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Look of the Week: Palm Springs' playful costume repeats

By Emma Fraser
Palm Springs

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!

Clothing repeats take on a different meaning in a time loop scenario, often providing a visual tether in an unstable environment. In Russian Doll, Nadia's (Natasha Lyonne) cycle begins at her birthday party in a stylish tailored look, whereas Happy Death Day's Tree (Jessica Rothe) wakes up on her birthday in a borrowed band tee in a dorm room that is not her own. Keeping your closet fresh isn't necessarily a concern when attempting to escape the chaos of an infinite loop. However, there is nothing wrong with adjusting outfits to drown out the doldrums of this existence or to stick on something familiar as a form of comfort dressing.

Both Russian Doll and Happy Death Day depict an event that can cause an existential crisis, but a birthday isn't the only celebration that can have this effect. A wedding can also lead to soul searching whether you are a bridesmaid, best man, or even a plus one. Full of pageantry and a built-in dress code, expectations are set to high for how this magical day will turn out. Weddings are joyous, but they can also be incredibly stressful, and wearing an uncomfortable suit or dress for eternity doesn't sound too appealing. In Palm Springs, Nyles (Andy Samberg) and Sarah (Cristin Milioti) enter the time loop fray with a surprisingly prescient take on comfort versus formal attire in the new Hulu rom-com with a twist.

Spoilers for Palm Springs ahead.

Palm Springs

Early in Palm Springs, it becomes clear that all is not as it seems thanks to a bold outfit choice. Clad in a pool appropriate Ralph Lauren Hawaiian shirt and orange shorts, Nyles is perfectly dressed for vacation day drinking. But this isn't simply a weekend getaway, as Nyles' girlfriend Misty (Meredith Hagner) is a bridesmaid in this picturesque setting. Rather than getting changed into something more wedding appropriate, he attends the ceremony in the same outfit. His dress-code defying relaxed attire makes him stand out against the blush suits and cocktail frocks — the mid-nuptials beer is also a red flag that something is awry.

Palm Springs

After pulling off a spectacular toast and intricate dance routine, he is the undisputed star of the wedding, stealing the spotlight from the picture-perfect couple (Riverdale's Camila Mendes and Supergirl's Tyler Hoechlin). Using this dazzling charm, he takes Sarah out into the desert to hook-up (while his girlfriend cheats on him every single night). When she tells him to take his clothes off, his enthusiastic response involves ripping his shirt open with little regard for the lost buttons. Why should he care about clothing damage when he will wake up to an undamaged shirt the following day? He also has no qualms about wearing underwear under his bathing suit, but that is another story.

Unlike previous time loop comedies, Palm Springs doesn't begin with the first instance that Nyles experiences. He is deep into this cycle, which explains his "Today, yesterday, it's all the same" nihilistic philosophy; he has given up trying to make any sense of this predicament. His shirt is outwardly cheery but in opposition to the carefully curated desert chic styling of almost every other male guest (officiant Trevor's bold blue cowboy ensemble is the other outlier of the group).

Palm Springs

A flashback to the "early days" reveals Nyles hasn't always opted for a rogue Hawaiian shirt; instead, he stuck to the mandated wedding attire. Nevertheless, the dark color of his suit puts him at odds with the light color scheme and makes him look funereal in a sea of dusty pink and linen. Similarly, even in her maid of honor gown, Sarah's heavy eyeliner and an overflowing glass of red wine don't fit in with the rest of her family or wedding party.

Caught in the loop after following Nyles into the cave, Sarah's costumes take on a chaotic aesthetic that suggests the pair are kindred spirits. Wearing the outfit she passed out in the night before, the combination of graphic print tank, visible polka dot bralette, black jorts, and red snakeskin booties is Sarah's anchor look. In an interview with Fashionista, costume designer Colin Wilkes explains, "We wanted to really make Sarah unique and effortlessly badass that's kind of unkempt, but effortlessly cool." She doesn't fit in with the Pinterest-ready scheme her sister has organized; rather, her style is much more suited for day drinking at a roadside bar. Indulging in the latter with Nyles is far more preferable when the day resets after falling asleep or dying.

The highly covetable vintage-looking "Static Femmes" top is a play on music icons like Blondie and Kate Bush (a song by Bush plays during a pivotal scene) and is the work of graphic designer Shaina Hedlund. At the pool, Sarah's color-block bathing suit and oversized white framed sunglasses fit into this character's retro aesthetic and the playful tone of the costume design.

Made before the pandemic, Palm Springs is now being viewed through a lens of having lived through lockdown protocols and social distance restrictions. It is easy to identify with both Nyles and Sarah as they struggle to deal with the uncertainty and monotony of a day that repeats. Playing with comfortable style is incredibly relatable, which has seen a massive increase in what The New Yorker recently dubbed "slob-chic," aka leaning into stretchy waistband attire. Sales of sweatpants and pajamas have gone up over the last few months (which is hardly surprising) and Nyles' swim shorts fall into this category, as does Sarah's slouchy sleeveless tee.

Palm Springs

Repeat clothing habits are comforting, but getting stuck in a rut can be unhelpful. A montage sequence shows how much fun can be had in a time when you are falling in love. Taking on multiple different genre tropes, the pair practice a musical-ready dance routine out in the desert before serving up matching Americana outfits in a bar full of befuddled patrons. Acquiring a pink faux fur coat and a baseball cap that reads "Daddy," they live their best accessories life. Role-playing extends to planting (and destroying) a bomb in the wedding cake; Nyles is the hero in safari hat to Sarah's villainous pirate styling.

Delivering odd couple vibes in a leopard-print coat worthy of Mrs. Robinson to Nyles' sensible outdoors puffer jacket, this is an incredibly romantic moment in which Nyles can no longer fake not caring.

Palm Springs

Away from the wedding, they thrive and our favorite look is one that takes a page out of Harley Quinn's Birds of Prey DIY streamer-style book. Sarah's tinsel earrings add to the festivities of this romantic moment and highlight the inventive and joyous direction costumes can take in this expanding subgenre.

Time loops are an effective and entertaining way to deal with an existentialist crisis. Palm Springs takes this concept and packs a heartwarming and hilarious story into a tight 90-minute runtime. Groundhog Day is rightfully regarded as the foundation, but new life has been breathed into this narrative scenario with recent stories dealing with grief, trauma, and love — as with Tree and Nadia, Sarah is still mourning her mother.

When time lacks meaning, a sartorial anchor is important in establishing a sense of being. The freedom to play with fashion is also vital when living through chaos, and Palm Springs walks this costume line. We might not be going to many weddings this summer, but Nyles and Sarah have set the standard for casual attire for this hot weather season and outfits to wear on repeat.