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Look of the Week: Dana Scully's X-Files outdoor chic
Welcome back to Look of the Week, celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence, past and present across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics!
Many column inches have been dedicated to the sartorial prowess of Special Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), whose pantsuits over the last 20-plus years have charted the changing silhouettes, from billowy to sharp tailoring. Scully's influence on women going into STEM careers is well documented, and she no doubt had an impact on the wardrobe of women in the workplace. Watching The X-Files as a teenager is what sparked my low-key obsession with this particular garment. For some, it was Marlene Dietrich in top hat and tails that cemented this adoration, but my gateway was Scully's practical styling.
Thankfully, since Scully's first day on the job, the options available have expanded beyond boxy shoulders and oversized silhouettes. Furthermore, her sensible office attire is not the only aspect of her wardrobe we should celebrate, which is why Look of the Week is shining a big flashlight on Scully's outerwear in honor of her birthday this weekend (February 23).
Over 11 seasons, Scully has worn a lot of coats, from the oversized FBI-approved trench to polyester windbreakers ideal for dealing with whatever forest terrain her partner Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) has dragged her to. As the '90s are still dominating trends (because nothing is more potent when it comes to style comebacks than nostalgia), I am choosing to focus on Season 1. Plus, a variety of classic X-Files scenarios are depicted in this journey through outerwear.
The pilot does kick off in a forest, but back in Washington, D.C., Scully's first day at the office look is sensible pants paired with a double-breasted jacket with a subtle plaid twist. In an excellent point of costume continuity, Scully wears this garment on the plane to Oregon, suggesting she doesn't have a closet stuffed with blazers at this early stage. To underscore her preparedness, she makes sure to bring the appropriate seasonal attire. "Gateway to Fun & Recreation" is the slogan indicated on the Bellefleur sign — as if the two are mutually exclusive — which is why Scully is forest-ready with her clothing.
There are certain indelible images from the X-Files pilot: the first handshake between the new partners, Mulder checking a panicked Scully for telltale marks via candlelight, and the shot of the pair having an impassioned conversation in the pouring rain. The latter is a good reminder that your outdoor jacket is only going to do so much against the elements if it doesn't have a hood. Sure, for filming purposes a hood will reduce the dramatic visual of the scene and muffle dialogue, but you'll thank us if you invest in a waterproof garment that will also protect your head.
Both Scully and Mulder keep with the casual aesthetic as the investigation progresses, but you can't take the FBI agent out of the style equation. Although they look like they are on a team-building outdoor retreat — which I guess technically this is — beneath the parka lies an Oxford shirt with jeans (Scully) and a denim shirt with khakis (Mulder).
Later in the season, another case takes them to the Olympic Forest in the Pacific Northwest, which gives costume designer Larry Wells the chance to lean further into the woodland section of her wardrobe.
Before she met Mulder, did Scully like to hike or go for a run in the woods a la Clarice Starling at the start of The Silence of the Lambs? Unclear, but as soon as she got this gig and realized just how much time would be spent outdoors, she headed to the mall and invested in a different heavy-duty cagoule with a dash of bold mid-'90s color. She's ditched the muted shade from the pilot for something that won't act as camouflage in the foliage. This is a bugs case, not a Bigfoot one, so the visibility angle isn't an issue. She still hasn't got a hood so there is no protecting her against the wet weather. And with that single sentence, I have somehow turned into my mother.
In "Darkness Falls," Mulder jokes about Bigfoot chomping on flannel, inspired by shirts we see hanging in the abandoned cabin. Scully eschews the on-theme plaid style, sticking to denim and a vest that is pre-Patagonia and The North Face hitting the mainstream. There is a dorkiness to her outdoor get-up that is endearing, but this teal and pink accented parka would be considered forest chic nearly 25 years later.
It is also worth noting that in a group of men wearing muted tones, Scully, as the lone woman is dressed in feminine colors. Even the silhouette of the jacket emphasizes her waist, which is unlike the other oversized outerwear she sports for the majority of the season.
Scully lays down her outdoor comfy-meets-style sword earlier in the season when they head to Alaska's Icy Cape in the Thing-inspired "Ice." Here, she serves up a fur-hooded win that shows she is not against buying full-body protective garments. "Bring mittens," Mulder helpfully tells her while going through the case in the warmth and safety of their basement office — because soon they will be knee-deep in parasites and paranoia.
Her choice of flannel coupled with her scarf and cozy cream coat also make her stand out next to her partner in muted tones and the patented hot guy henley. Adventures in sub-zero temperatures will become a pretty regular affair but you never forget your first time! The reboot was lacking the Arctic travel, denying the inevitable Canada Goose wardrobe monopoly.
Coats fit for a snowstorm are unnecessary for most of their travels around the United States and back home in Washington D.C., which is why for those cooler temps, Scully opts for a timeless trenchcoat. However, the oversized nature of this garment (that began its life during WWI, hence the name) quickly dates it. The trench itself is a staple piece but the mid-'90s sure did go hard on an oversized theme for pretty much every clothing type.
Scully's romance with an overcoat of this style begins in Episode 10, "Fallen Angel," avoiding the classic beige for a muted brown. Her collection would expand to feature a range of FBI approved neutral shades. The oversized design this decade favored would also come in handy when trying to conceal Gillian Anderson's IRL pregnancy via various props, counters, and costumes.
The beauty of outerwear is how it mirrors the way real seasons cycle over time: style shifts and then comes back into fashion. Scully's costumes have evolved over the years as any real-life wardrobe does, but there are enduring threads between 1993 and when we last saw her in 2018. With that in mind, for a woodland hike, a snowy vacation, or a neat addition to your power suit aesthetic, the style truth can be found in Scully's Season 1 closet.