Bad pantsuits, desperate gilets and $700 trainers: Succession fashion, decoded
There’s a long running joke on the internet that Succession is the most visually unexciting show in the entire world.
Its greyish blue, glass-heavy, suited and booted corporate setting hardly allows for much inventiveness in costuming, and yet, Succession has stealth wealthed and quiet luxuried its way into the front of the fashion conversation ever since its popularity blew up around season three.
Thousands of digital column inches have been devoted to Kendall Roy’s unbranded, £415 Loro Piana hats, the ludicrous capaciousness of the Burberry bag eviscerated by Tom Wambsgans in season four’s premiere and Shiv Roy’s choice of dress at her mother’s wedding (which was so divisive it sparked weeks of Twitter discourse).
Big talk for a bunch of objectively boring items of clothing.
There have been Instagram accounts created to document each character’s fashion choices (@successionfashion) and articles penned on “How to Dress Like Your Favorite ‘Succession’ Characters” from outlets who think viewers want to “steal their style”.
HBO officials have noted the popularity and created Waystar Roy Co merch off the back of it - hoodies, gilets, mugs - you name it.
People are like “this moment from Succession was so iconic” and the screenshot always looks like this pic.twitter.com/w3yhlftfZw
— Macy Rodman (@MacyRodman) December 14, 2021
But that’s not what people want, nor is it why we love the clothes these heinous characters put on their backs. Succession fashion tells a story, and amongst all the greyscale there’s some colour. All those black Tom Ford suits and beige Max Mara draw-string trousers mean something, as confirmed by Michelle Matland, Succession’s costume designer, who spoke to the Evening Standard about turning Shiv Roy from a liberal politico into a gender-insecure girlboss, Tom Wambsgans from a try hard into a hardened member of the one per cent and Gerri Kellman into a stone cold hottie for the final season. Here’s how each of your faves have evolved over four seasons of greige.
When Succession viewers are first introduced to Shiv Roy, it’s on a side street in Manhattan talking to her political adviser coworker and boyfriend Tom Wambsgans about the “pre-kend” (“Thursday lunch through Friday afternoon is the pre-kend,” Tom informs her). She’s wearing a camel coat, a pink silk shirt and has long, wavy hair. She could basically be any working woman, anywhere, and that’s exactly the point. “She is a democratic babe,” Matland says, “she’s trying to live in a world that’s antithetical to her family, she doesn’t want to be identified as a Roy, or as wealthy or affluent, because that could be detrimental to her career - that could kill her.”
Then, by season two, the tables turn: Shiv is selected as the next sibling to try on the Waystar Roy Co CEO training wheels, and so she needs to become a businessman. Specifically a business man, not a business woman, hence all the bad pantsuits. “She dives into the boys club, she wants to fit in in the boardroom with the men,” Matland explains. “Then, in season three, we see her try to become her own person, so yes she’s wearing suits but they’re her own personal suits, we find a femininity to her, a subtlety to her, she has little nuances of the Shiv she wants to become.”
You can see this in Shiv’s suiting progressively adapting to her body type - high waisted Maxmara trousers, turtlenecks and thick pinstriped waistcoats which cinch her waist - as opposed to pantsuits by Hobbs which is, notably, a brand usually reserved for Shiv’s godmother, Gerri.
By season four, Shiv is on “another journey” according to Matland, much of which she can’t talk about. We know some of it: she’s pregnant, her father is dead and she’s trying to out-manoeuvre her big brothers on the sly. This might explain her slightly off kilter attire come season four, including that Mackage two-in-one trench coat with added butt padding, and her new approach to business casual chic that makes her look like a determined, sleep deprived female detective. Mare of UpperEastSideTown. She’s in a transitional state. “She’s struggling a little bit more, and I think we see that in her clothing a little bit,” Matland agrees.
We’ve seen it before, too, when Shiv dressed for her mother’s wedding (in that oh-so-contentious Ted Baker dress) and looked so uncomfortable it was almost like she was cosplaying as a woman. “She was not comfortable,” Matland shares, “and she wanted to make it known to her mother. In the same way that her mother wasn’t wearing white and she was. It was a definitive choice.”
While Alexander Skarsgård was a late addition to the Succession cast when he rocked up midway through season three as a potential Waystar Roy Co buyer, he’s had some heavy impact on the style conversations that swirl around the show, undoubtedly emerging as the biggest style icon from the final season. There’s been talk of gorpcore, tech-bro chic, even “cas-cocking”, a term invented by Skarsgård himself for the “casual peacocking” Matsson engages in.
He walks around barefoot or wearing sliders, he’s outfitted in a lot of relatively inexpensive Scandi brands (basically all Fjallraven, aka the guys who make those Kanken bags) and he wants you to know he doesn’t care if he gets piss (or blood) on any of his clothes. “[Tech bro’s clothes] are trying to tell a story - whether it be true or not - that they don’t need you,” Matland says. “They’re bigger than the corporations, bigger than you, they’re a one man show. It’s so antithetical to everything they see in the boardroom: the hoodies, the dirty sweatpants and sneakers. It’s an affectation, the entire thing is to try and prove that they’re different and better and unique. It is a costume - maybe even more than a suit.”
Matsson is way beyond stealth wealth - in episode seven he even turns up to Shiv’s icy Tribeca triplex wearing the loudest, most abrasively plushy jacket (by Japanese streetwear brand Needles) he could find that would be, “like throwing a golden hand grenade into a room of gray suits.”
