the consequences of that decision.
Here’s how some of the season’s most memorable — and transformational — style moments came together.
All the political tees
Issa’s style boldly channels politics and pop culture. She wears a shirt that reads “forever my lady” with former First Lady Michelle Obama’s face on it (a Melody Ehsani design), as well as one that says “FBI Killed Fred Hampton,” a reference to the Black Panther leader who was killed in 1969, and another that pairs a no-nonsense image of Nina Simone with the word “MOOD.” Turini said she didn’t receive any pushback on set for Issa’s style, including for the T-shirt Issa wears that reads “American Horror Story” and is decorated with President Donald Trump-like figures. “It’s just a reflection of our current political climate and what we’re going through as black people,” she said. She added, “And so yeah, you know what? She’s having nightmares.”
Issa’s shirts are also often meant to channel her emotional state. When she heads over to Nathan’s apartment unannounced to confront him about “ghosting” her, she wears a Helmut Lang shirt with a portrait of Carrie Mae Weems leaning over a table from the artist’s “Kitchen Table Series.” The idea was to evoke feelings of frustration and directness in Issa’s demeanor and outfit. “It is very much Issa’s ‘a woman unhinged’ moment,” Turini said.
The evolution of Lawrence
We were introduced to Lawrence in Season 1 in, essentially, his Best Buy polo shirt and sweatpants. After breaking up with Issa, he had to grow both professionally and emotionally, and as a result, we saw him in more tailored looks — fitted jeans and button-downs and long-sleeve shirts that showed he’d been working out. Some of Lawrence’s upward sartorial trajectory was directed by Jay Ellis, the actor who plays him. “He’s very committed to Lawrence’s progression and growth, and wanted to make sure that was reflected in the cut and the fit,” said Turini of Ellis. As Lawrence feels more sharp, he looks it. An unexpected side effect, Turini added, was the way she was inundated with direct messages on social media from men who all wanted to know which designers Lawrence was wearing
Issa means business casual realness
In a pivotal moment, Issa quit her job at We Got Y’all, the nonprofit she worked for, in a bold Dries Van Noten blazer. “It was a print that felt very Issa,” Turini said. “But it was much more refined to indicate that she is headed to a new chapter in her life.”
Issa wears the piece again in the season finale when she tries to solicit companies around Inglewood to donate their services to her community block party. The jacket is a reminder of the focus and ambition that is underlying Issa’s character, even at her lowest points.
Molly in monochrome
“Molly was really interesting for me to work on because her changes felt so current,” Turini said of actor Yvonne Orji’s character. “She’s working at a male-dominated but black environment, and she’s struggling to kind of stand out.” Molly’s feelings of both success and professional frustration are channeled into monochromatic colors and power suits; a mix of solid shift dresses and broad shouldered blazers showcase her desire to appeal and be accepted by both male and female co-workers. Outside of work, she still wears solid colors but they are brighter. To Tiffany’s baby shower, she wears a pink asymmetric peplum top by Oscar de la Renta with almost identical colored pink pants — a small symbol of the freedom she feels with her friends
Coachella Kelly is peak Kelly
In a lot of ways, Kelly (Natasha Rothwell) is the most consistent character on “Insecure.” The key in styling was to reflect Kelly’s outlook in her wardrobe. Her attitude and outlook on life is straightforward; her humor is raunchy and unguarded. In Kelly’s style, we get to witness a black woman comfortable in her clothes, and Turini chose pieces from Premme and Good American to accentuate Kelly’s assuredness. Kelly’s style can be seen as a larger metaphor for the show: For three seasons now, “Insecure” has put forward a beautiful black aesthetic with the goal of showcasing pride, empowerment and unity. As the characters mature, their style grows bolder.