The Fashion Influence of Elaine from Seinfeld

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She lacked Carrie Bradshaw’s strappy Manolos, Fran Fine’s poppy, mini-skirted suits, and Hilary Banks’ vibrantly hued bowlers. But Seinfeld’s Elaine Benes made just as big a sartorial impact as her showier small-screen peers. The sole female in a kooky cohort of neurotic Manhattanites, Elaine was brilliantly played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus from 1989 to 1998. A ‘90s working girl and foil to the show’s titular lead, go-getting, sarcastic Elaine had a wardrobe that reflected her life as a young urbanite in the Clinton era: padded power blazers, crisp, lace-accented button-downs, boxy overcoats, and shoulder-slung backpacks. There was also denim on denim, statement brooches, oxford flats, scrunchies, and florals—lots and lots of florals.

By the time Elaine’s reign ended, her style evolved, reflecting the latter part of the decade’s minimalist turn. Elaine’s silhouettes were sleeker and her color palette darker. Her signature curls—often worn half up, half down—were tamer and a deeper shade of dark brown. Still, when we think of Elaine, it’s those quintessentially early-to-mid ‘90s looks that remain solidified in our minds.

As if on cyclical cue 20 years after Seinfeld first aired, two fashion trends notably started taking hold: ‘90s redux, and what became known as “normcore.” Embodied in Elaine’s beloved florals, maxi skirts, chunky loafers, and peter pan collars, the former trend only gained steam as the seasons wore on. Even in 2020, ‘90s nostalgia is still a thing, its iterations evident in the proliferation of wide-leg silhouettes, baggy sweatshirts, boxy denim, and yes, scrunchies.

Elaine was also a normcore adherent—especially outside the J. Peterman offices. Clad in a hoodie layered beneath a denim jacket, a tan anorak atop a mockneck shirt, or a Southwestern-style, Ralph Lauren-reminiscent coat, Elaine became the proverbial Manhattan everywoman. Though Jerry Seinfeld’s chunky white sneakers, dad jeans, and oversized sweatshirts quickly became fashion shorthand for the trend, Elaine’s looks can be reinterpreted today minus much of the irony.

Louis-Dreyfus herself has described Elaine’s style thusly: “It wasn’t about trying to look sexy. It was about looking like a girl who pushes people around.” No doubt Elaine was hard-charging—trying to climb the corporate ladder (or simply hang onto her job) while keeping up with the crazy antics of Jerry, George, and Kramer. And no, despite her penchant for feminine florals and a love of leather jackets, “sexy” was never really in Elaine’s wheelhouse. Anyone looking for proof needn’t look further than her infamous office party dance moves—something more quintessentially Elaine than even her trusty, elongated double-breasted blazers.

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createdAt:Fri, 10 Jan 2020 20:18:38 +0000
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