Late night television is for entertainment – the comedic relief, the quirky hot monologues, and of course, the midnight star-studded conversations. Yet the industry’s fashion is just as applause-worthy, whether you notice it or not. From Dua Lipa’s Versace numbers to Ariana Grande’s viral cupcake dress, there’s a fascination surrounding celebrity talk show outfits that has outgrown the hype around talk shows themselves. It hasn’t always been this way, though.
For starters, television hasn’t always been around. The shift from radio to TV occurred in the 1950s which was the decade of radio stepping aside to usher in visual entertainment. Dozens of radio shows became TV shows, and the television talk show was born. Now that actors, actresses, hosts, and guests were not only heard but seen, the additional pressure of dressing accordingly (these were motion pictures, after all!) was layered on top of other pre-existing complexities of showbiz.
Because of TV, celebrities now lived in the homes of suburban America where families could casually tune in over dinner and before bedtime. The increase in accessibility meant an increase in visibility and in the decades that followed, talk show hosts and attendees would dress in suits or more formal dresses both for their personal image and as a sign of respect for the talk show that they had the honor of being on. As Jacob Gallagher writes in the Wall Street Journal, “who would want to dishonor Mr. Carson by taking to The Tonight Show desk in a T-shirt?”
Johnny Carson of future The Tonight Show fame was one of the few television talk show hosts in the 50s, starring in a short-lived run of The Johnny Carson Show in 1955. Although the prime time show flopped, it set Carson up to later become a late night trailblazer as the host of The Tonight Show. He would be succeeded by Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, and Jimmy Fallon. Though the leads may have swapped out over the decades, the spirit of the show remains to this day — live music, an excited audience, a slew of celebrity guests, and despite the drastic changes in popular fashion, a host in a tuxedo.
If you understand that every outfit conveys a specific statement, it should come as no surprise that the seemingly-basic suits that most male late night hosts don are not an afterthought, but a very purposeful choice. For starters, it’s a choice rooted in tradition. The behind-the-desk jacket has been the garment of choice for television hosts since Steve Allen hosted The Tonight Show in the 1950s.” Back then, the suit jacket was the obvious choice because casual attire in a work setting was uncommon and would have come across as disrespectful. In today’s day and age, the jacket not only conveys professionalism and preparedness but stands as a symbol of belonging to a cohort with a long history of well-respected hosts. Brian Coats, stylist to Jimmy Fallon, tells the Wall Street Journal that “there’s a respect and an honor to being in that chair, and that’s how you show it: You wear an amazingly tailored suit.” The concept of the late night suit jacket is, in theory, passed down from one generation to the next.
There’s also the fact that many late night hosts got their starts in sketch comedy or stand-up and bring their entertainment training with them for maximum quip-and-banter potential with their celebrity guests. The contrast between the formality of the suit and the comedic content allows the jokes to be more polished than jarring, and the juxtaposition is something that audiences have come to expect in recent decades. Even stand-up comedians like John Mulaney have expressed that there’s a feeling of maturity and professionalism that comes with wearing a suit while performing.
Though many stylists worked under the assumption loyal viewers wouldn’t want their favorite hosts to be sloppily- or under-dressed, the COVID-19 pandemic saw a necessary shift away from most of the typical talk show formalities as hosts ran their respective shows from their living rooms or home offices. Jimmy Kimmel and John Oliver continued to wear suits, but Jimmy Fallon, Seth Myers, Stephen Colbert, and others broke out their more casual attire — think cardigans, hoodies, and collared polo shirts. Some outfits were more polished than others (to be fair, the rest of us were just as quick to change into our comfiest outfits for Zoom meetings during quarantine) but it makes us wonder how audience perception shifted when late night shows went virtual. How is Jimmy Fallon, dressed like a suburban dad on the weekend, different from Jimmy Fallon in a well-pressed, custom-tailored Gucci suit? Is Seth Myers in a casual navy button-down more likable and approachable, or does he come across as less of an authority on the episode’s topics?
And then there are the female hosts. The talk surrounding the zip-up hoodies that Jimmy Fallon wore is a fraction of the continual scrutiny that female hosts face over the outfits that they wear. Kelly Clarkson and Oprah both have an affinity for classic midi dresses (though the former loves a print and the latter tends to go for solid colors) whereas Ellen Degeneres typically wore sweaters and slacks, which was perhaps just as much of an effort to not stray too far from her male counterparts’ wardrobes as it was a personal style choice. Lilly Singh and Amber Ruffin have both made statements with their choices to wear suits, an outfit that’s previously been considered less acceptable to be worn by a woman as opposed to a man. It’s a strong choice that requires no verbal explanation — both Ruffin and Singh are carving out their seats at the boys’ table by donning the boys’ uniforms.