“I wanted something eccentric and crazy when it came to the jacket, something that really stood out, because the Roys are always so understated,” Skarsgård told Vulture. “It’s that kind of classy, downplayed, very, very expensive, but no logos, nothing ostentatious because it’s tacky. I wanted to give that a big ‘fuck you’ and walk in wearing something completely different.” His look from last episode - a basic tee paired with abstract print Parron Allen lounge trousers - follows the same theme: it’s more ostentatious than anything the main cast would ever wear, save for Kendall, but also strangely inexpensive at $120. The move to more eccentric items of clothing seems to reflect our new understanding of Matsson - not just an understated tech bro, but also a complete maniac.
Gerri in season one is very much introduced as a background character - one of the suits - and is even referred to as such, repeatedly. She doesn’t really bite back, all of her moves are under the table, and as such, her clothes are muted, grey, matronly. “She was corporate, completely,” Matland says, “she was an underling, I mean she had power but she was still finding her way as Logan’s sidearm.”
Skip forward three seasons, two firings and one sordid sort-of affair with the world’s first impotent sex pest, Roman, and Gerri has become a very different woman. She’s wearing colour - and warm colours, at that, like her burnt orange all-over look in Norway (Hobbs, of course, but she wears it well) - she’s swapped out her thick, black rimmed, face obscuring spectacles for a pair of sleek gold frames, and she’s even showing a little bit of cleavage, on occasion.
“As she started to transition into her more powerful position, and through the whole Kieran [Roman] romance, or whatever you want to call that silliness, she started to find her own sexuality, she got herself a boyfriend. Her costumes became more form fitting, more sexualised and, in her own way, more powerful as a woman.”
Well would you look at that, Wambsgans? You’ve only gone and climbed the corporate ladder. By season four of Succession, there’s very little trace of the needy, desperate to fit in Tom of season one, who splashes out on an unwanted Patek Philippe for Logan and gets mocked by Roman for his puffy Moncler gilet (“What’s it stuffed with, your hopes and dreams?”) and ill fitting suits. Said suits, it turns out, are mostly Zegna and worth a good £3,000 a pop, but still, that’s the suiting of social climber season one Tom.
Nowadays, Tom is wearing brands on par with stealth wealth king Kendall (fitting, considering his usurping in season three and replacement as Logan’s closest thing to a son in early season four), including a brand new $2,995 gilet by Bruno Cucinelli, unmockable in comparison to his training wheels Moncler.
Because that’s what Tom cares about, ultimately: watching, learning, and trying not to be mocked. “There’s no question that he emulated what he saw in the boardroom in an artificial way,” Matland explains, “because he comes from the middle class, whatever that means to anyone, so he was always in aspiration mode, that’s why he has the suspenders and the French cuffs and shiny shoes - everything is a little bit more ostentatious with him.”
Until, finally, he fits in. “Over the years, I think he realises that less is more. And although he still loves his labels and his puffers and whatever, I think he realises it should be more subdued, which is why when the girl comes in with the [ludicrously capacious] handbag, he’s the first one to catch it. He’s the first one now to catch somebody else’s insignificant moment that could be easily ignored. But he chooses not to because he’s taken abuse for so long.”
Despite this, Kendall Roy, aka Logan’s number one boy, manslaughter survivor and eternal CEO hopeful, is “the most hyper aware” of all the main characters, according to Matland. It’s a funny concept to wrestle with, considering how this is the guy that bought a pair of £653 Lanvin trainers just to impress people at one business meeting, hosted a lavish birthday party where he cried over an uninscribed Rolex and wears James Bond level tailoring on an every day basis.
“He is aware of everyone and everything around him,” Matland says, “but he is human and incredibly flawed. And so he makes the same mistakes that everybody else does, the same things that he would criticise - like the sneakers, he knows better on some level, but he does it anyway.”
It’s this kind of behaviour that makes Kendall’s style evolution the least linear and the most tumultuous.. “He goes up, he goes down, he hits a high, hits a bottom, starts again,” says Matland. At least once a season, when Kendall gets “that gleam in his eye”, as Shiv puts it, he does something stupid and wears something stupid to go with it.
The Lanvin sneakers at the business meeting, the Gucci bomber and $15,500 custom Rashid Johnson pendant chain he wears to his failure of a birthday party, the silly little Paul Stuart straw hat he wears on the yacht in season two before exposing Waystar’s cruise-related misdeeds. When he’s licking his wounds after his mistakes, he returns to his comfortable cave of stealth wealth: Loro Piana cashmere jumpers, Maison Margiela basic tees, Dries Van Noten trainers. It’s up, it’s down, it’s messy.
And like everything shown on Succession, it’s all very purposeful. It’s not just down to Matland, either: Strong is hugely involved in his costuming (as are most of the main characters), covering everything right down to his sunglasses, which are almost always Jacques Marie Mage.
Strong actually owns the same pair as Kendall, and has Kendall’s initials inscribed in both his own pair and his characters’, which is very Jeremy Strong of him.
On the surface, Roman seems like one of the show’s least compelling dressers. He mostly wears crumpled shirts, sans tie, rolled up to the elbow and paired with simple suit trousers. He’s one of the least commonly featured on @successionfashion and the most exciting sartorial choice he’s made thus far is when he decided to wear a cardigan in Norway. Seriously.
People have tried to interpret his style and evolution - that his dark shirts and lighter suits signify sleaziness, his dishevelled tailoring a sign of Roman’s scattered thought process, or that he’s moving toward the way his father would dress - but Matland disagrees. “When he gets dressed in the morning, he doesn’t say to himself, ‘Who am I today?’ He has a uniform, I think, he’s very comfortable with it, he’s never going to change.” So really those rolled up sleeves, tieless shirts and open collars are more a mark of Kieran Culkin sitting in a bunch of weird positions - draping himself across chairs and golf carts, tucking his knees to his chin on sofas, etc - than anything fashion conscious.