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SYFY WIRE Look of the Week

Look of the Week: Russian Doll serves up repeat outfits to die for

By Emma Fraser
Natasha Lyonne in Russian Doll (Netflix)

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!

Every once in a while, a show comes along featuring a character whose entire closet becomes the object of affection and inspiration. Last year Olivia Crain (Carla Gugino) was the queen of fancy lounge attire on The Haunting of Hill House and Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) served up timeless fall inspired outfits in Chilling Adventures.

Those with a seemingly endless supply of covetable clothing are often high on the Best Dressed list, but new Netflix series Russian Doll breaks the mold as protagonist Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) only has a few of changes of clothing across the eight episodes. The end result is a sartorial time loop I would be happy to get stuck in. 

Detailed spoilers for Russian Doll ahead

Russian Doll
Nadia’s day resets during her 36th birthday party, which means her outfit is always on point. Picking out clothes for an occasion such as this often requires time and thought because you want to put your best and most stylish foot forward. You are the center of attention and it is your time to shine. However, as we see when Nadia actually makes it to the next day, the all-black suit look is very much her daily attire. This a woman who knows exactly who she is when it comes to her clothing, even if there are other aspects of her psyche she has buried deep.

On Instagram, costume designer Jenn Rogien — who has previously worked with Lyonne on Orange is the New Blackdescribes Nadia’s influences as “Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny meets Marisa Tomei. A true NY character uniform inspired by cool ‘70s rock chicks meet vintage mob boss.” Tailored menswear and a color palette that only includes black, white, grey and red is Nadia's signature look as she joins our growing list of women crushing it in suits. The black double-breasted jacket, boots, big sunglasses, and a cigarette constantly on the go is very much part of Nadia’s DGAF aesthetic.

Russian Doll
The black tie-neck sheer-sleeved blouse adds a touch of feminity to this ensemble, not that Nadia completely eschews delicate motifs. When we do glimpse her bathrobe there is a floral angel wing motif on the back. A nod and a wink to the existential crisis she has found herself caught it. 

Foundation garments in costume design are just as important as the top worn over it when revealing character. This strappy front bralette is Ilana Wexler (Ilana Glazer) from Broad City levels of great underwear, which very much fits with Nadia's sex-positive attitude. 

Russian Doll
The day after the party, a red & Other Stories blouse adds a bold pop of color to an otherwise all-black ensemble below a grey coat. Working as a visual signpost on this journey that bounces between two different days, the change in her top is vital in helping piece this puzzle together. This ensemble that sits at the top of my covet list, however, principal photography for Season 1 of Russian Doll began last February, so the chance of finding the exact blouse is slim to none.

Not only that, but Rogien explained to Fashionista that they “manipulated the pleats” of the blouse for continuity reasons. So if you were to find this exact garment, it wouldn't be the same. But the black ribbon western tie detail is something that doesn't require an internet clothing treasure hunt. Furthermore, red is a color traditionally associated with Russia, a country represented by the doll of the title and Nadia’s heritage — the coin she wears around her neck is an overt reference to her past and plays a significant role.

Russian Doll

In fact, much like a Russian — or Matryoshka — doll, pretty much every single character’s costume is layered. When removing one piece, there is another below. In part, this could be for a practical purpose as it was filmed during the cold weather season in New York City. This is not simply to just make the actors more comfortable, as the plot also points to it being a cold time of year, as in one loop Nadia freezes to death while sleeping outside. Nadia wraps her Helmut Lang coat around her like a physical shield stopping anyone from getting close, she is not simply doing this to stay warm.

When Nadia takes her friends out of the safe confines of the apartment, Maxine (Greta Lee) quips "I should've brought another jacket. I never know what jacket to bring. It is a real problem in my life," when she realizes it is colder outside than she anticipated. The forever quandary of the changeable temperatures between seasons. A sentiment I know all too well.  

Russian Doll
Clothing is borrowed throughout Russian Doll to denote acts of kindness. Whether it a pair of shoes to stop hypothermia or a coat placed over an ex as she slumbers. The latter occurs in Episode 3 when John (Yul Vazquez) gives up his coat, but this is not a completely selfless act as it means Nadia will have to call him the following day.

John is then forced to pull his best Columbo impression, but “No one’s mad at Peter Falk, right?” as Nadia astutely observes. Nadia is playing the role of cosmic detective and her Joe Pesci meet ‘70s rockstar vibe is exactly the kind of uniform required to solve a mystery this vast.

Russian Doll

Nadia is far from alone, as Alan (Charlie Barnett) is also caught in the same day predicament. For a true master of layers look no further than his button-down, sweater, Uniqlo puffer jacket and coat combination. His clothing is very much its own sensible form of Russian Doll imagery. The neatly packed suitcase, his perfectly ordered wardrobe all point to his somewhat repressed and uptight persona.

Alan, like Nadia, is afraid to confront an aspect of who he is. Nadia’s fears are tied to childhood guilt and trauma, whereas Alan is perpetually afraid of being a failure in the present. Both need the other to get out of this spiral. For a couple of episodes, Alan tries out a yellow and black plaid party shirt, before returning to the sweater/button-down combo. Because Alan restarts the loop in his apartment, he could change his outfit every single time, but this is not who Alan is. The party shirt is his way of flirting with something different.

Russian Doll
There is one major costume deviation, when in the finale, Maxine throws a drink over Nadia. The practical reasons for this change of shirt are again to help visually differentiate the timelines. The Nadia who knows she is stuck in a loop is now in white, the one we see from the night of her first death is wearing the same all-black outfit that we met her in, the one which is burned into our brains — and yet still somehow looks fresh af. The borrowed top from Maxine still fits with Nadia's tie-neck signature, even if this one is potentially “too much pirate.” I personally think it is the perfect amount of pirate.

Russian Doll
Alan gets a red scarf costume addition in the finale to signal which version we are watching — this also links to Nadia’s tie aspect. It still looks somewhat dorky on him, as he is not going to suddenly become a new person, but there is an ease to Alan wearing a scarf over his buttoned-up layers.

Russian Doll
Layers aren’t just for those repeatedly dying as Nadia’s BFFs Maxine and Lizzy (Rebecca Henderson) have their own distinct costumes going on. Lizzy’s paint-splattered white overalls worn over a couple of shirts infer she is always working; her artistic nature is worn on her sleeve.

Maxine is the fashionable friend who wears expressive blue eyeliner and can get away with pairing a seafoam blouse with a gold mesh vest, tons of jewelry and geometric-patterned leggings. It looks vintage, but actually, it is H&M. Costume designer Jenn Rogien mixes high-and-low throughout Russian Doll; the clothes are equal parts aspirational and affordable.  

Nadia wants to escape this time loop for obvious reasons, but these repeat outfits are far from a style rut.