The hosts of Saturday Night Live are probably the most expressive of the bunch as they acts as both host and celebrity guest. Many arrive with stylists in tow — Anya Taylor-Joy closed out the most recent season of SNL in vintage Courrèges, Carolina Herrera, Brandon Maxwell, Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini, Louboutin, and Dior, styled by Law Roach who took to Instagram to document the entire process. These celebrity hosts each bring their own unique style, none quite like another except for the fact that each is dressed to the nines in multiple ensembles that reflect their personal style.
Celebrities have also used the power of the late night platform to get political with their wardrobes, the most common form of it being a simple top stamped with powerful phrases. In June, Real Housewives of New York City‘s unapologetic cast member Leah McSweeny wore a 2000s pink airbrushed tank with the slogan “Free Britney” on Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen. Yet aside from celebrity controversy, actor Don Cheadle wore a “Protect Trans Kids” tee shirt on Saturday Night Live. However celebrities including Kid Cudi have used the true statement of fashion to break norms on the late night platform. On Saturday Night Live, the rapper took the stage in a floral gown designed by Virgil Abloh; inspired by musician Kurt Cobain (who also donned a floral dress) Cudi’s wardrobe choice spoke a message of self-expression meant to inspire viewers.
The fashion modus operandi of celebrity guests has shifted drastically over the years thanks to the emergence of social media and online shopping. A piece being worn by a celebrity on a talk show can become an evergreen placement in a way that it never was before as these talk show outfits can be shopped, tagged, circulated, watched (and re-watched) on YouTube, and widely critiqued. During a television segment that invites audiences to see the more accessible side of public figures, said celebrities can showcase their personal style through outfits that are artfully curated from a wide range of designer pieces.
Along with makeup artists and show producers, stylists are a common sight when it comes to pre-show prep for A-listers getting ready to play drinking games and promote their latest movies on live TV. These stylists procure the newest designer pieces for their celebrity clients to wear for talk show appearances, ensuring that they will appear in best-dressed round-ups and articles about their late night TV shenanigans and perfectly styled outfits. Even in the age of Zoom, stylists still work with their teams to secure outfits (mainly tops, preferably with video-call-friendly detailing that’s visible from the torso up) for press and television appearances. There was, and still is, no shortage of opportunity for an actor to be outfitted by their favorite brands in exchange for prime exposure to millions of TV and YouTube viewers.
It’s clear that we’ve come a long way since the days of black and white television. Fast forward to today, late night television has transcended the borders of our screens thanks to social media expanding the potential for virality at any time, anywhere, even past midnight.
The industry has cut through the pop culture seams as any form of entertainment does, influencing fashion campaigns in its wake. Earlier this year, Gucci Creative Director Alessandro Michele envisioned a house-centered talk show through the “Beloved” campaign to showcase Gucci’s hallmark handbag lines. Hosted by none other than skilled chatter James Corden, The Beloved Show featured Harry Styles, Dakota Johnson, Awkwafina, Sienna Miller, Diane Keaton, and Serena Williams dressed in Gucci and showcasing the handbags of the hour. Putting aside the all-too-real snazzy theme song, commercial applause, and quirky scripts, the campaign mirrored the relevance of late night fashion as celebrities paraded around their Gucci pieces. It’s all about strategic placing and looking good.
A further testament to the late night subculture has been its influence on its fans. Styling for talk shows may seem like an inclusive peek into the industry itself but, not surprisingly, TikTok has given viewers and fashionable aficionados an imaginary world where they’re the star of late night television – we don’t blame them for wanting to join in on the action.
Showing up as a make-shift celebrities and stylists, fashion content creators have hopped on the “What I Would Wear As a Special Guest on Different TV and Talk Shows” fad. The content assumes a kind of sartorial role-play (common of scenario styling) with creators walking across the screen dressed in different looks according to each show, from quintessential, pop culture landmark programs to the more niche shows, as a mash-up of late night show theme songs rolls in the background.[/tiktok]
Along with being an exercise in creativity, the trend distinguishes late night show branding, a calculated execution that is an extension of the show and the guests’ persona. Vivacious colors and prints thrown onto more playful silhouettes are matched with the light-hearted caliber of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon; bright colorways also find their way into The Late Late Show with James Corden but often on more classic cuts; Saturday Night Live fits in with the sophisticated night out genre (ranging from snazzy bar to avant-garde gala) that is inherently New York in its suiting; The Eric André Show, in its parodic ways, calls for laid back “ugly” retro ‘fits (the kind of clothes paring that work strangely well). While the trend might be stuck within social media’s borders, it’s akin to the real acumen that goes behind late night show styling and many of the TikTok outfits are not far off from the outfits that have actually been worn on the shows.
Late night television, even in all of its antics and hard-hitting points, is perfectly dressed – it’s a killer combo, because after all, what’s not to be entertained by on both ends? As audiences make their way back into theaters and in-person viewings, the possibilities are endless (and probably extravagant in its planning). Click through the gallery of late night’s best dressed celebrities as we gear up for more iconic moments to come.END
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createdAt:Wed, 28 Jul 2021 13:50:45 +0000
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